You’re never too young to learn smart energy choices! Enjoy these fun games and become an Energy Star!
Which heat pump is best for you?
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 identified by 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 14 SEER heat pump is the standard and it is also the most commonly used because it is the least expensive.
To help you reach an optimal level of efficiency as well as comfort, let’s talk about the heat pump and the options you have when choosing one to serve your cooling and heating needs. The most common unit is the air-source heat pump, which pulls the heat out of indoor air and releases it outside to keep your home cool and dry and does the reverse in winter. A heat pump acts as a dehumidifier and can trim the amount of electricity you use for heating by 30-40 percent when switching from an electric furnace.
Another type of unit that can heat and cool your home is the dual fuel heat pump, similar to air source heat pumps, but this one uses a gas furnace as backup heat rather than electric strips. These units switch from the heat pump to the gas furnace only when the temperatures dip below freezing when the heat pump would be less efficient. A dual fuel heat pump is typically more expensive than regular heat pumps but in this climate, it is worth the cost due to reduced energy use in the winter months.
The mini-split, a compact and efficient way to control the temperature of your home, is a system that consists of an outdoor unit connected to one or more indoor units. This system gives you the ability to zone and control the temperature of each individual indoor unit allowing the members of your home to have control of their space and level of comfort. Other unique benefits of this system include reaching high levels of efficiency through a SEER as high as 18–19. It can also operate effectively during low temperatures; therefore, it can be used efficiently year-round in varying climates where other systems might not function as well. Using a mini-split system provides the option of having no ductwork, thereby reducing the inefficiencies common with ductwork.
The geothermal heat pump is considered to be the most efficient type of heat pump available, and also the most expensive. This type of unit uses the constant temperature of the earth as its exchange medium instead of the outside air, and it can have a life span of more than 20 years if properly maintained. Although the installation cost may be higher compared to other systems, it will produce lower utility bills and annual maintenance costs. The installation of one of these systems in 2019 can also qualify the homeowner for a 30 percent tax credit. And you will experience a savings of 30–70 percent compared to other systems.
Learn more about our heat pump rebate program, or call (800) 545-5735, ext. 2118.
Myths About Your Thermostat
Your home’s thermostat controls how long your heating or cooling system operates. You can save energy and money by learning how this simple device operates.
One common myth is that the higher you set your thermostat when you return home, the faster your house will warm-up. This isn’t true since most heating systems deliver heat at the same rate no matter how high the thermostat is set. So just set your thermostat at the temperature you’d like, and your system will heat your home as fast as it can.
Another myth regards the efficiency of setting your thermostat down when you don’t need heating or cooling, such as at night or when no one is home. This myth states that a heating system works harder than normal to heat your home back to a comfortable temperature after the thermostat has been set back, resulting in little or no savings. This is not true, as has been proven by years of research and field observations. The longer your house stays at a reduced temperature when heating–or at an increased temperature when cooling–the more energy and money you’ll save.
This is because your heating or cooling cost depends mostly on the temperature difference between indoors and outdoors. When you adjust your thermostat down in the winter–or up in the summer–you simply reduce this temperature difference. If you set your temperature back 10 to 15 degrees for 8 hours while you’re asleep or at work, your energy savings can be 5% to 15% on your energy bill.
By the way, you can install a setback thermostat that automatically adjusts your home’s temperature at pre-set times. But your can achieve the same savings if you faithfully remember to change your thermostat whenever you leave home or go to bed.
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.
Spring into Energy Savings with 3 easy tips
Winter weather can have a big impact on your energy bills, hitting your pockets a little harder than you would have liked. Now that spring is just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to tackle a few DIY efficiency projects for your home. The good news: You don’t have to be an energy expert to do this!
There are several easy ways to save energy, but if you’re willing to take a hands-on approach, here are three projects you can do now to start saving.
Make the Most of Your Water Heater.
Let’s start with one of the easiest projects: insulating your water heater. Insulating a water heater that’s warm to the touch can save 7 to 16 percent annually on your water heating bills. It should also be noted that if your water heater is new, it is likely already insulated. But if your water heater is warm to the touch, it needs additional insulation.
You can purchase a pre-cut jacket or blanket for about $20. You’ll also need two people for this project. Before you start, turn off the water heater. Wrap the blanket around the water heater and tape it to temporarily keep it in place. If necessary, use a marker to note the areas where the controls are so you can cut them out. Once the blanket is positioned correctly tape it permanently in place, then turn the water heater back on. If you have an electric water heater, do not set the thermostat above 130 degrees, which can cause overheating.
Seal Air Leaks with Caulk.
The average American family spends $2,000 annually on energy bills, but unfortunately, much of that money is wasted through air leaks in the home. Applying caulk around windows, doors, electrical wiring and plumbing can save energy and money. There are many different types of caulking compounds available, but the most popular choice is silicone. Silicone caulk is waterproof, flexible and won’t shrink or crack.
Before applying new caulk, clean and remove any old caulk or paint with a putty knife, screwdriver, brush or solvent. The area should be dry before you apply the new caulk.
Apply the caulk in one continuous stream, and make sure it sticks to both sides of the crack or seam. Afterwards, use a putty knife to smooth out the caulk, then wipe the surface with a dry cloth.
Weather Strip Exterior Doors.
One of the best ways to seal air leaks is to weather strip exterior doors, which can keep out drafts and help you control energy costs. Weather stripping materials vary, but you can ask your local hardware or home store for assistance if you’re unsure about the supplies you need.
When choosing weather stripping materials, make sure it can withstand temperature changes, friction and the general “wear and tear” for the location of the door. Keep in mind, you will need separate materials for the door sweep (at the bottom of the door) and the top and sides.
Before applying the new weather stripping, clean the moulding with water and soap, then let the area dry completely. Measure each side of the door, then cut the weather stripping to fit each section. Make sure the weather stripping fits snugly against both surfaces so it compresses when the door is closed.
By completing these simple efficiency projects, you can save energy (and money!) while increasing the comfort level of your home. And you can impress your family and friends with your savvy energy-saving skills.
Efficiently retrofitting your manufactured home
If you live in a manufactured home, chances are you may have a higher energy bill than a family living in a traditional wood-frame home. The good news is there are many ways you can improve your home’s energy efficiency.
First, a clarification. Some use the term manufactured home and mobile home interchangeably. A mobile home is a factory built home constructed prior to 1976 when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) set national standards that nearly every manufactured home must meet. Thereafter, factory-built homes were called manufactured homes and are engineered and constructed in accordance with the 1976 federal code administered by HUD.
Manufactured homes come in all shapes and sizes. They may be single- or multi-sectioned and are available in various sizes and floor plan configurations. There are many differences between manufactured homes built before the U.S. HUD Code took effect in 1976 and those built afterward. One of the major differences is energy efficiency. Those built before federal standards were generally not as energy efficient as later models. And while your manufactured home may have been built to the energy standards of the time, significant progress has been made over the past few decades with high-efficiency mechanical equipment, windows, insulation, siding and roofing materials.
In short, whether your home is less than five years old or more than 50, most homes can benefit from energy efficiency measures simply due to wear and tear. Sunlight, seasonal temperature changes and wind can increase air leakage. Doors and windows may not close tightly and duct work can spring leaks, wasting energy.
If your home was built before 1976, the Dept. of Energy recommends the following steps to retrofit your manufactured home and improve energy efficiency:
1. Install energy-efficient windows and doors
2. Replace insulation in the belly, or floor, of the home
3. Make general repairs (seal bottom board, caulk windows, doors, ducts, etc.)
4. Add insulation to your walls
5. Install or seal belly wrap
6. Add insulation to your roof or install a roof cap
7. Install or repair underpinning
In addition to the measures listed above, consider caulking and weather stripping windows and doors, particularly if you are not able to replace them with more energy-efficient ones. Properly seal any openings around ducts and plumbing fixtures. Replace any incandescent light bulbs with LEDs – both indoors and outside. Reduce “phantom” loads by unplugging electronic devices, such as computers, printers and gaming systems, when not in use. If you are planning to move to a new manufactured home, look for the Energy Star rated model.
For more information about energy efficiency improvements for manufactured homes, including rebates for installing an energy efficient heat pump, contact our Energy Services Representatives at 1-800-545-5735, ext. 2118.
Resolve to use less energy in 2019
Eating better and exercising more often top the list for the most popular New Year’s resolutions, often followed by making better financial decisions. What better way to save money than by using less energy? Listed below are some energy saving tips to help you reach your goal.
- When cold weather sets in, heating your home can account for up to 52 percent of your total energy bill.
- Open your drapes or blinds during the day to help capture heat from sunlight and close them at night to help retain the heat gain.
- Set your thermostat to 68 degrees when you’re home. If you’re going away for the weekend, lower the thermostat to 60 degrees.
- Run your ceiling fan on “low” in a clockwise direction to circulate warm air when you’re in the room.
- Install weather stripping and seals around doors and windows. Install gaskets under switch plates for lights and electrical outlets, and caulk all potential air leaks.
Whether for cooking, bathing, laundry, dish washing or other uses, about 15 to 20 percent of your monthly energy use goes toward water heating.
Take short showers instead of baths. A five-minute shower typically uses less than 15 gallons of water while a bath can use 30 to 40 gallons.
Approximately 80 percent of the energy used to wash clothes goes to heating water. Wash as many loads as possible in cold water.
Improve your water heater’s efficiency by wrapping it in an insulated jacket made for this purpose.
- Lighting typically accounts for about eight to 10 percent of the average electric bill.
- Turn off lights when not in use. You can save more money by turning lights on and then off rather than leaving them on.
- Energy-efficient LED bulbs produce more light for less energy. They cost more initially, but their longer life combined with energy savings make them less expensive in the long run.
Your refrigerator is one of the most expensive home appliances to operate. Resist the urge to open the door and then decide what you want. Every time you open the door, 30 percent of the cool air escapes.
Cleaning the coils underneath or behind your refrigerator/freezer will keep it running efficiently and look for the ENERGY STAR® label when replacing appliances.
- Conventional washing machines use 40-50 gallons of water per load while high-efficiency washers use as little as one-third that amount.
- Avoid running your washer or dryer until you have a full load.
- Clean the lint filter of your dryer after every load.
- Adjust your dryer’s heat setting to “low” and take care not to over-dry your clothes.
- Every few months, inspect the outside dryer vent and clean when necessary.
There are ways to make cooking and baking easier on your electric bill. Turn the oven off 15 minutes prior to the specified baking time; the residual heat will finish the cooking process.
Leave the oven door closed during baking, each time you open the door, you lose about 25 to 50 degrees of heat.
Manage the many devices you use to inform, entertain and communicate with others and beware of energy “vampires.” Many electronic devices (computers, TVs, wall-chargers, etc.) use power even when you’re not actively using them. Unplug these devices when not in use. Create a charging station connected to a power strip that accepts all your power cords for laptops, cell phones and digital cameras and turn the power strip off when nothing is being charged.
By making some small changes to how you use energy,
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.
- 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.
- Before you apply the foam, make sure the area is free of dust, dirt and oil.
- Apply sealant foam on the outer part of the hole.
- Only fill about a quarter of the hole to allow room for the foam to expand.
- 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.
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.
Hot Water Heater Efficiency Tips
Water use and electricity go hand in hand. Heating water can account for 14 percent to 25 percent of the total energy consumed in a typical home. What’s more, systems used to clean public water supplies and deliver it to homes require large amounts of electricity. If your home receives water from a well or spring, the pump also draws power. So when we use water, hot or cold, we’re also using energy.
Techniques for trimming water use in your home are surprisingly simple. For one, you can significantly reduce hot water consumption by simply repairing leaks in fixtures—faucets and showerheads—or pipes. A leak of one drip per second can cost $1 per month.
You can also reduce water heating costs in a matter of seconds by lowering the thermostat setting on your water heater. For each 10º F reduction in temperature, you can save between 3 percent and 5 percent in energy costs. Reducing the setting also slows mineral buildup and corrosion in your water heater and pipes.
Although some manufacturers set water heater thermostats at 140º F, most households usually only require them set at 120º F. However, if you have a dishwasher without a booster heater, you may require water temperature within a range of 130º F to 140º F for optimum cleaning.
Adding insulation to your water heater can save around 4 percent to 9 percent in costs. To determine if you need to insulate your water heater, touch it. A tank that’s warm to the touch needs additional insulation.
Insulating your water heater tank is fairly simple and inexpensive, and will pay for itself in about a year. You can find pre-cut jackets or blankets available from around $10 to $20 and install it yourself. Choose one with an insulating value of at least R-8. In addition, don’t set the thermostat above 130º F on an electric water heater with an insulating jacket or blanket—the wiring may overheat.
Installing insulation on gas- and oil-fired water heaters is more difficult. For these appliances, it’s best to have a qualified plumbing and heating contractor perform the work.
Another way you can insulate your water heater and save money is through pipe wrap. This is a simple, cost efficient way to keep your energy use low.
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.
Fight the Winter Chills
Winter means 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.