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THE ENERGY SMART HOME

Think of your house as an energy system, with many parts working together. Unfortunately, lots of houses don't work very efficiently. The good news is that you can do yourself, and the environment, a big favor by saving energy in at least three types of ways.



Tightening the Thermal Envelope
A house's thermal envelope includes its roof, walls, floors, windows and doors; in other words, every item that separates the inside from the outside. A leaky house is not only drafty and uncomfortable, it lets precious energy dollars escape: just the gaps around windows and doors in an average American house are the equivalent of a 3 foot by 3 foot hole in the wall! Here are some places to start tightening up your house. You can install most of these energy-saving improvements at low cost with materials available from any hardware store:

Notes on Insulation

(a) Adding insulation in some parts of an existing house, such as walls or crawl spaces, is likely to require an experienced contractor. A good time to undertake such projects is when you are planning to repaint or remodel.

(b) Insulation is measured in terms of its resistance to heat loss or "R-value." Twice the R-value means half the heat loss, so higher R-values are generally desirable. Never compress insulation as this reduces the air spaces that keep the warmth in.

(c) Before you remove old insulation, check to make sure it's not asbestos. Your local buildings department can usually help if you're not sure.

(1) Attics: Start by making sure your attic is well insulated. This step alone can save 20-35% in heating costs and up to 35% on air-conditioning costs. Seal holes with caulk or compressed fiberglass insulation. Check that your attic is well ventilated with unclogged, screened vents. If you air-condition, consider adding roof vents (otherwise your attic will trap hot air in the summer).

(2) Doors and Windows: Weatherstrip or caulk around doors and windows. Seal leaks around electric switches and outlets. Stop air from escaping under outside doors with easy-to-install "sweeps" or "shoes." Seal gaps around loose window panes with window putty. And choose vinyl or wood frames instead of aluminum framing.

Curtains and drapes can serve as an effective way to shield out the sun during the summer, especially if they are lined with a white backing. Use blinds and outside shade screens on south and southwest facing windows to keep your house from overheating in the warmer months.

For keeping warm during the winter months, consider installing storm windows or new double-pane windows. These can greatly reduce the tremendous amount of heat that escapes through typical single-pane windows. Better yet, choose the latest high-efficiency options, such as windows with low-e coatings or argon filling. Look for the U-level on the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) label. It should be 0.35 or lower.

(3) Walls and Floors: Insulate! In addition to your attic, insulating under the floor, around hot water pipes and heating ducts, and in crawl spaces will make a big difference in your energy bills. Install a rug with a pad. Patch cracks and insulate in heated basements. In unheated basements, seal spaces around heating vents and other openings to the heated part of the house (but be careful not to block vents that allow moisture to escape!).

Choosing High Efficiency Appliances
One of the best ways you can help change the way America uses energy is by being an energy-smart consumer. When it's time to retire an old appliance, you can typically replace it with a new model that uses only half the energy. Even though high efficiency models may cost extra, most will more than make up the difference in energy savings over their lifetime. It's up to you, though, to shop for efficiency.

Cool Savings: The Super-Efficient Refrigerator

Refrigerators commonly account for as much as 20% of household electricity use. That's why a coalition of electric utilities and environmental organizations recently challenged American manufacturers to design a super efficient refrigerator that minimized the use of ozone-depleting CFCs. They succeeded. That means if you're in the market for a new refrigerator in the next few years, you may be able to choose one that uses as much as 30% less energy than competing models and contains 90% fewer ozone depleting materials.

If you have trouble finding what you're looking for, ask your local retailer to carry a full line of energy-saving appliances and lights. By demanding energy efficient products, consumers can send an important signal to manufacturers. Here's how:(1) Before you buy, consider your specific needs so that you buy the appropriate size and model appliance. If your air conditioner or water heater is oversized, for example, you're wasting energy and money.

(2) Check the yellow and black "Energy Guide" labels found on most major household appliances when you go shopping for items like refrigerators, air conditioners, or dishwashers. These labels will tell you how the energy costs for a particular model compare to those for similar models. On air conditioners, check the energy efficiency rating. An "EER" rating of 12 is good, 14 or more is excellent.

(3) Look for energy-saving features. For instance, an air-dry setting can allow you to cut the energy use of a dishwasher by as much as 40%. Clothes washers with adjustable water levels and dryers with moisture sensors and cool-down cycles will also save energy compared to models which lack these features.

Improving Maintenance and Control Over Household Energy Use
Some of the most effective things you can do to save energy require nothing more than a little extra care and attention. Things as simple as switching off unused lights, choosing the right appliance for the job, or cleaning the lint filter in your dryer after every use. Added comfort and savings can be achieved with the help of a few simple devices, such as programmable thermostats, that can give you more control over energy use in your home. Here are a few steps you can take right away:

A Bright Idea: The Compact Fluorescent

Most of the lights around your house are probably incandescents, much like the one Thomas Edison invented over 100 years ago. Now there's a longer-lasting, more energy-efficient alternative: the compact fluorescent. Today, compact fluorescents are available that fit in most household fixtures and give off the same warm, steady light you're used to but use only a quarter of the energy of standard incandescents! And while compact fluorescents are initially more expensive, each bulb lasts ten times as long and saves as much as $30 - $40 in energy costs over its life.

(1) In the winter, set your thermostat at 68 degrees in the daytime and 55 degrees at night. In the summer, keep it at 78. Install a set-back or programmable thermostat so that you're not heating or cooling unnecessarily when nobody's home.

(2) Keep heating and air conditioning systems properly maintained and tuned. This includes changing air filters and keeping air conditioner coils clean and straight.

(3) Wrap your water heater in a water heater blanket, especially if it's located in an unheated part of the house. Also insulate hot water pipes leaving the heater. Set the temperature at 120 degrees for normal use; for dishwashers without temperature boosters, set the water heater at 140 degrees.

(4) Save water and the energy needed to heat water. There are a number of ways to do this, including: (a) install low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators, (b) wash full loads in your dishwasher and use short cycles for all but the dirtiest dishes, (c ) set the appropriate water level for different size loads in your clothes washer, wash in cold water when practical, and always rinse in cold.

(5) Set the temperature of your refrigerator at 38 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit; your freezer should be set at 0-5 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the power-saver switch if your refrigerator has one and make sure the door seals tightly.

(6) Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents. Match bulb wattage to the lighting task and use dimmers where appropriate. Turn off the lights when you leave a room and install automatic timers, especially for lights that are frequently left on when they shouldn't be.

(7) Clean the lint filter in your clothes dryer after each use. Dry heavy and light fabrics separately and don't add wet items to a load that's already partly dry. If available, use the moisture sensor setting. Finally, remember that a clothesline is the most efficient clothes dryer of all!

(8) Check the thermostat in your oven and the seal on the oven door. Don't preheat or "peek" more than necessary. Use a microwave oven for cooking small portions or for reheating for small items.

Written by: Natural Resources Defense Council and the Edison Electric Institute.


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