Fight the Winter Chills
A colder-than-normal winter is upon us and the frigid temperatures can cause heating systems to work over time, and since heating and cooling can make up nearly half of your electric bill, you may experience sticker shock when you open that bill. Instead of waiting until a potentially high bill is in your mailbox, there are steps that can be taken to reduce usage.
These simple steps can help you manage your use:
- Wrap exposed hot water pipes and water heaters that are in unconditioned spaces.
- Make sure to change your air filter once a month.
- Keep drapes closed at night and keep those that don’t get direct sunlight closed during the day, too.
- Keep the fireplace damper closed when it is not in use – leaving it open can bring cold air into the room.
- Caulk around the fireplace hearth, and caulk or weather strip around doors and windows.
- Log on to your Central Alabama Electric Cooperative (CAEC) account to keep up with your usage.
- Dress for the weather, even if you are inside. Wearing proper clothing like long sleeves and pants, or wrapping up in a cozy blanket will help combat the temptation to bump up the thermostat.
- For even more tips and do-it-yourself projects, visit our Winter Energy Efficiency page.
Using the tips above can certainly help you manage your energy use, but your bill may still be higher than normal in winter months. Why?
- The weather makes a big impact on electric bills, accounting for nearly half of your bill.
- Even those with the most efficient HVAC systems will see more use in extreme weather.
- When extreme cold temperatures hit, our heaters work overtime.
- For example, even if you set your thermostat to our recommended 68 degrees in the winter, when it is 19 degrees outside, your system has to work hard to make up that 49-degree difference.
- Remember, there is value in comfort. For us to be comfortable in our homes, our heaters are going to work harder during extreme temperatures.
- Call CAEC and see what kinds of options are available to you. We can offer many programs such as Prepay and Levelized billing to help you manage your energy use.
- Speak to one of our Energy Services Representatives (ESRs). They can help you understand how weather and your usage patterns affect your bill. And, if you think your usage is abnormal, one of our ESRs can provide energy audits and offer recommendations.
Make the Most of Ceiling Fans
If you are like most Americans, you have at least one ceiling fan in your home. Ceiling fans help our indoor life feel more comfortable. They are a decorative addition to our homes and, if used properly, can help lower energy costs.
Tips for making the most of your ceiling fans:
1. Flip the switch – Most ceiling fans have a switch near the blades. In warm months, flip the switch so that the blades operate in a counter clockwise direction, effectively producing a “wind chill” effect. Fans make the air near them feel cooler than it actually is. In winter, move the switch so the fan blades rotate clockwise, creating a gentle updraft. This pushes warm air down from the ceiling into occupied areas of the room. Regardless of the season, try operating the fan on its lowest setting.
2. Adjust your thermostat – In the summer, when using a fan in conjunction with an air conditioner, or instead of it, you can turn your thermostat up three to five degrees without any reduction in comfort. This saves money since a fan is less costly to run than an air conditioner. In the winter, lower your thermostat’s set point by the same amount. Ceiling fans push the warm air from the ceiling back down toward the living space, which means the furnace won’t turn on as frequently.
3. CHOOSE THE RIGHT SIZE – Make sure your ceiling fan is the right size for the room. A fan that is 36-44 inches in diameter will cool rooms up to 225 square feet. A fan that is 52 inches or more should be used to cool a larger space.
4. TURN IT OFF – When the room is unoccupied, turn the fan off. Fans are intended to cool people – not rooms.
Air Infiltration Inside Your HVAC Closet
Much of our home’s heating, cooling and overall comfort is lost through infiltration; air leaking into our conditioned space (the area we live in). These frequently unseen holes add to your HVAC system load while increasing your power bill. Many areas are easy to find, such as around windows, doors, plumbing, electrical penetrations, light switches and wall outlets and are simple to seal with some caulk or foam sealant. Unfortunately, this is not the case with all air leaks.
According to a report by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a homeowner can save 10 – 20 percent on heating and cooling costs just by sealing up all those air leaks.
Some homes have HVAC systems located inside an indoor cabinet or closet (see picture). While this may be a convenient place, it’s also an ideal place for air infiltration. A large hole is created when contractors run the ductwork during installation, leaving a gap that can be 3-5 inches wide and the length of the four sides of your ductwork.
Once the hole is exposed, attic air can go directly into the unit causing it to run inefficiently. Also, your return air grille (a connection to ductwork that allows air to return to a heating and cooling system) is often located directly under your unit cabinet and will pull unconditioned instead of conditioned air into your home. Additionally, your thermostat is typically located near your cabinet and the temperature around it will be closer to the attic temperature instead of the rest of your home, resulting in your unit running longer.
An easy fix to this problem is to cover this gap with commonly used materials such as plywood or foam board. Sealing the hole with one of these options and adding insulation is the best way to help close off air infiltration.
To identify problem areas in your home, take advantage of our energy audit program. The Advanced Audit is $100 and the Basic Audit, which includes everything except the blower door test (which is a great way to identify air leaks in your home), is $75. Either audit cost is refundable after the member makes the suggested improvements identified by our Energy Services Representative and presents receipts. Members have up to one year to complete the recommendations in order to be eligible for the refund.
What Size Heat Pump Do I Need?
There are many different types of heat pumps and efficiencies, but there is another important factor if you’re considering a new unit—purchasing a properly-sized unit. Because your heating and cooling system is one of the more costly purchases for your home, it is important to understand how to know your unit is the correct one.
When dealers talk about the size of a heating and cooling unit, the measurement is in tons, where 12,000 BTU/h equals one ton of heating and cooling. There are a few ways a dealer can determine the size unit needed for your home: replacing the old unit with the same size, using a “rule of thumb” or performing a load calculation, which is the best method.
In many cases, when it’s time to replace a unit, dealers will typically put in a system that is the same size as the previous system. But if you have made any kind of energy efficiency improvements to your home, the unit may not be the right size for the current household and could be oversized. When it comes to your home’s heating and cooling system, bigger isn’t always better. Not only would you pay more at the point of sale for the unit, but down the road, you may be paying higher power bills since your system will not be as efficient as it should be. Another method to sizing a unit is to use a “rule of thumb” where the unit is determined mostly by the square footage of a home. This is something that has been done for many years and often leads to the installation of an oversized unit, since using this option does not take into account any aspects of the home, such as insulation levels or types of windows and doors, which should also be considered when determining the size of the unit needed.
The most accurate way to determine the size needed for a home is to do a load calculation. Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), the governing body for air conditioning contractors, developed a manual for contractors to follow in order to determine the size of a unit— the Manual J. The Manual J load calculation takes several items into account to determine the size of the unit, including the dwelling’s square footage, volume of the home, size and type of windows, doors, walls and floor, the direction the house faces, type and amount of insulation, number of people living within the home, air infiltration, appliances and more to accurately determine the amount of BTU/h needed to properly and efficiently heat and cool the home. Once the BTU/h is determined, ACCA developed additional guidelines for selecting equipment and designing the duct work. There are several programs contractors can use that follow these ACCA-approved principles.
When you receive quotes from contractors, remember to ask how they determine the proper size of the unit. They should do a load calculation, verify the duct is designed correctly and pick the appropriate equipment.
Remember, a properly-sized unit will mean that you are getting the most value from the power you and your family consume.
Choosing a Heat Pump System
When choosing a heat pump system, there are two considerations you should keep in mind– the efficiency of the unit and type of unit. The efficiency of the unit is stated with the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) – the higher the SEER number, the greater the efficiency and therefore greater energy savings. According to the Department of Energy, a 13 SEER heat pump is the standard and it is also the most commonly used because it is the least expensive.
The type of unit you choose is an important decision based on your personal need. There are three main types of heat pumps available. First is the air source heat pump, which is the most common in our geographical area. Air source heat pumps extract the heat that is present in outdoor air in the winter and transfer it inside your home to keep it warm and comfortable (and yes, there is heat in the air until the temperature reaches −459.67° Fahrenheit, or absolute “0”). The process reverses in the summer – the heat pump pulls the heat out of indoor air and releases it outside to keep your home cool and dry.
When the temperatures become extremely cold outside (usually 30 degrees or less), air source heat pumps cannot extract as much heat as needed from outside, causing the backup heat source, electric heat strips, to be activated. Heat strips use more electricity because they generate warmth from heating elements rather than utilizing the outside air.
Another type of unit is the dual fuel heat pump. These heat pumps are similar to air source heat pumps; however, dual fuel heat pumps use a gas furnace as backup heat rather than electric strips. This is a good option to consider if you already utilize gas in your home.
If you are looking for an Energy Star unit for air source or dual fuel, consider a minimum 14.5 SEER rating. The most efficient heat pumps have a SEER of between 14 and 18. High-efficiency heat pumps, which have a SEER of 16 or higher, will decrease the humidity inside of your home better than standard 13 SEER heat pumps, resulting in less energy usage and more cooling comfort in summer months.
The third option is a geothermal heat pump (also known as ground-source or water-source), the most efficient type of heat pump available, but also the most expensive. This unit uses heat from the ground or a water source rather than outside air to move heat in and out of the house and can achieve a higher efficiency than air source heat pumps. Since these heat pumps don’t use outside air, they cannot use a seasonal rating like an air source heat pump. Instead, an Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) is used to determine the efficiency of this type unit. The lowest EER for most geothermal heat pumps starts at 17 and can go as high as 30 or higher.
A heat pump’s ability to both heat and cool makes it a very economical and efficient home comfort system. Choosing a heat pump is a major decision for a household. Always remember to get at least three quotes from licensed and reputable companies and don’t let price be the only decision factor.
Learn more about our heat pump rebate program, or call (800) 545-5735, ext. 2118.