Do It Yourself Energy Efficiency Projects: Your Home’s Thermal Envelope (Part 9): Just Venting… Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC)

By Vernon Trollinger, February 12, 2010, Energy Efficiency, Home Improvement, Save Money

There are a few things you can do around your home to save money during the remaining winter months and the hot summer. Basically, you need to air seal your home's "thermal envelope"; the sum total of the home's insulation systems including walls, ceilings, foundation, floors, windows, and doors. These work more effectively with good, tight fits that seal-out the weather, moisture, and air. 

By having a tight seal, the less energy you waste or lose by exchanging it too often with the air outside.  Your heating/cooling system needs to be running efficiently and have tight seals of its own, too.

You might believe that work I describe below is beyond your ability. Never fear, these are easy tasks for any average person. Make sure you have a good set of tools. Plus, you might want to look at the Federal Energy Efficiency Tax Credit and save on your taxes, too.

Just Venting…

There are several ways you can improve the efficiency of your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system (HVAC). If you have an old thermostat that isn't programmable, turn off your furnace circuit breaker, carefully disconnect the thermostat from your wall, and throw it out. 

Programmable thermostats can be found for under $25, are commonly found in home centers, and are easy to install. They connect to the same four wire leads that hooked up to your old thermostat. By programming temperature settings in your house to be colder during the winter or warmer during the summer when you are asleep or away, you can save energy and money. 

Another easy way of increasing efficiency is to monitor your system's air filters regularly. Depending on your lifestyle, you should change the filters regularly. If where you live tends to be dusty from busy nearby streets or if you have pets, change the filters every month. In some homes, it can be done every three months. 

While disposable filters are cheaper, their expense builds quickly over time. Consider purchasing two washable air filters. Washable air filters usually cost less than $20 and can be rinsed out in a bathtub with hot, soapy water (in the summer, I hit mine with a pressure washer). By buying two, you can swap in a clean, dry one right way when its time to change out the other dirty filter. 

One way to significantly improve your HVAC is to check your duct work thoroughly to be sure the system is sealed. A home owner can save up to $300 from their annual heating and cooling costs by sealing their duct work. Start at your HVAC system and feel for moving air coming from small holes or gaps in the duct work. When you find one, put a piece of aluminum HVAC tape over the hole. Remember: The volume of air leaked adds up; the more leaks you have the less efficient your system is. Check the entire run of your duct work; feel for air leaking from ductwork seams and loose joints. Check at the corners where the metal is folded for leaks, too. Also, make sure that air intake vents are not blocked by furniture or clogged with pet fur. 

According to the U.S. Department of Energy Home Energy Saver website, insulating ducts in the typical American home costs about $250. Duct insulation will pay for itself in energy savings in about two and a half years, and continue to save energy and money in years to come. Depending on your duct work, there are many ways of doing this. Some 6 inch and 8 inch diameter sheet-metal ductwork can be replaced with insulated flexible ducting that costs less than $40 for 25 feet at a home center. If you use this, be sure to attach it so that it is snug with the supply ductwork and use aluminum HVAC tape. Other rectangular metal ductwork can be insulated with reflective aluminum foil insulation (foil-clad bubble-wrap), craft-faced fiberglass insulation, and regular gray duct tape. 

Remember: you do not need to insulate the HVAC system intake ductwork, just the output side. 

Visit the Bounce Energy Education Center for more tips on saving energy. 

Stay tuned for next time: The Thing in Your Attic
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