The most important concept you can develop is total whole house efficiency. Rather than limit your purpose to energy conservation to the heating and air conditioning equipment realizing total energy efficiency is a whole house process. Heating and air conditioning systems are simply a reflection of the efficiency of every component of your house. Heating and air conditioning systems are sized on the basis of the house. For example determining the btus required to heat and cool any house is a result of the energy efficiency or how much energy the house will hold and leak to the outside. Other factors that determination the buts required for effective heating and cooling are the location of the house and the local climate. Not being able to change the weather we can at least change the efficiency which will lower the btu requirements thus lowering your energy consumption.
SEER Solutions for Energy Efficient Results will address some of the most common problems and areas that are overlooked in this article. If you want more information on whole house efficiency refer to the links provided at the end of this article as well as our library/downloads section.
Seal Those Gaps - Stop the Waste
Leaks, gaps and holes in houses caused by defective weather stripping or seals around doors and windows are the first areas to approach. These leaks can waste 25% or more of every energy dollar you out into your house. Sealing a gap of 1/4" by 36" will save the cost of a new replacement door or window over the course of one year. If leaks are sealed with caulk or weather-stripping the payback for those repairs is measured in days. So the first area of approach is always the most cost effective and sealing all leaks and cracks in any home in any location will have the most payback. Sliding glass doors are notorious for leaks. New seal kits will cost less than $25 and pay for themselves in less than one month.
Would you put a new gadget on a car engine that needs to be tuned up first? That's essentially what you're doing if you put hi tech heating and air conditioning equipment and controls into a house that isn't energy efficient.
Windows Windows Windows
Leaky windows are the greatestareas of concern for energy loss. Single pane windows with aluminum frames are the worst. It's difficult to understand focusing on any other part of a house if windows are inefficient. Replacement winds are an investment that will pay for themselves in less than 3 years in most locations. Replacement windows not only make a house more energy efficient but also more comfortable, attractive and easier to clean. Replacement windows can come in various configurations and opening styles. The most energy efficient method of opening style is double hung. Windows that open sideways called sliders are similar to sliding glass doors and will leak more energy than double hung windows. Double insulted windows have two layers of glass to provide protection form thermal transmission. Frames are generally aluminum with a vinyl wrap. Wood frames are the best. If you can put it in your budget consider low e gas and argon filled windows. The low e reflects out unwanted solar gain in the summer and reduced radiant heat losses in the winter. Argon gas also significantly increases thermal insulation qualities. These two options should be considered in any new or replacement windows as they are cost effective and well worth the price difference. Did you know there are still windows manufactured with single pane and aluminum frames? Unbelievable in today's energy crises of skyrocketing costs.
Stop the heat from going up the roof! The third most important area of insulation is the roof or ceiling areas. Many older homes built in the 1960s and before have no wall or ceiling or roof insulation. Many homes did have insulation blown in such as rock wool or mineral wool. Typically these insulations will settle over time and their effectiveness decreases. Effective insulation should be the equivalent of R-19 or 12" of blown in insulation or a minimum of 6" of fiberglass. Use a radiant reflective barrier or a minimum of a paper barrier for insulation facing the interior section. Radiant barriers are very effective at preventing thermal losses from within the house during the winter heating and do a great job at reducing solar gain during summer months as well. Do not install insulation in roof joists without ventilation spacers between the roof sheathing. A roof can deteriorate in matter of months and years from excessive heat build up.
If it's an existing house with no wall insulation there are numerous new products on the market for foam filling or the traditional fiberglass particles or wool insulation. The problem with blown in insulation is the tendency to settle or to not fill voids effectively. Cross members are also a hindrance to all types of insulation in walls. The most effective method requires removal of all interior plaster or wood coverings and installing fiberglass insulation as in a new house construction. This method is extremely extensive, costly and frankly not too cost effective unless the house is undergoing a major renovation or remodel. Again radiant aluminum reflective thermal barriers should also be installed if the walls are opened for fiberglass installation. If installing aluminum thermal barriers do not use a Tyvek type barrier in addition. This will create a sandwich effect trapping moisture and condensate causing major destruction form sweating. Remember the house needs to breathe.
Don't forget crawlspaces when examining your house for energy efficiency. Crawlspaces also transmit energy out of the house. In addition utilize radiant barriers here as well.
Doors can leak a lot of energy and they are third on our list of items to address. Metal doors are more common today but the metal transmits a large amount of energy from outside to inside. Having a foam core inside of a metal door doesn't really help the metal door's thermal transmission. If you want energy efficiency use vinyl clad doors, fiberglass or the traditional wooden doors. Also make certain any glass is double insulated. A full glass door with wooden frames with only single pane glass isn't any better than a metal door.
Slabs and Basements
One of the most overlooked items in house construction is edge insulation on slabs and basements. Not only is it overlooked, it's usually not even thought of. There have been numerous projects where a homeowner is building a work shop or garage area or house construction where no insulation has been added to the edge of the slab or basement. And most of these oversights seem to occur in the coldest climates such as Michigan or North Dakota. If you simply want comfort don't forget the slab edge insulation. A typical example usually happens when the homeowner wants to add in floor radiant heat to the uninsulated slab. That slab becomes a river of conductivity for heat form the heat in the tubing to the ground. The colder the temperature and the greater the temperature difference the more the river of energy flows faster into the surrounding earth. Paying close attention and detail to the thickness of the slab, footers and placement of the tubing, the edge insulation is not even considered. You wouldn't think of putting a rock in the middle of a field and building a house around it. But that's exactly what you're doing when you install a slab without edge insulation. The slab becomes a big heat sink where energy will pour into and out of the house into the surrounding perimeter and earth. Rock and concrete have basically the same thermal qualities. It would take 12 feet of rock to equal the equivalent of 4" of insulation. Anyone living in a stone house that is not adequately insulated can tell you how uncomfortable the rooms are, the drafts and chills and their high heating costs. Those old stone farm houses are nice to look but a bear to heat.
Turn off that ceiling fan!
One of the biggest homeowner misconceptions lies in ceiling fans. Ceiling fans have become a decorative touch to most homes today and they're marketed as energy saving. But let's examine this concept of energy conservation with ceiling fans. Many new homes have vaulted ceilings in one area or another. The ceiling fans are recommended in this vaulted areas to increase comfort and save energy. Well it is true that hot air rises and in the winter months it's a great idea to bring that hot air down to floor levels to create comfort and conserve energy by using the ceiling fan to pump warm air to the colder floor levels. But somewhere along the line the logical mind lost track of energy conservation regarding ceiling fans for air conditioning. In the summertime when that hot air rises, it is more energy efficient to leave it up there. More and more homeowners are told to run the ceiling fan backwards in the summertime to save energy. That's fine as long as you're only using the ceiling fan for cooling and the air conditioning is turned off. But don't utilize ceiling fans for summer operation.
For more information on insulation and how to do your own projects go to Dow Corning's Pink Panther site at http://www.owenscorning.com/around/insulation/products/pfgi.asp
or John Mansville site at http://www.jm.com/
For more information about improving your home energy efficiency with training videos on most subjects at the California's Department of Energy at
For information on making your home more energy efficient through appliances, heating and air conditioning, etc. go to the Energy Star web site at
For information on making your new house energy efficient visit any of the following web sites and for ultimate energy efficiency and conservation read the article below and links.