From refrigerators to furnaces, air conditioners to washing machines, the Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings can helpyou find energy-saving products. And it will show you how to maximize energy savings.
Every time you buy a home appliance, tune up your heating system, or replace a burned-out light bulb, you're making a decisionthat affects the environment. You are probably already aware that most of our biggest environmental problems are directlyassociated with energy production and use: urban smog, oil spills, acid rain, and global warming, to mention a few. But you maynot realize just how big a difference each of us can make by taking energy use into account in our household purchasing andmaintenance decisions.
We've sorted through the thousands of major home appliances and heating and cooling systems on the market and picked outthose that are the most efficient. We've also pulled together tips on operating new and existing appliances to reduce energy useand improve performance. Click on the buttons below for highlights from the Consumer Guide.
Features to Look for in Energy-Saving Windows
Window technology has improved dramatically in recent years, with the net result of lowering your energy bills. Some of the most important energy features ofwindows are explained below.
Multiple layers of glazing. Until the 1980s the primary way manufacturers improved the energy performance of windows was to add additional layers of glazing. Double glazing insulates almost twice as well as single glazing. Adding a third or fourth layer of glazing results in further improvement. In the 1970s, with rising concern over energy, triple-glazed and even quadruple-glazed windows entered the market. Some of these windows use glass only; others use thin plastic films as the inner glazing layer(s).
Thickness of air space. With double-glazed windows the air space between the panes of glass has a big effect on energy performance. A very thin air space does not insulate as well as a thicker air space because of the conductivity through that small space. During the 1970s a lot of window manufacturers increased the thickness of the air space in double-glazed windows from ¼" to ½" or more. If the air space is too wide, however, convection loops between the layers of glazing occur. Beyond about 1", you do not get any further gain in energy performance with thicker air spaces.
Low-conductivity gas fill. By substituting the air in a sealed insulated glass window for a denser, lower conductivity gas such as argon, heat loss can be reduced significantly. The largest window manufacturer in the country today, Andersen Windows, uses argon gas-fill in all of its insulated glass windows, and most major manufacturers offer argon gas-fill as an option. Other gases that have been or are being used in windows include carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), krypton (Kr), and argon-krypton mixtures.
Tinted glass coatings. Tinted glass and tinted window films have long been used in commercial buildings to reduce heat gain through windows. Improved, lightly tinted windows are becoming more common for the residential market in southern (cooling-dominated) climates. These new glazings reduce the solar heat gain without reducing visibility as much as older tinted glass and films.
More than any other single improvement, the invention and commercial development of low-emissivity (low-e) coatings in the 1980s revolutionized windowtechnology. Thin, transparent coatings of silver or tin oxide permit visible light to pass through, but they effectively reflect infrared heat radiation back into the room.This reduces heat loss through the windows in the winter.
A variety of low-e windows are now available for different climate zones and different applications in any particular location. Low-e windows with high solar gaincoefficients are appropriate for northern climates where passive solar heating is advantageous, while southern low-e windows with low heat gain coefficients areappropriate in milder climates where summer cooling is more significant than winter heating.
The different properties of these low-e glazings sometimes make it advisable to choose different types of glazing for different sides of your house. We realize it maybe difficult to find a builder or contractor interested in customizing window glazings for the four sides of your house. However, we encourage you to begin thinkingabout new windows from an informed energy perspective. For example, if you want to benefit from passive solar heating, for the south side choose windowscontaining a top-performing low-e glass with a high solar heat gain coefficient. On the north, install the lowest U-value windows you can afford. Or to keep thingssimpler, you can order the same glazings for the east-, west-, and north-facing windows.
Some window manufacturers now produce both "northern" and "southern" climate low-e products. But other window manufacturers may still offer just one type oflow-e glazing as their standard, and charge extra for substitutions—if they provide options at all. So a decision to choose different glazings for windows of differentorientations may require some extra shopping around. If you do order different glazings for your different windows, be sure to keep track of which windows havewhich type of glazing, because they will probably all look identical!
Should I replace my existing heating system?
This can be a difficult question. If you heat with electric resistance heat, rising electricity prices may force you to switch to a gas, oil, or heat pump system that ismore affordable. If you currently have a gas- or oil-fired furnace or boiler, the decision to replace it depends on its age, condition, and performance.
If your furnace or boiler is old, worn out, inefficient, or significantly oversized, the simplest solution is to replace it with a modern high-efficiency model. Old coalburners that were switched over to oil or gas are prime candidates for replacement, as are gas furnaces without electronic (pilotless) ignition or a way to limit the flowof heated air up the chimney when the heating system is off (vent dampers or induced draft fan).
A typical heating system will last about 25 years, though some boilers can last twice that long. Your heating system technician or energy auditor may be able to helpyou evaluate your existing system and decide whether replacement is a good idea.
If you know how efficient your existing heating system is (AFUE), it's pretty easy to calculate the savings you will get by replacing it. The chart below will help youdetermine potential savings resulting from replacement of your existing system. Your heating service technician or energy auditor may be able to help determine theAFUE of your present system. If you were only provided with the combustion efficiency, you can estimate the AFUE by multiplying the combustion efficiency by0.85. The numbers in the chart assume that both the old and new systems are sized properly; savings will be greater than indicated if the old system is too large.
Air Conditioning Efficiency
Efficiency is just as important with air conditioning systems as it is with heating systems. Central air conditioners and heat pumps operating in the cooling mode arerated according to their seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER), which is the seasonal cooling output in Btu divided by the seasonal energy input in watt-hoursfor an average U.S. climate. Many older central air conditioners have SEER ratings of only 6 or 7. The average central air conditioner sold in 1998 had a SEER ofabout 11. The national efficiency standard for central air conditioners now requires a minimum SEER of 10, and to qualify for an ENERGY STAR® label requires aSEER of 12 or higher.
The efficiency of room air conditioners is measured by the energy efficiency rating (EER), which is the ratio of the cooling output (in Btu) divided by the powerconsumption (in watt-hours). A typical new room air conditioner has an EER of about 9. The first national appliance efficiency standards for room air conditionerstook effect in 1990. The minimum efficiency varies depending on the design and cooling capacity of each unit. New standards will go into effect in October 2000requiring an average EER of about 10.
When you're shopping for air conditioners, look for SEER ratings over 12 for central air conditioners and EER ratings over 10 for room air conditioners.High-efficiency units generally cost more, but in hot climates more efficient units pay for themselves over a few years through reduced electricity bills. Central airconditioners are usually more efficient than room air conditioners, and in general, larger capacity air conditioners have higher efficiency. However, don't buy a largersystem than you need just because it has higher efficiency.
Horizontal-Axis Clothes Washers
The re-emergence of H-axis clothes washers on the American market is an exciting development for consumers interested in energy savings and environmental quality. In addition to attractive energy savings, the water savings from these machines is crucial in areas where water is scarce. (Although we sometimes use the terms interchangeably, front-loading and horizontal-axis are not necessarily synonymous: Staber Industries builds a top-loading H-axis machine.)
To understand how horizontal-axis washers use so much less water and energy, consider that in a conventional top-loader the tub must be filled with water so that all the clothes are kept wet. The agitator then swirls the water around to clean the clothes. In contrast, a front-loader needs less water because the tub itself rotates, making the clothes tumble into the water.
Front-loaders have always been popular in Europe, and in the past few years European manufacturers have increased marketing their products in the U.S. Inresponse, Amana, Frigidaire, and Maytag introduced new H-axis machines in 1997, and other manufacturers may soon follow with their own designs. Manyfront-loaders permit stacking the dryer on top of the washer, yet another benefit if space is tight. The Maytag Neptune (see photo) even features a tub angled up15° for easier loading and unloading.
At present, horizontal-axis clothes washers are more expensive to purchase than vertical-axis washers; however, their substantial energy and water savings translatesinto big money savings and a quick return on your investment. Depending on your local energy and water rates and the amount of laundry you do each year, you mayrealize annual savings of $100 or more. If an H-axis washer cost $500 more to purchase than a conventional machine, your savings would be a tax-free return onyour investment of 20%.
A growing number of energy and water utilities around the country recognize the benefits of efficient clothes washers, and are offering rebates to consumers whopurchase qualifying machines. Call your energy and water utilities and ask if they provide rebates for high-efficiency clothes washers.
Buying a New Refrigerator
When it comes time to buy a new refrigerator, it definitely pays to shop around for an energy-efficient model. Even though federal law mandates certain energyefficiency levels for refrigerators, there is still significant variation from model to model. Look for the ENERGY STAR® label to identify efficient models.
As you shop for a new refrigerator, consider what style and features you want, and what the energy penalties might be. For example, side-by-siderefrigerator/freezers use more energy than similarly sized models with the freezer on the top. Built-in designer refrigerators may also consume more energy than storemodels, but are less wasteful than they used to be since the national appliance energy standards took effect. Manual defrost models use less electricity than automaticdefrost models but are not widely available in large sizes. However, manual defrost models must be defrosted periodically to maintain their energy efficiency.Features such as automatic icemakers and through-the-door dispensers can increase energy consumption somewhat.
Consider size as well when shopping for a refrigerator. Generally, the larger the unit, the greater the energy consumption. Too large a model will result in wastedspace and energy; too small a model could mean extra trips to the supermarket. However, some refrigerator sizes tend to be more efficient. Currently, the mostefficient models are in the most popular 16-20 ft3 range. You may find that a more efficient 18 ft3 model costs less to run than a 15 ft3 model with similar features.
If you are thinking of buying a second refrigerator, you might want to reconsider. It is generally much less expensive to buy and operate one big refrigerator than twosmall ones. If the extra refrigerator is an old model, its probably an energy guzzler. If you only need a second refrigerator a few days a year or to hold a fewsix-packs of beer, why spend an extra $50-150 per year in electricity?
Home energy checklist for action
Here's a simple checklist to give you an idea of the things you can learn about in the Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings.
To Do Today
Turn down the temperature of your water heater to the warm setting (120°F). You'll not only save energy, you'll avoid scalding your hands.
Check if your water heater has an insulating blanket. An insulating blanket will pay for itself in one year or less!
If you have one of those silent guzzlers, a waterbed, make your bed today. The covers will insulate it, and save up to one-third of the energy it uses.
Start using energy-saving settings on refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, and clothes dryers.
Survey your incandescent lights for opportunities to replace them with compact fluorescents. These new lamps can save three-quarters of the electricity used byincandescents. The best targets are 60-100W bulbs used several hours a day. Measure the clearance in the fixtures to make sure they will accommodate compactfluorescents, which are slightly bigger than incandescents.
Check the age and condition of your major appliances, especially the refrigerator. You may want to replace it with a more energy-efficient model before it dies.
Clean or replace furnace, air-conditioner, and heat-pump filters.
Visit the hardware store. Buy a water-heater blanket, low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators, and compact fluorescents, as needed. If you can't find compactfluorescents locally, check out ENERGYguide or Energy Federation Incorporated.
Rope caulk very leaky windows.
Assess your heating and cooling systems. Determine if replacements are justified, or whether you should retrofit them to make them work more efficiently toprovide the same comfort (or better) for less energy.
Collect your utility bills. Separate electricity and fuel bills. Target the biggest bill for energy conservation remedies.
Crawl into your attic or crawlspace and inspect for insulation. Is there any? How much?
Insulate hot water pipes and ducts wherever they run through unheated areas.
Seal up the largest air leaks in your house the ones that whistle on windy days, or feel drafty. The worst culprits are usually not windows and doors, but utilitycut-throughs for pipes ("plumping penetrations"), gaps around chimneys and recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets.Better yet, hire an energy auditor with a blower door to point out where the worst cracks are. All the little, invisible cracks and holes may add up to as much as anopen window or door, without you ever knowing it!
Install a clock thermostat to set your thermostat back automatically at night.
Schedule an energy audit (ask your utility company or state energy office) for more expert advice on your home as a whole.
Insulate. If your walls aren't insulated have an insulation contractor blow cellulose into the walls. Bring your attic insulation level up to snuff.
Replace aging, inefficient appliances. Even if the appliance has a few useful years left, replacing it with a top-efficiency model is generally a good investment.
Upgrade leaky windows. It may be time to replace them with energy-efficient models or to boost their efficiency with weatherstripping and storm windows.
Reduce your air conditioning costs by planting shade trees and shrubs around your house especially on the west side.
Know that you are making a difference!
Written by: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
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