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How to Create Efficient Heating and Reduce Winter Energy Costs

How to Create Efficient Heating and Reduce Winter Energy Costs

Tired of drafty rooms or windows and high energy costs every winter? Every home contains a heating and cooling system, but not every home contains efficient heating.

What is the difference?

Efficient heating improves home comfort, along with reducing energy costs. For many, winter means weatherization (or winterization), which simply prepares your home for the cold. Winterization helps, but does not always create efficient heating.

Fortunately, there are some other steps homeowners can take to help. By understanding the basics of insulation and air sealing, efficient heating remains an achievable goal!

Efficient Heating: Understand the Basics

In order to create an efficient heating system, then it is important to understand the basic components and function of your furnace or boiler (which are the major way homes in the US are heated).

The Department of Energy provides a nice summary:

"Furnaces heat air and distribute the heated air through the house using ducts. Boilers heat water, and provide either hot water or steam for heating. Steam is distributed via pipes to steam radiators, and hot water can be distributed via baseboard radiators or radiant floor systems, or can heat air via a coil. Steam boilers operate at a higher temperature than hot water boilers, and are inherently less efficient, but high-efficiency versions of all types of furnaces and boilers are currently available."

However, heating efficiency creates some confusion at times. Homeowners should understand that efficiency is measured by annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE). Additionally, AFUE is required to be displayed.

Tips to Compare Heating Units

To help, here are some quick pointers for AFUE comparison, as well as some equipment features.

  • Old, low-efficiency heating systems require a continuous pilot light that leverages a natural draft. This creates a flow of combustion gases and roughly 55% to 70% AFUE efficient.
  • Mid-efficiency heating systems require an electronic ignition that leverages an exhaust fan to control the flow of combustion air and combustion gases more precisely. These ignition system offers about 80% AFUE efficiency.
  • High-efficiency heating systems leverages sealed combustion to condense flue gases in a second heat exchanger for extra efficiency around 90 to 98.% AFUE efficient.

Yes, an efficient heating system means a functioning system. If you are curious to see how Snappy can help, here is how we worked with Levi and his family on their first home!

"My wife and I are first time homeowners, so naturally we know nothing about the upkeep of a house and all that is required. Since our HVAC is on death's doorstep, we called Snappy to give it an assessment. Reggie showed up on time and treated us with courteousness and respect. I have nothing but good things to say about this company, and in particular the expertise and kindness of Reggie T."

Efficient Heating: DIY Tips

Homeowners do not always need a larger or more efficient furnace or boiler. Home heating efficiency can also be achieved by improving your home performance, which means using a smaller (and more efficient) furnace or boiler. This also creates significant savings!

1. Keep Heating Vents Clear

The warm air blowing out of heating vents needs a clear path into the room to provide even heating. For example, if a piece of furniture covers the vent, then you limit the flow of heat. It's like leaving the vent partially or completely closed.

To cut heating costs, arrange your room so that the register remains as unobstructed as possible.

2. Ensure Proper Insulation

Proper insulation slows the rate that heat flows out of the house in winter or into the house in summer. As a result, less energy is required to heat or cool the house. For example, proper insulation ensures any and all wall cavities are filled.

To cut heating costs, consider finding a professional energy auditor because an expert provides actionable recommendations that really make a difference in your energy costs all year long.

Not sure how an professional home energy audit makes a difference? Lisa B shares her story working with Snappy.

"Within the first two weeks of moving into our historic home it was very clear we needed an energy assessment completed. I found Snappy through Yelp and called the next day. John Kenney met with us, and immediately we felt at ease with his expertise. He walked us through the testing assessment & made a special trip back to sit down and go over each item that was essential to make our home more energy efficient.

I really liked the way he listened, knew we had a budget, and worked very hard to stay within that number, while achieving what we needed for our home. Snappy was at our house for over a week and John was there every step of the way to make sure everything was done to perfection. I would highly recommend asking for John K. to assist in decisions with energy assessment, HVAC, or just the essential sealing of a home. He was awesome! Thank you John!"

3. Upgrade to a High Efficiency Furnace

Many furnaces built prior to 1992 rely on standing pilot lights that waste about 35% energy and are likely near the end of their useful life. For example, an upgrade to a 90% efficiency would reduce your by as much as 25%.

To cut heating costs, work with your HVAC tech to determine your current efficiency during your annual checkup.

Not sure if an upgrade is right for you? No problem, but it is definitely recommended to have an annual inspection from a trusted HVAC professional. Chris F. shares his experience working with Snappy.

"Great team of folks. Very timely getting to you for service needs. Reggie our technician was excellent. Extremely thorough and honest...that is a nice change for companies in this space. I had them come out for a second option. The first company said our HVAC needed to be replaced, Reggie got it working in 30 mins for a few dollars of parts. Scheduling is easy, great follow up fantastic, thanks to Erica. I am a fairly critical person, so a five star review means a lot to me. I highly recommend these folks."

4. Plant Trees & Shrubs

Proper landscaping, particularly deciduous trees, planted around the yard's west side, can be very useful to save energy throughout the year. For example, trees and shrubs help block or insulate the natural sunlight in your home.

Efficient Heating: Identifying Air Leaks

To create an efficient heating system, then it is important to identify and fix air leakage throughout your home. Outside of the standard doors and windows, air finds all the little nooks and crannies. Take some time and locate these sneaky air pockets.

1. Check the Electrical Boxes

Electrical boxes yield drafts because technicians typically do not install it (or not installed correctly). To stop the leaks, remove the cover plates and fill small gaps around the boxes with acrylic latex caulk. For large gaps, use foam sealant. Then place a foam gasket over the outlet or switch and replace the cover plate.

2. Check for Holes in Walls

Often technicians install the pipes, gas lines and electrical cables haphazardly, which means gaps and air leaks. As a result, simply seal the gaps with expanding foam or check the caulk installed during the initial installation.

3. Seal the Ductwork

According to Energy Star, the typical house with forced-air heating loses about 20% to 30% of the air that moves through the system. Leaks, holes and poorly connected ducts cause the heat loss. Take a look at the ductwork in your basement or attic and look for places where the ducts may have pulled apart at seams and corners.

Efficient Heating: Check the Hot Water Heater

Typically, people don't think about their water heaters until they have a leak or they don't have any hot water. It's true - for most people, a water heater is one of those appliances that you take for granted and don't fully appreciate until it's on the brink. However, proper water heater maintenance makes a difference keeping you and your family warm during the winter.

1. Reduce Water Temperature

To create an efficient hot water heating system, first turn down the water temperature to the warm setting (120°F). For example, the factory setting water heaters remain preset at 140°F. Therefore, the drop in temperature provides significant savings over time (with no impact on your hot water).

2. Add Water Heater Insulation

Hot water heaters come insulated, but they tend to lose heat if they are located in unheated spaces (such as basements). For example, if your hot water heater only feels warm, then adding insulation helps.

3. Insulate the Water Pipes

Typically, water pipes are not insulated, which results in lost heat as the water moves throughout your home. As heat loss occurs, then the water heater must work harder and uses more energy, so insulation helps.

For homeowners with pipes warm to the touch, which 'sweat', or go through unheated areas, the fix remains simple and very inexpensive.

Home heating efficiency is one step to take ensure your HVAC system is running smoothly. For more information, then Energy Star provided a heating and cooling guide, which includes some overall HVAC system checks.

  • Check Thermostat Settings
  • Tighten Electrical Connections
  • Lubricate Moving Parts
  • Inspect the Condensate Drain in AC, Furnace and/or Heat Pump
  • Change Air Filters

Ultimately, everyone wants a comfortable home. Shelter is one of the main benefits of homeownership, so maintaining a warm home is important. If something doesn't feel right, then stop and take a look. If you have any questions, then call a professional HVAC technician to help.