Hot, humid Summer days are upon us. Seasoned residents of Charleston are accustomed to our area’s subtropical climate; but if you have never lived in or visited Charleston during the Summer, you might be in for a surprise. While the heat and humidity are tolerable most of the time, some days are downright unbearable. Air conditioners get cranked up to blizzard-like conditions. Ceiling fans rotate at full speed twenty-four hours a day. Swimming pool pumps run on and off all day. There’s no doubt that all of that energy we burn through in an effort to make our lives more comfortable will have a major impact on both the environment and our utility bills.
If you still think that energy efficiency is only about storing good karma points and saving Mother Earth, think again. While those are certainly important aspects to consider, there are other, more immediate advantages. Increasing a house’s energy efficiency can yield huge benefits to your wallet and enhance the overall well-being of your home and family. In some cases, your efforts can pay off in the form of tax credits or refunds from utility companies. Extra money in your pocket and lower utility bills? Sign us up!
There are many actions you can take to improve energy consumption in your home. While some are best left to the professionals, others are simple changes you and your family can make with just a little research and effort. Luckily, we’ve done some of the research for you and gathered some tips and tricks for you to consider. Here are what we feel are a few of the best steps you can take to make your Lowcountry home more energy efficient this summer.
Have Your Air Conditioner Serviced
In any home, heating and cooling systems account for the bulk of all energy usage. Homes here in the Lowcountry are especially susceptible to falling victim to HVAC problems. Do your best to prevent these issues and promote energy efficiency by having your air conditioner serviced now. If you’re comfortable with performing a little bit of preventive maintenance on your own, there are a few things you can do to ensure your HVAC system runs smoothly all summer long.
- Change your air filters regularly. This should be done once a month, or at the very least, every ninety days. A dusty, clogged air filter forces an air conditioning system to work harder, thereby using more energy. All of that unnecessarily hard work can wreak havoc and cause major problems with your HVAC unit later on.
- Make sure to keep the unit itself clean. Brush away any leaves, grass, or other debris from the grill, blades, and condenser coils. Don’t forget to check the base pan for any debris that might have accumulated there as well. If you feel comfortable enough, give it a quick hose down to wash away any dirt or pollen that has accumulated. Make sure to turn the power off at the breaker box before doing so, and leave it off for a good fifteen minutes or so to allow it to dry out.
Upgrade to a Programmable Thermostat
Obviously, you don’t want your HVAC system to work as hard when you’re away from the house. Allowing the air conditioner to run all day when you don’t actually need it just wastes energy—and therefore money! Here are a few tips to keep you from breaking the bank:
- Programmable thermostats. These allow you to dictate exactly what times the air conditioner kicks on or off. Programmable thermostats can store multiple settings, which means you can automatically control the temperature at any given time during the day or night. For example, schedule the system to adjust the temperature ten degrees warmer while you’re at work or even while you sleep at night. Set it to turn back down about half an hour before you usually arrive home, and you’ll still come back to a nice, cool house.
- If you want to be even more hands-off, consider investing in a wi-fi smart thermostat. Yes, as with many things in life these days, “There’s an app for that.” This is the pinnacle of convenience and efficiency, folks. Use your computer, tablet, or smart phone to program and control the thermostat no matter where you are. In fact, smart thermostats actually have the ability to learn your habits and schedule through technology like adaptive sensors, learning algorithms, and geofencing. Some models will even send energy reports based on usage patterns to suggest even more energy efficient behaviors. Oh, and remember how we mentioned changing your air filter on a regular basis? A smart thermostat can send filter change reminders to your connected network devices and also display them on the smart thermostat itself.
Check the Insulation
All of that time and effort spent on keeping your heating and cooling system in top working order won’t mean much if the insulation in your home is old or inefficient. Having a properly insulated home is key to keeping your heating and cooling bills down. It prevents drafts and air leakage and keeps the air conditioning you pay dearly for inside where it belongs. More importantly, insulating your home helps to keep it cool during the notoriously stifling Charleston summer days.
Spray foam insulation has become increasingly popular as an alternative to the more traditional fiberglass type—those pink sheets of fluffy stuff that looks like cotton candy. In addition to effectively controlling the temperature of your home, foam insulation will also keep moisture out if installed properly. Added bonus? It can also act as a noise reducer.
Upgrade Your Appliances
Modern options for energy efficient appliances are many and varied. Appliances that are more than fifteen years old can be energy guzzlers. Today’s models use a lot less energy to do the same jobs. Although items like refrigerators, dishwashers, and washing machines don’t account for all that much of your home’s energy usage, you will still see a reduction in your energy bill. And don’t forget the other monetary benefits! Here are some tip!
- Utility companies and certain government programs offer credits and rebates when you install Energy Star appliances in your home. (Currently, there is no Energy Star label for ovens, ranges, and microwaves. You do have a couple of options, though. Basically, you’ll need to decide whether you would prefer to save money now or later. )
- Electric ranges are usually less expensive to purchase than gas options, but gas stoves typically cost less to operate. Another new option that is becoming more and more popular is an induction stove. These operate using electricity, but they are touted to use less energy because they only heat the area that comes into direct contact with pots and pans. The rest of the cook top stays cool, wasting no heat or energy.
Adjust Water Usage
No, this doesn’t mean you have to give up your relaxing nightly bath or cut your showers short. But we do have some easy ways you can reduce water usage:
- Saving water can be as simple as installing low-flow fixtures in your bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room. Some water bills require a minimum payment; but if you are billed for actual water usage, low-flow toilets, shower heads, and washing machines are great options for lowering those costs.
- Don’t forget the water heater! This biggie is another heavyweight when it comes to energy consumption in the home, accounting for about twenty percent of energy costs. Types of water heaters have grown quite a bit over the last few years. The average home will probably have a conventional tank that holds 55 gallons of water or less. If you think you might want to replace it soon, plan on the new tank being one or two inches larger.
You can choose between a conventional tank and a tankless water heater. There are also hybrid electric/heat-pump models, solar water heaters, and condensing gas options. Also, remember to keep your water heater set to a warm temp, which is usually between 120 and 140 degrees. Anything more than 140 degrees is just wasting energy. Many modern units have “governors” that will lower the temperature if you turn it up past that point.
Check Windows and Doors For Heat Gain and Loss
Gaps and crevices in windowsills and door frames are some of the biggest culprits when it comes to air leakage. No matter how small they are, they can allow that nice cool air conditioning to escape during the summer and also let cold air seep in during the winter. These cracks and gaps can be remedied pretty easily through caulking or weatherstripping. Window treatments are also helpful in this area.
- Blinds, shades, and draperies can be closed against direct sunlight that causes major heat gains during the day. Other types of heat-blocking window coverings include shutters, reflective films, tinting, awnings, storm panels, and mesh screens.
Local Find: Budget Blinds is a great locally owned company you can visit and inquire about your energy conservation needs.
- If your windows are particularly old, it might be time to think about purchasing new, energy-efficient windows. These could actually pay for themselves through the savings they provide in cooling and heating costs. Consult the experts to find out what types of windows are best for your climate based on their energy performance ratings.
Maintain Your Swimming Pool Efficiently
Because of our climate and the fact that there are more warm months than cold ones in the Lowcountry, swimming pools are pretty popular. They are also known to be huge energy wasters. Believe it or not, though, there are ways to make your pool run a little more efficiently.
- Evaporation is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to a pool’s energy use, not to mention the amount of water it uses. Think about it. Your pump expends a good deal of power to filter the water…only to have it evaporate into the air moments later? Sounds pretty inefficient to us. To combat that constant evaporation, use a pool cover whenever the pool is not in use. From simple solar covers to more complex versions that work automatically, there is an effective option for every budget.
- You should also check into how well your pool pump is working. Believe it or not, many pools are installed with bigger pumps than they need. A quick consultation with an expert at your closest pool supply store will help you determine the correct size pump you require. That person can also educate you about newer, more energy efficient options. In addition to downsizing your pump, think about adding a timer to it. Pool water doesn’t really need to be circulated all day long. Set it for the amount of time it takes for the water to circulate completely, preferably during non-peak hours for energy usage. This can add up to major savings!
- Make sure not to drop the ball on regular maintenance. We’ve pounded into your head the importance of changing your air conditioning filter regularly, right? Well, a pool filter works the same way. The pump will have to work harder if the filter is clogged with leaves, bugs, or trash which amounts to more wasted energy. Prevent the filter from clogging in the first place by skimming leaves and other debris from the pool on a regular basis, especially if there are trees nearby. Each time you skim, check and empty the filter.
An Ounce of Prevention…
Taking just a few steps to make your home more energy efficient right now can make for a much more pleasant home life during what promises to be another steamy Charleston summer. Whether you make minor changes or go into depth with more involved upgrades, the actions you take now will make a big difference in both the impact you make on the environment and the amount you spend on utility bills each month.
Got a tip? Let us know below in the comments section.