In spite of what Punxsutawney Phil says, spring really IS on its way. And at the risk of being even more controversial, it is TRUE that the days really are getting longer. That means until June 21, there’s going to be more and more daylight hours available for you to get some of those weekend energy efficiency projects done. But where to start? What are the best energy efficient projects for you home that actually reduce your energy usage and save you money?
No worries! We’ve already sorted those out for you. In this second installment, we’ll cover improvements to your HVAC, bathroom, and yard!
An HVAC system works best when air flows through the system unobstructed and without leaking out. Sealing up your home’s ductwork can increase its performance by 20 to 30 percent. And THAT means increased comfort and savings.
Where to seal your ducts:
- Seal all seams on metal and flexible ductwork with either duct work mastic or aluminum duct tape. Never use the vinyl stuff — it won’t last.
- Apply ductwork mastic with a paintbrush or putty knife. Allow to dry fully before pressurizing your HVAC system (in other words, don’t turn it on).
- Look for disconnections. Because the HVAC system vibrates, duct sections can actually pull themselves apart over time.
- Seal all return ducts, especially those that go through crawlspaces as these can pick up mold and moisture which will cause sickness and irritate allergies.
Checking Flex Duct in Newer Homes
Many newer homes use insulated flex duct work. While it’s relatively cheap and easy to install, some less than meticulous contractors install it with kinks and poor connections. Because it is a spiral plastic hose, flex duct can reduce the air speed in it on runs greater than 12 feet. So, if you have flex duct in your home, make sure it is pulled as straight and as short as possible without any kinks or sharp bends. Any extra should be also be removed.
Materials needed for checking ductwork:
- bucket of ductwork mastic
- aluminum duct tape and scissors
- a utility knife
- putty knife
- foam paint brushes
- cordless drill with slotted, Phillips, and small hex-driver heads
- rags to wipe dust from ductwork seams
Energy efficiency in the bathroom doesn’t mean cold, dribbling showers in a chilly room. Recent technology developments make it easier to feel as if you’re indulging yourself while actually saving money.
How to Replace Your Shower Head
Replace the shower head with a low-flow model. If your current shower head can fill a 1 gallon bucket in under 20 seconds, a low flow shower head could reduce both your water and energy usage. WaterSense shower heads are specifically engineered to have flow rates can be no higher than 2 gpm —which saves water and energy to heat that water. Installing a shower head yourself is about as easy as changing a light bulb — although you’ll need a few basic tools:
- Crescent wrench or pair or water pump pliers.
- A cloth rag
- Plumber’s teflon tape
Just unscrew the old head and clean off the old teflon tape. Put on the new teflon tape (this stuff prevents leaks), thread up the new head, and tighten. Once it’s finger-tight, you’ll want to tighten it about one-quarter turn with a wrench. If you have trouble tightening it after threading it up, put a thin rag over the connecting nut to protect the metal from getting scratched when you use a wrench.
Upgrade Your Exhaust Fan
Venting warm, moist air out of your home is important, too. This helps cut your AC bill and reduces the chance for mold and mildew to form. New bathroom exhaust fans are also designed to move more air more efficiently but use less electricity. An EnergyStar qualifying bathroom fan will use 70 percent less energy and be quieter, too. Replacing an old bathroom fan isn’t very complicated but it can be messy and you will need be able to get at it from above (usually the attic) to properly mount the fan box and connect the exhaust duct.
- Turn off the electric breakers to the circuit for the fan.
- Disassemble and remove the existing fan.
- Be sure to keep the hard plastic connector caps on the supply wires — you can reuse these.
- Install the new fan housing. Since these are anchored to a stud or joist, you will need to get at the fan from above (attic).
- Before seating the fan housing in place, draw a bead of caulk all the way around where the housing fits onto the drywall to provide a leak-free seal.
- Connect the exhaust duct work. TIP — use metal duct work and seal it with mastic. Mounting the duct so that it slopes to its exit in the wall prevents condensation pooling in winter.
- Complete the assembly and wiring.
Use LEDs in Your Vanity
Replace the vanity’s bulbs with LED bulbs. LED bulbs are available in a variety of color temperatures that provide lighting to match the soft amber of tungsten (3,200° K), the natural white (4,500°K), or even the bright bluish-white of daylight (6,000°K). Plus, a single LED bulb that puts out the same amount of light as a 60 watt incandescent only uses about 13 watts or less and lasts 25 times longer.
Spring time brings lots of opportunities to improve your home’s energy efficiency in one of the best ways — landscaping. Not only does landscaping increase the curb appeal and value of your home but if done with care and planning it can actually reduce your home’s energy consumption year round.
Planting to Increase Energy Efficiency
- Plant trees along the south side of your home to shade your home from hot summer sun.
- Plant evergreens along the north and northwestern sides to act as a windbreak in winter.
- Careful plantings and shade around your home’s air conditioner can increase its efficiency by as much as 10%.
- Plant water-loving bushes in areas prone to ponding in rain storms to reduce humidity and eliminate a mosquito breeding site.
- Plant flower beds and fruit trees to shade and cool your yard.
Cut down on your watering usage by adding rain barrels to your home’s downspouts that allow you to recycle rain water for your yard. Simple kits are available at most home centers. A run off from a single rainstorm can easily fill a 60 gallon barrel.
Install Solar Garden Lights
Create inviting outdoor spaces at night by installing inexpensive solar powered garden lights. A couple of chairs and table in a cool corner of your yard can turn warm evening under the stars into paradise in your own back yard.
Save even more on your energy bill this spring and sign up for an electricity plan with Direct Energy! We give you the tips and tools you need to track your energy usage and see your hard work pay off. You could even get free electricity every weekend in select states! CenterPoint and Oncor area customers could receive $100 in Visa gift cards with our Free Power 100 electricity plan!