Saving energy and reducing the utility bills in your home involves a combination of both big changes and small improvements.
To make this home more energy efficient:
- Heating/Cooling: Replace the antiquated heating and cooling system with a 16 SEER, energy efficient, Infinity heat pump from Carrier with touch screen thermostat.
- Ductwork: Replace the aging heating and cooling ductwork.
- Weather Stripping: Install a door sweep and weather stripping from ShurTech around the entry door.
- Seal Cracks: Use silicone spray to loosen a stuck window frame to close the gap between the top sash and window frame.
- Attic Insulation: Adding batts of Roxul stone wool insulation on top of the existing attic insulation.
- Appliances: Tips on choosing energy efficient Energy Star appliances, such as those by Broan-NuTone.
Read episode article to find out more.
- Choosing and Maintaining an Air Conditioner
- How to Replace Worn Weatherstripping
- Installing a Door Sweep on an Entry Door
- Buying Energy Efficient Appliances
Danny Lipford: This week on Today’s Homeowner, we’re paring down the power bill as we take a look at some energy-saving essentials. Get out your notepad and stick around.
Tommy Rowell: It was 83 degrees on the thermostat, so it was pretty miserable.
Danny Lipford: Ouch! How are you surviving it? This week, we’re in Mobile, Alabama, where it’s not unusual for the temperature and the humidity to get in the 90-plus range for weeks at a time. That means a small air-conditioning problem can be a big problem very quickly.
Our homeowner here is Dr. Thomas Rowell, who’s a music professor at a local university, and he’s been plagued with problems with his air conditioning system. It’s fairly old, he’s had enough, he’s ready for a new one.
Tommy Rowell: Well last night, while I was getting ready to go to rehearsal, I decided I would turn the air conditioner on. I ran the air conditioner for probably about eight hours, and when I left for rehearsal last night, it was 83 degrees on the thermostat, so it was pretty miserable.
Danny Lipford: Ouch! How are you surviving in here?
Tommy Rowell: Well, this bad boy right here is my friend. And so we have a lot of fans going in the house, and I put a window unit in the master bedroom. And it’s just an old one that I borrowed from someone just so we could stay cool.
Danny Lipford: Well, with the existing system being so old, naturally about the only way to go is to replace that unit, so that’s going to help a lot. I would imagine you’re dealing with some pretty big energy bills.
Tommy Rowell: Oh yeah, yeah. I had an energy bill from June that went from $70 to $380 in July, and that was about the time that the system really began to crash.
Danny Lipford: Have you noticed anything, maybe gaps around windows, doors, or anything along those lines?
Tommy Rowell: Absolutely. Come on. I’ll show you one. So, Danny, what I’ve got here is I’ve got a door that the weather stripping has come off of it and deteriorated. And actually you can see how big the gap is. Bottom of the door is cut badly, and so it’s a lot of air that gets in during the wintertime.
Danny Lipford: Yeah, I’ll tell you what. I’ve got just the idea on that that we can seal that off. That’ll certainly help a lot. What about the windows? Windows look pretty good in the house.
Tommy Rowell: The windows are in good shape, they’re fairly new. But I do have one window that it keeps popping down a little bit, so I need to try to figure out how to keep that up, where it’s not coming down so much.
Danny Lipford: While these smaller projects are ideal for DIY solutions, replacing the heating and cooling system is a chore for the pros. And Brent Keith, a local heating and cooling contractor, begins the process by asking Tommy a few questions about his house.
Tommy Rowell: Well, the existing system has slowly gotten worse over the last year or so. And it’s putting out some cool air, but it’s not putting out enough to cool the house.
Brent Keith: Well, to get started, I’m going to need to get information from the existing system. I’m also going to look at your ductwork, just to see what kind of shape it’s in. And then I’m going to get some information from your home so we can run a manual J8 cooling load, which is our way of determining sizing needs, so we can recommend the correct sized system.
Tommy Rowell: Okay. What exactly is a J8 load?
Brent Keith: Well, what we do is basically it takes into account not only the square footage of your home; but also window placement, window size, insulation levels. And we plug that into a computer system and it essentially tells us how many BTUs or cooling tonnage your system needs.
Tommy Rowell: Sure.
Danny Lipford: Once Brent completes his calculations, he shows Tommy some of his options.
Brent Keith: All right, now I’ve got several options here, and basically the difference between the options is going to be your efficiency rating, or SEER rating.
Tommy Rowell: What exactly is a SEER rating?
Brent Keith: SEER rating stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating, and it’s essentially how much energy your system uses while it’s running.
Danny Lipford: Brent also explains that much of Tommy’s old ductwork will need to be replaced.
Tommy Rowell: What exactly is wrong with the ductwork upstairs? Will it not work with the new system?
Brent Keith: When I was looking in the attic at the duct system, we noticed some issues with the trunk line, which is the main duct; and then also the run outs, or branch ducts. With a big investment like a high-efficiency air conditioning system, to put it on a leaky duct system is basically just a waste of money.
Tommy Rowell: Is a waste, sure.
Danny Lipford: Once Tommy decides which system he wants, Brent’s crew goes to work removing the old system and then installing the new one.
So, Brent, where did Tommy end up on his SEER rating? That’s something that I know homeowners are always struggling with. A little more money, but it sure pays off in the end, doesn’t it?
Brent Keith: Yeah, sure Danny. He ended up 16 SEER Infinity system.
Danny Lipford: Oh, that’s great. Oh, awesome. He’ll be glad he did that, with that old system that he had, and the power bills he had. That must be unbelievable
Brent Keith: Absolutely. And it’s got the variable-speed technology, which does a better job with humidity.
Danny Lipford: Yeah, a lot of people don’t realize on the variable speed, how good that is. Especially, it being right here by this patio, it’s going to be a heck of a lot quieter than it was before.
Brent Keith: Oh, it’s going to be much quieter.
Danny Lipford: This new unit also operates on a different refrigerant.
Brent Keith: The old systems used R-22 Freon. The new ones use R-410A, which we call Puron.
Danny Lipford: In order to avoid contaminating the new Puron, Brent’s crew completely replaced the copper lines that carry refrigerant back and forth between the outside unit and the inside unit. That’s a job in itself, but it’s really just the beginning.
There’s a lot more to come, after this simple solution.
Joe Truini: Expanding foam sealant is a great way to seal up holes and cracks around the house and yard, especially around windows and doors. But the problem is once you use it, if you don’t clean off this nozzle, this spray tube, the sealant will harden in there and you won’t be able to reuse it.
So here’s the trick. Get a little spray lubricant and put it right into this spray tube from the sealant, and give it a couple of squirts. There you go. Just a little bit. What you’ll find is that the lubricant acts as a solvent, and dissolves the spray sealant.
And you run a wire, this is just a straightened-out coat hanger, run it through there a little bit to get out the excess. It might take two or three times to get all the expanding sealant out of there. There you go. That’s all it takes. Maybe give it one more squirt.
And what you’ll find is the tube will be clean and clear, and you’ll be able to put it back on the can and reuse it next time.
Danny Lipford: We’ve just started an energy saving makeover with homeowner Tommy Rowell. The plan includes a new high-efficiency heating and cooling system, as well as several other smaller projects that Allen and I will help Tommy take on.
I’ll tell you what, Allen, Tommy’s going to be so happy with that next power bill he gets. It’s going to be a heck of a lot lower than what he’s dealing with now.
Allen Lyle: Oh, I know he will be. What did you think about the gap under that door? You could drive a Buick under that.
Danny Lipford: I’ll tell you, that was amazing, there. But so many people have things like that that you just never get around to fixing. You got something for that?
Allen Lyle: Yes, I do. I’ve got it. It’s kind of like a door sweep.
Danny Lipford:Uh huh, sure.
Allen Lyle: But this is like a triple seal.
Danny Lipford: Oh, that’s a heavy-duty one.
Allen Lyle: Oh yeah, triple draft. You’ve got the inner seal, outer seal, the bottom fans, this is going to be really nice.
Danny Lipford: Now what about the window? A vinyl window like that, a little strange, huh?
Allen Lyle: Yeah. I’m going to have to look a little more closely at that. I think it’s just a matter of the top sash not going into that top track far enough, but I’ll look at it.
Danny Lipford: What else you got in the box?
Allen Lyle: You’ll love this.
Danny Lipford: Oh, yeah.
Allen Lyle: A lot of people don’t think about this. The attic access, you said it was pretty old, rickety.
Danny Lipford: Yeah.
Allen Lyle: You’re going to have a lot of energy escaping through that, so this is a cover that goes on the attic side. It’s going to be really nice.
Danny Lipford: All right. Well, if you’re going to do all of that, then I’ll do the insulation. And I’ll sacrifice in that hot attic, to add another layer of insulation.
Allen Lyle: You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.
Danny Lipford: All right.
Allen Lyle: Let’s start on the window.
Danny Lipford: Speaking of that hot attic, the HVAC installers have been busy up there putting in the new equipment. They’ll soon be connecting it to a new duct system, but first they need to get it blowing cold air. While that’s going on, I asked Mark Ladd, a product manager from Carrier, what sets this system apart.
Hey Mark, I got to say this thing is so quiet, the new heat pump system that they just installed; which is great, since it’s right by Tommy’s patio here.
Mark Ladd: Yeah, this is the Infinity series heat pump. And it’s a two-stage product, and it’s able to operate in high stage or low stage. And right now it’s operating in low stage, which is very quiet. It makes it very easy to have a conversation over there on the patio.
Danny Lipford: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I see a lot of homes where the units are just oversized, and they have that short-cycling. And they come on in a blast, and then they go off, back and forth. That really burns up a lot of electricity, doesn’t it?
Mark Ladd: Absolutely, that’s the other benefit. By running a longer cycle, it’s able to be a lot more efficient, because you lose a lot of efficiency when you turn the unit on and off.
Danny Lipford: Now heat pumps have been around a long, long time. But I’m not sure a lot of people really understand how they work, and how they can help drive that energy bill down, both summer and winter.
Mark Ladd: Yeah. So a heat pump’s a lot like an air conditioner. You know, an air conditioner, it blows out hot air in the summertime, outdoors. Basically how a heat pump works is it switches the cycle, and it blows out warm air indoors, and it’ll actually blow cold air outdoors with the heat pump in the wintertime.
Danny Lipford: Meanwhile, Allen and Tommy are getting started on sealing up the house. Who cut the St. Louis arch in your door, there?
Tommy Rowell: Well, it was a pack of Gypsies who came through the neighborhood, offering their services.
Allen Lyle: Again, with the Gypsies.
Tommy Rowell: And I told them not to bow up my door, but they did it, you know.
Allen Lyle: I’ve never seen a cut like that. It’s like an angry beaver got all.
Tommy Rowell: It’s like Baby Jane had a go at it I said yesterday.
Allen Lyle: All right, this is what we’re going to put on. Take that for me, let’s see.
Danny Lipford: First they measure the width of the door, and cut the sweep to match it exactly. Thirty-two and one sixteenth.
Danny Lipford: This Duck Brand sweep is extremely DIY-friendly, because it’s so easy to install. The sweep simply slides onto the bottom of the door. It may require a little extra persuasion to slide it that last inch or two, but then with the door closed, you can use a putty knife to press the sweep down to the threshold to seal the door completely.
Allen Lyle: Let’s go tackle that window.
Tommy Rowell: Shall we.
Allen Lyle: I’d like a double-dip cone please.
Tommy Rowell: We only do snow cones here, little boy, go somewhere else.
Allen Lyle: Look, can you double-dip a snow cone?
Tommy Rowell: Snow cone, okay?
Allen Lyle: Snow cone. Can you see this coming through?
Tommy Rowell: Yeah, it’s beautiful.
Allen Lyle: There’s your problem.
Tommy Rowell: Yeah, it’s a slight gap.
Allen Lyle: This channel right here, I’ll be honest with you, this is a gamble. I’m going to try to get the amount we need. We’re going to put a little bit of lubricant on this and the channel, see if it will go up. If it doesn’t, that doesn’t mean we can’t fix it, we’ll just have to shim these pieces up.
Tommy Rowell: Okay.
Allen Lyle: All right? So let me get some lubricant here.
Danny Lipford: Dry silicone lubricant is great for vinyl windows, because it reduces friction without creating a greasy mess.
Allen Lyle: All right. So Tommy, we’ll see if we can get this up in there now. By the way don’t go hammering on your windows at home, I’m a professional. See if you can lock this one now.
Tommy Rowell: That was it. It was hitting that.
Allen Lyle: There we go. Ta-da! That’s all it took, buddy.
Tommy Rowell: Okay.
Allen Lyle: Now, about my double dip.
Danny Lipford: Now they’re ready to add some weather stripping to Tommy’s front door. It appears that two sides of this door are well protected. But the weather stripping on the latch side is so torn up, it’s letting light in, not to mention outside air. So Tommy removes the damaged weather stripping, and cleans off the doorjamb to get ready for the new, heavy-duty weather stripping.
You simply peel the backing off of this stuff and carefully apply it along the door jamb, working from top to bottom. Leaving a little excess at the bottom will allow you to create a tight fit there by cutting it to fit with a utility knife.
Allen Lyle: And, moment of truth. Perfect. No light?
Tommy Rowell: No light.
Allen Lyle: Nowhere.
Jodi Marks: You know, nothing says energy efficiency like changing out all of those incandescent bulbs. But you know, there are many choices out there on the market today. But take a look at this one. This is by Cree.
Now this is an LED light. Now, LED lights are not like other replaceable bulbs that are out there to replace your incandescent bulbs. First of all, this type is dimmable, and it has an incandescent-like warm glow. Because that’s the complaint of some of those bulbs is, oh, it’s a harsh, bright light, or they’re bulky, they’re not as attractive. Well, this actually looks like an incandescent bulb.
Now, one of the things I like about this bulb particularly, is that you can save up to 84% on your energy bill. They’re 84% more energy-efficient, rather. Now, these last a very long time. Well, what’s a very long time?
Well, if you run your lights about three hours a day, which is average use for a light bulb, you could put this in your newborn’s bedroom, and you wouldn’t have to change it until they went to college. That’s a very long time!
So, you know, just doing the small things, like changing out a light bulb, can give you a huge impact, especially on your power bill.
Danny Lipford: Homeowner Tommy Rowell is giving his 40-year-old home an energy efficiency makeover.
Allen Lyle: That’s all it took, buddy.
Tommy Rowell: Okay.
Danny Lipford: Now it’s time to seal up the attic space.
Well, we’ve already accomplished a lot in making Tommy’s home a lot more energy efficient. You know, there’s so many small things that you can do, every one of the will make a difference. Here’s another one. If you’re having to replace any appliance around your home, make sure it’s Energy Star rated.
People often think Energy Star when shopping for big items—like refrigerators, washers and dryers—but they forget the smaller appliances. For example, you might be drawn to a ventilation fan because of a cool design that disguises it as a recessed light fixture. But this one is also Energy Star rated, because of its efficient fan motor and LED light source.
Range hoods don’t have to sacrifice efficiency for style, either. The lighting in this Energy Star-rated unit from Broan uses fluorescent bulbs to ease the squeeze on your utility bill month after month.
Our next project is to add a little insulation to the existing attic insulation. In my opinion, some of the best money you can spend on your house to make it more energy efficient. You ready for this, Tommy?
Tommy Rowell: Let’s do it.
Danny Lipford: OK. The roofline of Tommy’s house makes the attic space pretty tight, not uncommon for houses of this era. To simplify installation in these close quarters, we’re using pre-cut bats of stone wool insulation from Roxul to supplement the insulation that’s already there.
Well, Tommy, I notice over here you blew some insulation in at some point.
Tommy Rowell: We’ve got a little bit more over on that end for that bedroom, to keep it a little bit cooler.
Danny Lipford: I’ve got you. Well, this should help a lot here. Any place that you don’t have plywood, we can put another layer of this, because actually this is a R-23. So adding that to what you have already, then you’ll be well above the standards. This along with the air-conditioning system, you ought to be fine. All right, that’s pretty cool that they’re already pre-cut like this.
Tommy Rowell: Yep.
Danny Lipford: One of the advantages of stone wool insulation is that it’s water-repellent, so its R-value won’t be affected if it gets wet. Tommy doesn’t have any roof leaks now, but it’s always a possibility in an older home.
This stuff also resists the growth of mold, mildew, and bacteria; which will really be important in a humid attic space.
Ready for another one.
Ironically, besides being water-repellent, stone wool is also fire-resistant. It’s non-combustible, and can withstand temperatures of over 2,000 degrees. That’s important because it can delay the spread of a fire in a home. And in that situation, every second counts.
Man, this is easier than rolling it out. Here, I’ve got room for one more over here.
This stuff is also easy to cut around obstacles with a simple serrated knife. That’s good news, because tighter cuts mean less airflow through the insulation, making it more effective.
All right. That should pretty much take care of it. I think that’s going to make a big difference there with that, kind of, blanket of extra insulation.
Tommy Rowell: Absolutely.
Danny Lipford: It’ll help even more, don’t you think?
Tommy Rowell: Sure.
Danny Lipford: All right, I’ve had enough of the attic. Let’s go.
Tommy Rowell: Me, too.
Danny Lipford: You first, out of here.
Tommy Rowell: Thank you.
Danny Lipford: Now, it’s Allen’s turn in this hot attic. While we were installing the insulation, he was assembling an attic access cover. It’s compact and lightweight, but this cover is insulated, and it’s designed to seal the one attic area we can’t cover with insulation—the access door.
The last few checks are being made on the heat pump system downstairs, and the control panel that replaces the old thermostat is fascinating, so we asked Mark what makes it so special.
Mark Ladd: The Infinity Touch Control is actually the brains of the system. It’s a communicating control that communicates data back and forth between the indoor and outdoor parts of the system. And it uses that technology to optimize the system for comfort and efficiency.
But the Infinity touch control does measure humidity indoors, and adjusts its setting by changing the speed of the indoor blower. We’ve got a variable-speed blower in this system, and it’ll use that to try and adjust the humidity to be ideal for the homeowner.
One of the other great benefits of this control is that it’s a color touch screen control. It’s really simple and easy to use. You can adjust the temperature over here, just where you think you might touch. And you can adjust the settings over here in terms of what status it’s in. Change it from manual to home status, it’ll take it to your home program, or if you’re going on vacation, you put it to “away” mode.
If you forget to put it in “away” mode when you go on vacation, it’s actually got remote access as well. And you can access it by downloading an app on your smartphone or your tablet, and you can adjust your settings from wherever you are.
Danny Lipford: Now, let’s check out one of your questions about heating and cooling.
Danny Lipford: Vincent has this question, “Will I save money by closing off the vents in unused rooms, and closing the doors to those rooms?”
You know, you would think if you closed off a few rooms around your house, and shut down all of the air conditioning and heating going into those rooms, you’d actually save money on your energy bill. Well, that’s a myth, and here’s why.
A modern central air conditioning and heating system is designed and sized for a certain amount of square footage. If you turn down and shut off some of that square footage, it’ll still heat and cool; but it’ll do it in a much different fashion, because it’s what they call short-cycling.
It’ll turn on, turn off, turn on, and it will provide a lot more wear and tear on your system, and it’s not going to last as long. And at the end of the day, you’re actually going to be spending just as much or more on your energy bill.
So, it’s better to leave the doors open, and make sure you’re not turning off any air conditioning and heating vents, anywhere in your home.
Danny Lipford: This week we’ve attacked Tommy’s out-of-control utility bills on several fronts. His new heating and cooling system is far more efficient and effective than the old one. And by sealing the attic, and the openings around his windows and doors, he’ll keep the comfortable air inside the house where he can enjoy it.
I’ll tell you, it feels almost chilly down here after being in that attic for a little while.
Tommy Rowell: It really feels good to have cool air circulating in the house again.
Danny Lipford: I tell you, I look forward to seeing some of those power bills, or hearing about them. I know it’s going to be a lot lower than what you’ve been used to.
Tommy Rowell: I’m looking forward to not dreading the power bill every month now.
Danny Lipford: I’ve got one other thing we need to take care of out here.
Tommy Rowell: OK.
Danny Lipford: Hey, Tommy, I think Allan has a little question for you, here.
Allen Lyle: Yeah, Tommy, at what point in time did you think this was a good idea, because this is just amazing.
Tommy Rowell: I learned this at the Lyle School of Engineering.
Allen Lyle: Not my school.
Danny Lipford: Hey, that’s some great recycling going on right there.
Tommy Rowell: Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Allen Lyle: Well, help me take it down.
Tommy Rowell: OK.
Danny Lipford: Well, he certainly won’t need that any more after all of the improvements that have taken place here at Tommy’s house. And I hope you enjoyed seeing all the simple things you can do to make your home more energy efficient.
Certainly adding and replacing a central air and heat system is a sizeable investment. If you do it right, it’ll save you money for years to come.
A lot more energy saving tips on our website, at TodaysHomeowner.com. I’m Danny Lipford. Hope to see you next week.
All right, you about to get it?
Allen Lyle: Grab it, Danny. Watch your eyes.