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Energy Efficient Home: Tips (6-10)

In the first post with tips 1-5 we took a brief look at what you can do on the exterior, windows and plumbing of your home to be more energy efficient. In this post I will focus more on the appliances and fixtures of your home to make it more energy efficient. Having an energy efficient home can save you money every month and you don’t necessarily need to change your lifestyle to do it.

When you research how to be energy efficient there are so many tips on the internet that it can give you a headache. Some are practical, others are just confusing! I wanted to give a straight forward list that is easy to do and doesn’t break your wallet. Some things on this list cost you nothing to incorporate into your home, just a small change in your daily routine. Lets dig in.

6. Energy Efficient Home: Shower heads

Lowering the amount of water used in your home can save you a bundle. The shower is where we use the most water. Most standard shower heads push out 4 gallons per minute. That is about 40 gallons for a ten minute shower times the amount of people in your home and how many times a week you shower. That could come to 15,000 gallons a year for one family. That is a lot of water! What if I told you that a one time $20-$50 purchase could save you up to half the water a year! Installing a good quality low flow shower head can greatly reduce your water usage.

There is a lot of controversy on if a low flow shower head is really worth it. Angi.com has some great information on low flow shower heads that may help with your decision. If the low flow shower head is not for you, consider shortening your time in the shower by half.

low flow shower head

7. Energy Efficient Lighting Controls and Light bulbs.

Another big energy user in your home is lighting. Use natural lighting when possible. Consider replacing your light bulbs with LED bulbs or fluorescent lamps. Fluorescent bulbs have come a long way and you can get ones that give off more of a natural light or light more like the incandescent light bulbs. They also can last 10 times longer than the incandescent bulbs that are most likely in your home.

There are always advantages and disadvantages to saving energy. Fluorescent lighting does help with energy efficiency, but there are some disadvantages to using them.

Disadvantage: The fluorescent lamp contains a small amount of mercury liquid inside of it, which is converted into a mercury vapor when the lamp is turned on and is what allows the lamb to make light. The amount of mercury in the lamp is very small. However, it is a poisonous substance and should be treated carefully if the lamp is ever broken or goes out.

Disadvantage/advantage: Seemingly high cost is also a disadvantage to the fluorescent bulbs. But, since the bulbs last significantly longer than the incandescent bulbs the cost does end up being less expensive.

Advantage: One of the best benefits of fluorescent lighting comes from its energy efficiency. The energy savings can be up to 35% when compared to conventional light bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs also do not put out much heat like the traditional bulbs do. So it shouldn’t burn you when changing it out. It also helps keep the room at a cooler temperature!

Compact fluorescent lamps

I cannot tell you how many times a day I have to remind my children to turn off the lights! You can purchase a light switch with a timer or one with a motion sensor from most most home improvement stores. Then you can set to shut off after 1-15 minutes, or just walk in the room! Or you can be like me and just keep reminding your kids to turn the lights off. One day they may just remember!

8. Clothing.

A great way to save energy is to dress appropriately for the temperature. Wear a sweater around your home so you can keep the thermostat at a lower temperature during the winter and wear shorts and t-shirt during the summer. The less your cooler or heater has to work the more energy you can save. If the weather is nice out, open a window or door. Fresh air will do you good I promise!

9. Energy Efficient Washing Machine.

Whenever possible, wash your clothes with cold water. Cold water is fine for most types of clothing and most stains will come out by using cold water. Not all stains will be removed when using hot water, such as sweat. The warmer water may even set the stain into the fabric, making it harder to remove later. Cold water washing also means clothing is less likely to shrink or fade and ruin your clothes. In addition, cold water can reduce wrinkles which then saves energy on ironing.

It is estimated that 75-90% of the energy your washer uses is to heat up the water.

Of course you can’t always use cold water to clean your clothes. There are some fabrics that may not do so well in the cold wash. If you are unsure, you can check the tags on your clothes. This should tell you if they should only to be washed in hot water. GE appliances has a great list and rules on clothes labels and what they mean. The statistics about the energy usage was also found in this article.

10. Energy Efficient Home Air Filters.

Your air filters for the cooling/heating systems should be changed every month or every three months depending on where you live. Most units have a disposable filter. However, you can also get a reusable one. Changing filters often makes your equipment work easier and more efficiently. A clean air filter is an efficient one! You can read more about air filters here!

Summary:

  1. Switch to low flow shower heads or spend less time in the shower.
  2. Switch your incandescent bulbs out with LED or fluorescent bulbs.
  3. Wear weather appropriate clothing.
  4. Wash your clothes with cold water.
  5. Change or clean your air filters often.

Why Should the Refrigerant Line on my AC be Insulated?

Most HVAC specialists recommend that the refrigerant line on your AC be insulated. But what does that mean?

First, let’s talk about what the refrigerant lines do.

A typical residential AC unit has two copper lines that exit the building and run into the condenser unit. One is called the “warm” line or “liquid” line. This line is typically smaller, and it carries the refrigerant in a liquid form and sheds heat as it moves. This line is not typically insulated because it must get rid of heat.

The other line is called the “cold” line or “suction” line. This is the larger line, carries a cooled vapor and should be insulated.

Suction line with damaged insulation
Suction line with new insulation

What happens if the line is not insulated?

When the insulation begins to fail, more and more energy is lost and usually it makes your equipment work harder to maintain temperature. Insulation protects against condensation and helps maintain moisture control. If moisture penetrates the insulation, surrounding the cold pipe, energy is lost and can even lead to freezing. This in turn can lead to bigger problems down the road.

Frozen line

Typically, the insulation used in this application is a rubberized or foam material and is low cost. An HVAC professional can install it quickly and easily.

Don’t get caught with AC problems that can escalate. Make sure to check your suction line at least once a year, especially in Florida where the UV index can get pretty high. Insulation can become damaged quickly by high UV. In all my years doing home inspections, I have never seen this insulation last for extended times. Just add this to your home maintenance list!

Why Do I Need To Change The Filter In My HVAC System?

All Florida homes need regular upkeep and maintenance during the year. One of the systems in your home that especially needs regular maintenance is your HVAC system. “HVAC” stands for “Heating Ventilation & Air Conditioning”. We may not use heat for much of the year in Florida, but even your cooling system will use some sort of “Air Handler” that will need regular maintenance. One of the simplest parts of maintaining your HVAC system is to change the filter regularly. This is needed for several reasons and can really spell trouble if the filter is not changed regularly.

So, what is the purpose of a filter?

The filter catches all the dirt and airborne contaminants in the air to keep us healthier right? Well… yes, but that is really just a happy side effect of its real job, despite what most people are led to believe. The real function of the filter in your HVAC system IS to trap airborne contaminants, but not primarily to maintain air quality. The main purpose of catching all that debris is to keep it from going into your system.

How often do I need to change my filter?

This is different from system to system and filter to filter. The home itself can also impact how often you should change your filter. If you go to your local hardware store where the filters are located you will see a wide range of different types, sizes, thicknesses and uses. Changing your filter should be done anywhere from once a month to almost once a year. The filter thickness and manufacturer recommendations will tell you how often it needs to be changed. Here is a very rough guide on how often each type of filter should be changed:

  • Filters at 1-2 inches thick should be replaced every 1-3 months.
  • Filters at 3-4 inches thick should be replaced every 6-9 months.
  • Filters at 5-6 inches thick should be replaced every 9-12 months.
Now that’s a dirty filter!

Other variables that can affect how often you should change your filter are:

  • The amount of people in the household: More people living in the home generates more debris and contaminates. This means in a large household; the filter should be changed more often.
  • Pets: This is a big contributor to the amount of contaminates in the air as well. Pets shed fur and dander and can decrease the life of your filter.
  • Indoor Air Quality: If a home already has issues with indoor air quality, the filter will pick up a large amount of contaminates and will not last as long either. If your filter is becoming blocked very quickly, consider having an HVAC specialist add an air purifier.
  • Allergies: If there are people in the household who suffer from allergies or asthma, the filter may need to be changed more often to accommodate those more sensitive people. There are also special allergy sensitive filters you can get to help with this even more.
  • The frequency of use: In Florida, we tend to run our AC pretty frequently. If you are someone that likes it really cool inside, this could cause the filter to need changing more often as well.

Putting off easy maintenance could lead to big and complicated problems.

When you forget to change the filter in your system for too long, problems can arise pretty quickly. Here are just a few things that happen when the filter is too dirty:

  • HVAC System Damage
    • There are a large number of mechanical and electronic components inside the HVAC system that can be damaged or blocked when debris settles inside the unit.
    • When filters are dirty and blocked, it causes the unit the work harder because the air is not moving properly through the unit. This uses more energy and stresses the unit which can damage or decrease the useful life of the system.
    • A blocked filter restricts airflow which can cause the internal temperature inside the unit to rise, causing the system to overheat. This in turn can cause components to fail or become damaged.
    • When too many contaminates flow through the system, they can become lodged in the condensate removal components. These could be drain lines, condensate pumps or could even spill into the home. This is a common occurrence in Florida due to the high humidity.
  • Poor Personal Comfort & Low Air Quality
    • When the filter is blocked the air will not flow through the home properly and can cause difficulty in maintaining the desired temperature consistently through the home.
    • A blocked filter cannot trap contaminates as easily and the current contaminates will stay in the air, causing discomfort or allergy flare ups.

Don’t Forget Another Filter Change!

Changing your HVAC filter is a very important maintenance task for you and your system! It’s easy for everyone to forget to change the filter. But you should make it a priority to check your filter once a month to make sure it’s in good shape. If the filter is completely covered with contaminants, it’s time to change your filter.

A few ways to help you remember to check your filter is to mark your calendar for once a month, set a reminder on your phone or link the task of changing your filter with paying your utility bill. Don’t pay the bill until you check the filter!

Do yourself and your HVAC system a favor and remember to change your filter!