Green Tech

 Energy Saving Myths & Realities

Energy efficient windows and doors on a blue sky with white clouds background.

Window manufacturers advertised energy savings often make me chuckle. I have seen manufacturer’s claims of up to 50% savings in energy. In fact the average savings are less than 10% for the best windows and an average retrofit window is closer to 5% savings. If you calculate the cost of the windows vs the energy savings it could take many years, make that close to 100 in some cases.

 So why do we recommend new windows?  In an older home, 99% of the rough openings were loosely stuffed with strips of fiberglass insulation and the air loss here is substantial. If you are considering new retrofit windows this should be a 2-step process before the new window is fitted in the opening. The rough opening should be wrapped with any one of the reputable self-adhesive waterproof flashing tapes on the market.  Then low-pressure spray foam around the window space between the wall, preferably in two applications to get a complete air seal. You have greatly improved the air loss around the window which is a major contributor of heat loss and significantly improve the occupancy comfort.

Programmable thermostats are a great addition to any HVAC system, over the older dial style with the mercury bubble which is well known for their inaccuracy. Various testing agencies claim to verify energy savings of upwards of 20% and more. A few years ago, the US EPA released a recommendation to the folks at EnergyStar ratings that stated “EPA has been unable to confirm an improvement in terms of savings delivered by programmable thermostats and has no credible basis to continuing to extend the current EnergyStar specification.”

Programmable thermostats are more accurate, can be set to raise and lower your home temperatures and based upon one study I have, will save about $25-50.00 annually in energy costs, not the 20% some claim. One quick point, raising the thermostat to 25C once you come home in the winter will not heat the home sooner, your heating system has a capacity and once it’s on and at maximum operation, the thermostat only tells it when to quit. Now another myth debunked: closing floor vents or turning off electric baseboard heaters in a room will not save energy. HVAC systems are designed to be balanced and when you do this it can strain the system and can cause it to operate more to compensate the imbalance.

I am a big supporter of ceiling fans, especially in the depth of winter or the scorching days of summer.  The value of air flow as part of the overall comfort in a home cannot be overstated. This air flow cools the occupants and allows us to keep our room temperatures more even. A ceiling fan distributes the air; it does not cool or heat the air. The larger the blades the better for any ceiling fan to be effective.

The “old wives’ tales” about lighting would fill a book so let’s debunk some of them. Leaving a light on in a room, even if you are only leaving the room for 5-10 minutes, instead of turning it off will save energy. Another myth, there is no surge of energy when you turn a light bulb on and off. Real savings can be arrived at by using the new LED bulbs, while pricey they do make a difference and the life span is huge compared to even compact fluorescents (CFL) or halogen light bulbs. The complaint about the harshness of the light from CFL’s has merit; they now make them with color temperatures if this is an issue for you.

Practically every TV home improvement show and newspaper article on energy savings expound on the merits of caulking and sealing, weather-stripping, and taping up windows and doors and I admit I also support this, as an energy package. Homes breathe by what is called “stack effect” where the air flows up or down, mostly up through the building. To make a real difference, insulating and air sealing the area between you foundation and walls, attic space and upper framework will make the most difference and by doing your openings, you now have added an air leak package, simply put one must do it all, windows and doors only will only have a marginal effect on your energy bill.

Air conditioners are becoming close to a necessity in today’s summers, with the extremes we now see. Before you buy a new higher SEER rated A/C unit or heat pump unit, finish all your energy upgrades first and have it sized correctly. This is where a certified Energy Audit can pay big dividends.

One fact, saving energy is not a quick fix, you should have an action plan, look at your home as a system and improve the envelope air loss, insulation values and then you will have a noticeable reduction in energy costs.

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February 26, 2024
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