Less energy! Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? How many times have you asked yourself “I wonder if the thermostat is working correctly”! I know I have asked myself this a time or two! Or maybe you don’t think energy loss is an issue because your home is only a couple years old. Think again! Energy loss is an issue, even today with energy codes as restrictive as they are. It wasn’t until the last ten years or so that energy codes started addressing the real issues such as air balancing, equipment sizing, duct sizing, and air leakage. These are some of the problems that hide within!
We are all for using less energy, and for the most part I believe homeowners, and home buyers are pretty well versed, and do their homework when it comes to energy efficiency. After all, how can we avoid it, energy is everywhere! We see it in the stores with high efficacy light bulbs consuming the shelves, wind turbines spread out along the plains, stickers on all of our appliances, and a political agenda that’s out of this world, which is an entirely different conversation in itself.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are very energy efficient homes being built today. But let’s not beat around the bush… it all comes down to the quality of the builder, the thoroughness of the third party inspection company and the local inspection authority. As long as they are all doing their part, the consumer is getting a quality product. There are many builders now that focus on “Energy Star” homes. Why? They use less energy and they know how important energy efficiency is to the consumer. But even Energy Star means nothing if the three parties are not doing adequate installation, testing, and inspections. Energy Star is basically a step above and beyond minimum codes. In addition, there is more testing involved with Energy Star. This is why it’s critical that testing and inspections are thorough and accurate. My point is, regardless of the age of your home, energy loss could be an issue.
So there are several different steps you can take to address energy loss and use less energy. Of course the more money you are willing to spend, the more efficient you can make your home. If you are looking at spending some real money, you can cover two big areas of energy loss with a furnace and window upgrade. In today’s construction windows are generally very efficient. Minimum code today requires a 0.35 U-Value, which is a pretty good window. This can change in different areas of the country. You can do better than this, but it will cost you.
High efficient furnaces are a very positive upgrade for using less energy. We are seeing a lot of these installed in new homes today, even though code does not require them. As a code official I see a lot of upgrades to high efficient furnaces. High efficient means 90%+ efficiency direct vent appliance. These are very efficient, and I hear costs for installation runs about $3,500.00 to $4,000.00. This is a cost you will recover.
Now that we’ve covered the expensive upgrades, let’s look at some inexpensive steps you can take to cut energy loss.
- If water heater is located in the garage, keep garage door closed. Make sure your water heater is set to no lower than 130 degrees. Legionairre disease could be an issue at temperatures lower than 130 degrees.
- Check weather-stripping around doors. Replace ALL areas where air can intrude or escape.
- Check all electrical receptacles on the exterior walls for air intrusion. Install gaskets behind face plate. If possible, pull recepticle and wires out and caulk the knockouts in the back of the box.
- Check for air intrusion around windows and sliding glass doors. Pull trim around windows or doors and caulk around the perimeter.
- Verify insulation levels in the floor and ceiling. The ceiling should have no less than an R-38, vaulted ceilings R-30, and the floor an R-30. DO NOT use kraft faced insulation in these areas!
- Install a programmable thermostat.
These are small things that can improve the efficiency of your home dramatically. Why, because the leading cause of energy loss is air leakage. When I say air leakage, I am also referring to duct leakage. Have you ever noticed one room is colder than the others? This is common, and is caused from three different things, duct leakage, improper balancing, and inadequately sized equipment. All three of which are now addressed heavily in the energy codes. In addition to the list above, you should include a duct blaster test, and an air balancing test. This can be done fairly reasonable by a local HVAC or energy retrofit company. You can also have your equipment sized, though improperly sized equipment isn’t going to help you unless you replace it. So this will depend on your budget.