New Hampshire residents pay some of the highest heating and electric bills in the nation - but it doesn’t have to be that way in your house.
The only way to truly determine the overall energy performance of your home is through an Energy Audit performed by a professional, using specialized testing equipment. But perhaps equally important is a careful visual inspection, which you can carry out on your own at any time to catch some of the most serious problems.
Many of the items listed below are no-cost or low-cost remedies to high heating bills, and will increase comfort for your family in both winter and summer. Keep in mind, 70-77% of a typical home’s heat loss comes through infiltration - air that leaks in around your doors, windows, electric outlets, basement, and attic. The next biggest culprit is your home’s insulation. The amount of insulation in the walls and attic may actually be less important than how well it was installed, and how carefully it has been kept in place.
Here are some of the ways you can improve energy savings in your home:
HEATING ENERGY-SAVING TIPS
Maintenance and Operations
Make sure your heating system receives professional maintenance each year.
Clean and replace filters on furnaces once a month as needed.
Set your water heater temperature to 120 degrees. Insulating your cold water pipes prevents condensation, water damage, and mold build-up.
Insulate heating ducts in unheated areas such as attics and crawlspaces, and keep them in good repair, to prevent heat loss of up to 60% at the registers.
Clean the ducts on forced hot air systems and baseboards on hot water systems. Ducts aren’t always easy to see, but you can often find them exposed in the attic, basement, and crawlspaces. Ducts should be vacuumed once every few years to clean the build-up of dust, animal hair, and other things that impede the flow of hot air through the house. Clean hot air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed; make sure furniture, carpeting and drapes do not block them.
Remember the chimney. Chimneys need to be swept, but not necessarily every year. Make sure to get your chimney inspected each year before you start using it. Woodstove chimneys should be cleaned once a year. Buy a cap for your chimney to keep unwanted objects out. To keep cold air out, fireplace/woodstove owners should keep the damper closed when not in use. Fireplace owners should also keep the glass doors shut when not in use. If the chimney is not in active use, install an inflatable chimney pillow or caulked-in foam plug for a better seal.
Make sure all fan-driven exterior vents (dryer, stove, bathroom, etc.) have an exterior flap that closes tightly when the fan is off. Clear vent flaps of lint and other debris so they close properly.
Check for holes or cracks around walls, ceilings, windows, doors, light and plumbing fixtures, switches, and electrical outlets that can leak air in and out of your home.
Drain a quart of water from your hot water tank every 3 months to remove sediment that impedes heat transfer and lowers the efficiency of your heater. The type of water tank you have determines the steps to take, so follow the manufacturer’s advice.
Place heat-resistant radiator reflectors between exterior walls and the radiator
Insulate your hot water heater tank and hot water pipes to prevent heat loss. This can raise water temperatures by 2-4 degrees and lower your water costs.
Block the leaks. Check the most common leak areas, such as recessed lighting, window frames, door frames, attic hatches, plumbing and electrical bypasses in the attic, and electrical outlets. Use weather stripping, door sweeps, foam, and caulk to seal leaks. This can reduce energy usage by 10-20%.
Insulate. You should have a minimum of 12 inches of (fiberglass) insulation in your attic. If you don’t know how to tell, look at your ceiling joists. If you can see them, you need more insulation. Look at insulating your walls and floors above crawlspaces, as well as the attic hatch or stairs.
Don’t forget the windows. Storm windows are very helpful, especially if you have old, single-pane glass windows. Replacing windows can be very pricey and the experts say to do a few at a time. However, in the meantime, buy a kit you can get at your local hardware store. It is a special kind of plastic sheeting that is affixed to the window’s interior with a hair dryer. The heat from the hair dryer shrinks the sheeting to the window. This is inexpensive, can be quite effective, and is easy to remove in the spring.
Stone wall foundations in old homes are incredibly leaky. Hire a contractor to spray 2 inches of sprayed foam or ridged insulation from the subfloor down to the floor. This will stop air infiltration, insulate against freezing temperatures, and reduce moisture infiltration.
Install heat traps on the hot and cold pipes at the water heater to prevent heat loss. Some new water heaters have built-in heat traps.
Insulate at least 6 feet of the hot and cold water pipes connected to the water heater.
GENERAL ENERGY-SAVING TIPS
Maintenance and Operations
Run your kitchen, bath, and other ventilation fans for at least 20 minutes after you are done cooking or bathing. Using a timer on your fan can help.
Bleed trapped air from hot water radiators once or twice a season; if in doubt about how to perform the task, call a professional.
Use fans during the summer to create a windchill effect that will make your home feel more comfortable. If using AC, a ceiling fan will allow you to raise the thermostat setting by 4 degrees with no reduction in comfort.
Reverse your fan. By reversing the direction of the fan after summer, the fan will push warm air downwards and force it to re-circulate. To do this, when you look up at the fan make sure it is turning clockwise.
Check the furnace. Turn the furnace on in late summer to make sure it is working before the cold weather hits. It is a good idea to have the furnace cleaned and tuned annually. While this maintenance is being performed by heating technicians, make sure of the following:
The thermostat and pilot light are working properly
The fuel pipe entering your furnace doesn’t have a leak
The heating exchanger does not have any cracks, as a crack can bring carbon monoxide into your home
The filter is changed in forced hot air systems (should be done monthly during the heating system, can be done by the homeowner)
Clean your gutters. In the fall, once the leaves have fallen, make sure to clean out the gutters on your house, as clogged gutters can cause water to back up and freeze, causing ice jams. Such ice jams will cause water to seep into your home. When washing out the gutters, look for leaks and misaligned pipes.
Check the alarms. Check the operation of all your smoke detectors. Also check to make sure your fire extinguisher is still where it should be and is up to date. Finally, make sure to have a carbon monoxide detector in your home.
Air-dry dishes instead of using the dishwasher’s dry cycle.
Turn off the computer and monitor when not in use.
Plug your home electronics, such as TVs and DVD players, into power strips; turn off the strip when the equipment is not in use. When you replace this equipment, make sure it is an Energy Star qualified model.
Take short (~5 minute) showers instead of baths. 15% of an average home energy bill goes to heating water.
Use cold water for laundry and save up to $63 per year.
Wash only full loads of clothes and dishes.
If heating a swimming pool, consider a pool cover. Evaporation is by far the largest source of energy loss in swimming pools.
For a quick hand rinse, do not turn on the hot water. By the time the water gets hot, you’ve likely finished rinsing your hands.
Install a programmable thermostat that adjusts the temperature according to your schedule. Reducing your thermostat by 7 degrees at night will save you 10% in heating costs.
Wrap the pipes. Before the temperature hits freezing, make sure that the water to your hose is shut off inside your house and that the excess is draining. Next, go looking for pipes in the crawlspaces, basement, and garage that aren’t insulted. Wrap them with pre-molded foam rubber sleeves.
Swap out any incandescent bulbs. If every US household replaced just one incandescent bulb with an Energy Star qualified bulb, it would save enough energy to light 7 million homes and save $600 million in utility bills.
Look for ways to use lighting control, such as occupancy sensors, dimmers, or timers to reduce lighting energy use.
Consider on-demand or tank-less natural gas water heaters. Researchers have found that savings can be up to 30% compared to a standard natural gas storage tank water heater.
Consider installing a drain-water waste heat recovery system. A recent study by the Department of Energy showed energy savings of 25-30% for water heating using such a system.
Buy an energy efficient water heater. It may cost more initially but energy savings will continue during the lifetime of the appliance.
Although most water heaters last 10-15 years, it is best to start shopping for a new one if yours is more than 7 years old. Do your research before you’re in an urgent situation.
Repair leaky faucets promptly; a leaky faucet wastes gallons of water in a short period of time.
Install aerating, low-flow faucets and shower heads. Select a shower head with a flow rate of less than 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) for maximum water efficiency. Before 1992, some shower heads had flow rates of 5.5 gpm, so you might want to replace them if you are not sure of their flow rates.
You might qualify for tax credits or rebates for buying a solar water heater.
ACH and ENERGY STAR RATINGS
The ultimate air-leakage goal is to reduce your home’s Air Exchanges per Hour (ACH) to around 0.3. Most homes built in New Hampshire before 1970 have an ACH of 4-5 (that’s when the wind moves the curtains). Most homes built under the energy codes of the last 30 years have an ACH of around 2. The Energy Star program is asking builders to achieve an ACH of 1.25 for new construction, and with professional help, it is sometimes possible to achieve an Energy Star rating for an existing home.