Heating a home during winter can be among your highest annual costs as a homeowner. A common question homeowners ask is whether they are spending too much on heating. One way to tell is to call your utility company and find out the winter averages for your area. That will at least let you know if you’re paying more than your neighbors, which can indicate inefficiency. There are also specific aspects of your home heating that you can consider to ensure it’s as efficient as possible.
Programmable and Smart Thermostats
Do you have a programmable or—even better—a smart thermostat? If you don’t, it’s very likely you’re spending money heating your home unnecessarily. After all, do you really need the same temperature while you’re at work or snuggled under the covers as you do during the evening? In fact, the EPA estimates the average home can reduce its heating costs by 10% to 30% by upgrading from a manual thermostat to a more sophisticated model. While a programmable one will do the trick, smart devices are more convenient and can even do some or all of the programming for you.
Whether you have a furnace, heat pump, or other heating equipment, it needs to be sized accurately for your home. If a heater is too small, it will struggle to heat the home, and you’ll spend more money doing it. A heater that’s too large will short cycle, which will increase operational costs as well. In both cases, the system will be subject to more wear and tear, cost more in maintenance and repairs, and have a shorter lifespan. If you’ve never had your heating system inspected, scheduling a tune-up should be your first step. Ask your technician about the load capacity. If they determine your unit is either undersized or oversized for your home, consider replacing it as soon as possible.
Electric heating is common, but if you have electric heating, chances are you’re not heating your home as efficiently as possible. As a general rule, natural gas is significantly cheaper than electricity, and it has some additional benefits, such as heating a home faster. The question then is whether a conversion from electric to natural gas, propane, or another fuel source is worth it. The answer can be complex. While your monthly bill will be less, it can take years to recoup the investment. There may, however, be ways to mitigate that initial cost, including rebates, tax credits, and other incentives.
Conventional furnaces have around an 80% AFUE rating, which means that 80% of the fuel consumed is converted into heat; the other 20% is lost. The alternative to a conventional furnace is a high-efficiency furnace. These models have an AFUE rating as high as 95%, which means that only a 5% loss occurs, resulting in a lower energy bill each month. While the high-efficiency models do cost more upfront, the total cost of ownership can be significantly lower.
Many homeowners forgo seasonal tune-ups despite them being essential to the efficiency and lifespan of a heating system. In fact, a tune-up and regular replacement of any filters can reduce annual energy consumption by as much as 20%. That means a seasonal inspection and cleaning actually pays for itself, and many HVAC companies offer maintenance programs that reduce costs even further. Also, many manufacturer warranties require it to maintain coverage.
High and low humidity in a home can affect how the home is heated and can also be indicators of various heating problems or inefficiencies. The EPA recommends a relative humidity between 30% and 50%. This varies based on climate and personal preference, but generally, you want to be closer to 50% in the winter and 30% in the summer. If the humidity is lower than 50% during the winter, you may have to raise the thermostat several degrees or more to get comfortable. There are humidifier add-ons for heating systems that can help correct this issue.
Most homes have two kinds of ventilation: natural and mechanical. Examples of natural ventilation include open windows and air that seeps in through cracks in the foundation. An example of mechanical ventilation is the ductwork through which tempered air is delivered. High-efficiency furnaces often have a dedicated intake to heat air from outside the home rather than within. Heat recovery ventilators—or HRVs—are a relatively new invention that transfers heat from stale air vented outside. It’s important to have your entire ventilation system regularly inspected because an imbalance can cause your heating system to operate less efficiently.
A well-insulated home retains heat better than a home with inadequate insulation, and how insulated your home should be depends on the climate you live in. The DOE estimates that most American homes are under-insulated, and the EPA estimates that having a home reinsulated to modern standards can reduce your heating and cooling costs by 15%. The DOE recommends having insulation inspected annually, and whenever you have your roof replaced, you should reinsulate as soon as the existing insulation shows signs of being compromised.
With traditional central heating and cooling systems, the home is a singular zone. Zoned systems, on the other hand, allow for distinct zones, such as downstairs and upstairs, which can be heated independently. A single-story ranch house is an example of a home that may not benefit much from zoning, but most larger homes will. The DOE estimates that the average home will have heating and cooling costs reduced by 30%. Zoning does require an initial investment. However, if you opt for it the next time you replace your heating system, you can mitigate those initial costs.
Home Energy Audits
Every homeowner should have a home energy audit conducted. If you never have, then do it as soon as possible, and then schedule again every several years or so. An audit will provide you with a wealth of information about how energy efficient your home is. If there are problem areas, the inspector will identify them and inform you about correcting the issue. An audit will cover your heating and cooling systems, ventilation, insulation, and airtightness. Modern homes are well-sealed. But air tightness becomes an issue as homes grow older and are among the biggest culprits in rising energy costs. Knowing about these issues as soon as possible can save you a great deal of money.
Your Harrisburg Heating Experts
HB McClure in Harrisburg has been serving Central Pennsylvania and Northern Maryland since 1914! Our heating technicians can install, maintain and repair furnaces, heat pumps, and all other types of heating systems, and we work with electric, natural gas, and propane. We also offer a full range of plumbing services and perform cooling installations, maintenance, and repairs. Call us today or contact us online to learn more about these services and to schedule an appointment.