Home and Gardens October/November 2018

If You Save Energy, You Save Money

Written by Mark Hough

The weatherizing of your home comes down to a simple tenet: if you save energy, you save money. Whether you love or hate the heat, nobody likes an expensive utility bill, which is why learning how to reduce your energy usage can help you save money.

Weatherization is the practice of protecting a building and its interior from the elements, such as sunlight, precipitation and wind, and of modifying a building to optimize energy efficiency. The United States Department of Energy estimates that an average homeowner can save up to 30 percent on their energy bill by making energy-efficiency upgrades, which can be identified in a home energy audit.

Home energy audits can typically be conducted free of charge by utility and heating/air companies or by independent energy auditors. The problems identified in the audit may prompt recommendations for basic changes that can be completed by a homeowner; more advanced practices may have to be done by professionals.

Basic weatherization practices include sealing cracks or gaps around doors, windows, pipes and wiring that penetrate the ceiling and floor. Properly insulating hot water pipes and sealing recessed lighting fixtures can prevent air from leaking into unconditioned attic space.

“Weatherizing homes improves comfort for residents, lowers utility bills, reduces demand and lowers CO2 emissions,” said Alane Humrich, program director for the local Community Weatherization Coalition. This grassroots community coalition’s mission is to improve home weatherization and energy efficiency for low-income households through education, volunteer work projects and community-building.

The CWC uses an energy audit program to assist Alachua County residents in decreasing their energy burden and monthly utility bills. Volunteers are trained by local professionals to perform home energy audits.

More intermediate or advanced weatherization practices include applying energy-efficient window films or solar screens and installing or upgrading the insulation in ceilings, floors and walls. Installing rain gutters and downspout extensions will protect the building from both rain and storm water infiltration. Providing proper ventilation to unconditioned spaces will protect a building from the effects of condensation.

Green building practices are another way to ensure that your home is as energy efficient as possible. Tommy Williams Homes has long been devoted to building energy-efficient homes and promoting healthy growth in Alachua County. They offer a “net-zero energy home” that utilizes solar energy, therefore using as little energy from utilities as possible.

State and local code requirements are now forcing builders to adopt many of the weathering practices that Tommy Williams Homes practices, such as whole-house testing for airflow and leakage, passive, fresh-air intakes and minimum leakage requirements.

“As ‘Gainesville’s Green Builder’, it’s important that we stay way ahead of the curve on green building strategies and methods,” said Todd Louis, vice president of Tommy Williams Homes. “For example, 8-10 years ago, we began to employ solar power, gas, tankless water heaters, thicker exterior walls, fluorescent lighting, Low-E windows, NO-VOC paints, elimination of formaldehyde and other harmful chemicals and HVAC systems that keep all of the AC equipment and ductwork in the conditioned space of the home. Now, many of these are becoming commonplace among local and national builders.”

While green building is ideal, weatherizing your home can literally increase your comfort level. In Florida, these practices can be even more crucial to ensure that a home stays cool in hotter temperatures paired with extreme humidity.

“It sounds trite, but it’s not just the heat — it’s the humidity. What we have found is that most homes do a very poor job at controlling humidity. Dropping the humidity in the home by just a few percentage points will make you feel more comfortable at the exact same thermostat setting,” Louis said. “Most people want air conditioning systems that blow their hair back and cool the house in 60 seconds flat. The problem with this is you’re not dealing with the humidity, so as soon as the cold air stops flowing, it quickly becomes uncomfortable, and you instinctively reach for the thermostat and crank it down to get more cold air.”

To combat these problems, Louis recommends homeowners install a passive, fresh air intake to eliminate the home’s normal practice of sucking in hot, humid air whenever the A/C kicks on. Homeowners can ask a local HVAC service provider to install this at a relatively affordable price. Louis also recommends adding insulation to the attic and using foam sealant around A/C vents.

“In hot, humid climates, the majority of the energy used to make the house comfortable is spent on cooling and dehumidifying the house,” Humrich said. “Houses must be insulated and sealed to try to keep the heat and humidity that surround the house from getting into the house. Using overhangs that are properly sized and porches are great ways to protect walls and windows from the direct radiation of the sun (and the water from rain). Trees, in this climate, are also really great for shading the house.”

Besides the benefits of comfort and cost, energy-efficient practices are also good for the environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protective Agency, green building can protect ecosystems, improve air and water quality, conserve resources, reduce costs and minimize the reliance on the local infrastructure.

“People don’t realize it, but your home is responsible for twice the amount of greenhouse gases as your car,” Louis said. “Green building practices can significantly reduce the effects of the biggest polluter in your life [your home] while simultaneously keeping more of your hard-earned money instead of giving it all to your local utility.”

With the assistance of companies like Tommy Williams Homes, local HVAC providers and repair companies and non-profit organizations like the Community Weatherization Coalition, local homeowners and renters of all backgrounds and budgets can ensure that their homes are as energy efficient as possible.

About the author

Mark Hough