Energy saving tips 10

 

This is a loaded question and unfortunately is one I can’t answer without a lot more information. I can break it down for you as best I can generically and let you plug in the numbers yourself.

First, understand that all boilers are not created equal. Some are energy star certified, some aren’t. Some are high efficiency units, some are not. Some are old, some are new. Some are sized correctly for the living space, some are not.

Let’s take the variables one at a time. First, I’m going to assume that the boiler is sized correctly. In other words, the boiler heat output (in BTU) is appropriate for the living space you want to heat. Is this a big deal? You bet it is. If a boiler is undersized, it will work more (possibly even overwork itself…yes, it’s possible) and thus cost you more.

Obviously, newer boilers will be more efficient than older units. As a general rule, the efficiency of a gas-powered appliance increases by about 25% every few years. So, boilers made now are at least 25% more efficient than units made a few years ago. That doesn’t mean you need a new boiler every few years, remember. But the older a boiler gets; it starts to lose efficiency by the nature of natural gas combustion. There are many parts in a boiler that contribute to this – valves, nozzles, switches, piping, etc that all contribute to this. Plus, natural wear and tear and just plain old dirt/grime all play a factor.

High efficiency units are better at consuming power than others, but even high efficiency units do not utilize 100% of the fuel they are given. No gas appliance, boilers included, will ever consume 100% of the natural gas and convert all of it directly to heat. There is inherent and built in inefficiency. That efficiency, or inefficiency, needs to be accounted for.

Here’s why this matter. Let’s assume your boiler is sized correctly and (we’ll use a nice round number, totally made up for illustration) your boiler has a btu rating of 100,000 btu. If your boiler is an energy star or high efficiency boiler, it may have an efficiency of 95%.  That means that it can convert 95% of the BTU input into heat with only 5% energy loss. So, 95,000 is the top heat output you can expect. Likewise, an 85% efficient unit will do 85,000 BTU and so on.

The last things you’ll need to figure out how much your boiler costs you is the amount of time your boiler runs, and the amount you pay per ccf (thousand cubic feet) – you can get this from your gas bill.

Once you have these figures together, it’s time for some math. The formula is:

(((btu/1031)/100) *cost per ccf) *hours

This formula assumes 100% efficiency, which you already know can never be the case, so it will need some “padding” to accommodate for the efficiency of the unit. That’s why the time the boiler is run is so important. It takes longer to heat an area because of the inefficiency built into gas appliances. So, the more inefficient the unit, the more it will run, thus the more it will cost you. This equation illustrates this perfectly.

Let’s say that you pay £1.20 per ccf and your btu is 100,000, and the unit runs on average 3 hours per day.

(((100000/1031)/100) *1.29) *3 = £3.49 per day, or about £104 per month. This number doesn’t include delivery charge for the natural gas used, which comes to about £40 in most areas.

Incidentally, this is another reason why your thermostat is so important. Turning it down just a few degrees will mean the boiler is on for less time. Let’s say that turning down the thermostat trims just 1/2 hour from the time the boiler runs. This means…

(((100000/1031)/100) *1.29) *3=£2.91 per day, or £87.30 per month. That’s a savings of over £16.

If you want more information about this, or want to play with this formula easily (and account for delivery costs), I would suggest looking into the Professional Home Energy Audit kit, available from http://www.energyaudits.net. The site and kit haven’t launched to the public yet – so there still may be some site issues. However, the kit itself is an awesome resource – with excel calculators that help you find out how much money you’re losing on energy related problems.  It also lets you play around with the figures so you can see how much you could save by doing simple things like turning down your thermostat.

UPDATE: I would strongly advise you to hold off on the kit. For readers of this blog, I’ll be giving you a special coupon code in the next couple of days that will save 50% off the price.

Obama says energy prices will rise…again?

It’s no surprise to people who watch home energy closely that energy prices are likely to rise soon. As quoted from Reuters:

“(Obama) believes that the price of oil and the price of energy is not likely to stay at the level it is now…”

Of course, this is interesting on several levels. First of all, I’m not sure about you, but I don’t recall an actual reduction of the rate of my home energy bill. It remains the same and has remained the same for a while. If anything, prices increased slightly. In fact, I can’t recall a reduction in rate at all.

So, clearly, this observation does not relate to most of our home energy. However, it does apply to heating oil, since the price of oil does affect the price of heating oil.

This means residents who rely on heating oil to provide warmth can expect to see an increase in their heating prices. This includes already expensive locations such as Boston and the northeast can expect an increase to their already bloated home energy prices that is directly tied to oil prices.

However, the rest of us may be affected as well. If you think about it, all energy companies use other energy sources, such as oil, that are tied directly to the market prices and market volatility. So, if you think the electric company is insulated from an event like this, think again. It will become more expensive to run their fleet of maintenance trucks since oil will increase in cost. This price will certainly be passed off to consumers as another charge under the “service” or “delivery” charge per unit of energy.

 Energy problem – no snow on roof

Q: I was walking around my neighbourhood today and saw that my roof barely had any snow on it, but my neighbour’s houses did. I think we have the same roofs. Is this a problem?

Probably. If you don’t have snow on your roof, this points to an energy leak through your attic to the roof. What’s probably happening is the warmed or heated air in your home rises, and the last place it gathers is the attic. Typically, there are attic vents or ventilation fans to disperse the additional heat. There is also a ton of insulation in your attic, or at least there should be, to prevent overheating the roof.

Now, if no one had snow on their roof, that would be one thing. The sun might have warmed the roof and melted the snow. Or the snow may have melted because of a mild temperature. But since your roof is the only one with the problem, you most likely have an energy leak.

This could be serious. If energy is leaking through your ceiling and out to your roof, heating it from underneath and melting the snow, there is a real potential for serious (and expensive) roof damage or even structural damage to the attic. Ice jams could result as well. All this is in addition to wasting money on energy – because you’re losing the energy through the roof.

This is the reason high grade insulation is in place in the attic, and the reason vents are there as well. The insulation is there to prevent the heat that is built up from seeping through the ceiling to the roof, and the vents alleviate the heat build-up. The two work in tandem.

Check the insulation level in your attic. I think you’ll find it is inadequate. Check to make sure also that your vents are unobstructed. If you have attic ventilation fans, make sure they work. If you are in the attic and it is extremely warm, the insulation is probably doing some of its job, but the heat build-up is too great. There’s probably a ventilation problem. On the other hand, if it is very cold, the insulation is probably woefully inadequate and barely stopping any heat from leaving your home.

Did you know?

The last 3 houses I looked at for an energy assessment had R-19 insulation in the attic studs. In this area, R-49 is recommended for attic spaces. Check your attic insulation right now.

Set the optimal temperature using your thermostat

Finding and setting the optimal temperature may be a science in itself. You have to take into account the heat you use with your comfort level based on your activity.

For example, is it necessary to have the heat turned way up at night while you’re asleep in your bed?

Do you need the heat turned off at any time?

You need to find the balance that suits you best.

I suggest playing with it some, but don’t make it too high or low.

In the winter set it no higher than 68- or 70-degrees Fahrenheit. This is of course only a guideline. If you have a personal preference to higher temperatures or live in a particularly nasty climate or perhaps have a medical condition, feel free to adjust accordingly.

If you have a cooling system such as central air, in the summer or warmer months set it no lower than 74 – 78 degrees.

Remember, little adjustments in temperature really do make a difference! For example, just lowering the temperature by one single degree has the potential to save you about 3% on your heating bill! And lowering the temperature from 70 to 64 for 8 hours a day in the winter can potentially save you around 10% on your heating bill!

If you get an adjustable thermostat, you can easily program this in for the hours you are at work. No one is home, so the thermostat doesn’t need to maintain a higher temperature.

And you’ll save a lot of money in the process.

If you go on vacations, make sure to take into account the fact that no one will be around. Don’t shut off the heat (in cold weather) but set it lower so heat isn’t wasted.

Finally, one last closing thought on optimal temperature:

Turning down the thermostat too low can actually make your boiler work harder and increase your costs since the house and furniture in it will need to be reheated as well as the air. Additionally, turning down the temperature too low may actually cause freezing in your pipes.

Make sure the thermostat is protected from a heating / cooling source

Basically, make sure the thermostat location isn’t too hot, or too drafty. The thermostat measures the temperature and locating it in either location can throw off the reading.

The effects can be disastrous for your utility bill.

The area might be warm, so the thermostat will be tricked into thinking the heat has done its job and turn it off. Actually, just the area where the thermostat is located is warm because it is directly over or very close to a heating vent.

The opposite is true as well. If the area is drafty, the thermostat will keep the boiler on longer, heating the whole house unnecessarily. And this costs money. More money than you need to spend on heating.

Keep the unit shielded from direct sunlight, as this can also affect the reading.

The same holds true in the summer. If the thermostat is placed in a sunny or warm location, it will keep the A/C on unnecessarily. Sometimes, you might even forget the A/C is on and open a window to let the warm summer air in to moderate the temperature!

 If you find yourself in one room consistently, consider using a small portable space heater

This is kind of a double edge sword.

You can save on heating costs if you spend a lot of time, say, in the living room and you already took steps to plug energy holes you found. Like I said previously, it’s impossible to get every hole or energy shortcoming.

The thing to be wary about is the power consumption. Some can consume as much as 2000 Watts of power!

So, here’s the trade off – more heat from the small electric unit means you might spend less on your gas bill, but it certainly means your electric bill will be higher.

Another item to consider is the ever-popular electric blanket. If you set your heat down while you’re sleeping, you may very well be cold at night. If piling on the covers doesn’t help, you may want to use an electric blanket.

Most use around 300 – 600 Watts of power, which is the equivalent of ten 60-watt bulbs. I’d recommend using the electric blanket in “pre-heat” mode. Set the blanket at a moderate to high temperature about 1/2 hour before you plan on going to sleep. The blanket will heat the bed and the covers. When you get in bed, turn the blanket off.

You now have a warm bed, warm covers, and are saving on both heat and electricity.

Sleep tight!

Insulating your heating ducts

Cost: £8 and up
Estimated Effort: 10 minutes
Approximate Savings: 10% or more

If your boiler is located in an unheated area like an unfinished basement, you might already have guessed that a lot of heat can potentially be lost in the ducts themselves. Between the boiler itself and the vents, even with no holes in the ducts, some estimate that as much as 15 – 30% of the heat from your boiler can be lost when it travels through an unheated area like a basement.

That’s a lot of heat loss!

If you could somehow reduce this and make as much of the heat in the ducts as possible reach the rooms of your home, you’d be better off.

And luckily, there is something you can do about it, to help cut down on the heat that is lost.

Sometimes, it will require expert or contractor work to install insulation on your heating or cooling ducts. Most of the time, though, you can actually do the work yourself and save a lot of money, both in heating costs and in labour fees for the contractor or HVAC expert.

Let’s get started!

  1. First, clean off the ducts. Make sure they are free of debris and dust.
  2. Check the ducts in sight for leaks, using the previous repair instructions / tips. Make the repairs as necessary.
  3. Make sure you have the proper duct insulation. I bought a 15-foot roll of duct insulation for about £8 at Home Depot.
  4. The shiny side will face outwards, while the lighter, fiberglass side will face the duct.
  5. Wrap the duct with the insulation.
  6. Secure the insulation with good strong duct tape or insulation tape. Many will tell you to use the insulation tape, but if it costs too much you should be able to use the duct tape with no problems.

That’s pretty much it! Simple, and affordable. I did all my ducts in the basement for about £40.

The best news is you can feel the difference pretty much immediately. The rooms heat up faster, and the boiler is on for less time.

Installing a smart, setback, or programmable thermostat

Cost: £60 – £200
Estimated Effort: 30 minutes
Approximate Savings: 10% – 15% or more

Installing a “smart” thermostat is not hard at all, and typically takes less than 30 minutes to accomplish, even for novice users.

When buying your new thermostat, just remember – you get what you pay for. If you want more features, like the ability to program based on day, you will pay more. Likewise, if you want an Energy Star model. My advice to get one that’s within your budget with features you need right now but go for an Energy Star model. Like I said, these can be expensive, but the investment now is well worth it down the road, considering the money it will save you in heating costs.

Remember to consult with the manufacturer’s instructions when installing your thermostat and use caution! This guide is intended to show you how easy it is to install a typical thermostat.
1. Turn off the power and remove the old thermostat

Either turn off the power at the circuit breaker or fuse box or switch the power off at the boiler. This will prevent the boiler from turning on while you’re working. Carefully remove the thermostat from the wall, but don’t remove the wires yet. Remove as much of the thermostat as you can.

Edinburgh Central Heating Services offer free estimates and range of skills. A 24-hour emergency plumbing service is also offered. For more information visit www.edinburghcentralheatingservice.com or telephone 0131 5102418