The average U.S. family can spend $2,000 a year on energy bills, which means reducing your home energy use is the single most effective way to save money and reduce your home’s contribution to climate change. The Energy Information Administration says that the U.S. residential sector accounts for 21 percent of all energy consumption and is responsible for 20 percent of our country’s carbon emissions.
To improve the efficiency of your home, first carefully evaluate your options. While it may be cost-effective to improve the insulation and air-tightness of your home, repair ductwork, or tune up your system, there are times when new heating and cooling systems are the best option. A qualified home performance contractor can help you evaluate your options.
Homeowners and renters alike can benefit from an energy audit. An audit will evaluate energy bills, insulation, heating and cooling systems, electrical systems and appliances to determine how much energy your home consumes, and where energy is wasted. The auditor will make specific suggestions to increase your home’s energy efficiency. Following through on the recommendations could lead to savings between 5 and 30 percent on your energy bill. Improving your home’s energy efficiency doesn’t just save money. Better insulation, for example, reduces uncomfortable drafts, and double-pane windows make for a quieter home.
Be sure to ask for potential rebates. Some utilities will offer a discounted price and use a provided contractor for upgrades.
For more information explore Department of Energy – Energy Savers, and check out the interactive video and other useful tips.
Heating and Cooling Systems
Heating is the largest energy expense in most homes, accounting for 35-50 percent of annual energy bills in colder parts of the country. On space heating alone, Americans spend $73 billion each year. Home air conditioning accounts for almost 6 percent of all the electricity produced in the U.S. and costs homeowners over $29 billion annually. Together, home heating and cooling is responsible for roughly 441 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.
When looking for central air conditioning and heat pumps, look for energy efficiency, performance and cost. According to the Department of Energy, you should consider replacing your system if it is more than 10 years old, as you can save 10 to 40 percent with a newer, more efficient model. For maximum efficiency, look for equipment that has the highest seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). New equipment must be rated at least 13.0, though some equipment will go above and beyond and reach a SEER rating of 20.0.
Warm air leaking into your home in summer and out of your home in winter can waste a lot of energy. You can save 10 percent on energy costs by insulating, sealing, and weatherstripping the cracks around your windows and doors. Electric wall plugs and switches can also let cold air in, but can be sealed with pre-cut foam gaskets that fit behind the plate. Learn more from the Department of Energy.
Warm air can also be lost if ducts in crawlspaces and attics are not properly insulated. By sealing and insulating the ducts in your heating system, you can improve efficiency by as much as 20 percent. Heating pipes and water heaters are also prime candidates for insulation.
If you still experience high energy bills, older windows could be to blame. Old windows can allow a great deal of energy to be lost through the frames and glazing. Replacement windows often have multiple panes, gas fills, edge spacers, improved frame materials, and low-emission glass, all of which can reduce unwanted heat transfer. For additional guidance, the Efficient Window Collaborative offers tools to analyze energy costs and savings, and
the Department of Energy offers information on energy performance ratings and energy efficient windows.
The Weatherization Assistance Program offers low-income families funds to support home energy-efficiency improvements. Funds are often delivered by local community organizations, agencies, non-profits or government. Learn more about the weatherization program.
Most thermostats now allow you to control the temperature of your home with ease simply by programming your desired settings. Programmable thermostats start around $20, and you’ll save as much in avoided energy costs in the first year.
Saving money requires programming the thermostat correctly. Best practices are to turn down the thermostat at night and when you’re away from home. If you lower the temperature 7°-10°F while your away at work (6-8 hours) the adjustment can save you about 10 percent on your heating and cooling bill annually. To keep up with seasonal needs, a good rule of thumb is to set the thermostat to 78°F in the summer and 68°F in the winter. Learn more about programming your thermostat at Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E).
Today, new energy management technologies allow you to remotely control your home’s heating and cooling, lighting—meaning you can adjust the lights and thermostat and more – all from your smart phone. These tools help you make better decisions about when and how to use energy.