Many people want to save money, whether it is for a rainy day or a big goal, such as paying for their children’s college education or their own retirement. One way to save money is to find ways to cut your everyday expenses. Your home energy use might be worth focusing on, as the U.S. spends an average of $3,495 per person on energy per year. Nearly 50% of home energy costs go toward heating and cooling the home, while the rest is spent on heating water, powering home appliances, keeping the lights on and powering electronics.
How to Reduce Home Energy Costs: 10 Tips
The first place to look when figuring out how to cut home energy costs is at your appliances and equipment. You can also reduce home energy costs by improving your home’s overall condition and by making some lifestyle changes. Try these home energy tips to help you lower your bills, leaving you with some extra cash in your bank account.
1. Seal Air Leaks
Air leaks in your home increase your energy costs in two ways. First, they allow hot or cold air from outside of the house into it. Second, they allow conditioned or heated air to exit your house. It can be challenging to keep the interior of your home at the temperature you want when hot or cold air is constantly flowing in and out. Air leaks can also affect the humidity levels in your home, encouraging mold growth and moisture damage.
The first step to take if you are going to seal air leaks is to find the source of the leak. The areas around windows and doors are common locations for leakage, as are the spaces near power outlets, light switches and pipes. There are a few ways to detect air leaks in your home. In some cases, a visual inspection will be sufficient and will tell you what you need to know. If you can see light coming in around the frame of a door or window or around the opening in the wall where an outlet or pipe is located, more likely than not, air is also seeping through.
If you want further confirmation, you can try holding a lit candle or incense stick to the area with the suspected air leak and see if the smoke from the candle or incense moves in the direction of the leak. You can also hire a professional to conduct a blower test to identify air leaks in the house.
When it comes to sealing air leaks, you have a few options. You can add caulk around pipes, outlets, light switches and window or door frames. You can also install weatherstripping. If you do not trust your handiwork or do not feel comfortable sealing your house on your own, you can hire someone to do the work for you.
2. Insulate Your Home
Heat moves through your home in three ways: radiation, conduction and convection. When heat radiates, it travels in a straight line and warms up anything in its path. During convection, heat moves through a gas or liquid, usually rising to the top. During conduction, heat travels through one material to another, such as when you place a pan on a hot burner and the pan heats up.
In the home, convection can cause heat to rise from one floor to the next, and ultimately, up into the attic and away from the house. Conduction encourages heat to move through ceilings or walls. Adding insulation to your home can help to control the rate of conduction and convection. For example, a layer of insulation between the ceiling of the top of the house and the attic can prevent heat loss into the attic. Insulation in the exterior walls of the home can keep heat from traveling through the walls to the colder air outside.
Insulation’s effectiveness is measured using R-value. The higher the R-value, the better the heat resistance. The R-value that is right for your home depends on where you live. Colder areas need a higher R-value compared to warmer ones. The U.S is divided into eight zones based on temperature and climate. Southern Maryland is located in zone 4, right in the middle.
If you are going to insulate your home to lower your energy costs, it is a good idea to hire a professional to handle the work for you. They can recommend the appropriate places to add insulation and help you determine the right amount to use to keep your home comfortable throughout the year.
3. Turn off Appliances When Not in Use
Along with making changes to your home, there are smaller things you can do to cut your energy costs. One of those changes involves adjusting your habits and the habits of your family members. A habit worth getting into is switching things off when you are not using them. That can mean turning off the lights when you are the last person to leave a room, switching off the television when you are finished watching and powering down your computer or laptop when you are done with it for the day.
Some appliances do not fully switch off. Instead, they move into standby mode when you hit the power button and continue to use a small amount of energy. To help with this, you might get into the habit of unplugging them when you are finished using them. Plugging electronics such as your TV, stereo and gaming systems into a power strip, then switching the power strip off, can make it easy to completely power down your devices.
You can turn off more than just electrical devices when you are not using them. To help save energy, get in the habit of turning off the tap when you brush your teeth or when you are handwashing dishes.
4. Adjust Your Thermostat
If you leave your thermostat at the same temperature no matter whether anyone is home or not, getting in the habit of turning it down when it is cold out or up when it is warm can lower your energy costs. Adjusting your thermostat by about seven degrees for eight hours a day can shave 10% off of your energy bills. One way to adjust your thermostat is to lower it at night when everyone is tucked away in bed, and during the daytime, when people are at work or school.
Switching to a programmable or smart thermostat can help ensure you remember to make the adjustments. With a programmable thermostat, you preset the temperature adjustments based on your typical schedule. For example, you might program the thermostat to 70 degrees at 6 p.m., when everyone is home from work or school, then have it drop down to 63 degrees at 10 p.m. when everyone is in bed.
A smart thermostat goes a step further. It connects to the internet and starts to learn your habits. Many smart thermostats communicate with your smartphone through an app. They can sense when you are on your way home or when you’ve left the house and make adjustments on their own.
5. Conduct an Energy Audit
You cannot fix a problem if you do not know for sure what the problem is. A home energy audit can highlight the areas of your house that are contributing to wasted energy and help you put together a plan to reduce your energy bills. During an energy audit, a trained professional will visit your home and ask you questions about your habits, who lives in the home and who is home at what times. They will also review your energy bills from the past year or so and will inspect and measure each room in the house.
A blower fan test is often part of an energy audit. The test lets the auditor see if any air leaks exist and where they are located if they do. Some auditors also use a tool that lets them see where heat is leaving or traveling through the home. The tools use infrared to display different temperature levels.
Based on the results of the audit, you can make changes and improvements to lower your energy costs. Those changes might include adjusting your habits, such as changing the thermostat when no one is home or turning things off when they are not in use. You might also learn that you need to seal leaks in your home, improve the insulation or in some cases, upgrade the heating and cooling equipment.
6. Fix Leaky Ductwork
If you have ductwork throughout your home, which is very likely if you have central air conditioning and a forced-air heating system, you could experience energy loss as a result of poorly sealed or leaky ducts. Depending on the location of the ducts and how well they are sealed, as much as 30% of the air that travels through them can be lost to leaks. Ducts that are in unconditioned spaces, such as the attic or basement, are more likely to lose air than those in climate-controlled areas.
Sealing your home’s ductwork is one way to reduce energy loss and keep more of that hot or cool air traveling through the ducts and into your home. One way to seal the ducts is by applying a metal tape or mastic sealant around the joints. The sealant or tape will help to trap the air in the ducts. You can also insulate the ducts to prevent heat loss. While sealing ducts can be a DIY project, it is usually a good idea to hire a professional to do the job if you have not done any sort of sealing in the past. A professional will know what materials to use and what type of work needs to be performed to improve the performance of your ductwork.
7. Purchase Energy-Efficient Appliances
Many of the appliances available today are much more energy-efficient than those produced even a few years ago. For example, air conditioners produced from 2015 onward need to have a seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) of at least 14 in the southern portion of the U.S. In 2006, the minimum SEER rating was 10. By 2023, air conditioners installed in the southern part of the U.S. will need to have a SEER rating of at least 15 — a higher SEER means more efficiency.
Annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) is the ratio used to determine the energy efficiency of furnaces and boilers. AFUE measures how much of the energy the furnace or boiler uses actually gets turned into heat for the home, rather than lost through leaks. The higher the AFUE, the better.
Like air conditioners, heating systems have become more energy-efficient over the years. Today, the most efficient heating systems have an AFUE rating of at least 90%.
Since energy-efficient appliances use less energy, they often lead to significantly lower energy costs at home. Energy-efficient furnaces use 15% less energy than standard models, while an energy-efficient air conditioner can help to lower your cooling costs by up to 20%.
While upgrading your heating and cooling equipment can be a good place to start if you want to purchase energy-efficient appliances, there is still more you can do. You can further lower your energy costs at home by switching to energy-efficient lighting, kitchen appliances and electronics such as televisions and computers.
8. Invest in Heating and Cooling Services
Whether you have recently upgraded your HVAC system or other heating and cooling equipment or not, it is ideal to keep that equipment in the best possible condition. Regular maintenance is a must for your home’s heating and cooling systems, for a few reasons. Scheduling an annual tune-up of your furnace, air conditioner or HVAC system helps to extend its life and keeps it in the best possible condition.
Annual maintenance also helps the system work as efficiently as possible. With regular use, your equipment starts to wear down. Dust and debris can also build up on the parts and filters, and the equipment typically needs to work harder to keep your home comfortable. During a tune-up, an expertly trained technician will adjust and recalibrate the equipment, clean it and replace the air filters, allowing it to run more efficiently.
One way to make sure your equipment always gets the care and attention it needs is to sign up for an annual service agreement with SMO Energy. Our service agreements cover all types of equipment, from furnaces to air conditioners and from heat pumps to water heaters. Included in the service agreement is an annual inspection and tune-up. The inspection gives our technicians an opportunity to note any minor issues or concerns that might need repair or replacement, before they become big, expensive problems.
If you want to keep your energy bills down and your equipment in the best possible condition for as long as possible, investing in an annual service agreement can help you do so.
SMO Energy Can Help You Reduce Your Home Energy Costs
Want to know what else you can do to keep your home energy costs in check? SMO Energy is here for you. If you live in Southern Maryland, schedule a free, in-home energy consultation with one of our expert technicians. During the consultation, we will visit your home, get to know you, take measurements and let you know what the next steps are. Along with service agreements and energy consultations, we also perform equipment repairs, installation and replacement and offer heating fuel delivery. Get in touch with us today to find out more about how we can help you keep your home comfortable, without breaking your budget.