Efficiency upgrades that make sense
By Brian Sloboda
Surveys show that only about 15 percent of folks actually take steps to enhance the energy efficiency of their home. In most cases, people feel that energy efficiency improvements are too complicated or too expensive to tackle.
However, there are several simple upgrades you can consider that won’t break your household budget. Following are a few:
Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) may look odd, but more and more homeowners are installing these energy-efficient lights. One CFL uses about 75 percent less energy and can save more than $40 over its lifetime than a traditional incandescent lightbulb, according to estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program. Some people do not like CFLs because of their color or quality of the light, but CFLs have improved since they were first introduced. In most lamps and fixtures, you probably won’t notice a difference using a CFL.
Heating and Air Conditioning
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that heating and air conditioning account for 22 percent of a typical home’s annual electric bill. While an air-source heat pump or a geothermal heat pump can be 20 percent to 45 percent more efficient than an existing central heating and cooling system, up-front installation costs are often a barrier.
Simple solutions such as changing air filters at least every three months will increase airflow to rooms, increase the life of your central heating and cooling unit’s motor, and improve air quality. Sealing and insulating ductwork can be done in a weekend and result in energy savings of up to 20 percent.
To lessen the amount of work that heating and cooling systems need to do, it’s important to find and fix air leaks. Walk around your house on a cold day and feel for drafts around exterior doors and windows, electric outlets, and entrance points for TV and telephone cables. In basements, target dryer vents, natural gas lines, or any opening in the wall. To fix leaks, apply caulk, spray foam, or weather stripping.
Simple acts such as cooking outdoors on a hot summer day and drawing curtains closed to block the summer sun will keep the interior of your home cooler and reduce the amount of time your air conditoning units need to operate.
Appliances and Electronics
Gadgets and equipment that make life easier are also some of the largest electric users in our homes. When buying a new appliance, look for the ENERGY STAR label. ENERGY STAR products will use 10 percent to 15 percent less energy than non-certified items. Some states have even adopted ENERGY STAR holidays during which sales tax is waived on the purchase of qualifying ENRGY STAR-rated appliances.
To keep appliances running more efficiently, try these tips:
• Clean lint traps on dryers and don’t over-dry clothes.
• Replace worn refrigerator door gaskets to stop cool air from seeping out.
• Clean refrigerator coils and keep refrigerators away from heat-generating appliances such as an oven.
Many home electronics, like computers, TVs, and DVD players, consume power even when turned off. Called “vampire” or “phantom” load, the average home loses 8 percent of its monthly energy consumption to these devices. In fact, a full 75 percent of the power used to run home electronics is consumed when they’re turned off, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Plugging these items into a power strip or a smart strip and turning off the strip when not in use remains the best way to stop this loss of energy.
The best energy efficiency improvements are often the easiest, such as turning lights off when leaving a room, sealing windows and doors, and cleaning refrigerator coils.
To measure the success of any energy efficiency upgrades, big or small, first look at the payback period — the amount of time it takes for the improvement to pay for itself. Then consider your home’s comfort level. Check whether fixes you’ve made keep room temperatures level and if fewer drafts are found around doors, windows, and other openings like vents or outlets.
For more information, contact the energy experts at your local electric cooperative or visit TogetherWeSave.com
Brian Sloboda is a program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network, a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.