“R” You Energy Savvy?

Over the last ten years the price of residential heating oil has risen more than 150% in Connecticut (source: U.S. Energy Information Administration). Judging by the “talk at the water cooler”, the cost of other heating energy has  increased as well.

No doubt this inflation in the cost of heating has affected regions beyond New England as well. While we don’t use fuel oil to cool our homes in the summer, most of us have experienced noticeable price escalation in electrical power cost as well.

So what can we do about this?

Naturally we can shop for the best value in fuel oil service and electrical power. We can be more careful about lights and TV’s being left on when there is nobody in the room. Programmable thermostats can help regulate heat when no one is around. And, of course for the more hearty, a heavier sweater in winter may allow for a lower thermostat setting.

But what about our house itself?

Have we made it as energy efficient as we can, or at least close to it? Older homes in particular can often be improved in their use of energy. This is usually achieved by improving the insulation and making the house more “weather-tight”.

Let’s talk a moment about how heat primarily leaves the house in the winter and enters the house in the summer.

  1. Heat loss takes place directly through the walls, ceilings, floors, and windows in the winter and enters the same way during the summer. This kind of heat transfer is known as Conduction
  2. There are many small openings around doors and windows, through holes in the floor for plumbing and electrical cabling, even the spaces taken by the boxes for switches and outlets. Air passing through these openings, called Air Infiltration, can cool a house in the winter, and warm it during the summer, not what we’re looking for.

Both of these likely areas for improving home heating and cooling efficiency and should be addressed in any effort to reduce heating and cooling costs.

Conduction:

When your house was built insulation was put inside the outside walls and in the floor of the attic (assuming the attic was unheated) to reduce heat transfer through conduction. Sometimes insulation is put in the basement ceiling to reduce heat loss through the first floor. Often insulation can be added to the attic to reduce unwanted heat transfer in the winter and summer. That is usually much easier than opening up side walls and adding insulation.

There are different kinds of insulating material, and of course different companies selling and installing insulation. The common denominator across the various materials is the R value, the greater the R value, the greater the resistance to heat flow (hence the use of the letter “R”) .

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has  a good web page on R value; two key points:

Q. What’s the first thing I should look for when I buy insulation?

Look for the R-value. “R” means resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power. Almost all insulation products have to tell you their R-value — pipe and duct insulation are the only exceptions. (Duct wrap is covered.)

So, if you’re looking at insulation with an R-value of 38 from Company A and insulation with an R-value of 38 from Company B, you’ll know the two products offer the same level of insulation. That’s true even if they’re different kinds of insulation — say, if one is blanket insulation, which comes in batts and rolls, and the other is loose-fill insulation, which comes as loose fibers or fiber pellets and requires special equipment to blow it into a space.

Q. How do I know the R-value that’s appropriate for insulation in my home?

Several factors affect the R-value your home needs:

  • Where you live. You’ll need insulation with a higher R-value if you live in a cold climate like the Northeast than if you live in a warm climate like Southern California.
  • How your home is built, and where the insulation will be. Is it a single-level or multi-level structure? Do you have cathedral ceilings? Is there a basement, or is your home built on a slab? Each of these factors helps determine the level of insulation your home needs.
  • How you heat and cool your home. Whether you have a furnace, central air conditioner, or a heat pump can make a difference in your insulation decisions.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), has answers based on your zip code and information you enter about your home. Your local home improvement store (or its website) also may have information to help you determine your insulation needs. For a good chart and map on recommended R values, visit energystar.gov.

(editor’s note: Both links above have information about energy efficiency in the home. Two of many places the government offers to help individuals with the many options and choices available.)

Windows:

Windows are a source of unwanted heat transfer as well, but we will leave them to a later post.

Air Infiltration:

To reduce air infiltration, the openings need to be identified and closed. There are many places in our homes where this occurs. Fireplaces with open flues, recessed lighting below unheated space, dryer vents, cracks around doors and windows are but some of the examples (see the image below).air_infiltration

Help Is Available:

Unless you are a HVAC engineer, contractor, technician, or otherwise knowledgeable about residential energy efficiency, Get Help!

If you live in Connecticut, Energize Connecticut is a good place to start looking. They will assist with locating a professional to make an energy assessment and offer financial  help as well (see below). Check it out! 

Expert Energy-Saving Advice and Help

Getting a handle on your home’s energy use is an important first step toward saving energy and money by improving efficiency and reducing heat loss. We can help.

What is a Home Energy Assessment?

A home energy assessment is a good first step to determine how much energy your house uses and what improvements you can make to save money and energy. Often called a “home energy checkup” or audit, it can:

  • Pinpoint where your house is losing energy
  • Determine if your heating and cooling systems are operating efficiently
  • Show you ways to save energy and make your home more comfortable
  • Identify improvements that will save you the most money

The best approach is to have this service performed by a professional auditor who is trained and equipped to evaluate your home’s energy efficiency. Auditors generally use equipment such as blower doors, which measure the extent of air leaks, and sometimes use infrared cameras, which reveal areas with hard-to-detect air leaks and missing insulation. They also may perform important safety tests on your furnace and water heater. After your home energy audit, the auditor provides a report listing recommended energy-saving improvements and information about rebates and financing options that can help offset the cost of improvements.

How We Help: Home Energy Assessment Offers

The Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund offers two options for you to learn about the energy-saving opportunities in your home. Both offer rebates and flexible payment options specific to your home.

If you reside somewhere other than CT, look on your state government’s web site for similar services.

Federal government is there to help you as well.

energystar

If you shopped for an appliance, you’ve seen this image. It’s the Energy Star logo. (Energy Star web site)

Energy Star is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency.

Energy Star offers programs and tools to help home owners asses and improve the energy efficiency of their homes. The tax credits of 2012 & 2013 have ended, but you may qualify for a rebate or some other form of financial incentive from Energy Star partners. Click on Special Offers and Rebates to find out.

So, “R” You energy Savvy?

Hopefully the information posted here and available through the many embedded links will help you improve the energy efficiency of your home and save you some $$$ along the way.

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