Energy Star appliances, solar panels, heating and cooling systems, recycled building materials. If these sound familiar, then you’re probably no stranger to the idea of energy upgrades for your home. But instead of shelling out major dollars, first consider taking on a couple of smaller scale projects that could improve your home’s efficiency without the headache of a total renovation.

 

These are things that if you spend some money on now such as adding insulation in your attic or by upgrading your heating and cooling systems may provide a nice payoff on your power or utility bills over time.

The structure of any building is the primary function responsible for saving energy year round. For example, air sealing, attic insulation, windows, exterior performance can definitely enhance overall home energy performance. As many companies admit, your carpet is not a rated air filter for your home. Your windows are not the sole problem with saving energy. Rather a multitude of issues to include air flow, indoor air quality, filtration, adequate air duct sizing, proper ventilation, etc.

Hence, now another problem may arise. Many buildings become air tight. Other more serious problems may arise with ventilation and building pressurization issues that may cause SBS (Sick Building Syndrome). Seek advise from a Certified Energy Auditor or Building Performance Specialists.

Project #1: INfrared or blower door test

Before spending a lot of money to improve home efficiency, first, test your home and see where you really need to spend your money. Very simple, a picture or thermal image is taken of your home showing where specific upgrades are needed.  This is a wise, cost effective and educated measure prior to getting a sales pitch from others for added expenses that may not be necessary for your home.

Having a building performance test is your best value. This may include infrared thermal imaging and/or blower door testing. These tests are fairly inexpensive but can save a whole lot of money in the long run. A Certified Home Performance Specialist can help guide homeowners in the right direction with their money on home improvement projects.

PROJECT #2: WINDOW REPLACEMENT

 

Replacing your windows can be a costly investment for your home. Again, prior to any replacement, a thermal imaging test should be performed. Facts to consider: How many windows actually need replacement? Is there leakage around the windows through cracks and seams? What is the moisture pattern on windows if seal(s) have failed? The latter will determine a defective window pane or poor air sealing around window from its original type installation.

Many manufacturers offer high performance type of windows. Features and benefits may be customized according to consumer preference. ENERGY STAR recommends that prescriptive meet .30 U-Value rating. Lesser or lower (.21) U-Value rating offers a much better efficiency that may be applicable to rebates as well.  There are many types of windows available. Including single, double and triple thermal pane glass windows.       Soft-E or Low-E windows provide added thermal or UV protection with a gas such as argon filled for improved thermal efficiency to better “insulate” for enhanced performance.

PROJECT #3: Radiant floor heating

 

Have you ever felt the sun beaming through a window on your face? Well, imagine that kind of heating on your feet – coming from your floors. Not always does your floor have to be replaced. It’s an investment that has an energy-savings payoff – in addition to making your home a cozier place. In many cases, as your heating source, gas boilers rather than electric can save you money in the long run. Check with your local utilities.

With radiant floor heating, heat is dispersed across the floor in an even manner. Radiant is defined as heat energy emitted from a warm element, such as a floor, wall or overhead panel, and warms people and other objects in rooms rather than directly heating the air.

Radiant Heating applications can be more costly than a conventional forced air heating system. On average, with other floor coating materials, an overall weight density of floor structure must be able to carry 14 lbs/per/sq ft.

Project #3: HVAC repair/replacement

If you have an older HVAC system, over 10 years old, it may be well worth your investment to replace it for better energy efficiency. The Federal Furnace Law in Minnesota may require that any new furnace replacement after 5/1/2013 must meet 90% AFUE efficiency. Our heating and cooling costs account for about half of our home’s annual utility bill.

Older furnaces, such as 80% efficiency (non direct-pvc vent) just simply lack the required longevity standards of efficiency ratings in the future. Newer furnaces over 90% efficiency offer better energy savings and performance. Although, its installation is very critical towards its overall AFUE and performance rating. Remember, new furnaces are rated by ARI and other testing agencies by lab performance. Once, in your home a furnace efficiency rating may be compromised by its structure through air leaks, lack of air flow  and poor building performance.

Example, on average, a 90% efficiency furnace will offer that percentage of heat back into your home or .90 cents of every heating dollar spent will on average, have the ability to heat your home.  Annual maintenance of your new hating system is critical. For example, every three months replace your furnace air filter. If replacement is required much more frequently, than there may be more issues with air flow and air circulation that may need further attention.

Air flow is a very critical portion of your new furnace application. Poor air circulation is wide spread and misdiagnosed in many homes. This can cause many problems widely unknown to most consumers. Added stress on heating systems and components can derive from poor air circulation which may cause ongoing service problems and may shorten the longevity of the furnace and your investment.

When furnace air filters are clogged, your fan blower motor has to work and labor that much harder. This can possibly cause overheating within the furnace, overheating of blower motor which can lead to failure, poor air circulation, lack of return air passage to furnace, clogged secondary heat exchanger, clogged or improper sizing of indoor cooling coil. In many cases, blower motors tend to fail due to external issues rather than by the furnace itself.

Project #4: insulation

Think of insulation as a big winter blanket for your home. The “padding” that prevents hot air – or cool air in the summer – from flowing out of the house, improving your home’s energy efficiency.

As the home efficiency has advanced over the years, with it has the quality of insulation. This means there is better performing materials to insulate your home such as minimal expansion foam products sealed canned light fixtures, lesco, electrical air tight boxes and such.

Other options may be fiberglass or batt insulation in your attic. A measure of R-50 is sufficient in Minnesota. Image your roof/attic as a hat on your home. Attic air chutes are critical in proper attic ventilation. Your attic must maintain and average outdoor temp year round. If warm during heating season, this could be warm air rising through ceiling into your attic. When warm meets cold air, further problems may arise including costly roof repair and/or replacement. Proper attic insulation is key and essential towards lowering energy costs, mold prevention, icing in attic area, maintaining structural integrity of roof and peace of mind.  Including new upgrades such as your heating and cooling systems.