Most people are concerned about higher costs of home heating fuels this winter of 2009-2010. Businesses are probably already optimized by HVAC professionals. Households are quite another story, however.
Some of the easiest things to do can save fuel costs and they do not take much time or cost a great deal.
The list of three straightforwards things and one obvious one are:
1. Get your home air moisture level correct. Moisture added to the air helps it feel warmer, meaning that you do not have to turn up the thermostat as high as before in the winter. It means adding moisture via a humidifier and keeping it below about 65 to 70% to avoid mold growth; 55% air relative humidity is about perfect, if you can manage it and a heck of a lot better for you than 5%. That means you may have to measure it, but there are plenty of low cost ways to do both: add moisture and meaure the result. There are health and other benefits from getting rid of the super, dusty dry air that winter helps create indoors (because there's less moisture in the air outside and when it heats up inside there's very much less).
2. Reduce air leaks. Seal cracks around windows and doors. Easy things to find when it is really cold outside. Caulk and weather stripping are relatively inexpensive and pay big dividends. Caution: do not seal your house air tight; it needs to breathe at least a little or else the fish you fry on Friday will still be a scent to remember on Monday. That's not healthy either. Some of the resources below give you an idea about air balance. We'll try to add some easier to follow ideas as the season progresses. Remember: the air you heat winds up outside sometime; better for you if it is later rather than sooner.
Key tip: Turn off vent fans in bathrooms and kitchens when finished, do not let them run forever pushing your expensive, heated air outside to warm the stars!
3. Insulate, insulate, insulate! Enough said.
4. Conserve electricity; it's more expensive than your heating fuel. Turn off the lights, computers and TVs when not in use! Set your self-defrosting freezer temperature a few degrees higher! Put auto on-off switches in rooms so you do not have to remember.
Key Tip: Replace your regular light bulbs with the new, low energy fluorescent bulbs. Places like Home Depot run bulk purchase sales all the time. My sister-in-law is an Ag Agent in Florida. She cut their electric bill in half one winter a few years ago by changing all the light bulbs in their house. We did it three years ago; it works! The new bulbs last several years and pay for themselves in short order.
Many people are not aware of the link between air moisture content and the feeling of comfort. When the outside air temperature drops, so does the amount of moisture it can hold. This makes for very dry air inside a building when that air is heated to a higher temperature. There are numerous resources on the Web that can help you keep your thermostats low while still feeling comfortable indoors and offer other fuel saving tips.
The Comfort Calculator at myFacilities.com is based on the ASHRAE Standard 55-1992, "Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy" . It enables one to calculate the Thermal Comfort Level based on temperature, Relative Humidity, the Occupant's Attire and Activity Level. It works on the assumptions that it is an indoor environment with no sun or other radiatnt heating and that all room surfaces are at the same temperature as the air.
The Home Energy Librarian sponsored by the US government Dept of Enery (DOE) is a great place to find additional information. It is full of resources like: Newsletters, and Discussion Groups, Product Information, General Information, Home Building, a State-by-State List of of Energy Savings Programs & Other Information, Residential Energy Software, Non-Profits and State Energy Resources, Construction Standards, Home Energy Rating Systems and Financing and an Answer Desk.
There are special pages on moisture and air humidity and a careful note on one page about keeping the air moisture level below that which promotes mold growth. There is such a thing as too much moisture in the air in the winter!
The Energy Savers website, also by DOE, provides homeowners with tips for saving energy and money at home and on the road. It goes into many specifics about insulation, window types, high efficieny furnaces, water heaters and the like.
It was started in 1998 as a joint effort with Owens Corning.
The US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has a set of webpages entitled Indoor Air Quality that are aimed at stopping mold growth and dealing with other air problems.
Mold can be an issue in your AC and heating system; the The National Comfort Institute (NCI) has some useful information about the balance and the effects of mold.
The National Comfort Institute, a private organization of HVAC professionals, also offers some interesting suggestions about both balancing the air flow in your house and how it can be properly tested. You do not want the hot air you have created with your fuel money being wasted by leaking out too quickly.