Do-It-Yourself

  • High temperatures = higher utility bills

    In Alabama the summer gets hot, really hot. We deal with high temperatures, higher humidity and more often than not, higher electric bills due to our cooling systems working harder to maintain a level of comfort inside of our homes. Many members use heat pumps as a cooling system, so it’s best to understand how they work and the most efficient way to use them.

    Most heat pumps are designed to work most efficiently at 95 degrees and below; they also are intended to hold a maximum 20-degree difference from the outside temperature to the thermostat setting in the home. Once the outside weather exceeds that 95-degree threshold, the heat pump must run almost nonstop in an attempt to maintain that 20-degree difference. For example, if you have your thermostat set to 68 degrees and it’s 95 degrees outside (equaling a 27 degree difference), your unit will continue to work with a goal of maintaining the 20-degree difference for which it was designed. The best way to save on your energy bill during these times is to turn your unit up to 78 degrees, which helps reduce the 20-degree window, and use fans to increase your comfort. Although higher temperatures usually mean higher bills, there are some things you can do to help lower your energy use in other ways.

    A programmable thermostat can make it easy to increase your temperature to a higher setting when you’re not home.

    • Do not close off rooms or vents. By doing so, you’re forcing cooled air back into the unit, which may cause damage to it and the duct work over time and in actuality, doesn’t reduce the amount of cooled air your unit produces. It also causes your unit to run inefficiently and increase your energy use.
    • Avoid placing lamps or TV sets near your thermostat. The thermostat senses heat from these appliances, which can cause the air conditioner to run longer than necessary.
    • Using a ceiling fan will allow you to increase your thermostat setting by four degrees and you will not notice any change in temperature. Fans that have the ENERGY STAR label move air 20 percent more efficiently than other models. Since they only increase your comfort and do not impact the actual temperature in the home, make sure you turn them off when you’re not using the room to reduce energy use.
    • Water heating accounts for about 18 percent of the energy consumed in your home. Turn down the temperature of your water heater to the warm setting (120°F). You’ll not only save energy, you’ll avoid scalding.
    • When you shower or take a bath, use the bathroom fan to remove the heat and humidity from your home. Make sure bathroom fans are vented to the outside (not just to the attic).
    • Wash clothes in cold water and only full loads of clothes, clean the lint filter in the dryer after every use. Wash and run full dishwashers at night, and air-dry dishes and clothing to help add to your energy savings.
    • If you have a pool, consider slowly reducing pool filtration time by 30 minute increments daily. Keep on reducing the time as long as the water appears clean. You may find you only need to run your pool filter six hours a day. Install a timer to control the length of time that the pool pump cycles on. Consult your pool manufacturer if you have any questions or concerns about the amount of time needed to properly filter your pool.

    As always, if you’re looking for more ways to save, contact us to schedule a home energy audit or take a look at our Do-It-Yourself Energy Audit tool.

  • How Renters can Fight the Winter Chill

    According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 33 percent of Americans lease their homes. Unfortunately, many lease agreements forbid major alterations to rental properties. But don’t worry, renters! Consider using these low-cost, energy-efficient tips from CAEC to improve the efficiency of your home this winter.

    Hot savings

    Heating the home typically makes up about 48 percent of your utility bill. Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable in the winter – Energy.gov recommends 68 degrees Fahrenheit to boost energy efficiency.

    During the winter months, take advantage of heat from sunlight. Open draperies and shades during the day to allow natural light to heat your home. Remember to close them in the evenings as the temperature drops and windowpanes become chilly.

    Does your home have window air conditioning units? This winter, remember to insulate the units from the outside with a tight-fitting cover, available at your local home improvement center or hardware store. This keeps heated air from escaping outside. If desired, you can remove the window unit during winter months to prevent energy loss.

    Another way to save on heating is to make sure your water heater is set at the lowest comfortable setting. Have you experienced scalding hot water when taking a shower? If so, it’s likely that your water heater is set too high – which is a waste of energy. Older models of water tanks are often not insulated, which can be easily remedied by covering them with an insulating jacket.

    Bright ideas

    Lighting is one of the easiest places to start saving energy, and savings are not strictly limited to winter months. Try replacing a few of your most frequently used light bulbs with ENERGY STAR-qualified lights, and save more than $65 a year in energy costs. ENERGY STAR-qualified compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) use 75 percent less energy and last several times longer than incandescent light bulbs, saving money on energy bills and replacement costs. Practicing energy-efficient habits is another great way to reduce energy use. Always turn off your lights when leaving a room.

     

  • Insulating Water Lines

    Insulating your home’s water pipes reduces heat loss and can raise water temperature 2-4 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than uninsulated pipes, allowing for a lower water temperature setting. You also won’t have to wait as long for hot water, which helps conserve water.

    For exposed lines, such as in the crawlspace, or under a manufactured home, use pipe insulation foam to insulate the lines. Be sure to use the correct diameter based on the diameter of the pipes (i.e. if the diameter of the pipe is three-quarters inch, use the same size insulation). This will insure a tight seal around the lines. When installing foam insulation, do not leave any gaps where cold air could freeze the pipes.

    For a home built on a slab foundation, you do not have to insulate the lines since they are covered by the concrete slab itself. But you do need to keep outdoor faucets protected for cold weather. An easy way to prevent the exposed faucets from freezing is fitting them with faucet covers, available at your local hardware store.

  • Filling Holes and Cracks with Insulating Foam Sealant

    Air leakage through lots of small holes and cracks around the home is a major cause of heating and cooling loss. In fact, adding up all the holes in the average residence is similar to heating and cooling your house year-round with an open window. To reduce energy costs, air-seal and eliminate drafts, start with an easy fix by applying insulating foam sealant throughout your home. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, using foam sealant to fill these gaps can typically save up to 20 percent annually on heating and cooling costs.

    Supplies/Tools:

    • Gloves (optional)
    • Eye protection
    • Straight edge or butter knife
    • Insulating foam sealant

    Insulating foam sealants come in different applications (i.e. windows and doors, gaps and cracks, firelock, aquascape and landscape). Be sure to apply the appropriate foam sealant and read all instructions thoroughly before applying. For this application, we will apply a gaps and cracks sealant.

    1. Before you apply the foam, make sure the area is free of dust, dirt and oil.
    2. Apply sealant foam on the outer part of the hole.
    3. Only fill about a quarter of the hole to allow room for the foam to expand.
    4. Use a flat edge tool or butter knife to scrape off excess foam.

    Note: Read instructions to determine drying time of the foam; it may take several hours to dry completely. The cost for a 12-ounce can should be less than $5 at your local hardware or home improvement store.

    Foam sealants expand to form an outer skin containing closed air cells that provide an effective barrier against energy loss. And when dry, most of these sealants can be painted to match trim. Use around windows and doors, plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, baseboards, sill plates, exhaust vents, siding edges, sky lights, attic fans, garage ceilings, etc. This simple “recipe” can help you conserve energy and reduce heating and cooling bills.

  • Insulating Your Attic Door

    Ever wonder how much your attic entrance costs you each month in regard to your cooling and heating bills? The attic door can be one of the main areas of air infiltration and heat gain/loss in your home due to a lack of insulation and air sealing, essentially making it similar to having an open door to the outside.

    You can insulate the attic door in multiple ways. The example below will show you how to build an encapsulated box. The materials are inexpensive (under $50), widely available, easy to work with and the project takes about 30 minutes.

    Supplies/Tools:

    • Foam board
    • Caulk/foam
    • Foil tape
    • Utility knife
    • Measuring Tape
    1. Measure the length, width and height of your attic access from inside your attic. You will need to measure high enough that the attic ladder can fit inside the box. Be sure to mark the foam board with your recorded measurements.
    2. Cut foam board at measured lengths. Apply safety precautions when utilizing the utility knife, such as cutting away from your body instead of drawing the knife towards you. Verify the pieces will fit over the attic door when closed before attaching the pieces.
    3. Tape pieces together with foil tape.
    4. Seal any gaps with caulk or foam. (Tip: If the hole is bigger than your thumb, use foam).
    5. Place box over attic door and verify the door will close without moving the box.

    This is a relatively low-cost, simple and quick home efficiency project that can make a big difference in the comfort of your home.

     

  • Do It Yourself Installing a Programmable Thermostat

    Imagine the air conditioning automatically cooling your home 10 minutes before you walk through the door. And wouldn’t it be nice not having to remember to bump the temperature back up as you leave for work? These small advantages make the programmable thermostat not only a budget-friendly upgrade, but a welcomed convenience.

    Also on the market are smart programmable thermostats which are connected to Wi-Fi, allowing you to program your thermostat from your computer, tablet and smartphone.

    According to the Department of Energy, installing a programmable thermostat can help you save between 5 and 15 percent on your monthly cooling and heating bills. The process to install a traditional programmable thermostat takes less than an hour, and with many models available starting at $25, you can recoup the initial expenditure after only one year of use.

    Supplies/Tools:

    • Programmable Thermostat
    • Batteries (if applicable)
    • Screwdriver
    • Drill/driver
    1. Turn off the power supply to the thermostat at the breaker box and cut power to the indoor HVAC unit. This could be a switch or a breaker; it will be near the indoor air handler.
    2. Remove the old thermostat cover.
    3. Remove wires one at a time from the old thermostat and label each one with labels from the new thermostat. Once all the wires are labelled, remove the old thermostat plate from the wall. If the old thermostat contains mercury tubes, it must be recycled—check with your local hardware store for proper disposal.
    4. Install the new wall plate. Use a level and mark the location for the mounting holes. Drill the holes and, if needed, insert drywall anchors which should be provided with the new thermostat (this step will vary depending on the model). Feed the wires through the wall plate, pulling the wires out about an inch so they don’t fall back into the wall, then fasten the plate to the wall with a screwdriver.
    5. Follow the instructions in your manual to verify all the wires are connected correctly. The instructions should include two sets of wiring guides: one for a heat pump and one for a conventional (electric furnace) system.
    6. Install batteries (if appropriate) in the new thermostat and insert new faceplate.
    7. Restore power at the main breaker and next to the indoor air handler. Program the new thermostat according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Test the new thermostat to make sure it’s operating properly. If you have a heat pump, ensure the heat strips (auxiliary heat) are not coming on too soon or automatically—an indication of improper installation or an incompatible thermostat.

    Installing a programmable thermostat is a small job that can have a big impact on your monthly cooling and heating bills. For proper installation and safety, be sure to follow the instructions precisely.

  • Do It Yourself Pipe Wrap

    According to the Energy Information Administration, water heating accounts for approximately 18 percent of your home’s energy usage. To help save energy dollars, having an efficient water heater is only one part of the equation. You may be losing heat in the distribution piping from your water heater (even an energy efficient one) to your home’s faucets. Wrapping the exposed pipes from your water heater will aid in keeping the heat in the pipes and will help save you money. Below are instructions on how to properly install pipe wrap.

    Supplies/Tools:

    • Pipe Wrap
    • Duct Tape
    • Knife
    • Tape Measure
    1. Remove any old pipe insulation.
    2. Measure the circumference of your existing pipe to determine what size pipe insulation you need. The measurement may be listed on the pipe itself (3/4 of an inch in the example).
    3. Measure the length of pipe insulation that you need and cut to the proper length.
    4. Open the slit in the insulation and slide over the pipe. Continue steps 3 and 4 until the entire exposed pipe is covered.
    5. To secure insulation in place, tape the length of the slit.

     

     

  • 25 Simple Energy Efficiency Tips

    Making your home energy efficient may seem daunting, but here are 25 simple tips to help you get started saving money and conserving energy in your home.

    1. Limit shower length to 5-7 minutes.
    2. Install low-flow shower heads.
    3. Repair dripping faucets.
    4. Select the cold-water cycle when washing clothes.
    5. Clean your dryer’s lint trap before each use.
    6. Line dry clothes instead of using a clothes dryer.
    7. Set the refrigerator temperature to 34 degrees to 37 degrees Fahrenheit and freeze temperature to 0 degrees to -5 degrees Fahrenheit.
    8. Use a microwave for cooking when possible.
    9. Put lids on pots to help food cook faster when cooking on a range.
    10. Use hot water instead of cold water when used for cooking.
    11. Simmer foods in a slow cooker instead of on the stove.
    12. Choose the air-dry cycle instead of heat-dry cycle on your dishwasher.
    13. Replace any light bulb that burns more than one hour a day with its compact fluorescent bulb equivalent.
    14. Turn off computers and monitors when not in use.
    15. Unplug battery chargers when not in use.
    16. Purchase new or replace old appliances with ones that are ENERGY STAR® approved.
    17. Set thermostats to 78 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, 68 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter.
    18. Change HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) filters monthly.
    19. When installing new air filters, make sure they are facing the correct direction (look for the arrow on the side of the filter.
    20. Close fireplace dampers when not burning a fire.
    21. Do not close supply air registers and vents.
    22. Weather strip windows and doors properly.
    23. Insulate your attic door access.
    24. Minimize use of electric space heaters.
    25. Always operate your HVAC system fan on “auto” to use less electricity and increase your air conditioner’s ability to remove moisture.
  • Beat the Heat with these Energy Efficiency Tips

     

    As we quickly approach the onset of summer, many of us are excited about our family vacations that we’ve been planning all year long. However, some of us will be pondering ideas to create the most amazing staycations we can afford. Whatever the case may be, CAEC is here to help you be more efficient, saving your energy dollars so you can use them for summer activities.

    One of the major proponents of high energy consumption can be your heat pump. Statistics show that heat pumps account for a little over half (54 percent) of the average home’s utility costs. With that in mind, it’s a great time to look at some “no and low” cost tips to keep the cool air in and the warm air out. cooling graphic

    First, help keep your unit running at peak performance—the better it can do its job, the less energy it will use. Simply changing or cleaning your air filters at least once a month and ensuring the outside unit is clear of debris, such as leaves and lawn clippings, can help. You can go a step further by having your unit serviced by a trained HVAC technician. A pre-summer tune up can not only increase efficiency, but also help identify potential issues before they turn into a major, and costly, problem when the summer heat is on.

    Second, check out your unit’s thermostat. Make sure the fan switch is on “auto” to save energy. Leaving it in the “on” position keeps air running constantly and using energy. As temperatures rise, try setting your thermostat at 78 degrees, which will feel great compared to the 90 degree plus outside temperatures as well as help save on cooling costs. You can have even more control by installing a programmable thermostat, which will allow you to adjust the indoor temperature during the day.

    Once you have your unit running efficiently, keep that climate controlled air inside your home by checking for household leaks and make sure air isn’t escaping through any openings such as fireplace dampers, doors and windows. If you can see light around your doors and windows, it might be a good time to invest in weather stripping to better insulate your home’s interior climate.

    Cooling costs are determined by comfort, and installing ceiling fans, which use no more electricity than a standard light bulb, can help you feel cooler and use less HVAC dollars. Make sure you turn the blades in a counter-clockwise direction in the summer and turn them off when you leave—since fans are meant to cool people and not the actual room temperature.
    lighting chart
    Another way to reduce heat and increase efficiency in your home is to replace burnt out incandescent bulbs with new energy efficient CFL’s or LED light bulbs. Not only do CFL and LED bulbs use 75-80 percent less energy than incandescent and last about 10-25 times longer, they produce less heat than incandescent bulbs, which use 90 percent of their energy producing heat.

    When the whole family gets involved in the process, this will not only result in savings, it will also produce better energy habits. It is our desire to help you achieve the best value for the energy dollars you spend, allowing you to beat the heat and invest your savings in summertime family memories.

  • How to Clean Your Refrigerator Coils

    It’s an appliance you use every minute of every day, whether you’re home or not—your refrigerator. Refrigerators are a vital part of our household, but they can also be significant users of electricity. To help your refrigerator run at its optimal efficiency, you should clean its coils annually, or every six months if you have pets in the home. The coils often trap dust and hair and when this clings to the coils, it reduces your refrigerator’s ability to run at its peak performance level, thus using more electricity than it should.

    Tools:
    Screwdriver
    Vacuum Cleaner with Brush Attachment
    Warm Water
    Sponge

    Cleaning Your Fridge’s Coils:

    1. Unplug your refrigerator and pull it away from the wall for easy access.

    2. Locate your refrigerator’s coils. In older models they can often be found on the back of the unit. Coils in newer models may be located in the front on the bottom of the unit located behind the kick plate.

    3. If necessary, use the screwdriver to remove the back cover or kick plate to access the coils.

    4. Use the vacuum cleaner with brush attachment to remove any accumulated dust, hair, debris from the coils.

    5. If there is still remaining dirt or grime, use the warm water and sponge to gently remove from the coils.

    6. If removed in step three, replace the back cover or kick plate.

    7. Plug in your refrigerator and replace to its original position.

    With refrigerators comprising an average of 9 percent of a home’s energy usage, it’s important to keep it running at peak efficiency. Also, remember to keep your refrigerator’s temperature setting between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit to help reduce energy consumption. And if you’re looking to buy a new unit, look for the ENERGY STAR label.

  • Treescaping

    A great opportunity to save energy is by properly selecting and planting trees around your home. Referred to as “treescaping,” the art of selecting and maintaining trees for a specific purpose or area, you can save up to 25 percent of your household energy consumption for heating and cooling. Tree species and proper placement are critical to energy-savings effectiveness. Below are instructions to help you in this decision-making process and steps on how to appropriately plant a tree:

    Supplies:

    Tree

    Potting Soil or Compost

    Mulch (organic materials)

    Tools:

    Shovel

    Water hose

    Tape measure

    Bolt cutters/metal snips

    Compass (optional)

    Treescaping:

    1. For maximum energy savings, plant deciduous trees (those with seasonal leaves) to provide shade and block heat in the summertime while allowing sunlight for your home during the winter. Plant these trees on the west and south sides of your home for best results.
    2. For energy efficiency in the winter, plant evergreens on the north and west sides of your home. A well placed windbreak can reduce wind velocity by 80 percent.
    3. Utilize the sun or a compass for determining the correct direction to place your trees.

    How to Plant Your Tree:

    1. Before you begin to dig, call 811 and make sure the area is free from underground utility lines.
    2. Dig a hole in the soil as deep as the root ball and twice as wide.
    3. Mix compost or potting soil with the soil removed from the hole if your soil is very heavy or sandy.
    4. Remove the tree from its container, gently freeing its roots.
    5. If the root ball is surrounded by burlap or wire, remove this before planting.
    6. Place the tree in the hole so that it sits at its original soil line.
    7. Firmly, but gently fill the hole half full of the removed soil.
    8. Water well, then fill to the top with soil.
    9. Form a shallow basin around the tree and fill it at least three times with water.
    10. Cover the ground around the new tree with four inches of mulch, keeping mulch away from the trunk.
    11. Take care of your tree – keep it well watered for the first year, twice a week is typically sufficient.

    Be sure to make safety your top priority and don’t plant near power lines. Before you dig, call 811.

  • Caulking to Stop Air Leaks

    We all want our home to be energy efficient, and according to the U.S. Department of Energy, drafts are responsible for the loss of between 5-30 percent of a home’s energy. Keeping tight seals around your doors and windows is a simple and cost-effective way to help reduce power bills.

    Supplies:

    Latex Paintable Caulk

    Tools:

    Standard Caulking Gun

    Putty Knife

    Scissors or Knife

    Towel

    Directions:

    Caulking compounds vary in strength, properties and prices. For a long-lasting seal, choose permanently waterproof, flexible, shrink-crack-proof 100 percent silicone (specifically for doors and windows), and if you are painting, try paintable silicone. For this project, we will caulk around a door frame.

    1. Before you apply the caulk, wipe down the surface with a damp cloth to remove any residue or dirt; then strip or scrape old caulk out of the gap or crack.
    2. Take the tube of caulk and cut the tip at a 45 degree angle. 
    3. Pierce the seal on the cartridge to allow the caulk to flow evenly. 
    4. Insert the tube of caulk into the caulking gun.
    5. Start applying a bead of caulking to the areas you have prepared, squeezing evenly, and with consistent pressure and speed to control the rate at which the caulk leaves the tube. 
    6. Complete a section at a time and smooth out the caulking with the tip of your finger.

    Note: The trick to a good caulking job is to hold it at a consistent angle and draw the bead continuously rather than in a stop-and-start fashion. Then release the trigger before pulling the gun away to avoid excess caulk oozing out.

    Caulk forms a flexible seal for cracks, gaps or joints less than one quarter-inch wide. Making smart choices like caulking to stop air seepage throughout your home can help you save energy and money.