Most of us have a tendency to focus on home energy saving during cold weather months, when heating bills rise and you can actually feel chilly drafts coming through leaky windows and poorly insulated attics and crawl spaces. But your home can lose just as much if not more energy during the hot summer, when those same windows and attics are still leaking air, but in reverse (red, pink and yellow spaces in this infrared photo show where the house is leaking energy, whether it’s hot or cold outside.) No wonder more consumers are focusing on summer energy conservation in addition to the steps they take in the fall and winter! Take a look at the numbers from my latest electricity bill (I live just outside Washington, DC). I used twice as much electricity in June this year as I did in November last year, and more in July than I did in January.
DIANE’S ELECTRICITY USAGE …
NOVEMBER 2010 compared to JUNE 2011
590 KWH ……………………………………….. 1180 KWH
JANUARY 2011 compared to JULY 2011
1300 KWH ………………………………………. 1480 KWH
In other words, when I compare the coldest months of the year to the hottest, it’s actually costing me more to cool my home than to heat it.
Summer Energy Conservation Action Steps
Take a look at your own recent electricity bill, especially compared to the colder winter months. Then consider these recommendations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the amount of energy you’re using summer as well as winter.
#1 – Insulate. Check the insulation in your attic, ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors, and crawl spaces to see if it meets the levels recommended for your area. Insulation is measured in R-values—the higher the R-value, the better your walls and roof will resist the transfer of heat. DOE recommends ranges of R-values based on local heating and cooling costs and climate conditions in different areas of the nation. This map and chart show the DOE recommendations for your area. State and local code minimum insulation requirements may be less than the DOE recommendations, which are based on cost effectiveness. For more customized insulation recommendations, check out this Zip Code Insulation Calculator. It provides insulation levels for your new or existing home based on your zip code and other basic information about your home.
While you’re at it, insulate around cooling and heating ducts to prevent additional energy loss. That step alone could improve your HVAC performance 20%. When choosing insulation, check with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the latest research on home insulation. There are many varieties available, with many health and safety pros and cons. The most common is blown-in or batting fiberglass insulation, but the “off gassing” from the fiberglass has been known to make people sick. Insulation made from denim and cellulose is also available, but some builders question how effective it is. Research is changing all the time, so make sure to read product reviews before you choose.
#2 – Weatherize. Add weather stripping to seal leaky frames around doors and windows. You can buy it in long rolls and cut it to fit without much hassle, especially if you buy the self-adhesive kind. Most hardware stores will carry a variety of weatherstripping, or you can purchase it online here.
#3 – Change your HVAC air filters. EPA’s EnergyStar program recommends changing air filters at least every three months, though monthly is better, especially in summer and winter, when your heating and cooling systems are working their hardest.
#4 – Use blinds, drapes and curtains. Even after you’ve insulated your windows, keep the sun from coming through them by drawing the curtains or closing the blinds.
#5 – Moderate your indoor air temps using a programmable thermostat. There’s no need to keep your house extremely cool when you go to work or otherwise leave for extended periods of time. A programmable thermostat makes it easy to automatically turn your air conditioning up when you leave for work and down a bit before you get home. One of the best on the market is the NEST thermostat, pictured right. Here are a few other thermostat options to choose from.
NOTE: Both DOE and my local utility recommend keeping the thermostat at 78 degrees when you’re home in the summer. If you need additional cooling, try a small table top or window fan.
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