Have you ever wondered how you can cut energy costs depending on the room you’re in? Now, we take the thinking and guessing out of it. Here are some simple ways you can cut back on energy consumption for each major room in your home.
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Even with July 4th in the rear-view mirror we have several weeks of good grilling weather ahead of us. For those who like to tailgate and aren’t afraid of snow, grilling holds year-round appeal.
Is grilling good or bad for the environment? Is it at least better than cooking in the kitchen?
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According to Google, it’s going to cost you $300 over the course of the summer to run one air conditioning window unit. So which room do you choose? The bedroom? Your home office? The living room? Does your entire family huddle around this loud, dripping machine when summer is at its peak? Is there always someone in the house complaining it’s too cold?
The reluctant truth is, our grandparents survived without air conditioning, especially in New England. With a few common sense actions and a teeny bit of willingness to forgo optimum personal temperature at all times, you too can save some money and do a little bit more for the environment.
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Air conditioning units, even the newest, most efficient models, occupy the top spot of the American energy consumption pyramid. On a normal summer day, no other household appliance consumes as much energy as the much-loved air conditioner — or even comes close. Roughly 25% of an average monthly electrical bill is consumed by a running air conditioning unit.
Now, consider the humble ceiling fan. A mid-size ceiling fan set on high for 12 hours per day costs just over a penny per hour in electricity or just about $3.50 per month. Even your curling iron uses more energy.
Three numbers to consider when shopping for a ceiling fan
Now that you are considering a ceiling fan to save money, you may as well consider an energy efficient one to further lower your household consumption. There are three numbers on the side of the box to look at:
- Airflow or CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute): Air flow, whether you’re talking about duct systems, bath fans, or ceiling fans, is measured in cubic feet per minute, usually called simply cfm. The higher the number, the more air is moving.
- Electricity Use (watts): Energy usage can be a bit confusing, but it’s important to remember that a watt is the unit of measurement for the rate of energy consumption. If the ceiling fan you are looking at includes a light, that will not be included in the electricity use rating to better allow an accurate comparison of the fan mechanism.
- Airflow Efficiency (or CFM/Watt): Efficiency is generally measured as output divided by input. In this case the output is airflow or CFM, divided by electricity use or watts
So what can we gather from these three numbers? You want high airflow or CFM with low electricity use or watts. Therefore, the higher the airflow efficiency number, the more efficient the fan. Other factors to consider are the size and height of the room. Energy Star provides an installation guide to help you choose the best size and mount for your ceiling fan. General rule of thumb is, get the biggest fan you can.
You have successfully installed your new ceiling fan. Now what?
As with any appliance, you have to know how and when to use it to get the best bang for your buck. In most homes in the U.S. ceiling fans don’t actually save much energy at all, but that’s not to say that they can’t. For all of the reasons that this article has laid out, ceiling fans can be a great money and energy saving tool, but you have to understand how and when to use them. Here are the rules of the road:
- Fans cool people, not rooms. The most important rule of using a ceiling fan to save energy is to turn it off when no one is there. The goal is to make your room feel cooler, allowing you to skip the AC. Ceiling fans don’t actually change the temperature of the room that much, but the circulating air does make the person inside the room feel cooler.
- Use the fan year-round. A ceiling fan set to run counterclockwise in the summer provides a cooling breeze. In the winter, reverse the motor to clockwise (most ceiling fans have this feature) for a gentle updraft, forcing warm air hiding out near the ceiling down. And don’t forget to adjust your thermostat to really realize these savings.
- Apply for a rebate. Energy Star often partners with appliance manufacturers to further incentivize use of energy efficient products. These savings can come in the form of federal tax credits or product rebates. As you continue to make improvements to your home, this website is a helpful tool to discover savings.
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We New Englanders love our squeaky old farm houses, Capes and captain’s houses, and taking care of our historic homes is nothing short of a labor of love. But it’s not just about the hard work. While the carbon footprint of maintaining and inhabiting an old home is less than building a new one, the expense of heating, cooling and lighting these beloved structures can be nothing short of menacing.
There is also our own, personal energy use to consider. All residential buildings in the US use more energy than all commercial buildings combined. While we love our drafty fireplaces and single pane windows, none of us are looking to guzzle up the resources often required to make a New England winter manageable. That said, building a new and tightly sealed home can emit up to ten times more C02e (carbon dioxide equivalent) during construction than rehabbing an old one. So, while cutting household emissions can clearly make an impact, if your goal is to be the best global citizen you can be, older is better.
Enter home performance. An energy efficient home isn’t just for new construction. There are many ways to keep the charm and originality of your historic home while also saving a little fuel, a little electricity and potentially a lot of money.
Historic Homes are Different
There are considerations to make before moving forward with creating new efficiencies in your old house. It is important to remember that your 1800s home was constructed using different techniques than what contractors practice today. For example, if your home is a pre-1850s structure, its bones are likely post and beam instead of the more modern balloon framing. This will be important to consider when updating your insulation.
Another major consideration is temperature regulation and moisture levels. Historic homes were not built with the same static, comfortable temperature expectation as today. If you were cold, you put on a sweater. If you were hot, you opened a window. Thicker walls provided some insulation, keeping the home warmer at night and cooler during the day, but in general, air was allowed to move more freely throughout the structure. Adding insulation to your old home without considering the house as a system can cause moisture to accumulate and mold and rot to form.
The best thing to understand about owning an old home is that you live in a structure that has served well for 100, 150 or even 200 years. The charm of your home is not only an aesthetic consideration, but also an environmental one.
Now, to improve your historic home’s energy efficiency
It is important to be considerate of your surroundings as you move towards retrofitting your home. Old homes were designed to utilize their natural surroundings for temperature control. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this project. Here are some first steps to having an energy efficient historic home:
- Get an energy audit. This is the first step to identifying leaks in your home. While many states offer free energy audits, it may be worth the expense of going to a professional when dealing with a 100 to 200 year old home. They will go beyond some of the more obvious energy upgrades and provide a complete roadmap for moving forward.
- Air seal. But not too tight! This is a one-step to significantly improving your home’s energy efficiency. Identifying and sealing the holes and cracks in your home’s exterior, doors, windows and even attic floor will make a huge difference. Sealing up these cracks can often be a DIY project. Energy Star offers a comprehensive DIY guide to get you through. During this project, keep the house-as-a-system approach in mind and work to strike a balance. The house still has to breath to avoid mold and rot.
- Keep it simple. Cut down on drafts by closing curtains, plasticing your windows in the winter, closing your fireplace damper and using door snakes. These methods may be simple, but they are cheap and surprisingly effective.
- Establish climate zones. Old homes are often comprised of many rooms. As winter approaches, identify which rooms you aren’t using regularly and consider shutting them down for the season. If you have an air-conditioned home, consider the same in the summer. Placing these rooms on separate thermostats will allow you to further control the climate.
- Consider a programmable thermostat. There are many options of varying cost out there, but the overall goal here is to decide what temperature your house should be at certain times during the day, and stick with it. The Nest thermostat seems to be getting the best reviews lately, but there are several options.
These are some basic, first steps you can take towards improving your historic home’s energy efficiency. Should you choose to get a professional energy audit, they will go deeper into your house’s needs and its possibilities, addressing big-ticket items like your furnace, windows, basement and attic, and even the possibility of purchasing renewable energy to power your home. There are a multitude of resources out there for homeowners with regard to sourcing contractors, DIY projects and even tax credits.
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Changing your thermostat a degree here or there can make a big impact on your power bill. While that’s a great idea-it doesn’t address the notion that many of your appliances might be using too much energy.
Many people are switching to smart appliances that ensure that your home is using energy as efficiently as possible. The best part is they do the thinking and make adjustments in energy use on your behalf, so you’ll hardly notice a difference—except when it comes to your lower bill, that is.
While installing smart appliances and other technology in your home is an up-front investment, if you’re in the market for upgrades anyway, they are worth looking into for long-term savings. And besides, haven’t you always wanted to feel like one of the Jetsons? (Rosie the Robo-maid is on her way.)
Remember that bit of advice about the savings you can get from turning down your heat one degree? The Nest Learning Thermostat actually figures out your family’s schedule so that it can program itself to warm up when you’re home, and cool down when the house is empty (and vice versa in the summer months). It can also be controlled from your mobile devices so you can make adjustments on the go, such as if you know you’ll be home later than usual. The company estimates that the average customer can save 20 percent on their heating and cooling bills.
Hopefully by now you’ve already switched over to LED light bulbs, but here comes the next big innovation. Smart bulbs automatically adjust their brightness depending on how much natural light is coming into the room. Like the thermostats, you can also control smart lighting via an app, or you can set timers so lights shut off at a certain time. This is great for families who are sometimes forgetful about shutting their lights.
Smart power strips
You’ve probably heard that even appliances that are turned off can use up electricity in your home. But who has time to go around unplugging and plugging things in every day? Smart power strips can sense when appliances aren’t in use, and will cut off the power automatically. This is great for things like printers, televisions, and computers.
Smart grids in your area
For most of New England, the idea of smart grid technology is way off. With the exception of “smart meters” at homes and business in Central Maine Power territory (in Maine) and the New Hampshire Electric Co-op, very few New Englanders will have the opportunity to take advantage of time of use products. This may include special price or conservation efforts during specific times of the day (or days of the week).
According to SmartGrid.gov, more than 15 million smart meters have been installed with funding from the Recovery Act, which give home owners a home energy management system (EMS) to work with.
As you continue to be proactive about keeping your energy costs in check, look into embracing some of these smart elements into your home to help automate and optimize the way you use energy. It will not only take the burden of unplugging, switching off, and scaling back off of you, but it can save you money over time while reducing your carbon footprint.