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Home Improvement / January 15, 2021
1. Why is it important for homeowners to start thinking ahead about how they can best keep their interiors cool as the weather warms up, even at this early stage (early 2021)?
Maintaining energy efficiency for your home isn’t seasonal as much as something that will return value year round. Many customers tend to notice cold drafts around doors during the winter, however that same draft will probably cost much more during the summer. By inspecting your home regularly it will be easier to start creating a list of items so that you can determine which ones you think you can handle and which you may need professional help with. This is great for budgetary planning that will allow identification of areas that will provide the best return on investment. For instance, milky or condensed windows are a great opportunity to start thinking about upgrading to low-e windows as these can be a significant expenditure, but a project that you can spread out over time. New technology windows not only enhance the appearance of the house but also provide one of the best energy savings achievable in an older home. If new windows are not in the budget, adding blinds, solar screens or window tint to Southern facing windows will greatly reduce radiant heat into the home and increased cooling expenses. Roll down blinds are also a good addition to covered patio structures to allow you to enjoy the outdoors without direct sunlight.
2. What specific/detailed tips (and recommended order) do you suggest that homeowners follow to ensure a more comfortable indoor climate as hotter days approach (e.g., have your AC checked, cleaned, and recharged; set the correct directionality on your ceiling fans; program your smart thermostat correctly; clean/prep your windows; etc.)? This is the heart of my story, so please devote extra attention in answer to this question.
The weather stripping around your exterior door jambs and door bottom do wear over time and are easy to overlook, yet are significant energy loss culprits. If drafts aren’t detectable, checking for light around a closed door will also help identify these gaps. It is a good practice to walk around the exterior of your property every couple of months as it allows you to check for the condition of caulking around windows and doors as well as damaged siding, fascia and soffits, mortar cracks and other “changes” that will impact the tightness of your home. Paying attention to your attic insulation and whether it would benefit for additional depth to achieve the recommended R- Values for you region. You can also consider installing an attic ladder insulation cover to reduce drafts and energy loss as this opening is effectively an exterior doorway. Incandescent/halogen/fluorescent not only use more power than LED but also can be a considerable heat source during hotter months. By adding a motion detection switch, lights are not left on for extended periods when not in use.
A smart thermostat learns from your needs and activity, these perform at a higher level than even programmable units as they detect if you are home and lower or increase the temperature to a more energy saving setting and even allow you to adjust through an App while not at home.
3.What realistic expectations should homeowners have if they follow your recommendations? Is it realistic to think they can save money on their cooling bills and also improve indoor comfort?
None of us like wasting money, however it can sometimes be hard to justify spending money to save money. When considering investment for energy saving in homes, results are best achieved across a multiple layer strategy, each change will contribute to improving comfort while also lowering heating and cooling costs that save you money. For instance, closing gaps around your doors and windows can save as much as 10%. Setting your thermostat to 78F in the summer and 68F in the winter will help as every degree of extra heating or cooling will increase energy usage 6% to 8%. Using a ceiling fan allows rooms to be kept as high as 4 degrees F warmer while maintaining the same comfort level. A smart thermostat can save up to 15% over a year. Even adding a shade structure around your AC unit will help keep direct sunlight off and allow it to work more efficiently.
4. What else can/should homeowners be doing to improve indoor comfort and save money on cooling costs as we head into hotter weather?
Many homes built over the last 20 years have an open floor concept, meaning that the house may have few doors in the living areas. Installing interior doors to close off office spaces and TV rooms can help “zone your home” so that the temperature management in those areas can be maintained based on individual needs. This has become more valuable as many people have now started working from home and may only be using one or two rooms during the day. Adding a ceiling fan is a great compliment to room comfort as it eliminates thermal gradients where heat gathers in the ceiling area either making the upstairs too warm or ground level too cold. What should be remembered even after setting the thermostat at the most efficient recommended temperatures, if your system has to run harder to maintain even these temperature because of energy losses around the home, such as clogged filters or direct sunlight into your home or onto your A/C unit, you will still be wasting energy and causing unnecessary wear and tear on your HVAC equipment. This can also lead to premature failure and unnecessary expense. It is also recommended that you get your A/C equipment serviced by a reputable professional prior to each season, this will ensure it is operating efficiently and ready for the hard work ahead.
5. Any other thoughts, tips, or suggestions on this topic?
As part of a balanced energy conservation approach, each targeted area will contribute to savings and increased comfort, so something is better than nothing. Understanding your home can help you make informed decisions on where to put your efforts and money. The good news is not every change means a financial investment, personal action and activity are as much a part of the solution as is energy saving projects. For instance, if you need to cool or heat you home from a higher setting, don’t set your thermostat to a lower temperature than normal as this will not speed the process, it will just drive past the comfort setting and use more energy to get there. And remember, dress according to the season, a long sleeve sweater or pants will keep you comfortable without adjusting the thermostat and costs nothing.