With much of the country sweating through the second heat wave of the summer, and the cost of energy spiraling ever upwards, homeowners are searching for ways to stay within their home cooling budget. Bumping up the thermostat, or opting for fans rather than air conditioning, are two obvious options, but there are some simple things you can do now to achieve significant savings on energy, while still keeping your family comfortable. Here are eight tips from GreenHomes America that will help you keep the bills down, and comfort up, this summer:
1. Start by keeping cool air in, and hot air out! When the temperature drops at night, if it’s cooler outside than in, open your windows. In the morning, shut them, and keep shades down to block out direct sunlight.
2. Focus on your attic. In the summer, temperatures in the attic can climb to more than 150oF. This tremendous heat can conducts down into your home in a variety of ways. Insulating and air-sealing your attic will have a huge impact.
· Carefully air seal any leaks between the attic and the area below. Common air leak sources include recessed lights, gaps around chimneys, plumbing penetrations, and the attic hatch (which contractors often overlook when insulating the attic).
· Only after you’ve done air-sealing, put an extra layer of insulation on the attic floor, on top of the insulation you currently have there. Sixteen to 24-inches is not excessive —and will help keep you warmer in the winter, too!
3. Use efficient lighting and appliances. With incandescent and halogen lights, most of the electricity goes to producing heat rather than light. Not only does this mean you’re overpaying for lighting, but you’re creating a lot of unwanted heat in the rooms you’re trying to keep cool. Compact florescent light bulbs have improved greatly over the past several years, so there’s no need to worry about the humming, slow starts, and ghoulish colors of years past – and they’re efficient and run cooler. With lighting or appliances, look for Energy Star® qualified models.
4. If you have a central or window air-conditioner, keep it tuned up. Clean the filters so they’re not clogged, and vacuum the dust and cobwebs out of the condenser fins. If it’s more than 10 years old, consider replacing with a high-efficiency unit, one that at least qualifies for Energy Star.
5. Do you have a forced air heating or cooling system? Seal and insulate the ductwork in attics and crawl spaces. As much as 30% of the air you cool (or heat in the winter) can escape outside through leaky ducts.
6. Use a bath fan vented to the outside to remove the heat and humidity created by showering. If you don’t have a bath fan, install one. If you do have a bath fan, make sure it’s powerful enough to do the job (often builders skimp on this). To check, close the window, turn on the fan, and close the door to the bathroom so its open just a crack: standing on the inside, can you feel air moving through the crack? If not, consider upgrading your fan.
7. Similarly, use a kitchen exhaust fan to remove heat and moisture created by cooking. This has the added benefit of removing pollutants, especially if you cook with gas.
8. Planting deciduous trees on the south side of a house can help keep your home cool in the summer. In many parts of the country, maples, oaks, and birches are good trees to consider. Because they drop their leaves in the fall, they let sunlight through to help warm your house in the winter.
Many of these tips are simple things you can do to start saving right away. With some advice from your local home center, and two or three free weekends, a handy homeowner can tackle these projects. The energy savings, and effect on comfort, are cumulative, so do as many as you can. To get even deeper savings, get a comprehensive home energy assessment, and let trained and certified crews install your improvements.
And whether you do the work yourself or you have it done by a contractor, after you make any changes to the house you should have any combustion equipment like furnaces and water heaters tested to make sure they’re running safely and efficiently.