New Year’s diet resolutions, exercise resolutions, we’ve heard them all. But what about New Year’s energy efficiency resolutions?
For each month of 2021, OPPD Energy Advisor Eric BenSalah will offer a brief set of tips and video to help you get on track with your energy efficiency, and save you money.
Those of us in Nebraska understand the importance of good insulation.
Insulation’s job is to slow down the flow of heat. We have all heard of wall insulation, but what about pipe insulation?
Your water pipes can and should be insulated, if at all possible, wherever they are exposed to an unconditioned space. Insulated pipes can help deliver hot water 2-4 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than uninsulated pipes. This can mean a lower water heater tank setting, too.
If your exposed pipes aren’t insulated, here are some tips for how and where to insulate them.
Use a minimum rating of R-4 for your pipe insulation. The most common type of pipe insulation is the tubular foam insulation. This can be cut to length and mitered for corners. Be sure the inside diameter of the foam insulation matches the diameter of the pipe you are insulating. When the foam is closed over the pipe, you should not be able to see the pipe at all.
Any water supply pipe (coming from the water heater) can be insulated. Many water pipes run through unconditioned spaces (utility rooms, unfinished basements, etc.), and these should be insulated.
Insulate your hot water pipes from the water heater to the fixtures that use hot water (bathroom, kitchen, etc.). But, do not worry about any lines you cannot reach or get to. Insulate what you can within reason.
Cold water pipes should be insulated for the first 5 feet of the cold water line starting at the water heater. You lose some heat in this area when in standby mode (when no one is home), since hot water circulates by convection up into the lines near the water heater on both your hot and cold sides.
Safety tip: If the pipes are close to a flue, fiberglass pipe-wrap without a facing and wired into place is the safest choice. The thickness of the wrap should be at least 1 inch.
With winter approaching, it’s a great time to make sure your ductwork is in good shape, so you can heat your home efficiently.
Your ductwork is a series of segments of duct (circular or rectangular) connected to one another. These connections, or joints, are prone to leaking air. And it isn’t just the supply ducts that need sealing; the return ducts should be sealed, too.
Seal any ductwork that is exposed in an unconditioned space like a utility room, crawl space or attic.
Seal both the return and supply ducts
Supply ducts being sealed prevents a loss of conditioned air into unconditioned spaces
Return ducts being sealed prevents unconditioned air from being pulled back into the system from unconditioned spaces, and prevents potentially dirty air from being pulled back into the system and put through the supply ducts.
Some return ducts will be as little as some sheet metal or special duct board adhered to a wall cavity. Make sure you seal those edges, too.
Use special aluminum duct tape or duct mastic paste to seal the joints.
NEVER use regular (cloth) duct tape to seal your duct work. Despite the name, it is not meant to seal ductwork.
The aluminum duct tape is specially rated to seal duct work and works well on circular pipe joints or square duct joints.
Mastic paste works very well with “elbows” or circular pipe turns where tape is too rigid.
As cooler fall weather settles in this month and we move closer to winter, it makes sense to think about ways to keep your home cozy and keep your power bill low.
Windows are always a hot topic when it comes to energy efficiency. They are also one of the biggest culprits when it comes to heat loss in a home. Insulation is measured by R-value: the higher the value, the better the insulation is at preventing the flow of heat. The R-value of windows ranges from a 6 to a 9, whereas a wall can have an R-value two to three time as high.
But replacing windows for the sole purpose of saving energy is difficult to justify when it comes to the expense versus the savings (i.e., payback period).
Unless there is structural damage to your windows – where you can feel air coming through or water when it rains – replacing your windows can be a costly measure with a long payback period – up to 20 years before you start actually saving money from the cost of replacement.
So before replacing your windows, consider some energy-efficient measures you can take:
Weather stripping: There are different kinds of weather stripping – rope caulk, foam stripping, etc. They reduce the flow of air across areas of the window that are prone to leakage, such as the bottom of a window sash where it meets the frame.
Window kits: Covering particularly drafty windows with a window kit can reduce cold drafts, increase the already low R-value of a window and reduce heat loss during the winter.
In August we talked about the actual effectiveness of using curtains and blinds to reduce the flow of heat through windows. In the winter, curtains and blinds are a great way to prevent heat loss.
Windows that do not receive direct sunlight in the winter are best kept covered with blinds and curtains. Insulating curtains are especially helpful.
The tighter the curtains are to the window frame itself on the inside, the less heat transfer that will occur. This works for both cooling and heating months.
It can still be helpful to open blinds/curtains to direct sunlight in the winter. However if the windows are drafty or the temperature is below zero, you are better off staving off the heat loss from inside the home by keeping the windows covered.
Is your furnace ready for winter? A great tip for this month is to have your furnace checked before you need it most. There are different aspects to the inspection process, all of which are important for your furnace’s safety and efficiency. Inspections often include a visual inspection along with checking the heat exchanger, safety switches, burners, flame sensors, combustion blower and other components.
These inspections yield results, including:
SAFETY: For furnaces that rely on natural gas, oil or propane, having them inspected annually is a critical step to maintain the health and safety of your home. Should any part of the combustion process be out of order or have issues, gas leakage can occur. This exposes your home to high levels of carbon monoxide, which can lead to serious health issues or even death.The HVAC technician will also inspect your heat exchanger for any cracks or wear that could lead to carbon monoxide leakage. As a tip: place a plug-in carbon monoxide detector somewhere near your furnace, as well as in various areas of your home, to be alerted if any issues arise.
COST-SAVINGS: Technicians will also clean your system. This annual cleaning can go a long way in reducing the need for repairs due to a lack of regular maintainance on your system. This also helps keep your system running efficiently. The more efficient your system runs, the less money you need to spend unnecessarily to operate the system and repairing it.This cleaning and maintaining of your system can also help keep the manufacturer’s warranty eligible. Some manufacturer’s warranties will become nullified if the system is not maintained.
About that whole blinds and curtains thing: does closing them to direct sunlight really work?
Being told to close your blinds to direct sunlight in the summer is likely the top energy efficiency tip (next to “use LEDs”). It seems to make sense. If you block direct sunlight from heating up your room(s) by closing blinds and curtains. Does it work?
It does, but just how much it works depends on various factors:
South and West windows tend to get the hottest in the summer. The difference in temperature of the window to the surface of the curtain on the inside of the room, can be as much as 20-30 degrees.
How effective your curtains or drapes are to reduce solar heat gain into the room depends on fabric type and color. White plastic backings are recommended and can help reduce heat gain by as much as 33% (per the DOE).
Keeping the curtains as close to the window as possible helps the process become more effective; even sealing the curtains to the wall temporarily will improve the reduction of solar heat gain.
Some additional solutions – albeit temporary – are to put bubble wrap in between the screen and the window sash. This acts as insulation to slow the flow of heat through the window. Couple that with white-backed curtains held close to the wall and you will give yourself a great chance at keeping a room cooler if you only use blinds.
The word for this month is: fan. Learn how to use them to your advantage – or adfantage.
Most know that fans help cool us off by creating the wind chill effect. This is where the air blowing over our skin feels cooler as the moisture evaporates. If you are going to use a fan, try to limit it to one fan per room. Multiple fans running simultaneously can negate airflow and cause increased energy usage with little comfort.
Below are a variety of applications for fans outside the wind chill effect:
If your registers/vents are low on the wall or in the floor, putting a fan in front of them or near them helps push the air out into the room more evenly. This is especially helpful when a room has a lot of furniture in it.
Ceiling fans on low, counter-clockwise work great at circulating cool air up into the room or just generally keeping the cool air from just settling towards the bottom of the room. This will give the room a more consistent cooler feeling and also provides the wind chill effect.
Oscillating tower fans are the best alternative should you not have a ceiling fan. If you can also place it near a supply register/vent, all the better.
If you want to reduce energy usage, using a fan can go a long way. But be sure to raise the thermostat. The idea of the fan is to either:
Cool you off using the wind chill effect or
Help circulate the air of a room you are in. You can continue to reduce your energy usage by only using fans in the rooms you are in.
Resolution: Consider smart, or automated, technology for your home. There are a variety of smart devices that can help with energy efficiency, conservation and comfort, such as smart plugs, smart light bulbs, smart thermostats and smart power strips.
Smart technology is also a great way to add comfort to your home. Check out the current products that can help.
Hubs like Google Home (or Mini) and Amazon’s Alexa help centralize the control of all your smart devices by voice command, cell phone (via the app), or through customizable programming.
Don’t like coming home to a dark house? You can program your lights to turn on shortly before you get home. You can also program them to turn off when you leave, saving you the trip around the house to turn them off manually.
Want to turn off certain appliances that aren’t in use (phantom load)? You can plug those appliances into a smart plug and control them from your phone or hub.
Through smart-home routines or programming, lights or devices can even turn on or off automatically based on a schedule, sunrise or sunset, weather conditions and more.
Speaking of phantom load, do smart plugs and lights draw power? It’s a bit complicated. While the short answer is yes, the more detailed answer is that it draws next to nothing in usage. Generally speaking, a smart plug or light, when not in use, will use about one watt of power when in stand-by mode, or not turned on. That amounts to roughly nine kilowatt-hours per year.
These are a fantastic way to get comfortable in your home in a convenient way – and save a little energy along the way.
Smart thermostats allow your system to learn what is best for your comfort. They are fully programmable thermostats that can also be accessed, adjusted and customized through an app on your phone.
Not all homes are capable of having their regular thermostat swapped for a smart one. To check for compatibility: whether the central air/heating system and a “C-wire” provide continuous power to the thermostat. Most HVAC contractors can assess your situation to determine if it is compatible.
If you’re interested in adding a smart thermostat, OPPD offers a program for a variety of thermostat types that includes a bill credit.
Resolution: Preparing your home for summer
Before the temperatures rise, ensure your home’s air-conditioning system, including ductwork and airflow, are in tip-top shape so they run efficiently. Following these steps can help you prepare your home for the heat of the summer by being energy-efficient and saving on your utility bill.
If possible, have your air-conditioning system checked by a licensed heating and cooling contractor. These multi-point inspections will look at all components of your air-conditioning system and ensure everything is in good working order. If caught early, these inspections can help prevent any potentially small issue from becoming a major one.
Depending on the layout of your home, it may be a good idea to readjust the airflow. You can do this by using dampers installed in the ductwork of your home. If you do not have dampers, you can open and close registers to help move air more to one room than another. Check out our video on airflow for more information.
Speaking of ductwork, it is also a good idea to seal any of the ductwork you can reach or see in the basement. This helps reduce any air leakage into the basement or unconditioned spaces, reducing the efficiency of your system. Watch our video on sealing ductwork.
Resolution: Spring cleaning – clean out your home’s air return registers. These registers, usually those without an open/close lever without air moving through them, often collect dust, pet hair and other things in the air of a home.
There are a few ways to clean them:
Use the brush attachment of your vacuum and move it against the grate of the register to remove any lingering dust on the surface or just inside the register.
Remove the register from the wall (it is usually attached by two screws) and clean it, again, using the brush attachment of your vacuum. Even give the area around the opening a good cleaning, too.
Other tips to reduce buildup:
If you have pets, it is recommended that you clean out the registers every two months, otherwise a few times a year can also do the trick.
Keeping the return registers clean helps maintain good air flow within your home and helps prolong the life of your furnace filter.
For more idead on how to prepare your home for spring, check out or video.
Resolution: Choose the best furnace filter for your home. Not all furnaces are created equally. The primary job of a furnace filter is to protect the internal components of your HVAC system. But its ability to help clean the air in your home can become just as important to your health and safety.
Here are some facts about furnace filters:
Furnace filters have ratings that tell you a filter’s ability to capture and hold particles and pollutants. Most furnace filters have a MERV rating (3M has MPR and The Home Depot has FPR, but have equivalents to the MERV rating).
The higher the MERV Rating, the smaller the particles that can be trapped when the system is running.
The ratings you will see:
MERV 6, 8, 11 and 13
MPR 300, 600, 1000-12000, 1500-1900
FPR N/A (to MERV 6), 5, 7, 10 respectively
The recommended MERV rating for most homes is between 8 and 11. In some cases, a high MERV Rating can affect your HVAC system’s ability to move air throughout the home making it work harder than necessary, costing you extra money and wear on your system.
Resolution: Use LED lightbulbs as much as possible. It’s an up-front investment with long-term savings. We have all heard “replace your lights with LED”, but how much can you save by switching? Below, we compare LEDs with CFLs and incandescent bulbs.
Light on for 10 hours per day (cost is per bulb)
60w Incandescent: $1.72/month
15w CFL equivalent: 0.43¢/month
6w LED equivalent: 0.17¢/month
Cost per bulb – Life
Incandescent: $1.00 – 12-18 months
CFL: $2-3.00/bulb – 4-7 years
LED: $4-6/bulb – 10-15 years
The payback period for an LED is about 3 months. Meaning, you will pay off the cost of the LED from the savings (vs. an incandescent bulb) in 3 months. In turn, it could cost you more than 10 incandescent bulbs during the life of one LED light, on average, not including the increased cost of an incandescent bulb.
Resolution: Use your thermostat to your advantage
Working from home? Turn the thermostat down and use a space heater to supplement heating, if needed. Adding an extra layer of clothing always helps, too!
When leaving your home in winter, consider lowering your thermostat by four to five degrees to. That will reduce your energy costs while you’re away. In summer, raising your thermostat by four to five degrees can have the same effect.
If you have a programmable thermostat, it can do the work for you. Programming the thermostat to automatically run or stop when you wake up, sleep, leave the house can help you save on energy costs.
Learn more: Watch this video with Eric that details tips for space heaters.
Laura King-Homan is the supervisor, Brand and Communication Operations, at Omaha Public Power District. She has nearly 20 years of print journalism and design experience, including the Omaha World-Herald.