Heating and cooling costs are a necessary expense where we have some control – in today’s economy we all strive to save money in any way we can. It seems that we are always struggling with the high cost of household temperature control devices, such as what is used in heating and cooling. We are either spending a fortune on electricity for cooling or on fossil fuels and wood for heating our homes. However, there are a number of techniques and alternatives that one can utilize to minimize costs.
First and foremost, one needs to examine their home’s insulating qualities. Homes deteriorate and shift from season to season. That being said, over time insulation breaks down and air leaks emerge due to seasonal shifting. Proper weatherization techniques, whether in pre-existing homes or new home construction, are the first step in reducing heating and cooling costs.
Basic Guidelines to Weatherizing Your Home
- Replace existing mass insulation or install new mass insulation with high R-values.
- Caulk and weather strip windows and doors that leak air;
- Caulk and seal air leaks where plumbing, ducting, or electrical wiring penetrates through exterior walls, floors, ceilings, and soffits over cabinets.
- Install rubber or foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on exterior walls.
- Dirty spots on insulation can indicate air leaks. Holes can be covered by stapling and caulking plastic around the affected area.
- Install high-efficiency double-pane windows. (Check for rebates with your energy company on new windows.)
- Close the fireplace’s flue damper tightly when not in use. A chimney allows warm air to escape if not closed.
- In new construction endeavors, install house wrap, tape joints of exterior sheathing, or caulking and sealing exterior walls thoroughly, to reduce leaks.1
Reducing Heating and Cooling Costs via your Home’s Environment
When building a new home, or planning landscaping for an existing home, utilizing the natural landscape is an excellent means of cutting heating and cooling costs. Situating your home around green spaces can help reduce heating and cooling costs.
- Dense evergreen trees and shrubs, north and northwest of the home to serve as a winter windbreak.
- Shrubs and low-story trees placed to the south and southwest of the home to filter summer breezes to your home.
- Placement under a large stand of deciduous trees south of your home to provide maximum summer shading while allowing the sun to reach your home in the winter season.2
Building Factors to Reduce Heating and Cooling Costs
When using a passive solar heating system, the placement of a home is arranged to utilize both the sun and various architectural design elements to minimize heating and cooling costs including open spaces between levels that create air flow, walls, windows and floors that collect and radiate heat to interior spaces as exterior temperatures fall. In order for this system to work, all elements need to work in harmony to create and maintain efficiency. Though this system is primarily made to create heat, it can also be blocked to foster cooling during warm months – for example, a moveable roof overhang can be used to block the sunlight that creates the heat.
Savings in cooling can also be made possible through the utilization of these architectural designs:
- Install high-performance windows, with radiant barriers and solar shades that minimize solar rays from entering the home
- Maintain proper air circulation through the attic. This will help to prevent the attic from getting too hot and also reducing moisture build-up. This is made possible when air is allowed to enter under the soffits and exit at or near the ridge.
- Install perforated radiant barrier insulation under the rafters in your unfinished attic – the aluminum in radiant barrier reflects the heat from sunlight back out of your attic space, which means it won’t seep down into the living spaces of your home.3
- Purchasing and utilizing energy efficient cooling appliances.4 Check for rebates with your energy company for installation of high efficiency units.
There are so many different ways that you can reduce heating and cooling costs when building or renovating your home. It is all a matter of determining which type of system works best for you. There may be initial upfront costs to adding energy efficient technology to your home, but take a long view and calculate the potential energy savings when deciding which systems are best for you. (Personal comfort should be a part of the equation too.) This article only touches on the surface of the options available out there and I encourage you to research further to determine which system is best for you.
Check out this video about a well-situated house that takes full advantage of passive solar science: Passive Solar Home Tour
Resources for Reducing Heating & Cooling Costs:
(1) Weatherization Tips for a More Energy Efficient Home – DoItYourself.com
(2) Take Control and Save: a guide to energy saving actions
(3) Guide to Installing Radiant Barrier in Your Attic - EcoFoil.com
(4) Energy Conservation in the Home - InfinitePower.org