Save 20 Percent (or More) on Heating, Cooling Bills: Top Five Home Energy Efficiency Upgrades

Anyone who wants to learn how to save money on their heating and cooling bills – and who doesn’t? – must familiarize themselves with the term, Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, (SEER) as part of an overall strategy to upgrade the energy efficiency of their home. (SEER is the energy-efficiency rating of a residence or small commercial business.)

Consider the example of Bill and June. Bill and June own a 40-year-old, one story, 2,000-square-foot home in rural Florida. He dislikes the high humidity, while she detests the high air conditioning bills even more, but they are both at a loss about what to do. What upgrades could Bill and June make to their home to reduce the cost of their utility bills?

Here are five home energy efficiency upgrades and their benefits.

Upgrade the HVAC heating pump

Most homes built in the 1990s, 1980s, or older have HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) systems with SEER ratings ranging from 6 to 10 or 11. Conversely, a newer, more energy-efficient HVAC system will have a SEER rating of at least 15 – and as high as 22.

Even a new HVAC system with a 15 rating can be expected to save a homeowner 20-25 percent on heating and cooling bills compared to an older system with a SEER less than 12. Regardless of the size of the home or the specific upgrade, looking for as high a SEER rating as possible should be the deciding factor for any homeowner.

Add a smart thermostat to your HVAC system

Smart thermostats are one step up from programmable thermostats. Programmable thermostats save energy and money by reducing the temperature in your home while you are away, or asleep, but increasing temperature to maximize comfort during the peak hours everyone is home.

Smart thermostats take this concept one step further by connecting to the Internet – often through a Wi-Fi clip, but also through other devices. Smart thermostats can be adjusted remotely through smartphone apps. Talk about easy! What’s more, smart thermostats offer 15-20 percent savings according to the US Department of Energy.

Upgrade the hot water heater

Conventional storage tank hot water heaters waste energy by keeping water hot even when you’re not using water. Tankless water heaters, on the other hand, operate on-demand – heating water only when you need it. Smart Hot Water Controllers are an aftermarket add-on that provides all the energy savings of a tankless water heater and the convenience of a conventional storage tankless hot water heater. Adding a Smart Hot Water Heater controller can even be a DIY upgrade.

Like any upgrade, exact energy savings will vary. Still, the U.S. Department of Energy reports that homes with tankless water heaters or smart hot water heater controllers can be 24-34 percent more energy efficient than homes with traditional water heaters.

What about gas versus electric? One is not “better” than the other, but depends on heating availability. If you have natural gas lines where you live, then a gas hot water heater will make more sense than electric.

Change HVAC filters frequently and flush hot water heaters regularly

Air conditioning filters should be changed every month no matter how often (or how little) you run the AC. The fan causes air to move throughout the home regardless of whether the air is on, and moving air eventually becomes dirty air, so replacing it each month is still a good idea.

In terms of the hot water heater, you have the choice of cleaning versus flushing. Cleaning the filter is easily done by simply pulling it out and blowing it off with a compressor.

It’s even more important to flush the water heater on a regular basis. Flushing prevents the buildup of sediments that can block the electrical element or gas burner in the heater. Over time, this not only decreases energy efficiency but may even cause the heater to fail prematurely.

Some in the HVAC industry recommend annual flushing, but doing so every four months is an even smarter precaution. A flushed heater will heat water faster – and a more energy-efficient heater costs less money to operate.

Install a smart HVAC controller

Modern homes are often constructed as tightly as possible, but a tightly-built home is not necessary a well-ventilated home. If a building is “too tight”, indoor air quality suffers. Without proper ventilation – defined as the exchange of indoor air and outdoor air – contaminants such as radon, formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other pollutants can build up, leading to potentially serious health problems. This can be especially true in small commercial businesses that may have many noxious chemicals in the air – a nail salon would be one example. To prevent this, current standard building practices include adding an always open fresh air duct to the HVAC system.

Unlike a ‘Smart Thermostat” which automates temperature settings, a Smart HVAC Controller, as the name suggests, controls and integrates each aspect of the HVAC system – heating, ventilation and air conditioning – together for maximum efficiency.

Smart HVAC controllers connect to the duct system and use indoor and outside sensors to automatically turn off AC when temps are humidity are comfortable – pulling fresh, cool air inside – while flushing bad air with its contaminants outside. Essentially, IOQ is addressed 24/7. In addition, Smart HVAC controllers improve energy efficiency by ventilating the building only when needed to improve IAQ, closing the fresh air duct and resealing the tight building when IAQ is good. Smart HVAC controllers also minimize compressor and heater operation by using outdoor air to adjust indoor air temperature whenever possible.

It’s no wonder that adding a Smart HVAC controller often leads to the greatest savings in heating and cooling costs – in some cases as much as 30 percent savings.

Addressing these five energy upgrades – and being sure to utilize as high a SEER rating as possible for each of them – will maximize the efficiency of any home or small business – be it Bill and June’s house, or YOURS.