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The Top Energy Wasters In A Typical Home


Infrared photo of heat loss in a home.

Here are the top energy wasters in a typical home. Note: The top energy waster in one home may not be the same as in another.

#1 Top Energy Waster. Lack Of Insulation and Weatherstripping

In many homes lack of enough insulation plus drafty windows and doors is one of the number one energy waster. Many older homes do not have enough attic insulation. At minimum you should have the equivalent of R-30 batts in your attic, R-40 or more if you live in a very cold climate. In hot climates attics must be well vented. Having good attic air flow is important in both cold and wet climates to prevent a buildup of condensation which can cause damage to wood and insulation. For more on attic ventilation see the article on Solar Attic Fans.  Having a radiant barrier in your attic, just below the roof or stapled between the rafters, can help reflect radiant heat back toward the roof and help keep your home cooler. See the article on Radiant Barrier Insulation  

One of the easiest ways to add more insulation to a home is blow in cellulose insulation. It is sold in bales at stores like Lowes and Home depot and the machines to blow it in are usually loaned out for free with a minimum purchase of ten bales. Blow in cellulose insulation is fire and insect resistant since it has been treated with the natural mineral borate. It is a good green product since it is made of recycled newspaper and phone books. You may be eligible for a federal rebate for adding more insulation, but to qualify the work must be done by a licensed contractor.

Of course all the insulation in the world won't help your home stay cool or warm if you have gaping holes under doors and around windows. Check you home for air flow using the smoke from a stick of incense. Install weather stripping under doors and peel and stick weatherstripping around the point where the door contacts the door jamb. Check places where pipes and wires enter the home and make sure that you don't have uncovered ceiling in the attic. Also make sure your attic access panel or door is covered with insulation.

Inexpensive peel and stick weatherstripping.

 Major Energy Waster # 2: Single Pane Windows

Single pane windows lack the insulating layer of air or gas trapped between two sheets of glass.

Many older homes have single pane glass windows. A tiny sheet of glass is all that separates your home from the weather outside and thin glass is a very poor insulating material. As much as forty percent of the energy lost in some older homes is lost through windows with single pane glass. Low E or low emissivity windows feature a layer of insulating gas such as argon or features special coatings that reduce heat loss or gain and can save quite a lot on your energy bill. In hot climates where air conditioning is the biggest expense, solar window shades and solar film applied to south and west facing windows can save ten to twenty percent on your cooling bill. Solar screens can prevent over eighty percent of the sun's heat from reaching the window. Cost for solar screens runs around sixty dollars per single window.


 Major Energy Waster #3. Old Outdated HVAC.

Old AC units are big energy wasters

Old outdated central air units and window units are big on the list of the top home energy wasters. Look for a high SEER Rating. The SEER rating or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating is a measure of how efficient the unit is in using energy to heat or cool. The top rated HVAC units have SEER ratings of as high as 19. Many older central air systems, or cheap newer  ones, have SEER ratings of half that. You can save up to fifty percent or more on you heating and cooling bill by replacing an old outdated HVAC unit with one that has a high SEER rating. Look for SEER ratings of 14 or better. Local electric utilities often offer rebates for more efficient units and there may be federal tax incentives for replacing your outdated HVAC unit with a more efficient one.  You may qualify for a federal rebate of 30% of the cost of an energy efficient HVAC unit, up to $1500. Check for a list of rebates available to home owners for energy efficiency measures including replacing an old HVAC with an energy efficient model.

Energy Hog #4, An Old Inefficient Fridge Or Deep Freeze

Your old fridge just might be costing you a bundle of money each month.

Older refrigerators and deep freezes use much more energy than newer models. This is because motor and compressor technology has advanced and also because older models do not contain as much insulation as some newer ones. Look for the Energy Star label, or at the yellow energy use tag for estimated annual consumption. Models that have the freezer compartment on the bottom are often more efficient. Choose the smallest fridge that will work for your family in terms of cubic feet of capacity and the one with the best Energy Star rating. Many stores will take away your old fridge at no charge or for a small fee and dispose of ozone layer damaging CFC's in the proper manner. Never just put an old refrigerator outside, even if you think it would make a good storage cabinet for tools, etc. Eventually each molecule of  the ozone damaging refrigerant will escape into the atmosphere and head skyward until it reaches the earth's protective ozone layer.

Get rid of extra fridges, beer coolers, etc.

If you have a second fridge that is barely used or a beer cooler that is not used very much, unplug it and secure it, or get rid of it entirely. Second refrigerators account for as much as ten percent of energy use in some homes. A refrigerator or beer cooler in the hot garage requires much more energy to keep cool than one inside the cooler home. Keep refrigerator coils clean. Move the fridge away from the wall at least once a year and vacuum lint and pet hair out of the coil. This helps the fridge's compressor function more efficiently and use less energy.

Energy Waster #5, Phantom Loads or Standby Power

Phantom loads or vampire loads, also known as standby power, is energy that is wasted keeping some home appliances and electronics ready to turn on in an instant. For remote controls to work, circuits inside the TV must actually be on, listening for infrared or RF signals to turn the screen on, etc, Standby power also helps electronics start up faster. The bad part is that phantom loads account for five percent of all power used in the United States. According to the Department of Energy, the most electricity used by home electronics is consumed when the devices are "off".  You can eliminate phantom loads by identifying which appliances or electronics are using power when in the off position and putting them on a power strip with an off button. Newer "smart power strips" can sense when the main device is off, and turn off all of the devices associated with it, such as DVD players, printers, etc. You can identify which devices draw power when off by using a Kill a Watt power use monitor.

Major Energy Waster #6, Incandescent Lights

. All lights use energy when left on but incandescent bulbs use more than any other.

Incandescent bulbs have been around since the days of Thomas Edison and haven't changed very much. They are a very inefficient way of creating light, by burning a filament of tungsten in a near vacuum using electrical resistance. Fluorescent lighting, including compact fluorescents, is a much more efficient way of  creating light. Fluorescent lights create light when electricity excites molecules of gas inside of a tube, using much less energy. LED, or light emitting diodes, are another very efficient way of creating light and will eventually replace compact fluorescents as the most efficient way of lighting our homes.  You can save up to seven percent on your energy bill by replacing your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents and by turning them off when not in use.  Compact fluorescent bulbs now come in soft white, bright white and even yellow bug light color for outdoor fixtures. You can get sizes for almost any kind of fixture, including candelabras. Most dimmer switches do not work well with compact fluorescent lights however. LED, or light emitting diodes, are another very efficient way of creating light and will eventually replace compact fluorescents as the most efficient way of lighting our homes. LED bulbs use about half the energy that compact fluorescents do, don't give off much heat, and last many times longer. For more about LED bulbs vs. other bulbs, see: About LED Bulbs

Major Energy Waster #7, Older Washers and Dryers

Old non Energy Star washers and dryers are major wasters of energy.

Older washers and dryers, especially top loading models, in general, use much more electricity and water than newer front loading, Energy Star models. One of the reasons that older dryers use so much electricity is that older washers do not wring out as much water as newer, front loading models. Front loading models made by GE, Bosch, Whirlpool and others, wring out nearly all of the water before clothes go into the dryer. Newer Energy Star dryers feature sensors that stop the drying process when no more moisture is detected. This keeps them from using energy any longer than they need to. Natural gas and propane are a more efficient way to dry clothes than using electricity. Of course nothing is more efficient than an old fashioned clothes line. You can buy ones like the one below that do not take up much space in your yard or on your porch.

Space saving clothes line.

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