As we head into the dog-days of summer in Atlanta and look ahead longingly to cool autumn nights (will they ever get here?), here are some energy saving ideas that will help your home feel more comfortable and save you money on your utility bills.
Your air-conditioner and furnace system is known by the initials HVAC, which stand for Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning. You can use those initials to help you remember how to keep your home comfortable and your HVAC healthy. These tips are particularly important during hot Georgia summers. Just remember the following: H-Holes, V-Vacuum, A-Adjust, C-Change.
Holes: Close the holes in your house and your ducts
There are two kinds of holes in your HVAC system that waste energy.
Seal up leaky doors and windows. Unless you live in a very new house, chances are there is outside air getting in around windows, doors and electrical openings. The experts call this "air infiltration," and you don't want it. Unless you can see daylight through the gaps around the door or under the light switch plate, you'll need to find where the air is getting in (and out!). Using smoke to see the air moving is the easiest way to confirm where the leaks are. Get some incense sticks you like and hold them near door seals, window sashes and electrical openings. You'll be able to see the smoke being blown around at the leaky spots, and the house will smell nice at the same time! When you find a leak, either caulk it or put in new weatherstripping. If you have a lot of leaks, you might want to call a contractor to take care of them all. Air infiltration is the number one energy waster.
Tape up leaking ducts. Wherever you can see the duct work going from the blower to the rest of the house, look for leaks. This is easier than using incense since all you need to do is turn on the blower and feel along the duct work. It will be obvious where the air is leaking out. This is the conditioned air you are paying for, and you don't want it all coming out into the basement, crawlspace or attic! Here's a surprise: Don't use duct tape! Regular grey, rubbery duct tape loses its stickiness pretty quickly when used on HVAC ducts, which are cold in summer and warm in winter. Spend a little extra money and get the shiny metallic tape that looks like a really skinny roll of aluminum foil. This tape is much stickier and stronger and lasts many times longer than the other. You'll need scissors to cut it.
Vacuum everything you can reach
Dust and dirt on the moving parts and working surfaces of your system rob it of efficiency. Not only does the dirt inhibit airflow and reduce some of the heat-exchanging ability of your system, it often finds its way to the filter, clogging it faster than you would expect.
Vacuuming is the easiest way to clean these parts. Depending on your DIY skills and the system you have, you should be able to vacuum out each duct opening, the blades on your blower and the inside of the sheet-metal cabinet it is in (be careful not to touch any electrical parts when working in the blower cabinet). You should also be able to reach the areas around the return ducts, which may be under or behind furniture or right on the floor. If you have a large shop vacuum, you can even work on the outside unit of your air-conditioner to make sure all those tiny fins are clear and to suck up leaves and pinestraw that may have fallen inside. You can also take off the top wire guard (turn off the system first so the fan blades don't start spinning!), and use a hose nozzle to clean the unit from the inside out.
Adjust the temperature twice a day
If your house is empty during the day, adjusting the temperature in the morning before everyone leaves the house, and again when everyone is back home in the evening, is a great way to save energy and money. Just be careful not to adjust it too much. After a scorching hot Atlanta day, your system can end up running all night, which will cancel out any savings from not running it during the day. You shouldn't move the thermostat more than 3 or 4 degrees up or down at one time.
Change the filters
Maybe the easiest thing to do is the most overlooked. Change your filters every month. Change them more often if you've had construction done in the house, have pets that shed, have smokers in the house, have had the carpeting cleaned or have any hobbies that create a lot of dust. If you have a return duct (the ducts that take the air back to the blower) near the floor in the kitchen and do a lot of baking, you may have spilled flour or confectioners' sugar clogging your filters and making your system less efficient. If you've had road construction nearby or done some serious landscaping that put lots of red Georgia clay into the air around the house, the dirt might have come in through the holes. Remember, filters are cheaper than electricity, so change them early and change them often.
Use these simple energy saving ideas and the HVAC letters to help you remember how to save energy, be more comfortable during a hot and humid Atlanta summer and save money on your heating and cooling bills.