Energy Usage Explained
The first step in any project is helping our customers understand their household energy consumption. Most consumers don’t know where or how they use energy for a very good reason: their utility bill doesn’t break it down for them. We do. And we believe the more you learn about how you consume energy, the more you’ll want to reduce it.
Solving a home’s heating and cooling problems is complex but it is by far the most important step in increasing homeowner comfort and reducing painful energy bills. Energy loss due to heating and cooling is caused by two main factors: the “stack effect” (convection) and inadequate insulation (conduction).
The “Stack Effect”
The stack effect is a phenomenon caused by, convective heat transfer – air movement caused by temperature differences – that creates inefficient pressure differentials between the inside and outside of your home. Stated simply: in the winter, warm air rises and leaks into your attic – cold, outdoor, air leaks into your basement, filling the void left behind. The result is a perpetual cycle of inefficient air flow through your home, forcing your heating system and your bank account to work overtime. In addition to high heating bills, the stack effect is the root cause for many of the comfort, health, and safety issues that individuals encounter. Drafts and other unwanted air movement carry moisture, allergens, and other pollutants throughout your home.
A home needs to “breathe,” but we want to control that breathing through proper ventilation. By sealing up wall tops, piping/wiring penetrations, basement rim joists, and countless other air leakage areas, we reduce the “stack effect” and fundamentally change the way that your home consumes energy.
While convective heat loss causes the stack effect, conductive heat loss accounts for another major source of energy waste. Once an effective air barrier has been installed, the next step is to slow the transfer of heat through the ceiling, floor, and walls. Any gaps in insulation almost entirely negate the value of the surrounding insulation, and therefore properly installed insulation is critical to controlling conductive energy loss. Insulation and air sealing together create a complete thermal boundary, and it is a continuous, uninterrupted thermal boundary that is critical to home energy efficiency.
You use domestic hot water (DHW) for many things in your day-to-day life. Many people use it to heat their homes, but beyond that everyone uses hot water to clean dishes, wash clothes, and take hot showers. Appliance upgrades (i.e. EnergyStar washers) and and behavioral changes (i.e. shorter, cooler showers) play a large role in water and energy conservation. But there are certain immediate savings measures (ISMs) that can be taken that are free or cost very little.
Hot Water Set Point
It is important that your water heater is set to an appropriate temperature, as many individuals set their water temperature far too high. Very few people take a 130° shower and clothes/dishwashers superheat the water they use anyways. Therefore, by setting your hot water temperature to 120°, you will have adequate hot water without heating your water to an excessive temperature.
Efficient Flow Devices
Efficient flow devices – sometimes called “low flow” – are a great way to not only conserve water, but to conserve energy. By using less hot water when you shower, wash you hands, or rinse dishes in the sink, you in turn need to heat less water, which saves you energy. These efficient flow devices include faucet aerators and “low flow” shower heads, and they work by mixing a higher proportion of air in with the water, resulting in both fewer gallons used per minute consumed while maintaining the water pressure you want.
A high percentage of your home’s energy use comes from electricity consumption. Beyond lighting up every room in your house, electricity is the essential power source for everything from your television to your computer; from your refrigerator to your clothes dryer; and from your water heater to your pool. All of these things are important to your life in one way or another, however a more efficient home requires that you upgrade both your behavior and the actual appliances that you use.
The first, and most important step in improving your home’s electrical consumption is to rethink the way your home uses energy and change your behavior accordingly. Turning off lights when you leave a room is a great way to start, and turning off monitors and TVs when you are done using them is important, but not always obvious. As you begin paying attention to these details, there are devices out there that can help you control and monitor your behavior – ranging from smart power strips to full smart home automation. Call Next Step LivingTM (866-867-8729) if you would like energy saving tips and/or more details on available products and devices.
The most simple and easy way to upgrade your home is to install compact florescent lamps (CFLs). CFLs use 75% less electricity than a standard incandescent bulb, while emitting the same amount of light. A 15 watt CFL is equivalent to a 60 watt incandescent, and that adds up to big-time electricity savings. Incandescent bulbs actually generate more heat than light. CFLs may have earned a bad reputation over the past decade, but these high efficiency bulbs have made substantial strides over the past couple of years — the light is very similar to old incandescent bulbs and the bulbs come in all shapes and style. For MA and NH residents, CFLs come free with an in-home energy assessment.
Beyond installing CFLs, replacing old appliances with EnergyStar appliances is a great next step. Although this is a more expensive option, there are currently a variety of Federal and utility rebates available for refrigerators, dryers, and many other EnergyStar qualified appliances. Next Step LivingTM will help you understand more about any existing rebates.