Basement and Home Energy Efficiency Guide
HOW IS ELECTRICITY USED IN U.S. HOMES?
U.S. residential sector electricity consumption by major end uses in 2018, as projected in the Annual Energy Outlook 2019:
|END USE||KWH*||% of total|
|Televisions and related equipment||62||4%|
|Computers and related equipment||26||2%|
|Furnace fans and boiler circulation pumps||20||1%|
The breakdown of the figures (above) reveal some of the biggest uses of energy in a home. Space cooling and space heating are major offenders, constituting around 29% of energy use in homes. Clothes washers and dish washers come in a lot lower, each with 1% of the total share of energy usage in homes.
However, this percentage does not reflect the impact of water heating, which is used in most cycles.
The U.S Department of Energy lists a number of ways that homeowners can reduce their energy costs without major structural upgrades.
For example, if you were to lower the temperature on your thermostat by 7-10 degrees F for 8 hours a day, you would cut your heating bill by 5-10% each year.
As the graph below shows, most of the energy usage in your home depends on temperature. If you could stand outside your home and look with a thermal imaging camera at your house, you would see heat escaping up into the sky.
An energy inefficient home is effectively paying to heat (or cool, in the summer) the area around the house (see the image on the left).
Creating a temperature barrier around your home should be the first step in reducing your energy usage. If you can prevent heat from escaping, you will require less energy to constantly keep your home the desired temperature, thereby cutting a major part of your energy bill.
The first thing you should do as part of your energy efficiency inventory is to find the air leaks in your home. The best way to do this is to wait until it is a windy day and then light an incense stick or a smoke pen.
Walk around the interior of your home and hold the incense stick next to all doors, windows, or other places where the inside meets the outside (such as plumbing pipes, outlets, etc.). You will be able to tell from the direction of the incense or smoke where the wind is getting in.
Use caulk or other filling material to plug any leaks you find or consider replacing old windows and doors altogether.
If the air leaks are across a larger area than you can fill with caulking (such as in a wall cavity) then you should use insulation. Insulation effectively works on the same principle – keeping heat in rather than allowing it to escape.
Naturally, this is a more intensive task than is involved in just using some caulk so it may be best to speak to a professional at this stage.
Some factors to consider when talking to a professional contractor are:
You should ventilate your attic, but not if there is insulation on the underside of the roof.
Along with saving you money – and helping the environment – insulation will help to keep you a comfortable temperature in your home and can actually help to keep your home quieter and less disturbed by noises from outside.
A home with better insulation (and a lower annual heating bill) will also have a higher value when it comes time to sell.
Therefore, when considering the cost of insulating your home, you should factor in the annual savings on your energy bill (and multiply by the number of years you intend to live in the home) as well as the increased value of your home when you decide to sell. Very quickly this becomes a smart financial decision.
Heating and Cooling System
29% of the average’s family’s utility bills come from heating and cooling, meaning this is a major area of saving. As shown above, not paying to heat or cool the surrounding air is a major tool for cutting down your bill as well as being energy efficient.
Within your home, you can follow simple tactics such as keeping your thermostat as low as comfortable in the winter and as high as comfortable in the summer (i.e. as close as possible to the temperature outside).
As part of ensuring that you’re not wasting money on heating and cooling your home, you should undertake regular maintenance of heating appliances throughout your house. In particular, the following:
- Keep your filters clean on both your furnace and air conditioner (you should do this once a month, or as directed by the instructions).
- Clean all heating and cooling appliances, making sure they are not blocked. Items such as radiators, registers, and baseboard heaters should all be free of clutter.
- Bleed your radiators every three months to remove trapped air.
Water heating constitutes 12% of the average American family’s utility bill.
By taking steps like installing new faucets (you can buy faucets that aerate the water, thus reducing flow), setting your heating temperature limit to get optimal comfort, and insulating your pipes, you can also reduce the amount of heat wastage.
In general, showers use less water than baths, so a lifestyle switch will also help this process.
As the thermal image above shows, windows are a large source of heat leakage for a home. According to the Department of Energy, windows account for 10-25% of heat leaving your home.
Glass is not a particularly good insulator of heat, and older homes may only have single glazing, meaning that one layer of glass is all that insulates your home.
The first step to take when it comes to windows is to consider double-glazing. This places two layers of glass with a layer of air in between, thus providing far greater insulation.
If double-glazing is too cost-prohibitive, you can consider the following:
Plug all leaks in your window frame.
Install tight-fitting drapes on your windows to reduce drafts.
Coat your windows in a clear, sticky plastic sheet (these are available from most hardware stores). You can also buy sun-coating sheets, which reflect the sun and reduce solar glare.
On hot days, close the curtains on south and west facing windows, as these play a major role in heating your home.
Again, investing in windows is exactly that – an investment; a high upfront cost is more than mitigated by a long-term reduction in heating costs.
If you’re shopping for windows, consider a low ‘U-factor’ if you live in a colder climate and a low SHGC coefficient if you live in a warm climate. The former helps to conduct heat (thus warming your house faster), the latter is a poor conductor of heat, helping to keep your home cool.
The appliances in your home collectively add up to a sizeable amount of the household energy cost. The use of a refrigerator, freezer, washer and dryer, and other appliances will consistently add to your monthly household bill.
Indeed, this is why it is often a false economy to purchase the cheapest appliance available – not only will it not perform as well as a higher-end model, but the monthly cost of running the appliances will soon exceed the cost of buying a better model.
When you buy an appliance, the Energy Star label lets you know it has been certified as energy efficient and will use less electricity and water. For example, an Energy Star washing machine is required to use less than 5.8 gallons of water per cycle (in comparison, dishwashers made before 1994 use 10 gallons of water per cycle).
As part of your home maintenance, you should also check the seals on all refrigerators and freezers.
Place a dollar bill in the door so that it is half inside and half outside the refrigerator. When you close the door, the bill should stay in place. If it doesn’t, you need to replace the door seal, or potentially the entire unit.
Water heating constitutes a huge amount of energy (more than twice the amount of a clothes dryer or four times more than a refrigerator). Water heater leaks need immediate attention.
As technology has improved, the cost of installing renewable energy technology within your own home is much more accessible. This is not only an environmentally-conscious decision, but it can actually make you money.
In some cases, if your home produces more electricity than you use, you can sell electricity back to the utility company. Naturally, this only happens in a few cases and may require a significant capital investment.
In general, however, installing renewable energy technology to your home will reduce your energy bill.
Although installing a wind turbine or solar panels on your home may sound daunting, it is actually a feasible home project (albeit one that may require the help of a professional). The Department of Energy makes the following tips for maximizing renewable energy:
If you are building a new home, orient it to maximize the sun’s rays. This will help let in winter light and allow any solar panels to work as efficiently as possible.
Ultimately, making your home more energy efficient is a perfect combination of self-interest and altruism. You can take steps to reduce your energy bill, increase the value of your home, and make yourself more comfortable in both summer and winter, while also doing your part for the environment and climate change.
Furthermore, making your home more energy efficient isn’t even a major undertaking and follows many of the same steps as the general upkeep of your home.
Making your home more energy efficient is a step that everyone can take to improve their own environment, as well as our shared planet.
Sources and Further Reading