The cost of heating and cooling your home is on the rise, with some analysts estimating an increase of as much as a 30 percent over 2007's record prices. Fortunately, all of us can do a few simple things to reduce the amount of energy we use for heating, cooling and lighting.
Here are some easy things to do:
Replace filters on a regular basis. A clean filter reduces the amount of energy required to operate the fan. When you change the filter, make sure the opening is covered to keep unconditioned air from entering the fan system. If there is no cover, use duct tape to seal the filter opening each time the filter is changed.
Also, use a quality — sometimes called expensive — high-efficiency filter. You get what you pay for.
Clean, clean, clean the outside air-conditioning unit. Restricted airflow can cost you hundreds of cooling dollars each year. Airflow through the outside coils is reduced when the coils are dirty or confined by shrubs and bushes. Proper airflow can be restricted by grass clippings, overgrown plants, fences, lint from the clothes dryer or stored items.
The air-conditioning unit needs lots of clear space to operate efficiently. Trim plants and vines away from the outside unit, and remove any stored items or decorative fence coverings. Then get ready to spray-wash the coils until they are clean. Turn off the electric supply to the air conditioner at the disconnect switch located near or on the unit or at the main electric panel. Using a garden hose, spray the dirt and debris from the coils, working from inside the top opening and spraying downward.
On most units the top grille is open where you can see the fan blades. This is where you want to start spraying.
For closed-top units it would pay to have a professional do the cleaning, but spraying the coils from the outside might help remove the grit.
Stop wasting electricity. The type of electricity supplied to your home cannot be economically stored for later use, so there is a constant flow of current to the switches and outlets inside the home. Most appliances connected to the outlet will use that electricity.
Most battery-operated PDAs, cell phones, iPods, laptop computers, games and the like have a 120-volt transformer that reduces the power supplied to the appliance. When left plugged into a wall outlet, the transformer continues to use power even when the battery-operated device is not connected. Unplug the transformers when not in use.
TV sets are always "on," drawing power from the outlet even when turned "off." Any TV set, audio equipment, countertop microwave oven and, especially, coffee pot that you do not intend to use daily should be unplugged to conserve energy.
Replace old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs. A compact fluorescent light bulb uses 75 percent less energy and is estimated to last 10 times longer than conventional bulbs.
Depending on the cost of energy, each CFL can save you $30 over the life of the bulb. Then there is the added benefit of a lower output of heat energy produced by a CFL. When less heat is generated, the home's cooling system does not have to work as hard to compensate for that heat.
The one problem with a CFL: It contains a minute amount of mercury that can be a health hazard if the CFL breaks inside the home. Information on cleanup of mercury can be found at earth911.org, epa.gov/bulb recycling or maine.gov/dep/rwm/homeowner/cflreport.htm. View appendix E.
Close curtains on the sunny side of the home during the cooling season. Heat gains through standard double-paned glass can be significant and will add to the costs of cooling the home. Consider installing Low-E window glass if you are planning on replacement windows or new construction.
Use an electric fan or ceiling fan to circulate room air. You can set the thermostat higher and still remain comfortable by sitting near the fan.
Insulate, tape, caulk and seal every opening you can find to reduce drafts. Air movements through wall cavities, around window and door openings, and up chimneys and vents all add up to lost energy. Close the fireplace damper and glass doors. Heat from the chimney adds to the costs of cooling the home.
Reduce the temperature on the water heater, the biggest energy hog in the home. The home's cold water is heated to about 120 degrees and is kept at that temperature all day, every day. What a waste! Turn the temperature down to 110 degrees to save energy, or install a smaller-capacity water heater.
When it's time to replace the water heater, consider tankless heaters that heat water only on demand. The units cost a lot more than a standard water heater, but they will pay for themselves in the long run.
Insulate the attic space. Most attics I see have far less insulation than is required by code. Adding insulation blankets (batts) or loose fill is an easy but laborious job. Make sure everything in the attic is covered except for recessed light fixtures, bathroom fans and soffit vents.
The thicker the insulation the better, but do not use a vapor barrier such as Kraft-faced insulation batts or rolls. You don't want to trap moisture between the ceiling and the insulation.