Archive for July, 2010

Summer Energy Advice

This helpful information comes from Peter Matuszewski from Green Envelope Construction.  Enjoy!

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Ah, summer has finally arrived – the longer days, the BBQs, and the hot, hot upstairs. For many homeowners, the summer heat bearing down on our homes is just a standard part of the season. A standard we accept and usually counteract by pushing a little harder on the thermostat. That nice cool air comes at a price. Each month, very promptly and with devout regularity, ComEd sends us our electric bills, that, at no additional charge, makes our hair stand on end. There is plenty homeowners can do about it. Let’s consider that every cooling degree below 78 results in about a 4-5% increase in our electric bills. So leaving our thermostats four degrees higher and taking the following easy steps can decrease our electric bills significantly, while maintaining or improving our comfort substantially.

Ceiling Fans

Something as simple as a ceiling fan can lower the ambient room temperature, the temperature your skin feels, by as much as four degrees. For the summer months, we want to be sure that the fan is spinning counter-clockwise, in order to destratify the room’s air. Running fans alongside the A/C is a smart and simple practice.

Major Appliances

Running the dishwasher and the dryer at night is another way to reap energy rewards. The benefits here are two-fold. Most utility companies have expensive peak hour rates and cheaper night rates. Washing and drying our clothes and dishes at night can take advantage of these rates (The old clothes line doesn’t hurt either). Additionally, most evenings tend to be cooler, so the heating effect that dries our clothes and dishes puts a lesser heat load on the air conditioner. Similarly, when bathing, switch on the bathroom fan to vent out the moist air.

Lighting

Lighting and shading affect our electric bills in curious ways. In most homes southern and western windows let in a significant amount of sunlight. This is referred to as a solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC). The heat load that this sunlight puts on our home and air conditioners is significant. Older windows have a very high SHGC, so they admit large amounts of unwelcome heat during summer months. Shading windows with canopies, curtains or plants, can cut down on a great deal of unwanted heat.

Our lamps also place a heat load on our homes. As an added benefit to consuming less wattage, CFLs burn significantly cooler than incandescent lights. If your home has lamps that use halogen bulbs, put your hand near them after they have been on for a few minutes and notice how hot they are. If you consider what that heat is doing to the cool air that is blowing in from your air conditioner, you just might feel a big upward tug in your pocket. Try to minimize the usage of these lights whenever you can.

Attic

If on scorching days your upstairs rooms are hot, hot places, chances are your home has poor attic insulation and is lacking ventilation. This heat enters our attic through the roof and presses down on our ceilings, warming the rooms below. In addition, heat naturally rises, leaving lower areas cooler. This is why most upstairs rooms are hotter. Attic insulation is one of the smartest investments any homeowner can make. Looking past the effect insulation has on gas and electric bills; insulation and ventilation keep the heat out of our homes in the summer months and keep our families cool and comfortable beneath. As a rule of thumb, if your attic is hotter than the weather outside, you should consider more insulation and attic fans. Ideally, our home’s attic should always be the same as the temperature outside.

Air Conditioner

Lastly, let’s look at the A/C unit itself. This is a magical device. We press a button and our home begins to spew hours and hours of cool comfort. Having visited hundreds of homes over the years, my team is always struck by the neglect of a home’s mechanicals. I understand the neglect of attics, basements, and crawlspaces, but why we would write off something that costs us almost as much as half a car, I will never understand. Regular maintenance is well worth the investment of $100-150. Maintenance can notably extend the unit’s life past the factory warranty and avoid homeowners the stress and cost of unexpected failures. If you are handy and feel comfortable with the work, you can do the following yourself and save some future energy: change out the filters every 60 days, ensure that there is a proper level of refrigerant, make sure all electrical components are not corroded and the all wiring looks to be in good shape, check and clean the evaporator and condenser coils, and oil the motors as needed. Two last money saving tips: make sure the cover is off of the unit before you call for maintenance and never turn the air conditioning off and then back on in less than five minutes. This will short-cycle the compressor and can trip breakers, blow fuses, or cause permanent damage to the unit’s compressor. Do not wait until the hottest part of the day to turn on your A/C unit. A small run early in the day to freshen everything up is recommended. If you consider how long the unit has been asleep, you probably don’t want it to run a marathon fresh out of bed.

There is room for improvement in every home. When we consider how much we pay to keep our homes cool and our families comfortable, many of these tips can become a natural fit as we work them into our everyday habits. These time honored energy tricks will help your home feel more like an ice box, not the like an oven, and just maybe, help a few polar bears stay cool too.

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