No matter how efficient your home’s heating and cooling system may be, you can still end up with high energy bills and uncomfortable rooms if the home itself isn’t designed for efficiency. Taking steps to increase energy efficiency in waste-prone areas of your home can give you a lot of benefits for relatively little time and expense.
You’ll not only save money and stay more comfortable, but you’ll also protect your home from the damage the Savannah and Tremont Park area’s high humidity can cause. If you’re not sure where to begin your home improvements, consider improving one section of your home at a time.
Making the Attic More Efficient
The attic may be out of sight, but if it isn’t designed for energy efficiency, it can cause problems throughout the entire house. Thanks to the sun’s rays beating down on the roof, summer temperatures in an inefficient attic can rise to well over 120 degrees. All that heat radiates into other rooms, increasing the cooling load on the air conditioner.
In winter, an inefficient attic lets in outdoor air, causing cold drafts from the ceilings. Heat from the furnace goes to waste as it rises up into the attic and out through the roof. Worse yet, warm air hitting the cold surfaces in the attic creates condensation. The resulting moisture buildup encourages mold growth that can eventually damage your building structure.
Because the temperatures in the attic make it harder to heat and cool your house, all year round you’ll feel noticeable temperatures differences from one room to the next. This brings unnecessarily high energy bills as you attempt to keep hot rooms cool in summer or chilly rooms warm in winter.
Increase Energy Efficiency: Seal Air Leaks and Add Insulation
Caulking air leaks around the attic prevents the infiltration of outdoor air that causes uneven temperatures and brings contaminants such as mold spores and pollen. Use silicone or acrylic latex caulk for cracks and gaps of less than 1/4 inch and expanding spray foam insulation for gaps of up to 3 inches.
Leaks can be found where the interior and exterior walls meet the attic floor, behind and under attic knee walls (short walls that support the rafters) and around dropped soffits (above areas of dropped ceiling).
Your next step to increase energy efficiency should be to add an R-25 to R-38 layer of insulation to the 3 or 4 inches you already have. For fiberglass batts, that means adding between 8 and 12 inches of insulation. If the attic is uninsulated, install a R-38 to R-60 layer, which is a minimum of 12 inches of fiberglass batts. Loose-fill (blown-in) insulation is another option. This insulation is constituted of small chunks that fill in gaps more effectively than batts do, although it requires a blower machine for installation.
Energy Efficiency Improvements for the Basement and Crawl Space
A few improvements to the areas beneath your home can help you maintain indoor temperatures and spend less on heating and cooling. The most obvious sign of an inefficient basement and crawl space is a cold floor in winter and drafts coming from floor level.
As with the attic, a poorly sealed and insufficiently insulated basement and crawl space can lead to uneven temperatures throughout the house. If you’ve already taken care of the attic but you still have certain rooms that are hard to heat or cool, the problem could be coming from below.
Because they’re located underground where so many creepy-crawlies live, an unsealed basement and crawl space are also prime targets for pests such as termites and mice. Air sealing and boosting the insulation levels beneath the home can solve these problems. The same type of caulk and spray foam insulation you used in the attic will work in here, too.
One of the simplest crawl space sealing methods is to lay a vapor barrier consisting of polyethylene plastic sheeting on the ground and extend it a few inches up the walls. Foam spray can then be used to hold the sheeting in place. Lining the walls with rigid foam insulation will increase energy efficiency in the crawl space even more.
In the basement, the sill plate should be caulked and insulated with rigid foam. Penetrations for appliance vents, ventilation ducts, utility pipes and wires, and outdoor faucets also tend to leak and should be caulked.
In a humid climate like Georgia’s, crawl space vents can let in more moisture than they let out, leading to mold and rot problems. To prevent this, consider sealing your vents to create a closed, unvented crawl space.
Efficiency Tips for Air Ducts
Having a high-efficiency furnace doesn’t matter much if ducts are wasting the energy the furnace saves. In the average home with unsealed, uninsulated ductwork, ducts suffer from between 20 to 30 percent energy loss. This happens in two ways:
• Air leaks – Air flowing out to your rooms escapes into the attic, crawlspace or other unconditioned areas. Your rooms receive less heated or cooled air and, in winter, escaping warm air contributes to moisture and mold problems. The leaks also let in air contaminants such as mold spores and chemical fumes, which are then carried into your rooms.
• Radiant heat – Thin metal or fiberglass duct walls allow warmth to radiate out of the duct in winter, cooling warm air, and into the duct in summer, heating up air conditioned air. The air that finally arrives to your rooms isn’t able to keep the areas at your preferred temperature, so you may be tempted to change the thermostat setting to compensate.
Both of these problems make your home harder to heat or cool and leave you with unnecessarily high energy bills. You may also notice an excess of dust around your house or musty odors.
To increase energy efficiency in ductwork, seal and insulate ducts, much the same way you would for the attic and basement. First, inspect the accessible parts of the ductwork where they pass through unconditioned areas. Check for holes, cracks and kinked or collapsed flex duct and make any needed repairs.
Next make sure the joints where the ducts connect to each other, to the registers and vents and to the air handler fit tightly. Remove any deteriorating sealant or tape, then clean and seal the joints with mastic or foil-backed tape.
After this, wrap the ducts in at least an R-6, or 2- to 3-inch, layer of batt insulation or duct wrap insulation, which can be found at a home improvement store.
Doors and Windows
If you haven’t done anything to increase energy efficiency around doors and windows, these areas could be to blame for as much as 30 percent of your home’s energy loss. When doors and windows aren’t weatherized, you’ll experience noticeable drafts, as well as cold or hot spots in your rooms.
Just like leaks in other areas, leaks around doors and windows let in air contaminants and pests. Exactly what it will take to minimize that loss depends on the current condition of your doors and windows and your budget.
Walk through your house and inspect the frames of exterior doors and windows. Check how easily the doors and windows open and close. If you find any warped or damaged frames or openings that don’t close tightly, consider replacing them. Just replacing old windows with Energy Star-qualified models can reduce energy bills by 7 to 15 percent. Energy Star-qualified doors are also available.
Whether or not you decide to upgrade, you’ll still want to caulk and weatherstrip windows and doors to further reduce air leaks and increase energy efficiency. Caulk can be used to seal leaks around the frames, while weatherstripping is installed along movable surfaces such as the inside tracks of sliding windows.
Walls and Floors
Weatherizing walls and floors also helps increase energy efficiency throughout your whole home. Start by caulking around the baseboards and crown molding, and placing insulating gaskets behind the electrical and light switches.
You may also need more insulation in the areas inside walls and floors. Loose-fill insulation makes this relatively easy to do because the insulation can be blown into the walls and floors without the need to tear them out.
It’s impossible to know how energy efficient your walls and floors are just by looking, but a professional energy audit can tell you. During an energy audit, a heating and cooling technician will take infrared images of your home. These images will clearly show points of heat loss or gain so more insulation can be added where it’s needed most. An energy audit will also help you assess duct leakage.
For professional assistance making any of these energy-saving improvements to your home, contact us at Byrd Heating and Air Conditioning in the Savannah, Garden City, and Tremont Park areas.
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