Frederick Air, Inc
3 King Avenue
Frederick, MD 21701
Phone: (301) 663-0300
Fax: 301-662-1042

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9 Great Ways to Make Your Older Home More Energy Efficient

Frederick Air | August 20, 2018

In some parts of Frederick, new houses are popping up like dandelions in springtime. Because of a variety of environmental regulations or builder and owner easements or tax breaks, nearly all newly constructed houses have a variety of energy-efficient features that make them more environmentally friendly.

In addition to lessening environmental impact through the implementation of green building practices and standards, energy-efficient homes also ease the strain on homeowner budgets by reducing energy use and lowering monthly utility costs.

Homeowners in older homes, however, can sometimes feel as though they have little choice but to accept the fact that energy costs will continue to rise and resign themselves to dutifully paying their utility bill every month. Studies have predicted that the average energy costs will increase between 2% and 3% every year for at least the next 20 years, if not more. With climate change becoming more pronounced in some parts of the country, these energy costs and annual increases could be even higher, resulting in a monthly utility bill that, within the next decade and a half, could easily be twice what it is now. If you do own an older home, you do not have to adopt a "come what may" attitude when it comes to your home's energy efficiency, or lack of it, and your steadily rising utility bills.

Here are nine ways you can improve the energy efficiency of an older home without the need for significant structural changes, expensive remodeling projects, or a major construction undertaking.

Upgrade to a Programmable Thermostat

Many older homes have central heating and air conditioning systems that, while not as old as the house itself, are still out-of-date in terms of providing energy-efficient heating and cooling options. This is especially true if your home still has a thermostat that uses a mercury switch to regulate temperature. You can make a dramatic difference in the amount of energy expended for maintaining a comfortable climate inside your home just by installing a programmable thermostat. These thermostats are relatively inexpensive and can help you regulate the temperature in your home more effectively by giving you a variety of options for heating and cooling as needed. For example, a programmable thermostat can be programmed to lower the temperature at night when you are sleeping or during the day when you are not at home, and leaving it on the automatic setting will let the system itself regulate the climate.

Sealing, Repairing or Replacing Doors or Windows

Even in the newest homes, air loss can occur at doors and windows due to improper installation, defective seals, or settling that occurs to all homes after they are built. The smallest shift in a home's foundation or the substrate upon which the house was built can result in gaps and cracks in window and door jambs where there were none before. This is especially true for older homes, which have had years and sometimes decades to shift, settle, and sag due to age, weathering, environmental conditions, and the quality of the foundation and where/how it was built. Added up over time, small issues with air loss through doors and windows can turn into big expenses. This is not only because of the amount of energy expended to maintain a comfortable temperature in your home but also because more frequent use and operation of heating and cooling systems can result in a premature need for repair or replacement of the heating/cooling unit itself.

Install Low-Flow Water Fixtures for all Faucets and Water Outlets

Many people tend to avoid buying low-flow water fixtures because they believe that low-flow also equals low pressure. This is certainly not the case. You can obtain low-flow fixtures for all the faucets in your home in the kitchen and bathroom, and especially for your shower or tub, that provide the same amount of pressure as your current fixtures or showerhead. Low-flow fixtures are designed to reduce the amount of water used through the fixture, which - when it comes to hot water - decreases the energy used to maintain a supply of heated water for cleaning, bathing, and laundry needs. You can even find household appliances like dishwashers and clothes washing machines that have low-flow plumbing fixtures built in to minimize the amount of water used.

Replacing Appliances with ENERGY STAR Certified Equipment

If your older home also has older appliances, you may be in the market for new ones at some point in the near future. When it is time to upgrade your home's appliances, make sure you choose those that are ENERGY STAR certified. These certified appliances are designed to be more energy efficient and reduce your energy consumption, thereby decreasing your utility costs. ENERGY STAR products are available for almost everything in your home that requires an electrical outlet to operate, from your television set or home stereo system to kitchen appliances, laundry equipment, and water heaters. Because most appliances today are required to be manufactured within energy-saving specifications, ENERGY STAR certified equipment typically comes with the same price tag as comparable appliances that are not as energy efficient.

Install Ceiling Fans in Bedrooms and Other Living Areas

The addition of a ceiling fan can really make a big difference when it comes to changing and regulating the climate in any room of your house. When you install a ceiling fan, you are adding a fixture that works to keep air circulating through the room rather than pooling at the ceiling (for warm air) or floor (for cooled air) in isolated pockets. Don't forget to adjust the switch to change the rotation as the seasons change. One direction (clockwise) will pull air from the floor and push it up and outward to more completely distribute warm air, while the other direction (counter-clockwise) pushes air down from the ceiling and creates a cooling flow of air. Ceiling fans reduce the operation of your heating or cooling system, thus decreasing the energy used to keep your home comfortable.

Adding Insulation to Unheated Rooms and Areas

Most people are not aware of it, but the basement, attic, and crawlspaces of a home - which are typically never heated or cooled directly - are usually one of the most significant contributors to unnecessarily wasted heating and cooling. Improving the insulation in these areas and other parts of your home where it may be missing or deficient can reduce the amount of heated or cooled air that is lost through transference or even through cracks, joints, crevices, and other areas. A few specific areas to check would be in corners and along joints in cinderblock basements or rooms, around your fireplace's chimney, and locations where a crawlspace or concrete slab supports or connects with the exterior walls or floors of your home. Lastly, don't forget the attic, which - in older homes - is often not insulated and ventilated sufficiently to minimize air loss or support adequate air flow, respectively.

Thoroughly Inspect Duct Work for Cleanliness and Proper Sealing

As you make minor upgrades to your older home that include installing a programmable thermostat and insulating unheated spaces like the attic or basement, don't neglect the ductwork that provides heated and cooled air to the interior of your home. Even a recently installed duct system can become a victim of a build-up of debris or cracked and damaged ductwork. Clogged ventilation systems can force your heating and cooling equipment to operate more often and more than it needs to, and damage to your duct system can result in a loss of air as it vents out through the floor instead of into the rooms of your house. In addition to making sure the duct system is clean and free of cracks or damage, you should also consider insulating the parts of the ductwork that pass through unheated areas, where exposure to the natural environment can leech away the heated or cooled air before it vents into your home.

Change Out Traditional Incandescent Lights for CFL and LED Bulbs

Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs and light-emitting diode (LED) lights are often overlooked by consumers when shopping for light bulbs due to their increased cost. Despite this elevated price tag, however, they will pay for themselves several times over when you make the switch from traditional light bulbs. Compared to CFL and LED bulbs, traditional incandescent light bulbs are energy hogs and are very inefficient in terms of energy use. LED and CFL bulbs use less energy and last longer than traditional bulbs, which means your costs will decrease both in terms of your monthly utility bills and the amount you spend on replacement bulbs over time. You can choose whichever type you prefer, as they both other energy-saving benefits, but many people choose LED lights because CFL bulbs don't work correctly in light fixtures with dimmer switches, they can take longer to fully light up when they are cold, and the quality of light is different.

Add Landscaping Features Near Windows

Adding landscaping features to your home's lawn is a great way to enhance the energy efficiency of your home and beautify it at the same time. By planting trees or shrubs in front of the windows, you can provide a natural screen to block out most of the sun's heat. This helps make your house more energy efficient by keeping rooms naturally cooler and decreasing the operation of your air conditioning system. With trees and shrubs providing a natural barrier for the sun's warmth, you can also leave your curtains or drapes open more often and enjoy a large supply of natural light instead of using your home's light fixtures to illuminate rooms. As an added bonus, landscaping features that block most of the sun's rays also prevent floors, furnishings, and other items inside your home from suffering from premature weathering, aging, and other sun damage.

Aside from making the changes included here, or doing some research and finding some of the dozens of other ways you can establish energy-efficient routines for your daily life, you should also check with your local utility company and request a home energy audit. Many utility companies will perform this audit for free, and it can give you valuable information on where your home may be experiencing significant energy usage that you weren't aware of. These audits can also give you great ideas for other energy-saving features, additions, or modifications you can make to improve the overall energy efficiency of your house.

Instead of sitting back and accepting the rising costs of energy and your utility bills, make some changes to your lifestyle and invest in an upgrade to your home that decreases energy usage and improves energy efficiency. These minor to moderate modifications will pay for themselves over time through the savings you will see in your energy costs, and even small home improvements translate into sustainable and long-term positive results.

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