The Department of Energy says that heating and water heating technologies have greatly improved over the past 30 years, saving lots of energy. However at the same time, people have more electronics in the home, so total energy consumption across all categories is up.
Most homes in the Northwest have computers and TV’s, DVRs, appliances and maybe game consoles, wireless routers, ceiling fans and items that need charging. Have a look around your kitchen – how many things are plugged in? But…I need my refrigerator, microwave, toaster oven, coffee maker, food saver, dishwasher, and range, and I can’t cook without my ipod docking station! While my appliances are EnergyStar efficient, there’s more money spent to maintain all of my many home energy needs.
How can we save energy and stay comfortable?
You can increase your energy efficiency by choosing better appliances or fuel sources, and/or you can practice conservation, by changing your behavior. Either way, you will save. We hate to hear that people turn down the thermostat and suffer wearing coats inside all winter to save money, when there are so many other ways to save, in comfort. Here’s some information about those efficiency and conservation savings options.
Space heating & air conditioning efficiency
There are three drivers of your space heating cost:
- Fuel Source – a natural gas or electric fuel source can be much less expensive than oil or propane. In fact, it used to be that the cost to decommission an oil heating system was so high that it was a deterrent to people switching fuel sources. Today, oil costs so much, the payback for making the switch will be fast.
- Equipment – today’s heating equipment whether it’s for natural gas or electric heating is much more energy efficient. There are substantial utility rebates for installing efficient equipment.
Natural gas furnaces can get to 97% efficient vs the old standard of 80%. What does that mean to you? 97% of your fuel is used, so only 3% of your fuel is lost as waste vs 80%/20%.
An alternative to a high efficiency furnace is a heat pump with a furnace or air handler back up. This option is good for either electric or gas fueled heating systems. The heat pump sources heat from the air – air is free! So you use the furnace just as a backup when it gets below zero outside. Heat pumps also can cool your house when it’s hot by running their process in reverse. This summer that would have been useful! Central air conditioning has also become more efficient, but in the Northwest many people are choosing to use the cooling features of heat pumps and ductless heat pumps to provide both heat & air conditioning. This is a cost and energy efficient way to get AC.
For electrically heated homes, ductless heat pumps can save up to 40% vs baseboard heating. These super quiet units also provide air conditioning in the summer – a bonus with our warming trends. These are great for single family homes, condos, townhomes and can fit just about anywhere.
Another super efficient technology is radiant floor heating and related hydronic heating. These take a sooped-up tankless water heater or boiler and heat your whole home.
- Maintenance and Duct Sealing – If your system is not cleaned or running properly and your ducts are not sealed, there’s no system that can be efficient. Leaky ducts can lose up to 25% of your heat. Duct sealing should be done by professionals and is not nearly as expensive as the cost of the heat you are losing.
Water heating efficiency
- Water heating costs have been driven down by the introduction of tankless water heaters. They do not store hot water all day, providing hot water on demand when you turn on the tap. If you maintained your water use, you could save 15% on the cost to heat water – which is significant. Tankless water heaters provide continuous hot water. No tank to run out and no wait to let it warm up again. Everyone in the family can take really long showers and full baths. So while you may never see your 15% savings, your comfort and lifestyle will be enhanced and who doesn’t want that.
- Other cost efficient options for water heating include heat pump water heaters, which work just like heat pumps, drawing heat from the air as a fuel source with a backup, in this case, electric power. These are more expensive than traditional water heaters and require a large indoor space.
- When buying appliances, including those for water and space heating, choose an EnergyStar™ rated appliance. For example, Energy Star refrigerators today use half as much energy as the ones made before 1993. EnergyStar also awards companies that provide the Most Efficient products in their categories.
- It’s true that the traditional light bulb is on its way out. Should you choose CFL’s? Yes they are much more efficient, however they contain a toxic level of mercury (dangerous if it breaks or when disposed of) and a new study highlights that CFL’s may not be safe for use in close proximity to us. While there is probably more to learn here, LED’s do not have the risks that CFL’s have.
Conservation with comfort
- Electric: Most people will shut off appliances, lights and computers when not in use, but residual power is supplied when they are left plugged in. Pull the plug on anything you are not using. Put lights on a timer when you are away rather than leaving them on the whole time. Stop leaving a house full of lights on for your pets. They can see just fine in dim light.
- Water Heating: Using less water conserves both the water and the water heating cost. Low flow toilets, faucets and shower heads have come a long way and are more comfortable to use than ever before. Most can be purchased at hardware stores and installed by homeowners.
- Space Heating: Using a thermostat that you can set to reduce temperatures while you are away from home can save 5-10% on heating costs. Today’s technology, for example Redlink by Honeywell, allows you to set your thermostat from your phone or tablet with a convenient app.
Energy powers our lives but doesn’t need to consume our wallets. For more energy saving assistance call Washington Energy Services, 800-398-4663.