Spring into Efficiency
In early March, it may seem more like winter, but spring is about to hit. It's time to think about shutting down the furnace, taking down plastic sheeting over windows and getting an air conditioning checkup scheduled. Here are some projects to take on this spring – if you didn't do them last fall – to improve the energy efficiency of your home:
Strip and tape, caulk and insulate – Sealing cracks and openings to prevent outside air from leaking into your home makes sense year around. Look for air leaks around doors and windows – that could save as much as 30 percent on your energy bill. Once you’ve fixed the air leaks, insulate; it will reduce the work load on your air conditioner. Here’s insulation guidance from ENERGY STAR: Zone 5 (Upper Missouri and southern Iowa) – uninsulated attic, R49-R60; insulated attic, R38-R49; walls, R5-R6; R25-R30
Repair screens and upgrade windows – Repair holes in screen windows and doors so you can enjoy those spring breezes. You might be surprised that you can buy affordable efficient windows. If you have single-pane windows to replace, you’ll notice the difference the more efficient replacements make on your utility bill and general comfort. ENERGY STAR-certified windows can lower utility bills by up to 15 percent. Look for windows that have low-e coatings, argon gas fill, wood frames and insulated spacers. Develop a plan for replacing windows over several years.
Shade windows – If you have south- or west-facing windows that get a lot of direct sun hitting them, add an awning, drapes or protective film to shield those windows. Also, plant trees, vines or shrubs to naturally shade windows over time. Insulated drapes are a good investment for summer and winter.
Shop for a programmable thermostat – Programmable thermostats can save up to about 10 percent a year on energy costs when used properly. Use one that can automatically turn off your cooling system when you’re not home and turn your system on in time for you to arrive home to a cooled house.
Upgrade your AC – Yes, this costs upfront money. But there may be incentives available and new, more efficient models may save as much as 50 percent on cooling bills over old systems. When shopping for a new unit, look for a seasonal energy-efficiency ratio (SEER) of 12.5 or more and buy the smallest capacity unit you’ll need. If your air conditioner is more than 12 years old, it’s time to check out new models.
Upgrade your lights – Traditional incandescent bulbs are no longer available, unless you've stockpiled a supply. You will use up to 80 percent less energy for compact fluorescents (CFL) or light-emitting diodes (LED) than for incandescent lights.
Install skylights – The Iowa Energy Center suggests installing a skylight, such as a solar tube or tubular skylights, that allows more natural light into your home. The tubes use optics to reflect light indirectly through the tube inside, replacing light that otherwise would require electricity.
Buy a ceiling fan – A fan will allow you to raise the thermostat by about four degrees without feeling the difference. And you’ll use about 4 percent less energy for every degree change.
Seal the garage – Your attached garage may leak more conditioned air than any other part of your home. Add weather strips to the bottom of the garage door and the door into your house.
Spring cleaning, no-cost energy savers
As you’re cleaning and tidying up after winter, here are tips for saving energy this spring:
Open up your house – Install screens and open up your windows and doors to warming – or cooling – spring breezes. That’s free “conditioned” air you don’t have to pay for.
Take advantage of natural light – Before sunlight heats up your house, let that light pour inside. Instead of using incandescent light bulbs (90 percent of the electricity they use is heat not light), use natural light to illuminate your house. Wash your clothes cold, then air dry them – Up to 90 percent of the energy for washing clothes is for heating the water. Most clothes wash just fine in cold water. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates about 392 loads of laundry a year for a typical family. At .08 cents per kilowatt-hour you could save about $60 per year by switching to cold water. Of course, always wash a full load not a partial.
Dry clothes by air - As for drying clothes, dry them in a dryer for just a couple of minutes to remove wrinkles. Then, hang them to dry outside or inside and save about 5 percent of your energy bill, according to DOE. You spend 30 to 40 cents to dry a load.
Change ceiling fans – Change the blade direction to counter-clockwise in warmer weather. When you stand underneath a fan, you should feel cooler. If you use air conditioning, a ceiling fan will allow you to raise the thermostat setting about 4 degrees Fahrenheit with no reduction in comfort. Turn it off when you leave the room – fans cool people not rooms.
Change filters – Be ready for summer by replacing last year’s air conditioning filters now. Do the same for your furnace and be ready for next winter now.
Clean your refrigerator – Vacuum the coils on the back and adjust the temperature to 37 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit for maximum efficiency. Also check the seals on the refrigerator door and replace if leaking.