For many Americans, cooling and heating costs represent a significant part of their monthly expenses. With the rising cost of electricity and natural gas, keeping our homes comfortable has never been more expensive. You may not be able to control your utility rates, but you can control how energy-efficient your home is. Every home, no matter how old or new, can become more efficient. In this article, we’ll review three of the most effective ways to improve your home’s efficiency for long-term savings and comfort.
Replace your aging HVAC systems
So far, we’ve talked about the role your home plays in your cooling and heating efficiency. It’s time to address the elephant in the room—or, more likely, your basement. If your home’s furnace or boiler is getting up there in age, it’s likely working a lot less efficiently than it did when it was new. With each passing month, you’re paying more money for less comfort, with a higher risk of a breakdown added in for good measure. It might be time for a change.
Today’s heating (and cooling!) systems are more efficient than ever before. Improving technology and buyer demand has pushed manufacturers to explore the upper limits of furnace efficiency. With variable-speed blowers and creative engineering, today’s top residential gas furnaces have up to a 98.5% AFUE. That effectively means they’re converting their fuel (natural gas) into energy at a near-perfect rate. Compared to an older furnace with a 70% or 80% AFUE, these new models use far less energy to generate far more heat.
If you’re thinking about replacing your old furnace, a good place to start is by giving some of the local HVAC companies in your area a call. Get quotes from each, and ask them about any warranties that come with the system. Free in-home or virtual quotes are pretty standard in the HVAC industry, so you should be able to get an upfront estimate before you commit to anything.
Upgrade to dual-pane windows
It’s hard to imagine now, but there used to be a time when residential energy was relatively inexpensive and “energy-efficiency” was a niche topic reserved for architects and building designers. Many homes from the 60s, 70s, and 80s were built with this mindset—and with single-pane windows. While inexpensive, single-pane windows are incredibly inefficient, as they offer next-to-no resistance to heat transfer. That means heat energy can get into your home in the summer and escape your home in the winter.
Dual-pane windows are the new standard. They feature two panes of glass, separated by a narrow air pocket. In many cases, this pocket is filled with a non-toxic, odorless, and colorless gas, such as argon or krypton. This gas pocket slows down the transfer of heat energy, vastly improving the window’s ability to keep heat out in the summer and trap heat inside during the winter. If your home still features its original single-pane windows and you’re looking to make a positive change, it might be a good idea to get some quotes on dual-pane ones.
Something to consider: dual-pane (and triple-pane) windows are more expensive than single-pane windows. However, they will likely pay for themselves over 15-25 years. Plus, they’ll improve your home’s value and curb appeal. Many homebuyers take the property’s energy-efficiency—or lack thereof—into account when house shopping. New dual-pane windows make your home far more attractive to buyers.
Have a professional seal your ducts
Most U.S. homes have a forced air setup. In effect, this means they have ductwork running through the attic that feeds cooled and heated air into each room of their home. Forced air systems became the popular standard because of their relatively easy and inexpensive installation compared to radiant heating systems, which use a boiler, water lines, and radiators to distribute heat.
Unfortunately, forced air systems and air ducts are far from perfect. Air is a poor medium for transporting heat. In fact, much of the heated or cooled air generated by your home’s HVAC systems is lost on the way to the registers in each room. This problem is exacerbated by leaks in the ductwork. Over time, pinholes and cracks can form and individual duct sections can begin to separate. This leads to significant energy waste and a less comfortable home.
There are several things a professional air duct expert can do to address this problem. First, they’ll need to repair any ducts with obvious signs of damage or separation. After that, they’ll seal points in the ducts where tiny pinholes or cracks are leading to lost air. Finally, have them add insulation around any of your ducts that travel through unconditioned spaces, which includes both the attic and your garage. On average, homeowners who invest in air duct repairs and sealing see a 20-25% reduction in their cooling and heating costs. That’s a major victory for you and your home.
Start saving energy and saving money
The three home upgrades listed above will have a major impact on your home’s energy-efficiency and your seasonal utility bills. However, you don’t have to invest thousands into your home to get started. If you’d prefer to start small, you can make some positive changes with just a few basic tools. Check out this infographic for a review of everything discussed above and a quick guide to DIY-friendly efficiency improvements you can make, starting today.
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