Top 5 Energy Suckers and How to Fix Them!
Whether you live at home, in an apartment, or somewhere else I’m sure you are well aware of the fluctuating costs associated with electricity, heating, cooling, water, and many other basic utilities! These utilities are necessities, but the prices associated with them don’t have to be. Many times you can reduce the cost of these bills with just a few small adjustments.
Insulation is probably the largest energy sucker on the list and one of the most cumbersome to fix. According to the EPA, it’s possible to reduce energy costs by as much as 50% in some cases with proper adjustments. If you live in an older home and haven’t taken a look at your insulation, it may be something worth looking into. Many older homes have been insulated with some uncommon and inefficient materials such as newspapers, or even corn cobs!
However, be warned, if you find asbestos or vermiculite, you’re better off not touching it. As you may know, asbestos has been shown to cause a number of deadly cancers. Vermiculite, although not as dangerous as pure asbestos, is often contaminated with it. So in short, STAY AWAY!
How to fix your insulation problem
- Insulation isn’t exactly an easy problem to fix, especially in areas such as walls, in between floors, and other tight pots. These areas usually have to be insulated during the construction of the home or during a renovation of it as they’re only accessible with the drywall removed. So unless you’re a licensed contractor you’ll be better off adding insulation to a more open space such as the attic.
- There are a number of options out there to aid in insulation such as fiberglass, spray foam and more. The one that will be the easiest to install is fiberglass. You can find this kind of insulation at your local Lowe’s or Home Depot. Many times it will be pink in color and come in a giant roll, however this may vary depending on location. They’re fairly inexpensive for what you get and you’ll save a significant amount of money in the long run.
- Roll insulation comes in R-values which is essentially the thickness of the fiberglass itself. Higher R-values usually correlate with a greater amount of insulation. This handy little guide shown to the right help you determine what R-value will be best for your home. The industry standard is to have 12 inches of insulation.
- Be sure to measure the area you’ll need to cover before heading off to the store. To find the area simply take the length x width in feet and that will give you your square footage.
- Installation is easy as could be as this kind of fiberglass typically comes in a standard width, so it should fit snuggly into place. If you have pre-existing insulation you should be able to simply roll this over top of it. Be sure to face the paper side of the insulation toward the inside of the home. This vapor shield helps to prevent moisture from building up in the insulation which could cause mold.
2. Air Conditioner / Heater
Heating and cooling can account for almost half of the energy usage in your home, so it’s important to know how efficient your HVAC system is. An inefficient system could be costing you hundreds extra more a year that may be easily be fixed.
For starters, be sure to change the air filter at least every 3 months. A dirty filter doesn’t help your system at all and only makes it work harder.
Secondly, try to schedule a tune up every year. A licensed professional can help make sure your system is running effectively and spot any problems before they become expensive.
Third, consider installing a smart or programmable thermostat. This will allow you to set your thermostat based around your schedule which should stabilize your energy bills every month.
If you have done everything above and are still experiencing high HVAC costs, it may be time to replace your system. As costly as it sounds, the savings you’ll experience over the next several years will pay for itself. Luckily for consumers like us, EnergyStar.gov releases a yearly list of the most efficient central air conditioners and heaters. Contact your local HVAC company and discuss with them some of your options.
3. Hot Water Heater
You probably love taking a refreshing hot shower in the morning to start your day, but maybe you’re not so in love with the expensive bill associated with an inefficient water heater. Most homes have a storage tank style water heater which heats water, stores it in a large tank, and then works to keep the water hot so as soon as you turn the shower knob, hot water comes out. The problem with this is these types of water heaters waste a lot of energy working to keep the water warm even when no water is running.
If your current water heater is between 7-10 years old, it’s nearing the end of its life cycle. The only solution here is to replace your current water heater with a more efficient tank style one or the increasingly popular ‘instantaneous hot water heater’.
An instantaneous water heater, as the name implies, heats water instantaneously as it’s demanded. This type of water heater will sometimes have a small tank with it, which helps to cover any lapses in hot and cold water these types of heaters experience.
If you’re looking into an instantaneous water heater you should keep in mind they will require a larger gas pipe since they draw more energy in a shorter amount of time to heat water. This may affect your installation costs, so be sure to check into this before installation.
The U.S. Department of Energy cites inefficient windows can account for up to 25% of your heating or cooling bill. Unfortunately replacing your windows is a daunting task. While it may be necessary to replace windows in some situations, there are others where you can repair them within an hour or two and already feel the savings!
Take a look at your current windows to see if there are any immediate modifications you can make to help improve efficiency.
- Are there any cracks or gaps in the sealing?
- Are there any weather strips in place?
- Is there any other damage that seems repairable?
For smaller tasks you can usually complete them yourself. For example, if there are chips, cracks, or gaps less than ¼” in width, than you can take your caulk gun and seal that up yourself. If there are not currently any weather strips or seals around your window then a less than $10 purchase from amazon or short trip to your local Lowe’s or Home Depot can fix that.
If your windows do need to be replaced, consider purchasing an energy efficient model. All windows should have a rating sticker on them provided by Energy Star. Most windows nowadays will be double-paned with some sort of gas in between, such as Argon.
Also consider the design of your home and the orientation of it in regards to where the sun rises and sets. This little guide provided by Energy.gov is a great resource for efficient window design.
Most appliances you purchase today are very energy efficient compared to the same appliances purchased ten years ago, however they may not compensate for our inefficient habits. If some of the appliances in your home are near the end of their life cycle, consider looking at the more energy efficient options. Two major ones, the washer and dryer have some state-of-the-art features that will put your older washer and dryer to shame.
Many dryers today have sensors built into them that can sense when your clothes are dry and shut off before the cycle is over, thus saving you wasted energy. High-efficient washers use significantly less water than yesterday’s washer, but still get your clothes just as clean. The only stipulation is you must use high-efficiency detergent, however most leading detergent producers have caught on and it costs the same as traditional detergent.
Fixing your bad habits
- Washing dishes or clothes
When washing your dishes or clothes, try to wait until there is a chance for a full load so you don’t have to waste water or soap.
- Drying clothes
Consider investing in a more efficient dyer, however if that is not possible in the short term, consider hang drying your clothes. This is typically better for your clothes and you can do it inside or outside. Also, clean the lint trap after every load. A clothes line is only a few dollars and great way to brighten up a rather boring chore by taking it outside!
- Heating up food
If you normally heat your food up in a convection oven, consider purchasing a smaller toaster / counter top oven. These will heat your food up just as well, but use significantly less energy.
- Purchase a power strip
Hook any smaller appliances you have to this power strip such as your tv, blu-ray or dvd player, video game systems, or cell phone chargers. Then, when not in use, flick the power strip off. These items use roughly three-quarters of their energy when not in use, a phenonmenon called ‘the phantom energy load’.
Power strips come in all sorts of configurations including 6 outlet, 12 outlet, surge protecting, usb outlets, and more.
- Light bulbs
Think you’re being energy efficient with your curvy fluorescent bulbs? Think again! LED bulbs are now more efficient than fluorescent bulbs and can last up to 18 years. Did I mention some even change colors?
Disclaimer: Before starting any home improvement project, be sure to consult with a licensed contractor and follow all safety procedures and warnings associated with any products.