The key to lowering energy costs is to use as electricity as efficiently as possible. This is not a news flash; however, most people have no idea of all the different ways they may be wasting energy in their homes. This is because, for the most part, energy loss is subtle and hidden, and unless homeowners or renters know where to look, they will never even realize how much electricity is being used up without performing any useful work whatsoever.
There are two remedies available to help those who are looking to solve the problem of inefficient energy use. One is to hire a professional auditor to come to your home and check things out thoroughly and to make recommendations on changes that can be made to reduce unnecessary consumption of electricity. The second option is to save the money and do it yourself, and if you know what to look for, this approach can yield results that are every bit as good as what can be achieved by hiring an expert.
Plugging the Leaks
Interior climate control can be significantly compromised by air leaks that allow hot air or cold air to enter or escape. While most of these leaks are quite small, when they exist in large numbers – as they do in most homes – the energy loss they are each responsible for can add up quickly. Estimates are that in the average American home, energy inefficiencies caused by small undetected holes or cracks leading to the outside account for at least 5 percent, and in some cases as much as 30 percent, of total household consumption of electricity.
The secret to detecting these leaks is to be meticulous, patient, and thorough. Among the places that should be checked for anomalous and unwanted drafts and currents include:
- Doors (alongside and beneath)
- Window frames
- Electrical outlets
- Switch plates
- Wall- or window-mounted fans and air conditioners
- Entrance holes for pipes or wires
- Fireplace or wood stove dampers
- Attic hatch doors
- Electrical and gas service entrances
- Mail chutes of doggie doors
- Dryer vents
- Cable TV and phone lines
Some of these leaks are naturally quite difficult to detect, which is why you should consider using the incense test to help you find them. This involves lighting an incense stick and then holding close to the areas you are checking for leaks to see if air currents are present that can affect the flow of the smoke. If you don’t like the smell of incense, a normal candle will also do just fine, since air flows from most leaks should be strong enough to make a candle flame flicker.
When leaks are found, it is a simple matter of applying some caulking or stuffing in some insulation to close up these energy-draining openings. One way that will help you perform a much more thorough, comprehensive, and effective search is to involve everyone in the family. Assign everyone one or two rooms where it will be their job exclusively to find any air leaks that might exist, and turn it into a contest that gives some kind of reward to whoever finds the largest number of these tiny openings. The reason why an approach like this works is because this part of a home energy audit can quickly become a tedious and boring task, and if you try to do it all yourself, the chances are you will start to lose focus and concentration and end up missing a lot of the smallest leaks. So, dividing the responsibility and giving out prizes is a good way to be sure everyone pays attention and the job gets done right.
Improving Your Insulation
You should of course already have a good layer of insulation inside the walls of your home. But one place where skimping often occurs is on the top and bottom floors. If your house has an attic or a basement, or both, the ceiling of the latter and the entire area of the former including the floor should be insulated with materials that have an R-value of 19 or better if the room is heated, and 25 of better if it is not (the R-value measures an insulating material’s resistance to air flow). In the attic, the insulation in the walls and the ceiling should have some kind of vapor barrier over it to keep moisture in the air from penetrating, since insulation works much better if it is kept dry. The vapor barrier could be tarpaper, a plastic sheet, or special paint with vapor-resistant abilities.
In the basement, any pipes that carry hot water (and the hot water heater itself) should all be wrapped with insulation to prevent unnecessary heat loss to the surrounding environment.
Checking Your Heating and Cooling Equipment
Furnaces and air conditioners have filters that can become easily plugged with dust, hair, dirt, and particulate matter, and they should be cleaned often to keep them in good working order. With forced-air furnaces, it is necessary to replace the filters every one or two months, and a professional repairman should be brought in once a year to give the unit a complete cleaning. Ductwork should be checked closely for leaks, which can be spotted by looking for the dirt streaks that will form on the area just outside the leaky seams. Duct tape was made for use with ductwork (hence the name), and it can work quite well as a sealant when applied to these seams. It is also a good idea to insulate any ducts or pipe work that pass through unheated spaces with insulation that has an R-value rating of 6 or higher.
In addition to the heating and cooling units, vents should also be regularly vacuumed out and dusted, and any vents that open into rooms that are lightly used should probably be kept shut most of the time.
If a furnace or air conditioner is more than fifteen years old, it is probably not working at peak efficiency any more, and even if it is, the newer models that are now available are much more energy-efficient than these older, outdated units. So buying a new heating or cooling unit in this case could be worth the significant upfront expense, especially if you are living in a climate that has extreme temperatures in either the summer or the winter.
Eliminating Phantom Energy Loss
Modern electronic devices use standby power setups that allow them to be activated at a moment’s notice even when they are turned off, and this design leads to what is called phantom energy loss. Even though each individual electronic appliance or device will only use up a small amount of extra power this way, when you have a house full of these devices and they are kept plugged in when they are not in use, the electricity used up needlessly to supply standby power could drive up your level of energy by as much as 5 percent.
Unless there is some characteristic of a particular electronic gadget or appliance that requires constant power, you should unplug all of your computers, printers, fax machines, stereos, televisions, DVD players, etc. when they are not in use. Power strips can make things more convenient by allowing a number of different devices to be switched on and off in unison, eliminating the necessity of going around the house to unplug things individually before you go to bed each night.
Increasing Appliance Efficiency
With larger appliances like refrigerators, stoves, and washing machines, making sure that coils, motors, or heating units are kept clean and dust-free will keep them running smoothly while reducing their energy input requirements. Refrigerators in particular are big-time energy users, but their energy consumption can be reduced by moving them farther away from the wall for more efficient venting of heat, changing the interior temperatures (most fridges are kept much colder than they need to be), and by cutting down on the number of times you open and close the door on a daily basis.
Since the 1980s, all electric appliances and devices have been required to carry a yellow EnergyGuide label. This handy little sticker provides complete details about how much power appliances use, which allows the consumer to comparative shop to find the most efficient fridge, washer and dryer set, television, or what have you. You should check out the yellow stickers on your appliances to find out just how efficient they really are, and if they don’t have these stickers, this means they were manufactured before the EnergyGuide label came into use, which means they are highly inefficient and therefore good candidates to be replaced.
Most homes consume about 10 percent of their electricity to light interior spaces. This percentage can be reduced, however, if you replace all incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or LEDs, the latter of which could cut down on energy usage by as much as 90 percent. Even though LED bulbs are more expensive than the alternatives, because they save so much energy and last so long, they will undoubtedly pay for themselves over time.
Light usage patterns need to be closely monitored over a period of days as a part of any home energy audit. You should check to make sure lights are never being left on anywhere when no one is in the room, and you should remind everyone to keep them turned off completely during the daytime in any location where abundant natural light is available.
Developing an Efficient Consciousness
One of the neat collateral effects of performing a home energy audit, especially when everyone in the family is involved, is that it helps create an anti-waste mindset that can change the way we look at ourselves and at our normal patterns of living. Even those who have chosen to go off the grid usually carry certain ingrained habits with them, and being oblivious to the amount of energy we routinely waste is frequently one of these habits.
A home energy audit can be the first step toward a whole new outlook on life. The new consciousness that this process helps create can save you money and energy in the short-term, while also delivering a host of long-term intangible benefits that can be useful to all those who want to learn how to live more efficiently and with a far greater sense of purpose and self-determination.
©2012 Off the Grid News