By Dennis Stinson, Vice President of Sales for Fujitsu General America
We are all looking for ways to cut costs and for those on fixed or limited incomes, the situation is more critical. The advent of record heat, rising cooling costs, and increased demand have created financial challenges that make optimal energy efficiency more important than ever.
Home energy costs continue to put families at risk as temperatures reach unprecedented levels and increase the cost of cooling. The country continues to experience the ravages of extreme heat. July 2023 brought record-high temperatures across the United States with scorching heat impacting much of the nation, according to a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. About 67.1 million people — 20% of the population of the contiguous United States — live in areas expected to have dangerous levels of heat.
Simultaneously, the cost of home energy this summer is expected to increase by 11.7% to an average of $578, up from $517 last summer, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association. These estimates could in fact understate the final costs of home cooling if temperatures continue to stay at record levels.
The good news is that homeowners can help find relief by following a few simple tips. According to Energy.gov, 6% of the average household energy goes to cooling homes, costing homeowners $29 billion per year. Small steps can go a long way in reducing costs and energy usage.
- Leverage the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act: The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act is a landmark piece of legislation that encourages a transition to a new era of energy efficiencyand decarbonization. It allocates $369 billion to support energy efficiencies and offers households tax credits for energy-efficient improvements that save money in the long run. These include upgraded windows, doors, insulation, and other home weatherization services such as highly efficient heating and cooling appliances like heat pumps. For example, households can claim a tax credit for 30% of the costs of buying and installing a heat pump (up to $2,000) including support for any electric system upgrades needed to make the home heat pump ready. Further, many manufacturers offer valuable rebates. The newly enacted Inflation Reduction Act will provide income-eligible households up to $14,000 when fully implemented in 2024.
- Get “Smart” About Climate Control: When it comes to efficient home temperature control, there are Smart HVAC Systems and Smart Thermostats. Smart HVAC systems have built-in Internet capability and can be controlled directly without additional equipment. Smart Home Thermostats create “smart” systems by enabling remote temperature control via mobile or Internet-connected devices or voice-operated home automation systems.
- Voice Your Preference: Take control of your comfort. Most HVAC manufacturers offer apps that enable systems to be controlled from anywhere using a mobile device. Voice-control capability uses digital assistants, like Amazon Alexa or Google Home, to verbally dictate home temperatures. Easily controlling the temperature more closely, allows homeowners to be more comfortable and improve energy savings.
- Find Your Efficient Comfort Zone: Many of us live in homes designed for bigger families but have yet to downsize. If you find yourself using a fraction of your home on a regular basis, consider upgrading to a zoned ducted, or ductless system. That allows you to save energy in heating and cooling spaces where you and your family don’t spend a lot of time. These savings multiply because you not only need less heat but also gain from a more efficient system in the spaces you do use.
- Ward off Energy Vampires: An “energy vampire” is a device that continues to draw power even when it is turned off or idle- accounting for as much as 20% of your electric bill. A few examples are coffee makers, toasters, hair dryers, laptops, and other appliances that are plugged in but aren’t in use all the time. Unplug them completely or connect them to advanced power strips that cut power when appropriate.
- Turn it Up: Even a slight temperature increase can make a difference. You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply adjusting your thermostat a mere 7-10 degrees for eight hours a day from its normal setting. For example, keep your house warmer than normal when you are away, and set it as high as is comfortable when you are home.
- Work Your Windows: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, about 76% of the sunlight that falls on standard double-pane windows enters to become heat. Close all windows and coverings to keep your house cool. For natural light, open those window coverings that don’t get direct sunlight. Cellular shades can reduce unwanted solar heat through windows by up to 60%. The best specific window for your home will vary depending upon the particular climate in which you live. While some windows are better at keeping you warm, others excel at keeping you cool.
However, be sure they are ENERGY STAR certified and consider factors including quality frame materials, multiple panes, glazing or glass features, gas fills and spacers, and the type of operation.
Small everyday changes can have a big impact. Use heat-producing appliances (stoves, irons, and dryers) at night or early morning. A ceiling fan allows you to raise the thermostat setting about 4 degrees with no reduction in comfort. Seal air leaks around windows, doors, and places where pipes and wires come through the walls. Check existing caulking and weather-stripping for gaps or cracks.
Overall, the secret to success is to leverage the full spectrum of resources at your disposal for every season. A comprehensive, “whole-house” approach is best. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, by combining proper equipment maintenance and system upgrades with other easy elements homeowners can effectively cut energy use by 20%-50%. A little knowledge can help homeowners save money all year long. To learn more, visit www.constantcomfort.com.