Pump up Your Home’s Energy Efficiency with These Projects

jstevensonHeating, Cooling, and Plumbing Articles

springtime HVAC maintenance

Almost half of all residential energy usage in the United States goes to heating and cooling. Almost 18 percent goes to heating water and the remaining 35 percent goes to electronics, lighting and appliances. There are many ways to reduce energy usage, from simple solutions like using energy-efficient lighting to more costly solutions like installing high-efficiency appliances.

Energy Audits

If you would like to become more energy efficient, start with a home energy audit. Older homes waste more energy than newer homes because of inadequately insulated attics, windows and doors and older, less energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment. However, homeowners can find ways to reduce energy usage in even the most energy-efficient houses.

Many HVAC contractors do energy audits according to Energy Star standards. Your local utility board may also do them. An energy audit pinpoints where energy is lost in your home—doors and windows, inefficient HVAC equipment, too little insulation or old appliances like refrigerators and dishwashers. At the end of the audit, you should receive a report detailing where energy inefficiencies occur in your house and how to fix them.

If the work to be done seems daunting, or if you are on a budget, prioritize. Which projects can you afford that give the best return? Insulating attics, sealing cracks, insulating water heaters and tuning up your air conditioner are inexpensive fixes that can save up to 30 percent on energy bills and increase your indoor comfort.

Insulation and Air Sealing

New homes are often adequately insulated for the regional climate zone. Older homes, however, are often not well-insulated. Although the Lake Havasu area does not get very cold in the winter, summer temperatures are high. Increasing attic insulation is one of the most cost-effective ways to enhance indoor comfort and reduce the load on air conditioning. The Department of Energy recommends R30 to R60 for uninsulated attics and R19 to R25 for flooring in wood frame houses in southwest Arizona and southeast Nevada.

There are several forms of insulating materials:

  • Rolls or batts of rock wool or fiberglass
  • Blown-in loose fill of fiberglass, rock wool or cellulose
  • Rigid foam
  • Foam-in-place made in closed-cell and open-cell polyurethane

For do-it-yourself projects, adding batting to an attic is easy. Installing other forms of insulating materials may require a professional. Blown-in fill is suitable for hard-to-reach places such as around wires, ducts and pipes or in corners. Rigid foam is appropriate for exterior wall sheathing, interior basement wall sheathing and attic hatches. Foam-in-place can be blown under flooring, into walls or used to fill holes and cracks around pipes, electrical wiring or door and window frames.

Sealing air leaks can dramatically improve indoor comfort and have a corresponding effect in energy efficiency. If your house feels drafty or has hot spots, the reason may be from cracks and holes around doors and windows, electrical outlets, pipes and ducts. Simple remedies include:

  • Caulk around doors and windows
  • Calk where plumbing and wiring go through walls
  • Place foam gaskets in electrical outlets
  • Insulate ducts in ducted heating and cooling systems
  • Use water heater blankets for storage heaters
  • Add insulating jackets to water pipes

Caulking and weatherstripping are easy-to-do, low-cost projects that have high payoffs.

Air Conditioning Maintenance

One of the most effective ways to save energy and reduce the occurrence of untimely air conditioning repair is to regularly clean the air conditioner filter. Dirty filters are the number one reason that air conditioners break down. Clean filters also improve indoor air quality. Filters trap dust and other airborne particles and keep them from entering the HVAC system. A clogged filter allows particulates to flow through the system. Pollutants are deposited in ducts, coat coils and enter the living space. Air must flow freely over coils for optimum performance. If coils are dirty, the compressor may overheat or cycle on and off more frequently.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program recommends seasonal maintenance for furnaces and air conditioning units. Many manufacturers require a tune-up in the spring for the air conditioner and one in the fall for the furnace to keep warranties valid. A tune-up inspects all elements of the system including:

  • Clean coils
  • Clean drip pans and tubing
  • Check refrigerant levels
  • Check furnace plenum and housing
  • Inspect wiring and connections
  • Clean or replace filter
  • Lubricate fans and blowers

A well-maintained unit operates more efficiently, prolongs the life of the unit and reduces the occurrence of breakdowns.

Protect Your Home from Solar Gain

The hot desert sun transfers heat energy to roofs, walls and pavement, which absorb heat and become hotter than the ambient air temperature. Sunlight can heat roof surfaces up to 175 degrees. This heat radiates down into the attic and living space, increasing demand on your cooling system. With summer temperatures hovering around 100 degrees F, why add more heat? There are several effective ways to reduce solar gain. Many also enhance the appearance of your property.

Use drapes and window coverings to prevent heat from entering the house during the day. On cool days, open them to let sunlight help heat the interior. Exterior window awnings are not only attractive additions to an exterior — placed on south-facing windows, awnings reduce solar gain by 65 percent. On west-facing windows, they reduce solar gain by 77 percent.

Trees and plants are valued for their aesthetic qualities, used in landscaping to create an attractive exterior. They also provide shade, lower ground temperatures and improve air quality. Strategically placed trees can save up to 25 percent of the energy used by a household by shading the roof, doors and windows. Shaded surfaces may be 20 to 45 degrees cooler than unshaded materials at peak sun times. Ground temperatures under trees can be as much as 25 degrees cooler than the outside air.

Plants and shrubs placed around the foundation of a house, along driveways and near walkways can lower ground temperatures by up to 9 degrees and cool the air before it reaches walls or windows. Trellises provide shade on walls and prevent radiant heat from penetrating to the inside of a building while promoting air circulation.

When planting trees, shrubs and ground cover, be sure to use species that are adapted to the area and are drought-tolerant. For example, the Blue Palo Verde is fast-growing, can reach up to 30 feet tall and requires very little water.

Install Energy Efficient Equipment

If your HVAC unit is more than 10 years old or needs frequent repairs, it may be time to replace it. Although a new HVAC system may seem expensive, savings on utility bills often pay back the cost of the unit in a few years.

Unlike conventional air conditioners that put out a blast of cold air and then cycle off, dual-stage compressors maintain even temperatures and better humidity control. The system adjusts to the load as temperatures change. A dual-speed system operates at the lower speed 80 percent of the time, but during hotter times of day when more cooling is needed, it runs at high speed to maintain comfort. Two-stage cooling uses less energy, resulting in a 40 percent increase in efficiency.

Ambient Air Heating, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration

Ambient Air is a full-service HVAC company providing air conditioning maintenance, repair and installation for communities in southwest Arizona and southeast Nevada. We are so sure of the quality of our work that we guarantee 100 percent customer satisfaction with every job we do. Our services include:

  • 24-hour emergency service
  • Furnace and air conditioning repair
  • Heat pump installation
  • Annual maintenance plans
  • Custom design of cooling systems

To find out more about how we can help you save energy and improve your indoor comfort, contact us today.

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