There are many reasons why you might want to reduce the amount of energy your home uses. Using less energy can mean more money in your bank account. The average home in the U.S. spends more than $2,000 per year to heat and cool their homes, heat water, keep the lights on and power equipment and electronics. In Maryland, the average monthly electric bill is $133.68.
Reducing home energy use can also be good news for the environment. Many of the fuels used to heat the home, such as heating oil and propane gas, come from fossil fuels and are considered to be non-renewable. Slowing down your use of them can mean there will be more for future generations.
You have many options when it comes to figuring out how to lower your energy consumption. The first step is to determine how to measure your home’s energy efficiency. Knowing where your home’s “trouble spots” are helps you decide the best way to fix the issue.
Why Measure Your Home's Energy Efficiency and Usage?
If your goal is to maximize your home’s efficiency and improve its overall energy use, you need to know what uses the most energy and where there is room for improvement. For example, if your furnace or HVAC system is older, it might be a significant contributor to your higher-than-average energy usage. An HVAC system or furnace that is in need of a tune-up or maintenance might also affect the energy efficiency in your house.
While heating and cooling your home typically account for a significant portion of your home’s energy use, they are not the only things that use energy. Your water heater, lights and electronic devices all use energy as well. Figuring out which equipment or devices are using the most energy allows you to figure out suitable replacements or alternatives.
Measuring your home’s energy efficiency can help you save money, too. Up to 20% of your energy costs might be on account of wasted energy, such as warm air that seeps out cracks, openings near doors and windows, or older equipment that are working harder than they should be. Finding the source of your energy waste will help you save money.
If you find that your home is not as comfortable as it could be, measuring your energy use can help you decide how to fix the issue. If you are cold in the winter or hot in the summer, it might be your HVAC system’s fault. If you run out of hot water in the middle of a shower, there might be an issue with your water heater.
Focusing on the specific cause of your home’s high energy use and making other small changes will help you improve efficiency, save money and increase your comfort.
10 Tips for Maximizing Your Energy Efficiency and Usage
If you are interested in making your home more energy-efficient, whether to lower your energy bills or to be more environmentally-friendly, there are lots of things you can do. The best way to maximize your home’s efficiency and cut back on energy use depends in large part on the build of your home, the age of your equipment and your current habits. Implementing some or all of the tips below is likely to lead to a lower energy bill and a more comfortable home.
1. Seal Air Leaks
A drafty home is not just an uncomfortable home. It is also a home that uses more energy than it needs. Reducing the drafts in your home can help you save up to 30% on your annual energy costs. One way to reduce drafts is to find out where the air is seeping out of your house and seal those openings.
You have multiple options for sealing air leaks, depending on the type of leak. Adding caulk around door and window frames or around pipes and wiring can keep warm air from seeping out of your home. Adding foam around outlets and light switches can also help to improve the air-tightness of your home.
Depending on how handy you are, sealing air leaks can be a do-it-yourself project or it might be something you hire someone to take care of for you.
2. Purchase More Energy-Efficient Equipment
Today’s equipment, including HVAC systems, furnaces and air conditioners, are designed to be much more energy-efficient than older models. New equipment that is ENERGY STAR rated is going to be notably more efficient than both older equipment and new, non ENERGY STAR rated options. For instance, an ENERGY STAR furnace is likely to be about 15% more efficient than a standard furnace. All told, if you replace the bulk of your home’s equipment with ENERGY STAR models, you can expect to see your home’s energy use drop by about 35%.
Equipment is not the only thing in your home that can be ENERGY STAR rated. Depending on your circumstances and budget, you might decide to replace older windows and doors with more efficient models, which are designed to provide better insulation. Replacing electronics, such as older televisions and computers with more efficient models can also lead to a drop in your home’s energy bill.
3. Install a Smart Thermostat
A programmable thermostat lets you set certain temperatures for your home based on your schedule. The thermostat will adjust itself up or down based on the schedule you create, such as climbing up to 68 degrees around 5 p.m. each day and dropping to 64 degrees around bedtime.
A smart thermostat is similar to a programmable thermostat, but it goes one step further. Instead of sticking to a pre-programmed schedule, the thermostat learns your habits and makes adjustments to the temperature based on them. If you regularly turn the thermostat down at 10 p.m., a smart thermostat will take notice and will start to lower itself at that time. You can also connect your smart thermostat to your phone so that it can detect where you are in your home. It can even tell when you are not at home.
By taking care of adjusting your thermostat for you and by ensuring your heater or air conditioner is not going full-blast when no one is home, a smart thermostat can help you reduce your energy use and lower your energy bills.
4. Adjust the Temperature on Your Thermostat
Installing a smart thermostat is just part of the equation if you want to lower your energy use. You are not likely to save much money if you install a new thermostat and keep the temperature set to a balmy 73 degrees in the winter or a cool 67 degrees in the summer.
Changing your temperature preferences is also essential if you want to maximize efficiency. Adjusting your thermostat up or down by about 10 degrees for eight hours a day can help you cut your energy bills by about 10%. In the winter, set the thermostat to 68 degrees when you are home in the evening. Before bed, turn it down to 65 degrees or so. In the summer, when no one is home, you can set your thermostat to 78 degrees and enjoy cost-savings.
5. Rethink the Placement of Your A/C Compressor
You might not find it particularly enjoyable when Maryland’s hot summer sun is beating down on you, and neither does your air conditioner, the part of the HVAC system that is usually outdoors. If it is not located in a shady spot, it will have to do its job of keeping your home cool while dealing with high heat. The heat from the sun can make the air conditioner work harder, leading to an increase in energy use.
If possible, situate the compressor in a shaded area next to your home. If the unit is currently in a spot that does get a lot of sunlight and that does not have tree cover, you have a few options. You can create shade by planting a tree an appropriate distance from the compressor. Another option is to create a hedge or living wall around the compressor, using shrubs. Just be sure that you do not plant anything too close to the unit, as you do not want to run the risk of having leaves or branches fall onto or into the compressor. You also want to make sure your compressor is easily accessible for maintenance and service throughout the year.
6. Hang up Curtains
Curtains can do more than improve the aesthetics of your windows. They can also help you control the temperature inside your home, lowering your energy use. Hanging up a pair of curtains can help you keep cold air out of the house during the winter. In the summer, you can draw the curtains on a sunny day to reduce heat gain through the windows.
Some curtains are better at improving energy efficiency than others. Curtains that have a blackout liner will do a better job of keeping heat from the sun’s rays out of your house than curtains that are thin or that have an open weave. Insulated curtains will provide a better barrier against the cold in the winter than thin or non-insulated varieties.
7. Install Insulation
In addition to sealing leaks or drafty areas in your home, it is also a good idea to install insulation to help lower your energy costs and improve efficiency. Insulation acts as an extra barrier between your home and the outside world. When it is cold outside, the insulation helps to keep warm air indoors. When the weather is hot, the insulation helps to keep hot air outside of your home. Insulating the ceiling between the living space of your home and the attic can also make your home more energy-efficient. The insulation prevents warm air from exiting through the attic or prevents hot attic air from seeping down into your home.
8. Reduce Your Hot Water Use
While heating and cooling your home account for the bulk of your energy use, heating water also requires a considerable amount of energy. Along with finding ways to improve your heating and cooling options, it is also worthwhile to find ways to reduce your hot water use.
One option is to switch from using hot or warm water when doing the laundry. If you have an electric washer, switching to cold water can help you reduce your energy use by about 584-kilowatt hours per year, which can lower your electric bill by about $66 annually.
You can also reduce your home’s hot water use by encouraging everyone to take shorter showers and by only running the dishwasher when it is full of dishes.
9. Tune-Up Your Equipment
Your furnace or boiler, HVAC system or other home equipment can most likely benefit from an annual tune-up. Scheduling regular maintenance of your equipment has several benefits, among them improving the efficiency of the equipment. During a tune-up, a professionally trained technician will inspect the equipment, clean it and replace air filters as needed. Cleaning the equipment and replacing dirty filters with new ones eases the amount of strain on your equipment, allowing them to operate more smoothly and efficiently.
Another benefit of an annual equipment tune-up is that the inspection gives a technician a chance to spot any areas of concern or any problems that might need repair. Knowing about problems or concerns allows you to fix them before they become larger and costlier issues.
10. Switch to a Tankless Water Heater
A traditional water heater stores hot water in a tank, where it waits ready for you to use. A tankless water heater heats the water only when you turn on the tap. Compared to storage tank heaters, a tankless water heater is more energy efficient since it is only heating water on an as-needed basis. Along with improving the efficiency of your home, a tankless water heater can also free up space, as it is usually much smaller than conventional water heaters.
If your current water heater is older or is getting near the end of its usable life, making the switch to a tankless model can make sense. The type of water heater that will work best for you and whether your home needs more than one heater depends on the size of the house and the number of sinks and fixtures it has.
SMO Energy Can Help You Improve the Energy Efficiency of Your Home
If your goal is to improve the efficiency of your home in Southern Maryland, SMO Energy is here to help. We offer free, in-home energy consultations — we will assess your house and recommend the equipment that will help you lower your energy bill while increasing the comfort of your home.
We offer a wide range of services to help homeowners increase their energy efficiency, from annual tune-ups to equipment repair. If your equipment is near the end of its usable life or is in constant need of repair, we also offer installation and replacement. To learn more about our services and what we can do for you, contact us today.