DeeDee from Channel 12 KWCH called Friday morning looking for someone to talk about holding the line on cooling costs as the summer heats up. We met Friday afternoon at a home in NW Wichita. This 4 year old home was larger than most in the Wichita area. 1800 SF on the main floor with a full basement. The Heating and Air is provided with a ‘Geothermal’ Heat Pump. This system uses the 55 degree water under ground to provide heating, air conditioning and during these oppressive heat days in July, 2016 – de-humidification.
When I got there, the HVAC techs were there working on the system. It had shut off. The temperature in the home was 80° F and the relative humidity inside was in the lower 50% range. They reported the system was now running and during my time with DeeDee we felt and saw the system working. After a couple of hours, the temperature had dropped to 78°F and the relative humidity was down to 48%. The outside conditions at 2:30 pm, while I was there were a temperature of 98° F and a relative humidity of 45%. Remember that humidity is relative, thus a higher temperature has the capacity to hold more moisture. At 8:30 am Friday morning the outside temperature was 81° F and the relative humidity was 75%. Much higher than the inside RH at the same temperature when I arrived.
I think everyone was glad that the air conditioning had been restored.
DeeDee wanted some quick, easy to do, items for any one to help hold the electric bill down during the hot days of summer. So we went around the home and we looked at some simple, low cost, easy to implement changes that could be made. These would work in you home as a home owner or in a rental home or apartment. We also looked at several improvements that should be considered.
The variations in percentages are due to differing house sizes, energy costs and types, and lifestyle choices.
Under the quick and easy category, people usually look at lights, electronics, and the thermostat. Each of these requires the person in the home to do something. Turning out the lights, or turning the TV off, or setting the thermostat higher in the summer. All of them save energy and thus lower your bill.
I classify all of these and others under the heading of Conservation. Then there are those that fall under the heading of Efficiency. These are things like adding insulation to your home, replacing your weatherstripping on doors/windows, or replacing a furnace / ac unit that is over 15 years old.
The difference: Conservation is changing how people work! Efficiency is changing how things work! Both are important.
A quick summary of the summer conservation items would be:
- Turn things, like lights and electronics, off when you aren’t using them.
- Turn the temperature in the house up and turn a fan on. Ceiling fans are great. If you need some ideas on ceiling fans, I wrote about them.
- Reduce or eliminate excessive heat sources in the home. Turning off lights is great. Changing an incandescent to a CFL or LED saves energy and reduces the heat put into the home.
- Another Heat Source is the Water Heater. Turn it down to 120 degrees. Most people take a shower at 105° F. A 50 gallon tank with a medium flow shower head will provide 1 person with a shower of more than 30 minutes, with a typical mid efficiency recovery time.
- Cooking inside produces heat and moisture. Use a kitchen exhaust fan to remove both of those. They make your AC work longer.
- Use the fan in your bath room to remove the heat and humidity when you shower.
- if your fans noise level bothers you, replace them with a quiet fan. In Wichita the bath fans are selected and furnished by the electrician. The code requires 50 CFM to be removed from the bathroom. Since electrician’s are trained in volts and amps, our common practice, means the person selecting your bath fan will bring the least expensive one. You might consider telling your builder on a new home, to have the HVAC contractor bring a quiet fan that will actually remove 50 CFM.
- Move tasks that generate heat, such as baking a cake or washing and drying clothes to cooler parts of the day. In the morning or after nine at night are good times.
- Use a clothes line to dry clothes, instead of the dryer. In the summer do not dry them inside. That will just increase the humidity and make your AC work more.
- At least one area electric utility has a demand charge for using electricity in the hot day times of the summer. It is not Westar Energy. If you use another electric Utility, check your bill inserts, check their website, call customer service, and know when not to use electricity. A demand charge is an extra charge for usage during a specific time. Instead of 15 cents, you could be paying several dollars per unit.
Turning electronics off, such as your TV or computer, also involves the various accessories. Computers have a printer, and sometimes other items that are plugged in. Along side your TV is a cable box, a DVD player, and other plugged in accessories. using a smart strip will help. A smart strip is a power strip that is controlled by the main device in the group. So you plug your computer into the primary, and the printer, the monitor and other accessories into the other plug ins. Now when you turn the computer off, the smart strip shuts the accessories off. The same with the TV, or a game center.
The longer term changes you make to your home, cost more, and can have a larger impact. These are the efficiency items.
- Buy Energy Star certified appliances when you replace your refrigerator, washer and other appliances.
- If your refrigerator or deep freeze is over 12 years old, I would strongly recommend that you look at replacing it. The technology is changing fast and competition is holding prices down. Those made in the last 2 years use considerably less electricity then older models.
The largest portion of your energy use from the Pie Chart (above) is heating and cooling your home. The chart shows 45 – 55% of your energy use for this.
The simplest, and easiest to work on, would be the insulation in the attic. Others would include replacing less efficient equipment, considering the use of an exterior solar shade, or other improvement. After the work is done, you can sit back and enjoy your home.
Exterior Shade is a great thing, sometimes easy to do. Trees placed with shade considerations are great. Sometimes the builder can build some shading features into the home. A wider eve for example. 30 inches instead of the standard 24. Then the gutter, all work to extend the shade. The link below is to an Infrared image of shade from some builder included features.
We did take a look in the attic. I found an attic that could use some attention. Some levels were in the 14 inch range, some were in the 10 inch range. One place had obvious density problems. Insulation should be installed consistently level, certainly not lumpy. The fibrous insulation, fiberglass, cellulose, or rock wool, must be installed to the density specified by the manufacturer. If not, you are not getting what your paid for.
This is the attic from the KWCH video camera. I am reaching into a hole in the insulation and I can see the ceiling at the bottom of the hole.
I found no insulation card in the attic. I can tell it is fiberglass and it is white. In the past two weeks, I’ve seen 5 different types of white fiberglass insulation. If you install Johns-Manville Fiberglass, the three products I’ve seen in the past two weeks require 20 inches, another 16 inches and another 11.25 inches of thickness. These depths would provide an R-49 level of insulation. This has been the requirement for attic insulation in our climate zone. Since there is no legal requirement for insulation in South Central Kansas, most new homes are insulated to R-30 or less.
This was the Infrared Image you saw in DeeDee’s video. I have reproduced it here with the visual light picture to help understand what it is showing.
I would like to thank DeeDee and Betty and Jack Call for their hospitality and seeing their home. I offered the Call’s a no charge Utility Usage Analysis for their hospitality. I will go back with that when I get the gas and electric usage from the utility companies. Jack expressed some interest in adding some insulation to his attic so I will get some quotes for them to consider.
You can view the story DeeDee wrote and the video shown on the 6:00 news at the KWCH website.