Home Energy Options

Having a background in setting up data centers and complex wiring has provided me (David here) with opportunities to meet some really sharp and sophisticated people. In one instance we were struggling with the high costs at a remote site where every bill was scrutinized. The manager of the site was a veteran and he pointed me to a company based in Virginia to do the lighting.

I was surprised by this but contacted them anyway.

They are a lighting and energy management company in Va. called VLed. They actually came out here, looking the building over and giving us a lot of suggestions on how to replace the lighting with efficient lights cutting the substantial electric bill in half. Their prices were reasonable and they are veteran owned! They did the work and our remote site was very pleased with the quality of the work.

You can have your lighting upgraded at home as well and save a ton of money and time on electricity usage and bulb replacement costs. This might be as simple as switching to LED or CFL bulbs. Light fixtures can also contribute to the home energy cost. Just replacing the fixtures and bulbs can whittle 5 or 10 percent off the bill. A great site that compares energy efficient bulbs to regular bulbs is from this government energy conservation site.

In addition to lighting, there are many other ways to improve efficiency, lower electric bills, and improve the environment. Appliances and heating/cooling systems are a couple of these.

Technology is advancing rapidly for nearly everything we use. A heating system that is over about 15 years old or so is out of date and necessarily inefficient compared to newer ones. Cooling systems have also advanced way beyond what used to be available, with even the lower-end ones now more efficient than top-of-the-line ones a decade ago. There are now systems called mini-split systems that do not even require ductwork! These things have SEER (energy efficiency) in the low 20’s as opposed to heat pumps with ratings in the mid-teens. This is an incredible difference.

Another popular feature of newer models is a programmable thermostat. These allow you to adjust the temperature up or down automatically by inputting it into the thermostat. For example you could have the temperature lower itself at night and go back up when you get up. These both add to your personal comfort and lower your electric bill.

Another thing to consider it to replace your doors and windows if they are old. Windows have a reputation for being very expensive but if you shop around, you may be surprised at the values that are out there. You can get double-paned, argon filled, UV resistant windows at a surprisingly low cost. And a tremendous amount of heat and cold is lost through your windows. Doors are the same way. Over time houses tend to settle slightly and small cracks appear that if not caulked or dealt with can cause a lot of discomfort and inefficiency. I learned a lot at about this at a Bob Vila site.

Attic Insulation

Yet another thing to look at is your insulation. Look in the attic and crawl space to see if it has settled, fallen, or gotten pulled out over time. A fresh layer over and under can to wonders for your electric bill and your comfort. When I lived in Richmond I was in an older brick rancher. The insulation underneath was only about half there. Lots had fallen on the ground as work was done under there and never replaced. I used to have a portal entrance into the attic but eventually had pull-down stairs installed. When it was easier to get up there, I realized just what a mess it was from an insulation perspective. I looked at doing the work myself. The attic wouldn’t have been too bad but doing under the house would have been a nightmare. I would up calling an insulation company in Richmond Va. and got a quote. There was even some question as to whether I had insulation in the walls my house was so old. They concluded I did after doing some testing, thankfully! The cost of the top and bottom was not that bad compared to spending days under the house. Their site had a lot of information. Another site where I learned a lot was at energy.gov.

Surprisingly another very effective and inexpensive way to lower energy costs and increase the comfort in your home is to install ceiling fans in the most used rooms. Ceiling fans can be set to circulate the air straight down but can also be reversed to pull the air up and circulate it out toward the walls. Since heat rises, in the winter time if you reverse your fans and run them in the room(s) you are using, they will cause all that heat pressed up against the ceiling to be circulated out to the walls and cycled back into the center of the room, making the room much more comfortable. Most fans, including the inexpensive one pictured, have a switch that you simply reverse to cause the fan to change direction.

Water is another way to control costs. Installing low-flow plumbing fixtures like toilets, shower heads and faucets, can save money by using the minimum amount of water necessary to do whatever it is you are doing. Higher-end models can be adjusted by individual so this can be controlled on a personal basis. These fixtures are relatively inexpensive to install and can often pay for themselves in a short period of time. Of course a new water heater can be very cost effective also due to technology improvements over the years. Another option for heating water is a tankless or on-demand system. Rather than store heated water, these heat it on the fly based on demand. When you turn off the hot water, the unit is not heating or using any electricity. All the hot water options are better than keeping an old, outdated water heater. All these things can be purchased at Home Depot, Lowes, or most hardware stores.

One of the reasons many people will upgrade their kitchen before selling a home is because newer appliances are much more energy efficient than older ones. The most efficient models, like Energy Star rated ones, cost more but in addition to reducing energy costs, actually increase the value of the home. It is very common to see entire kitchens upgraded before selling.

Having the siding replaced on your home can also go a long way toward reducing the costs depending on the condition of the existing siding. If your house is old, say more than about 40 years or so, it is questionable whether the walls have any insulation or not. And the siding, probably wood or vinyl if it is that age, are likely in bad shape. I had the siding replaced on my house in Richmond during the time I was there. It was old vinyl that I had replaced with new vinyl (and a different color). One thing they did that I hadn’t thought of, after removing the old vinyl, was to wrap the house with a tight layer of Tyvek before installing the new siding. They said the Tyvek is windproof and sealed at top and bottom. This turned out to make a big difference in the comfort level in there, particularly in the winter time. I used a vinyl siding company in Richmond. Their website was very informative. I had no idea there were so many options for siding! I agonized over it for some weeks before deciding to go with what I knew well, vinyl. Another site I found informative was at Better Homes and Gardens.

Anyway these are some options you should think about if you are interested in lowering your energy costs and greatly improving the comfort of your home.