Heating a home constitutes a good portion of a homeowner’s monthly expenses, but there are things that every homeowner can do to help lower that expense.
Regular maintenance is the most important chore. If you have a furnace or heat pump, regularly changing your air filter helps prevent unneeded wear on your system, helps ensure a good amount of air flow, and helps keeps your home cleaner. Fiberglass woven air filters typically should be replaced monthly, however paper element air filters are a better type of air filter and generally should be replaced every 90 days (1” thick variety) or every 9~12 months (4.5” to 7” thick varieties). Pleated air filters are better than fiberglass filters in terms of catching dirt and dust. Boilers and electric baseboard heaters, of course, don’t have use air filters.
Having your heating system serviced annually by a qualified HVAC professional is also important. Just like a car, heating systems can work more efficiently and safer if they are regularly serviced. They also tend to have fewer failures and fewer expensive repairs when regularly inspected and maintained. A dirty unmaintained heating system can waste fuel (meaning higher utility bills) and may produce dangerous exhaust gases, such as carbon monoxide. In addition to having the heating system regularly serviced, if the system vents into a chimney, the chimney should be regularly inspected by a qualified chimney professional. Even a partially blocked or compromised chimney can prevent proper heating system operation and may put your family at risk. If your heating system is direct vented, such as with PVC pipe, ensuring that the vents aren’t blocked by anything, such as vegetation, mulch, or snow, is critical. When a qualified HVAC professional services your heating system, safe overall operation and internal components are checked and its efficiency can be measured.
If your family follows a regular schedule, a programmable thermostat can be useful to saving energy dollars as well.
Besides your actual heating system, ensuring that your home is properly insulated can save you money that would otherwise go into running your heating system longer. A good thing about insulation is that it will save you money in all year ‘round. Current attic insulation standards in our area for a new home would be an R-38 (minimum). The R-value is a material’s resistance of heat transfer through the material. The higher the R-value the better. Blown-in cellulose has an approx. R-value of 3.5 per inch. So, 10” of cellulose should provide about an R-35. Loose fill fiberglass has an approx. R-value of 2.5 per inch and rolled fiberglass is approx. R-value of 3 per inch. If installing additional insulation in your attic, make sure that needed ventilation, such as soffit venting, is not blocked by the insulation. Cardboard or rigid foam baffles are normally installed to allow for needed air flow into the attic at the soffit vents while still allowing a good amount of insulation.
In addition to a sufficient amount of attic insulation, make sure that the access location into the attic is also insulated. It makes no sense to properly insulate your attic only to leave the access panel or door uninsulated. Heat is always looking for cooler areas to move to, so an uninsulated attic access panel or door can almost render the attic insulation nearly useless. Not insulating your attic access panel or door is like insulating your exterior walls yet leaving your front door open slightly all year. Adding a piece of fiberglass batt or rigid insulation is relatively easy to do and can save you energy and increase interior comfort. This is even more important if you have a pulldown staircase to your attic since the cover is most often larger than a simple 30” x 24” access panel. Installing weather stripping where the access panel or cover closes should also be done.
Ensuring that all doors, windows, and other exterior openings are properly caulked or weather stripped helps prevent areas that cold/hot air can enter as well as keeping out insects and water. Doing this can be inexpensive and shouldn’t take more than a few hours. Since energy costs typically keep on rising, each one of these items can be done to put less wear on your wallet.
Hiring a professional who is a certified infrared thermographer to perform a thermal scan of your home should be considered. An infrared thermography scan is done to help locate areas of missing insulation (even small gaps) in walls, ceilings, etc. as well as to find areas where cold air enters the home. The scan process is very straightforward and can be done in less than 30 minutes for an average-sized home. The camera will provide digital proof of where the home is wasting energy. An infrared thermography scan is not a complete energy audit, but is an alternative in terms of time and money. Matthew Steger, owner of WIN Home Inspection (Lancaster, PA) is a Level 1 certified Infrared Thermographer.
© 2018 Matthew Steger
Matthew Steger, owner/inspector of WIN Home Inspection, is a Certified Level 1 Infrared Thermographer and an ASHI Certified Inspector (ACI). He can be reached at: 717-361-9467 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WIN Home Inspection provides a wide array of home inspection services in the Lancaster, PA area. This article was authored by Matthew Steger, ACI - owner of WIN Home Inspection in Lancaster, PA. No article, or portion thereof, may be reproduced or copied without prior written consent of Matthew Steger.