Ask Eartha: Forget the fireplace: Busting the myths of home energy usage
January 8, 2014
Dear Eartha: One of my new year's resolutions is to cut back on energy usage in my home. Do you have some suggestions because I hear a lot of conflicting information about what works best?
— Rodger, Frisco
Hi Rodger, I applaud you for wanting to use less energy in your home. It is important to understand how your home functions because what works for one home, might not work for another. That way you can develop best practices when it comes to energy usage in your home. Because the bulk of your home energy usage comes from heating, at least in the winter, you can save the most money by looking at inefficiencies in heating. Here are some common home heating myths:
Turning down your thermostat during the day and back up at night will save you money on your energy bill.
This may be true but it depends on your heating system. With electric forced air heat and gas powered furnaces, turning down your furnace during the day and while you sleep can help you save on energy costs. This also applies to electric baseboard heating. Forced air heat can quickly get your temperature back to your comfort zone. On the other hand, if you have a boiler with radiant heating, it is best to leave the thermostat consistent throughout the day at one comfortable temperature because it takes longer to recover if you turn down the thermostat when you are not there. The reason for this is with radiant heat, objects are heated in the home to a constant temperature which then radiate heat back to occupants.
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A bigger, newer furnace or boiler will heat my home better.
You may not need a bigger furnace or boiler to adequately heat your home. Before purchasing a new heating system, we recommend you have an energy audit completed on your home. You may simply need air sealing or extra insulation which will allow your current boiler or furnace to operate more efficiently.
Using a wood-burning fireplace will help to cut costs on my energy bill.
Generally, a wood-burning fireplace only serves the purpose of providing a cozy ambience, not an extra heat source. The reason for this is that a lot of heat escapes through the chimney. Wood burning and gas stoves are usually way more efficient, you just want to make sure it is EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) certified. According to the EPA, fireplaces pollute 20 times more than an EPA certified stove. You can check to see if your stove is EPA certified through EPA burnwise webpage.
Replacing my windows will save me a lot of money on my energy bill.
Windows and doors only account for about 15% of air leakage whereas many other sources of air leakage in the home are often overlooked. Windows that are drafty can be weather-stripped. You can check to see if a window is drafty by holding a candle flame up to the window. If it flickers, consider insulating the crevices and replacing the caulking. For more tips on Do It Yourself window sealing, check the DIY network, "how to check and seal windows" webpage.
If your windows are structurally unsound, it might be time for a replacement. Ideally you want to replace old single-paned windows with double-paned or even triple-paned windows. Make sure to check the energy ratings as well.
Why use my ceiling fan in the winter? Ceiling fans should only be used in the summer.
If your ceiling fan has a "winter-mode" option, that is, it turns clockwise, you can help to re-circulate the hot air that rises back down to your living space. Because a ceiling fan uses minimal energy, this can help save you money.
These are just some of the many myths regarding home energy efficiency measures. If you are uncertain where to begin, start with low cost measures such as replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents or putting your appliances on a power strip and turning it off when you are not using them.
Also, consider signing up for our Energy Smart program at High Country Conservation Center. Through Energy Smart, we offer rebates in addition to Xcel's rebates on home energy improvements. You will receive coaching to help prioritize the greatest potential for savings. Once you sign up for Energy Smart, the first step is to do an energy audit on your home. Audits start at $150 and increase incrementally based on the square footage of your home. To enroll, go to the Energy Smart Colorado website, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (970) 668-5703.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.
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