Affordable Energy Solutions (From GNO Property Management Newsletter Volume 2 Issue 1)
Electric and gas utility bills can be impacted in a number of ways. Up to 55% of a utility bill is related to air conditioning and heating costs. These costs can actually be reduced without a major investment by following some helpful tips addressed in this article.
From personal experience, I have addressed problems in my own home. Homeowners can take note of any problems they might need to work out and, in turn, can end up saving 30% on utility bills. This also leads to a much more comfortable living space after any issues are addressed.
Most homeowners might not even consider how airtight their house is. A common problem in homes is that outside air can enter the house. Likewise, conditioned air (inside the house) can end up leaving. “Mystery air leakage areas” can be right under our noses and end up impacting our utility bills more than we would wish.
Vents are typical areas that may leak air. This can range from bathroom vents, range hood vents, dryer vents, etc. Each of these vents is supposed to have operating dampers that open and close as the units are turned on and off. In past experience, I have found that many dryer vent dampers might not open or close properly. They might even be clogged, broken, or non-existing. However, bathroom vents should have dampers. If these dampers do not work properly, they become a source of outside air infiltration. This will allow for up to 200 CFM of conditioned air to leave when the air conditioning unit is not running. To put things into perspective, a ton of air conditioning is rated at 400 CFM, meaning half could leave the house.
Aside from vents, another mystery air leakage area that homeowners may find are fireplace dampers. It is important to note that even when a fireplace damper is closed shut, you can still have 10-20% leakage to the outside. Fireplace dampers are one of the most misunderstood air infiltration areas in the house. Obviously, it needs to be open when burning wood or using gas logs, otherwise it should be closed. This can lead to problems in the winter when the fireplace damper may be left open for an extended period. The heating system will end up pumping in hot air to be lost up the stack of the fireplace. Additionally, cold air from outside will be sucked into the house.
Many people may not close the damper if they use the fireplace regularly. This can cause a huge spike in utility bills during colder months. A quick solution to this leakage area is as simple as cutting a piece of foam board the size of the damper opening. The foam board can be cut rectangular or round in shape, depending on the damper, and pushed into place from the bottom of the fire box. This should only be done when you don’t plan to use the fireplace. If you wish to use the fireplace, simply remove the foam board. This is especially effective during months when you would not use the fireplace, such as summer months.
Leakage losses can be reduced to zero through this simple, yet effective method. Homeowners can also search online for fireplace blockers that are essentially balloons that plug up the damper. However, the foam board is much more cost efficient.
While fireplaces are a cozy form of winter comfort, cutting fireplace use can help homeowners save on utility bills. Only 10-15% of the heat goes in the house from a fireplace, while the rest goes up the stack. The only efficient fireplaces are no-vent gas models or electric models.
These mystery air losses combined could easily be costing homeowners a fair sum of air conditioning and much more in heating costs!
Look for the next issues in our series of Affordable Energy Solutions. They will include attic stairway sealing, recessed light covers and sealing, duct sealing, knee wall insulation, window shading and shade screens, air sealing measures, attic ventilation and correcting air flow restrictions. Most of these can be handled as DIY projects.
Andre Olagues — Featured Contributor
Retired: 45 year of experience Owner of an insulation company
BS at Louisiana State University and MBA at University of New Orleans
Energy Expert and Program Manager: Entergy Corp.
Certified Energy Rater: LDNR
Energy Communicator LSUAg Center
Energy Consultant: CleaResults
Residential Energy Consultant: “Affordable Energy Solutions”
Licensed Builder of Energy Efficient Homes, Apartments and Small Commercial: Modern Design
Founding Board Member: LA Heat Pump Association