Using a Programmable thermostat

As you prepare to arm yourself against the summer heat and humidity in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, here are some things to think about when shopping for a programmable thermostat.

First . . .

Call the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) service contractor you use for spring or fall equipment checkups. If you don’t know much about the unit(s) and the current thermostat, ask. You’ll need to make sure the thermostat you are considering with work with existing equipment.

Then ask for their recommendation. What manufacturers and brands do they suggest? Is there anything to stay away from? Are they easy for you to install or will you need a service tech’s assistance?

To wet your feet, so to speak, visit a home improvement center in Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas and browse the heating and cooling section to review the thermostats in stock, read the back of the box, ask customer service reps questions. They won’t know as much as HVAC contractors, but they can get you started. What are people buying? What are people returning? Have you ever installed one of these things?

Now, to the internet.

Search for programmable thermostats. Or programmable thermostat reviews. Or best programmable thermostats. Visit Amazon and read customer reviews. Follow links to popular consumer sites, blogs and review sites. Stop by your virtual Lowe’s and Home Depot and see what customers say in online reviews.

Messy, isn’t it? There’s a ton of information out there. So let’s whittle it down.

Types of Thermostats

  • WiFi or smart thermostats. These are relatively new and are covered in our next post.
  • Touch Screen. Big, fancy displays, easy to program, can be more expensive.
  • Programmable. This is what we are concentrating on today. They are readily available at Lowe’s, Home Depot, and top hardware stores throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, and you most likely will not need a service tech to install.
  • Non-programmable. We’re not interested in these.

Programmable Options that Fit Lifestyles

There are three basic types:

  • 7-day: These are best if your daily schedule changes frequently. The kids may be home earlier some days more than others. Set different programs for different days.
  • 5-2 programming: Set the same schedule for weekdays, when you are away, and weekends, when you are home more often.
  • 5-1-1 programming: Set a standard program during the week, with separate schedules for Saturday and Sunday. Great for families with structured weekends.

These range in price, of course, but expect to pay at least $100 for a good, middle-of-the-line model from reputable manufacturers like Honeywell or Lux. These will have more features and functions that will help you program, change schedules, and save energy and money.

HVAC manufacturers like Lennox, Carrier, and Trane also brand their line of thermostats, but these may not be readily available in home improvement stores throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas. Call your HVAC service or repair company for models you cannot find locally.

Programmable Features To Consider

Touch screen controls: We’re all getting better using small displays — think smart phones — so using a touch screen will be familiar. The key here is the interface. Is it easy to use? Can you remember how to program it or make changes? These range from black-and-white (or gray) to full color displays. Look for the right features and functions for you. In the technology world, it’s easy to overbuy and never use the full capacity of what we purchase, wasting money in the long run.

Selectable program periods: We’ll get to this next.

Backlit displays: Handy in low-light.

Indicator lights: Helpful, if accurate. Some alert you to the furnace needing a new filter (based on time elapsed, not the actual condition or performance of the filter).

Battery operation and backup: Essential.

Remote control: Radio frequency control from anywhere in the house.

Programming lock: Great if you don’t want the kids to change the temperature inside, messing up program schedules and anticipated energy and cost savings.

Vacation mode: Set when you leave the house for an extended period of time, then push a button to revert back to scheduled settings. WiFi thermostats are really making impressive improvements here.

Setting Temperatures

This is what it’s all about. It’s why you’ve chosen a programmable model or to upgrade an existing, older thermostat. If you use the thermostat’s features wisely and consistently, you will see the most energy savings monthly.

Home comfort, of course, is left up to you and your spouse. But let’s put aside preferences for a moment and establish an energy and cost-savings baseline.

According to Energy.gov, if you turn up the thermostat during the summer (or turn it up during the winter) seven to 10 degrees for eight hours a day your energy bills can be reduced by up to 10 percent annually. If you turn the thermostat down 15 degrees for eight hours in the winter, you can hit 15 percent savings. It’s usually 1 percent for each degree lowered for at least eight hours. Turning it up 15 degrees in an Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas scorching summer is usually not possible, but 10 degrees is.

A good starting point in the winter is 68-70, in the summer 80, maybe even 82 when no one is home, 78 when occupied.

Determining Programmable Strategy

Get out a piece of paper and pencil. Answer these questions:

  • What are your heating and cooling goals? Do you want to save money? Do you want a more sustainable lifestyle and use less energy?
  • What are your behaviors? Since it’s almost summer, let’s stick with cooling. How cool do you, your wife, and kids like it in the summer? Cold? Warmer during the way and evening but cool enough at night to use a blanket and sleep comfortably?
  • What are the household activities? What are your and your family’s schedules? When are you home? When are you gone? Do you come and go? Do schedules change? Are their pets in the home? Does anybody — like a grandparent or a small child — require special consideration?

Now that you have some idea of your behaviors and activities, time to start programming. We’ll use 5-2 thermostats as an example; they allow you to program four basic times for weekday and weekend schedules.
Bedtime: 11 p.m.

Many people sleep better when it’s cooler, so consider having your air conditioner run more in late evening/early morning when it’s not as hot outside and energy costs are cheaper. Lower the thermostat to between 70 and 76 and use a ceiling fan to circulate air while you sleep under a light blanket.

Wake-up — 7 a.m.

Nobody likes waking up in a sweat. This is very much a personal and household preference. If you’re OK with the thermostat set from the night before (between 70 and 76), leave it alone. If you want it a tad bit cooler when you wake, that’s the beauty of a programmable thermostat — set it to drop to, say, 68 degrees an hour or two before you wake.

Leave/Day: 9 a.m.

Program the thermostat to rise an hour or two after waking up. If the home is vacant the bulk of the day, consider raising the temperature six to 10 degrees for as long as you can — four, six, even eight hours. More if you can. That means 68/70 becomes 78/80, even 82 when no one is home.

Return: 4 p.m. (if kids are home), 7 p.m. (if it’s just you/spouse)

Turn the thermostat down 30 minutes prior to your expected return. If you prefer a cool evening at home cooking, watching TV, or entertaining, consider dropping the temperature to 76-ish degrees for the hours before going to bed.

Hold

Programmable thermostats offer a hold feature, which lets you override the current program. Say you’re unexpectedly home for a few hours during the day, or you decide to work from home and the thermostat is at 80 degrees. The hold feature allows you to lower the temperature to, say, 76/74 degrees for a few hours before resuming the normal schedule.

A word of warning: Use the Hold feature sparingly. Overuse can mess up anticipated energy and cost savings that have been carefully crafted into a weekly schedule.

With awareness and a little bit of effort, using a programmable thermostat can help you easily squeeze eight to 10, even 12 to 14, hours a day at higher temperatures to save energy and money. Use the energy and spend the money at night when energy prices and the wear and tear on your equipment is less.

Programmable Thermostats

Thermostats Introduction

Perhaps the best weapon in your quest for energy efficiency and saving money on air conditioning costs this summer is the thermostat.

Thermostats are not sexy. They’re nondescript boxes mounted to a wall inside your home or business in Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas that no one pays attention to unless Mom is too cold, Dad is too hot, or you need to have your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system serviced or repaired.

And yet, the thermostat may be the most important weapon in your arsenal against wasting energy and money. A properly set, actively maintained thermostat is the one device that can save you 20 percent each month on energy bills.

But the technology most homeowners are focused on are fast internet connections and sexy toys like high-def TVs, Blu-ray players, smart phones, tablet computers, and laptops that entertain or allow you to be semi-productive at home or away from work.

No one asks for a new thermostat as birthday or Christmas presents.

Until now. Technology is invading the actual home with everything web-connected — baby monitors, Wi-Fi scales, security systems and door locks you can control from a smart phone, Wi-Fi thermometers for the BBQ grill, and, yes, heating and air conditioning you can program and control from the sofa or at the office. Some of these thermostats are downright . . . sexy and present-appropriate.

In the first of a multi-part series, we examine the under-appreciated thermostat, your best weapon for energy efficiency and controlling cooling costs this summer.

We begin with the programmable thermostat, then look at manufacturers and models available to homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and the surrounding area, and at strategies to get the most out of your investment.

Next we’ll look at new “smart thermostats” that are also available to homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, as well via the internet. These are more costly and sport more complex options.

The Thermostat

A thermostat is simply a temperature-sensitive switch that controls an HVAC system, including a furnace. When the temperature inside the home drops below or rises above the thermostat setting, the internal switch turns “on” and the furnace or AC runs to warm or cool the house to your desired setting.

In older homes like ones found in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, thermostats are small plastic boxes mounted to a wall with two pegs sticking out of the top, allowing the homeowner to adjust the temperature up or down by simply moving the pegs. These devices require you to manually move the pegs to set warmer or cooler temperatures at that exact moment. No automatic adjustments are made while you’re at work or asleep.

In today’s technology-driven world, these basic thermostats are inconvenient, inefficient, and are a missed opportunity to use technology to conserve energy and save money.

Enter the Programmable Thermostat

The programmable thermostat is a device that regulates a home’s temperature based on different settings you specify for particular times of the day. It has been in the home for decades but has largely been ignored. Once set up (assuming it’s even set up properly) it’s forgotten.

But, due to many technology advancements over the past 10 years — and due to rising energy costs and the desire to use less energy — significant changes have been made that warrant homeowners to consider:

  • replacing non-programmable thermostats with programmable devices
  • replacing older-model programmable thermostats with newer models that come with improved features and functions that help regulate your home’s energy use and for homeowners to save money
  • upgrading to internet-connected, advanced “smart thermostats” when purchasing a new HVAC system

Why Use a Programmable Thermostat?

If you live in an older home in Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas— or if you have an aging programmable model with limited features and functions — it will certainly behoove you to upgrade to a current programmable thermostat for these benefits:

  • Comfort you can depend on. ENERGY STAR-rated thermostats are accurate within +/- 2 degrees and are manufactured by well-known and trusted brands like Honeywell.
  • Money savings. Just using pre-programmed settings ENERGY STAR thermostats will save you at least $100 a year in energy costs.
  • Features, ease of use. Programmable thermostats now include backlit keypads, making it easier to program or view in low-light situations, touch pad screen programming, even voice commands.
  • Easy programming. Programmable thermostats store and repeat multiple daily settings (four or more settings) with a manual override (hold) that will not affect the rest of the daily or weekly program. This is particularly important to homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas because weather in North Texas can be so unpredictable.

Before Choosing a Programmable Thermostat

If you are updating an HVAC system, a programmable thermostat is included with your purchase, but this is usually a low-end model. At the time of the sale or installation ask the salesman or service tech what additional options are available — from more advanced programmable models to new “smart thermostats.”

If you choose to upgrade an existing programmable thermostat, there are many variables at play, including the age, size, and infrastructure of your HVAC system, including electrical concerns.

It’s best to ask a service tech or repairman what your options are and how to proceed, which can be done at the time of a winter or summer service checkup. The internet is full of information, options, brands, models, and how to instructions, but how does it all apply to you and your unique situation?

Regardless if you are putting in a new HVAC system or just upgrading to a better programmable thermostat, you will want to ask the service tech or salesman questions like these:

  • Does the thermostat and its clock draw power from the system’s low-voltage electrical control circuitry instead of a battery? If so, is the clock disrupted when the furnace cycles on or off or power to the home is interrupted? Thermostats with battery back-up is preferred by homeowners.
  • Is the thermostat compatible with the electrical wiring found in the current unit? If not, can the HVAC company and service tech help with electrical issues or will an electrician be needed?
  • Can you install it yourself?
  • Are the programming instructions for the model you are considering easy to use and remember?

While those are “techy” questions, there is another set of questions you should ask yourself that will inform and impact your decision to purchase a particular brand or model of programmable thermostat. These include:

  • What is everybody’s heating and cooling needs in the home?
  • What is everybody’s schedule for waking up, getting ready for work, who is home during the day (if anybody), and going to bed?
  • Where are activities most concentrated in the home and during what times?
  • What is your energy budget and savings (or sustainable) goals for the winter, spring, summer, and fall?

Windbreaks For Your Home

So as not to overlook one other aspect of energy-efficient landscaping for Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas-area homeowners, here’s a brief look at using landscaping for windbreaks, which offers benefits in the winter and summer.

As residents know, Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas area can get pretty windy in the winter and summer — maybe not as much as Chicago or West Texas, but windy none the less.

A windbreak (general images) reduces heating costs by lowering the wind chill near your home and also creates dead air space that insulates your home in the winter and summer.

Windbreaks to the north, west, and east of houses cut fuel consumption by an average of 40 percent, according to various studies. The Department of Energy reminds homeowners that strategic, energy-efficient landscaping can save you up to 25 percent of a typical home’s energy use.

Texas Winds

Winter winds in Texas usually flow from the north or northwest and accelerate the rate of air exchange between a house and the outdoor environment. Although living windbreaks have been utilized for many years in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, their value has increased with higher fuel costs and homeowners becoming more aware of energy-saving practices.

According to Texas A&M’s Texas AgriLife Extension Service, savings of up to 23 percent have been recorded when comparing completely exposed homes to those landscaped to minimize air infiltration.

Conversely, summer winds normally blow from the south or southwest with generally positive effects on human comfort in North Texas. Tall trees from the south and west can reduce the temperature while allowing breeze to pass beneath and through the foliage canopy.

Planning Windbreaks

What are windbreaks?

Windbreaks obstruct and redirect the flow of wind. As wind strikes an obstruction it can move over, around, or through it.

If you’re unsure of windbreaks helping your home become more energy efficient through landscaping, visit an Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas-area nursery and talk with a customer service specialist, show him or her pictures of your home, maybe even schedule a home visit. A full-service nursery will be better equipped to answer your questions than someone working at a home improvement center like Lowe’s or Home Depot.

The Mechanics of Windbreaks

The extent of protection on the leeward side (the side sheltered from the wind)is related to the height and length of the windbreak. Impenetrable windbreaks create a strong vacuum on the protected or leeward side, reducing protection.

Windbreaks composed of living plants allow some of the wind to penetrate, which makes them more effective. The effective zone of protection for a living windbreak is approximately 30 times its height, although maximum protection occurs in a range of five to seven times the height of the planting.

In simple terms, if planning a windbreak 25 feet tall, it should be located 125 to 175 feet from the house to be most effective.

Useful Criteria for Planning Effective Windbreaks

Again, if you’re unsure how windbreaks can help your home become more energy efficient, visit an Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas-area nursery and talk with a customer service specialist. A full-service nursery will be better equipped to answer your questions than someone working at a home improvement center like Lowe’s or Home Depot.
• The optimum foliage density for the windward side is about 60 percent.
• Windbreaks are most effective when the foliage extends to the ground, using evergreens, for example.
• The width of the planting is important as it relates to penetrability. For most evergreen plants, two or three rows are sufficient but if deciduous materials are used (trees or plants that lose their leaves in the winter), four or five rows may be needed. Stagger the rows.
• Windbreaks work most efficiently when the length is 11.5 times greater than the mature width.
• The height of the chosen plants should be varied to create rough windbreak edges.

Fall, late winter, and early spring are ideal planting times since adequate moisture and cool weather promote root growth before hot, dry weather.
Other Types of Windbreaks
In addition to traditional tree windbreaks, shrubs can also be used closer to the home for winter protection. This is more practical for small areas and subdivision lots where spaces does not allow for conventional windbreaks.
For this type of protection, use dense evergreen plants. They should be planted close enough to form a solid wall and far enough away from the home, about four to five feet minimum, to create a dead air space. The relatively still or dead air has much less cooling power than moving air, which can decrease the floss of heat through the walls.
Another way to moderate the temperature inside a home is to use rows of shrubs at the northwest side to protect it from cold winter winds as well as to direct summer breezes around it.
A full-service nursery can answer your questions regarding which evergreens to plant, how to prepare the soil, and other landscaping issues.
A Few Other Notes from the DOE
• You can install a fence or wall in addition to evergreen trees to deflect wind over your single-story home.
• Plant trees on either side of your home to direct cooling wind toward it in the summer.
• Not that this is ever a problem in Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas, but it’s good to know: If snow tends to drift in your area, plant low shrubs on the windward side of the windbreak to trap snow before it blows next to the house.
• Windbreaks also provide a barrier from sounds, sights, and smells; protection for livestock; an aesthetically pleasing landscape element; and a wildlife habitat.

Protect Your Air Conditioning Unit With Plants

Using basic Earth Kind landscaping principles (example images) from Texas A&M University’s Texas AgriLife Extension Service can significantly modify micro-climate surrounding Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas-area homes make them more energy efficient while lowering utility costs.

In this post we look at providing protection from the sun, planting espaliers and vines, overhead structures, and ground covers, along with a few small-scale tips.

Quick Reminder

If you are unsure where to start, the next time a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor comes to the home for a service checkup, ask him to review with you the house’s major heat sources and how they impact cooling and heating equipment.

If the service tech is unable to help, there are energy specialists in the Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas willing to do an analysis. You can also call a landscaping company to give you an assessment from a different perspective.

Protection from the Sun

Studies have shown that trees reduce summer temperatures significantly. Shading the roof of your Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas-area home from the pounding afternoon sun by large trees can reduce temperatures inside the home by as much as eight to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Deciduous trees provide summer shade, then drop their leaves in the fall, which allows the warmth of the sun to filter through bare branches in the winter to help warm the home.

If you’re building a new home and the house can be situated to take advantage of shade from trees on the south and west exposures, energy expended for cooling can be considerably reduced.

However, if building a new home and strategically planting trees isn’t possible, then look for opportunities to add landscaping to the existing lot. A well-planned landscape can reduce an unshaded home’s AC costs by 15 to 50 percent.

To shade the roof or wall of a single-story home, plant 6- to 8-foot tall deciduous trees 15 to 20 feet from the side or 12 to 15 feet from the corner of the house. To be most effective, the canopy of the tree should extend over the roof.

Smaller trees like crape myrtles and redbuds can be planted closer to the house and used for shading walls and window areas. Deciduous trees to the south can screen 70 to 90 percent of the hot summer sun while allowing breezes.

Plant trees with crowns lower to the ground on the west if you want to shade from lower, afternoon sun angles.

Espaliers and Vines

In addition to shading roof areas, plants can protect walls from heat and cold. Vines, shrubs, and certain trees can be used as espaliers (plants trained to grow flat against walls). The foliage cover insulates walls against summer heat and cold winter winds. These are also highly effective in reducing noise and dust pollution as well.

One home in the Grapevine area, a suburb of Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, uses thick English Ivy to cover a west-facing, two-story brick wall. By the end of every summer, the ivy reaching from the ground to the eaves is burnt to a crisp from absorbing daily heat. Without the ivy, the wall and rooms inside are noticeably warmer.

When installing two new air conditioning units one recent summer, the homeowner asked service and installation techs if the ivy made any difference to the home’s energy efficiency. “Maybe I should just take it down,” he said.

“I wouldn’t,” the service tech said. “It may not look like it, but that ivy is thick and it takes an awful lot of the summer sun. Any little bit helps.”

There are several ways to support plants against walls. Some vines such as English Ivy have specialized roots that cling to masonry and wooden surfaces.

A word of caution: The “stickiness” of the English Ivy can harm wooden surfaces as it hastens wood decomposition and provides protection for termites and other insects. It’s not a bad idea to have the home sprayed for pests at least once a year, especially outside.

Vines that do not cling usually twine and must have support, which can be provided by trellises placed on or close to the house.

A third way to support shrubs and vines on a wall is to place mortar nails in the joints between the brick and securely fasten plant steps with small ties or similar materials.

Windows, as well as walls, may be shaded by vines on trellises. Deciduous vines such as Boston Ivy and Wisteria will allow the sun to penetrate during the winter.

If a quick effect is desired, annual vines such as morning glories, hyacinth bean, and moon vines can be planed economically from seed in early spring and will usually provide the needed shade in time for the hottest summer weather.

Overhead Structures

The use of landscape arbors and other overhead structures are another effective means of addressing energy conservation. These structures can be attached or adjacent to the home can shade walls and windows to reduce energy consumption and provide cool, restful sitting and viewing areas.

If wooden structures are used, the one or two inch lathe strips are usually spaced one to 1.5 inches apart. This spacing provides adequate shade while allowing air to circulate freely.

If vines are used as a partial or complete cover, the structure is referred to as an arbor. Grape arbors, once as common as patios are today, can serve as attractive, practical additions to the landscape.

Ground Covers

The temperature a few inches above turf or other ground cover plants is frequently 12 to 15 degrees lower than above asphalt and concrete surfaces. By using turf and ground cover plants between homes and paved areas, such as drives and walks, summer temperatures can be significantly reduced.

There are several well adapted plant materials suited for these applications readily available at Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas-area nurseries and home improvement centers. Ask customer service reps for assistance in choosing which ground cover works best for your home.

Saving on Energy Costs With Plants

Here’s another, not-so-obvious way for Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas-area homeowners to improve the performance of their home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment.

Plant a tree.

Plant shrubs and vines.

Think outside the air conditioning box.

Today, more and more people are looking for ways to improve their home’s energy efficiency, reducing consumption and at the same time lowering their monthly electricity bill.

We’ve looked at several ways to do this, including having semi-annual equipment checkups from your HVAC service contractor in Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas, improving your home’s “energy envelope,” eliminating air leaks, adding insulation, and better understanding humidity and summer heat gain.

Another way is to adopt a somewhat-forgotten strategy of our forefathers, using landscaping principles and practices to modify the micro-climate surrounding our homes in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, making them more energy efficient and reducing energy costs.

Although it’s not possible to control temperature, wind and other Mother Nature elements, properly placing trees, shrubs, vines and structures in the landscape can assist in keeping homes cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

This post examines what energy-efficient landscaping means, how it relates to your home’s HVAC equipment, and its benefits to homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas.

In the next post we’ll look at strategically planting trees, espaliers and vines to provide protection from the sun and installing overhead structures as another means of addressing energy conservation.

Quick Facts

The Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that the proper placement of as few as three trees can save the average household up to 25 percent on annual energy costs.

Studies conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found summer daytime air temperatures to be three-to-six degrees cooler in tree-shaded homes than those without the landscaping.

There’s more to plants’ cooling effect than simple shading. Plants release large amounts of water from pores in their leaves and the evaporative cooling that results creates a zone of cool air around the plant. Homeowners can take advantage of this effect by using plants for shade and wind control rather than structures such as fences or arbors.

If the landscape is well planned, properly installed, and consciously maintained, the increased aesthetic value, decreased maintenance costs, and improved energy performance can result in increased real estate values.

According to the Earth Kind program at Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension Service, a strategically planned, energy-aware landscaping is one of the best investments a home or business owner can make in this time of escalating energy costs and conservation awareness.

Background

Landscaping has always played an important role in modifying the home environment. To survive, Native Americans and early settlers designed shelters to offer protection from the most severe weather conditions imaginable. Until the invention of mechanical heating and cooling systems in the early 20th Century, humans were dependent upon changing or modifying their surroundings for comfort.

In southern states such as Florida and Texas, it was important to keep the sun out of the home while encouraging cool breezes in. To attract airflow, early settlers designed very open homes and used trees and other landscape materials to channel winds.

This strategy is known as “passive” cooling because it occurs without mechanical means.

Conversely, “active” cooling requires energy to produce cooler (or warmer) air for the home or business. Mechanical means, of course, requires service and repair to maintain uninterrupted operation.

Service for “passive” cooling is more tree and shrub trimming, fertilizing, watering, and caring for than house calls from a local HVAC contractor.

Getting Started

Before you plant anything, take time to understand your home in the environment.

  • Which outside walls receive the most sun during the day? For how long?
  • Which windows and doors are baked in afternoon sun?
  • Is there a humidity/moisture problem on any particular side(s) of the home?
  • Would the back yard be more usable if there was improved air movement?
  • The roof, obviously, receives the most direct radiation (heat) from the sun. Is it possible to provide canopy shading by planting trees in strategic locations?
  • Are there any other surfaces such as patios, extra-large driveways, or nearby buildings that reflected radiation “bounces off” and lands on your home, increasing its heat load?
  • Does your home store and release heat later in the day from concrete, asphalt, or brick?

Ask yourself these questions so that the landscape design can be tailored to meet your specific needs. If you are unsure, the next time an HVAC service tech visits the home ask him to go over the home’s major heat sources and how they impact cooling and heating equipment.

If the service tech is unable to help, there are energy specialists available willing to do the analysis. You can also call a landscape specialist in Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas to give you an assessment from a different perspective.

Landscaping for Passive Cooling

General guidelines for landscaping for passive cooling include the following:

  • Remove low branches on trees on the southeastern and southwestern exposures to allow for maximum air movement.
  • Make sure window-shading plants are located far enough away from the home so as not to restrict air circulation.
  • If you’re using shrubs on the southeastern or southwestern sides of the home primarily for “low” shade — early morning or late afternoon — plant species with small leaves and an open branch pattern. Customer service sales reps at any Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas-area nursery can help you make the right choice for planting.
  • Winter windbreaks can do double duty by deflecting cooling southern summer breezes back toward the house.

Landscaping for Active Cooling

Wind movement around an air conditioned home in the summer can actually increase energy costs by aiding the infiltration of hot, humid air through cracks and openings around windows, doors, outside walls. Because of this, you will want to position trees and shrubs to divert summer breezes way from the home, or the opposite of what’s desired in a passively cooled house.

When landscaping for the air-conditioned home:

  • Use low-branching trees on the southeastern and southwestern areas of the home lot to protect windows from air movement.
  • Use a multi-layer summer windbreak along the southern exposures, with the tallest plants closest to the house. This creates a “wind ramp” that will channel wind up and over the home.
  • Create a dead air space along walls that face the summer winds to insulate the home and cut down on warm-air infiltration.
  • Use deciduous shrubs on south-facing sides to allow passive solar heating of walls in the winter.

Don’t Forget the AC Unit

Frequently overlooked landscaping for energy efficiency is to provide shade for the air conditioner unit(s). A unit in direct sun uses more energy than one in a shaded area. Shade-casting plants keep the air around the AC cooler so the equipment doesn’t have to work as hard.

Make sure, however, to keep leaves, branches, and other lawn debris from blocking the AC’s airflow. If warm discharge air cannot escape, then the temperature of the intake air rises and the unit will not operate as efficiently.

Air Conditioning Investments

To help you prepare for the coming heat and humidity grind here in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, we’ve addressed all sorts of issues impacting your air conditioning, comfort, and pocket book — humidity, air leakage, thermal heat gain.

In this post we provide tips for beating the summer heat. Some items deal directly with your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, some have an indirect bearing on your air conditioner, and others have no relationship but are good ideas to help you save money on your monthly energy bill.

Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas-area homeowners spend between 40 and 50 percent of their household energy budget on keeping cool in the summer. Being aware of the little things you can do adds up and can help you save a few bucks at the end of each month.

According to local HVAC contractors and service techs, your goal as a homeowner is not to let the interior of the house become uncomfortably hot because the air conditioner cannot cool it down in a reasonable amount of time. That extra work places additional strain on the equipment, which could lead to an unexpected service or repair call, and end up costing you money.

Air conditioners are designed for about a 20 degree change in temperature, so 100 degree air would only be cooled to about 80 degrees — not that you let your home get to 100 degrees inside. However, when it’s 110 degrees outside your Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas home, it seems like the AC is only cooling to the low 80s, even when you have it set at 76 or 78.

Whatever you can do to eliminate inefficiencies and your own bad habits helps your air conditioner be more efficient, cool better, and save you money.

Indirect Impact

There are things you can do in your home that seem like they have no direct bearing on the performance of your air conditioner but, in fact, can help it run more efficiently. A few ideas:

  • Use the microwave. It uses two-third less energy than your heat-emitting stove or oven. It’s quicker, more energy efficient, and it heats the food, not the house. Taking heat out of the air is less warm air that needs to be cooled.
  • Run the dishwasher at night and dry laundry outside (except for those unmentionables). Steam from the dishwasher can fill the kitchen, and moisture from drying clothes increases humidity and impacts HVAC performance. In the heat of an Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas summer, every little bit helps.
  • Block the heat. On a hot day, close windows and doors as quickly as possible, which children never seem to get. If no one is home, close blinds and curtains that take the bulk of the afternoon sun before you leave for the day. Use white or light-colored blinds and shades to reflect heat instead of absorbing it.
  • Vent. If you use the stove to cook on a hot day or you take hot showers in the morning, use the vents in the kitchen and in the bathroom to remove hot steam from the air. That hot air lingers in a bathroom and wafts into an adjoining room, drawing more attention from the AC to cool.
  • Use fans. Fans increase air movement, which can make you feel up to five degrees cooler, while using less energy. Fans won’t cool a room, so turn them off when you leave to save energy/money.

Investments Worth Making

Most of these items are relatively inexpensive and make sense. Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas-area homeowners, however, are more concerned with spring flowers, planting, and lawn care than they are “spring cleaning” their AC performance.

  • Install roll-up bamboo shades outside of windows that receive the hottest sunlight. This works well in the back yard more so than the front. Blocking the sun from the outside is more effective than blocking it from the inside.
  • Insulate and weatherstrip the attic access door/cover. Homeowners don’t think about the attic door, but it can be an energy-wasting sieve. It’s a fairly easy, little-time-investment project for a Saturday afternoon. Consider installing a latch to hold the cover tight and reduce air leaks.
  • Shade your air conditioner outside from the sun, especially it receives late-afternoon heat (the hottest time of the day). Make sure it’s clean, unobstructed, and has plenty of airflow around it. If you are unsure what to do, ask a service tech the next time he comes to the house for an equipment checkup.
  • Keep your outdoor air conditioning unit cooler by planting trees or shrubs that provide shade but still allow air to flow around the unit. By properly shading the area, your system can perform up to 10% more efficiently. Think about it: The unit is already hot from working hard; it’s made worse by having the sun beat down on it on a hundred-degree day. Also, be sure the landscaping isn’t too close to the unit, so a technician can service it easily when necessary.
  • Good attic ventilation keeps your house cooler. Many homeowners, however, don’t know much about their attics, construction, or if there attics are even “ventilation efficient.” The next time you have any work done on the home’s HVAC system, ask the service tech to review the attic’s insulation and ventilation. If he’s not qualified other service companies can inspect it for you. There may be inefficiencies and room for improvement.
  • Inspect and seal your ducts. If you have central air-conditioning, make sure any ducts located in unconditioned areas (especially in a hot attic) are sealed and insulated. Your HVAC service contractor or a duct specialist can inspect and seal ducts for you to ensure efficient operation. Leaking ductwork accounts for 25 percent of cooling costs in an average home, so have your ducts tested and have any leaks or restrictions repaired by a qualified Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas-area contractor. Note: duct cleaning is not the same as duct sealing.
  • Invest in ceiling fans throughout the home.

More Energy Saving Investments

Planning on remodeling soon? Is it time to replace old appliances? Consider these energy efficiency suggestions.

  • Install a whole-house fan. A whole house fan is permanently installed in your attic and draws cool air into your home through the windows while forcing hot air out through your attic vents. These were fairly common in older Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas-area homes, however they are less so today. Make sure the whole-house fan is properly installed and sealed tight. Use it after sundown when the outside temperature drops below 80 degrees and in the early morning to cool your home and help reduce air conditioner use. It’s great for spring and fall use.
    • If you are not buying new, solar-efficient windows, consider applying solar window films to existing glass. This can be an effective method to reduce peak performance during hot months and conserve energy anytime the AC runs.
    • If existing insulation level is R-19 or less, consider insulating your attic to at least R-30. A service tech can help you understand the insulation currently in your home and what you can do to improve it.

Reducing Your Air Conditioning Costs | Arlington

Keeping cool during an insanely hot and muggy summer in Arlington, Fort Worth, involves moving from air conditioned place to air conditioned place. At home you’re afraid to run the AC too much because you’re electric bill will be more than a car payment.

It need not be this way. Building science principles, which no one tells you about in school or when you grow up, and common sense dictate a number of measures that any homeowner can take to increase comfort, decrease wasteful spending, and lead a better, more fulfilling life.

OK. That last one is on you.

This post examines the principles behind summer heat gain and actionable, affordable measures that you can take to reduce it without calling your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) service tech to your home several times a summer.

Basics

Your house is constantly absorbing heat, especially here in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and Texas in general. It makes you uncomfortable. You fear the electricity bill. You can’t wait for fall and don’t want spring to ever end.

Here’s what you need to know:

Heat gain is divided into four categories — solar heat, internal heat, air leakage, and heat transmission.

  • Solar heat hits the room and walls and comes in through the windows, accounting for about 50 percent of summer heat gain in your home.
  • Internal heat gains come from lighting, stoves, ovens, showers, uninsulated hot water pipes, even human bodies, accounting for about 20 percent.
  • Air leakage — that cool air that you pay lots of money for — leaks out and the outdoor air — that the sun has spent all day baking — leaks in, accounting for about 20 percent.
  • Heat transmission — the process that occurs when hot outdoor air seeks equilibrium with cool indoor air, and thus moves through the building shell — accounts for about 10 percent.

If you want to stay cool during the awfully hot Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas summer you want to snuff out the heat gain.

Here’s What To Do

Solar Heat

Since most heat gain is solar, we’ll start here.

A lot of heat reaching you does so in the form of radiant heat through solar heat gains. Basically, your roof and walls sit there all day, every day absorbing heat. Your home is basically one big, steamy, gooey Hot Pocket. It’s like there’s a hot sauna in your living room.

Your Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas-area home is a giant radiator.

You can do a few things:

  • Call your HVAC tech for a systems check-up to improve the performance of your air conditioner.
  • That service tech, or an energy expert, can conduct an inspection of your home’s “energy envelope” and make recommendations to improve performance.
  • On the radical end of things, you can always buy a new, more energy efficient system from your HVAC service contractor, which can help you save upwards of 30 percent on your annual energy bills.
  • Or you can prevent radiant heat by installing radiant barriers in your attic along the bottom of the rafters.
  • You can prevent the sun from cooking your walls by planting trees, which will take time for a sapling to become an effective solar heat barrier but, in the long run, strategic landscaping can be very effective at keeping you comfortable and keeping your energy bills lower.
  • Solar heat also enters the home through windows. While drawing curtains shut keeps out some of the heat, it also makes it dark inside. The window itself continues to absorb heat and act as a radiator. The most effective way to limit heat gain is by preventing the sun from hitting the windows in the first place. You can do this with shutters, awnings, or exterior sun screens.

Radiant barriers, trees, shutters, awnings, and exterior sun screens are readily available at Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas-area home improvement centers like Lowe’s and Home Depot, even some higher-end hardware stores. If you prefer not to mess with installation there are many service companies, landscapers, and window specialists eager to do the work.

Air Leakage

Air leakage can be addressed the same way it is in the winter, with some old-fashioned elbow grease and a free Saturday afternoon. The skillful use of caulk and a caulking gun in the attic, around door and window frames, and around the outside of the home can take a big bite out of air leakage heat gains.

A majority of air leaks will not be immediately visible, which is why it’s a good idea to call your HVAC service contractor or an energy auditor for an inspection. They have the cool tools like infrared cameras you don’t have to make the invisible visible.

Transmission

Transmission is heat moving through your walls and the only way to stop it is to beef up your attic and walls with good, quality insulation. It’s just as important in the cooling season as it is in the heating season.

If you don’t know much about insulation, when your HVAC service contractor comes to the house to check on the air conditioning and heating equipment, ask him to assess — with you present — the quality and condition of your existing insulation.

At a reasonable cost (it will vary due to a number of factors), you or your HVAC service contractor can add add insulation. Until then, take comfort in the fact that heat gain through transmission is only responsible or about 10 percent of summer heat gain.

Internal Heat

Reducing internal heat gains barely requires getting your hands dirty.

  • Insulating your water pipes and water heater is a quick DIY project that will bear fruit all year long.
  • Get rid of incandescent light bulbs, which emit 90 percent or more of the electricity they consume as heat.
  • Use the microwave instead of the stove.
  • Plan your meals to cook out of the kitchen. Cook on a charcoal or gas grill outside rather than using the oven inside.

Increase Energy Efficiency by Sealing Air Leaks | Arlington

It’s spring in North Texas and homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas are invading home improvement centers to load up on plants, fertilizer, and mulch. Just don’t forget the caulk and spray foam.

Say what?

What do caulk and spray foam have to do with springtime in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas?

Not as much plants, fertilizer, and mulch, but while you’re at the home improvement center gathering lawn care supplies — and while you’re engaged in spring cleaning activities inside the house — you might as well address those pesky air leaks that waste your money and expensive energy.

In this post we look at materials to seal air leaks, where to start, and what to do.

Rather than run around the house like a caulk-wielding gunslinger looking to fill every nook and cranny with sticky, messy goop, there are places you want to attack first. Since basements are uncommon in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, you’ll want to start in the attic.

Quick Refresher

Cold air infiltrates the base of the home, then rises through the house (creating drafts) and exits through the attic. It’s the chimney effect.

In order to minimize this effect, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) service techs and energy specialists recommend you seal the attic first (and basement, but that’s not applicable in much of North Texas.

Needed Materials

Caulk, spray foam, and weatherstripping are the basic materials you need. These are inexpensive and readily available at any Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas home improvement center or hardware store.

How efficiently you seal air leaks depends on the size and location of the leaks and choosing the right material for the job.

Plug larger holes with pieces of drywall or cardboard. You can also stuff holes with plastic bags filled with scraps of fiberglass insulation. For most openings, caulking, sealants, and weatherstripping are the best solutions.

Caulk

Caulk is a semi-solid, toothpaste-like substance you apply into gaps no wider than 3/8 of an inch where different building materials meet. For the job at hand, you’ll want to use tubes and a caulking gun. Caulk is also available in card or rope form and put into place with your fingers.

For the Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas climate, choose a caulk that seals well in both the cold and heat. If you are unsure of the right caulk for a specific application, make note of the location to discuss with a customer service or sales rep at a Lowe’s, Home Depot, or favorite local hardware store.

You’ll need different caulk for different surfaces, inside and outside. Some caulk is weatherproof, some not. Some can be painted, some cannot. Some expands, some do not. Generally, high-end caulk seals better, lasts longer, and isn’t much more expensive than the cheap stuff.

Air sealing is one area where you don’t want to scrimp on materials because a poorly sealed crack is still a crack.

Weatherstripping Options for Doors

Foam sealants are commonly used for large gaps up to one inch. Once applied, the foam expands to fill and seal the space and, like caulk, hardens when it dries.

The two most common types are urethane and latex foam. These are readily available at Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas-area hardware and building supply stores. If you are unsure of the differences between them (mostly due to drying time and cleaning requirements) ask someone in customer service to help.

Weatherstripping eliminates gaps between movable parts when they are closed (around the perimeters of exterior doors and operable windows. It can be made of metal, foam, rubber, vinyl, or felt and is often sold by the foot or in pre-packaged kits.

If possible match the product that originally came with the door or windows. The finished result will look its best and be the most effective. Some materials are nailed or tacked into place, others are applied with self-adhesive tape. Well-installed weatherstripping will be slightly compressed when the doors and windows are closed.

As with caulk and foam sealants, if you have questions regarding weatherstripping and installation ask a customer service rep in building supplies.

Start at the Top

Attention to the attic will save the most on your energy bills. Every opening in the ceiling is a potential “chimney” for conditioned air to escape. Check around electrical wires, light fixtures, recessed can lights, chimneys, stove flues, ductwork, plumbing vent pipes, and along the tops of walls.

Attic Culprits

If you have a finished attic you may have kneewalls (side walls under eaves). In many cases the insulation and air barriers behind the walls and under the floor are inadequate to minimize air flow.
There are three steps to effectively sealing attics with kneewalls:

  • Seal air leaks between the heated and unheated space. This includes rigid foam insulation blocks between the joists and sealing them with spray foam or caulk.
  • Adding more insulations above the flat ceiling.
  • Adding more insulation batts behind the kneewalls (the vapor barrier is toward the heated side of the wall).

Attic Access

If you have an attic door, attach fire-coded rigid insulation to the back, then weatherstrip around the sides and top and add a door sweep.

If you have an attic access panel, insulate the back with a minimum R-20 rigid insulation, then add weather stripping around the perimeter. Make sure the latches provide a tight fit.

If you have pull-down stairs, create an insulated overhead cover that will fit above the stairs and can be hinged or slid to the side when you go into the attic. Install weatherstripping around the perimeter of the door.

Recessed Lights

Recessed lights can be a source of significant air leaks. The most energy efficient (and also the most expensive) option is to replace them with ceiling mounted lights or airtight fixtures.

If you want to continue using your old fixtures and minimize air leakage, experts recommend installing a box built from wallboard and sealed with caulk around each fixture to stop the air leakage. If you go this route, be sure each box is constructed to prevent insulation from contacting the fixture and creating a potential fire hazard (3” minimum clearance is recommended).

Soffits, Bulkheads and Dropped Ceilings

Cover any large open holes into the attic space with plywood that is caulked into place to minimize air infiltration, then lay insulation over the plywood.

Chimneys

If you have a metal chimney, check the condition of the metal collar where it meets the roof and repair if necessary.

If you have a brick chimney, check for gaps between the chimney and the wood framing around it. Fill any gaps with a minimum of 26-gauge metal/galv metal or other fire rated material flashing, then sealed with fire rated caulk or sealant.

Plumbing Vent Stacks

Seal any gaps around the pipe with an expanding foam sealant.

Utility

Before you put your caulk and foam away, seal around any utility penetrations that pass to the outside (including dryer vents or other ductwork, dog fence and other wiring, and electrical, phone, gas, cable or water utility related pipes).

Seal and Insulate Ductwork

If you have a forced air heating system, it pays to seek out leaks in both the supply and return ducts in attics and crawl spaces. Make sure all the pieces are properly connected. With the furnace fan operating, run your hand over the duct seams/joints to feel for air leaks. Holes in supply ducts will blow air out of the system, and gaps in return ducts will suck air into the system. Plug any leaks you find with foil duct tape (not gray Duct Tape), or better yet, use water-based mastic coupled with glass fiber mesh tape. Once the leaks are fixed, insulate ducts located in unheated areas with foil- faced glass fiber duct insulation. Just wrap the insulation around the duct and secure it into place.

Quick Fixes

Here is a short list of things that you can do on a dull Saturday that will have a great impact on the energy efficiency of your home.

  • Weatherstrip and insulate attic doors, access panels or pull-down stairs
  • Seal (using an appropriate expanding foam) around plumbing vent stacks
  • Caulk or foam along sill plate, rim joist and rim joist cavities

Best Handled by Professionals

Hire a professional to:

  • Replace, augment or install insulation in hard to reach places (such as behind kneewalls or above attic ceiling). A pro will be able to tell you about alternatives and the cost of each.
  • Repair and seal the chimney exterior.
  • Insulate behind soffits, bulkheads and dropped ceilings.
  • Install boxes over recessed lighting fixtures.
  • Install rigid foam under attic floor boards and seal it in with foam or caulk.

Reducing Wasted Energy Around Your Home

Simple Guide to Understand What is Wasted Energy and How to Save

There is so much energy-related information available on the Internet it gets confusing. Lists, checklists, How To guides, Do It Yourself lists and videos, energy websites, manufacturer sites, and blogs ad nauseam.

In an effort to keep it simple for Arlington, Fort Worth and Dallas area homeowners, here is a concise, at-a-glance list of What is Wasted Energy and How to Save Energy organized by by subjects. It’s cause-and-effect, yin-and-yang, to help you conserve energy, save money, and avoid costly service and repair visits for your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment.

Lighting

What is Wasted Energy?

  • Incandescent or halogen light bulbs.
  • Lights left on.

How to Save Energy

  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs or LEDs
  • a bit more expensive but readily available at home improvement centers, hardware stores, and retail stores throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas.
  • Turn off lights!
  • Install smart technology in high traffic rooms that will turn on/off lights automatically. If you don’t want to mess with home automation, call a specialty company in the Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas area for a service tech and/or salesman to visit the home for an assessment and quotation.
  • Install outdoor lighting with motion sensors or timers.

Water Heating & Piping

What is Wasted Energy?

  • Un-insulated water heaters and pipes.

How to Save Energy

  • Upgrade or install insulation. It’s a low-cost, easy DIY project that will not necessitate a service call from a local HVAC and/or plumbing company.

Water Heater Temperature Setting

What is Wasted Energy?

  • Thermostat set to 125 degrees to 140 degrees.

How to Save Energy

  • Set your water heater to 120 degrees. You can do this; if you prefer not to mess with it, have an HVAC or plumbing service tech make the adjustment for you during a winter or summer equipment check-up.
  • Take quicker warm/hot showers!

Electronics and Small Appliances

What is Wasted Energy?

  • Left on when not in use.
  • Electronics and small appliances draw power in a “sleep” state, known as “phantom” power or “standby”, which actually adds up by device, over time, and costs you money. Fractions of pennies add up to pennies add up to . . . you get the idea. Think about the number of these devices in your home
  • DVRs, cable boxes, TVs, computers and monitors, cordless phones and answering machines, motion sensors, among many more. There are all sorts of phantom power devices, gauges, and knick-nacks available at Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas retail stores. HVAC service and repair companies can also recommend products for you to better understand and manage phantom power in the home.

How to Save Energy

  • Plug all appliances and small electronics into power strips that are conveniently located so you can turn off with one button when not in use. Power strips completely shut off power use, eliminating “phantom” power.

Heating and Cooling Equipment

What is Wasted Energy?

  • HVAC systems that are older than 12 years.
  • HVAC systems that are not serviced for a few years. These can develop undetected inefficiencies that, if left unattended, can worsen over time.

How to Save Energy

  • Replace the aging units with new HVAC equipment; call a service and repair company in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas and surrounding cities to understand your options, needs, and to do the installation.
  • Install a programmable or smart thermostat and actively use it control the temperature during the day.
  • Make sure the air conditioner has the proper amount of refrigerant or there are no slow leaks; this can be achieved easily with winter and summer system checkups by your HVAC service company.

Forced Air Furnace

What is Wasted Energy?

  • Dirty, clogged air filters on the air intake.
  • Not changing air filters on a regular basis.

How to Save Energy

  • Replace or clean air intake filters every month or two during high use seasons, like in the 100-degree summers in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas.
  • If not every month or two, follow manufactuer recommendation — every quarter, twice a year, annually.

Electrical Outlets, Windows and Frames, Baseboards, Doors, Attic Hatch, Wall/Window Mounted AC Units

What is Wasted Energy?

  • Air leaks from gaps in deteriorating exterior caulk or weatherstripping; the caulk cracks or shrivels from the building materials.

How to Save Energy

  • Apply new caulking, seal, or weatherstripping — readily available at home improvement, hardware, and retail stores in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas stores.

Home Exterior

What is Wasted Energy?

  • Cracks and holes in the mortar, foundation, and siding.

How to Save Energy

  • Seal effectively with mortar or caulking to prevent any heat loss. – If there are significant cracks or holes, you may want to call a local builder or contractor for a consultation.

Attic Floor

What is Wasted Energy?

  • Poorly insulated floors with gaps.
  • Thin, aging insulation.
  • Insulation that’s been compromised by water leaks.
  • Recessed lighting fixtures and have not been properly sealed.

How to Save Energy

  • Upgrade insulation.
  • Add weatherstripping to attic hatch.
  • Install an attic hatch cover.

Attic Vents

What is Wasted Energy?

  • Vent and interior air flow is blocked by mounding, clumping, or poorly distributed insulation.

How to Save Energy

  • Clear vents of obstructing insulation

Exterior Corners of the Home, Where Siding and Chimneys Meet; Where the Foundation Meets Siding

What is Wasted Energy?

  • Air flows into the home due to cracks and holes in the mortar, foundation, or siding.

How to Save Energy

  • Apply new mortar, sealer or siding to seal the leak.

Assessing Energy Efficiency

The Environmental Protection Agency offers an Energy Yardstick that provides a simple asessment of your home’s annual energy use and compares it to similar homes. All you need to do is answer a few basic questions. – Your zip code. – Your homes square footage. – Number of full-time residents living in the home. – A list of all the different fuels used (electricity, natural gas, and so on). – The home’s last 12 months of utilty bills (some utility companies provide a 12 month summary on a bill or through a Green Button file, which is a secure download.

Effects of Air Leaks in Your Arlington Home

Air sealing your Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas-area home is often thought of as a fall or winter activity — keep the cold air outside, the warm air inside.

But sealing your home in the spring and summer is just as important. Yes, you want to keep the cool air inside, the hot and muggy air outside but you also want to:

  • keep mold and mildew at bay
  • improve your defense against allergens
  • keep invading pests out
  • protect your home’s structural integrity, which can be compromised by mold, mildew, pests, and a poorly sealed home in the summer.

In this post we take a closer look at sealing your Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas home from a spring and summer perspective.

Background

Estimates vary, but homes burn through an amazing 21 percent of the energy used in the United States. Much of that energy is used to cool or heat homes as well as backyards and front porches due to leaks and holes in the building envelope.

If you do some serious work sealing cracks and holes to your home it’s possible you could save up to $600 in annual energy costs and possibly reduce wear and tear on your air conditioner and heater, cutting down on the number of service or repair visits to the home.

Simply sealing air leaks, for example, can provide greater savings than replacing windows because the cost of materials and installation is much lower.

If you are unsure of your home’s energy envelope, call a service or repair contractor in Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas and schedule a checkup. While a service call is not as thorough as a complete energy audit, a simple visual inspection can provide a basic baseline and begin to educate you on the relationship between heating and cooling, air conditioners and furnaces, and your home’s unique environment.

Air Flow Dynamics

In the winter warm air wants out.

In the summer hot, muggy air wants in.

It’s a silent, invisible exodus through leaky doors, leaky windows, and poorly sealed interior and exterior walls, to name a few culprits. You may think a slight leak is no big deal but exponentially, when added up throughout the home, these losses can become significant and contribute to higher monthly energy bills.

If you’ve had a simple visual inspection during a fall or spring service checkup and want to have a deeper understanding of your home’s energy performance, schedule a formal energy audit with your HVAC service contractor or call an energy specialist in the Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas area. These can cost a few hundred dollars or more, depending on the testing and analysis done at your house, but it’s worth it to know where the leaks are, how much heating or cooling your losing, and what the options are to fix.

Before you call your service contractor or call and energy auditor, let’s understand the air flow in your home and what it means as we’re exerting spring and summer here in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas.

Winter Airflow Dynamics

In the winter homes are impacted by the chimney (or stack) effect.

Cold air infiltrates the home through leaks and cracks in the foundation and walls. Basements are the worst for leaks, but these are not as common in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas.
The cold air rises and works its way up into the attic through structural defects, holes in your ceiling, recessed lighting, leaky duct work, the furnace flue, the plumbing stack, a poorly insulated attic floor, or improperly sealed areas in general.

In some homes, even those without chimneys, the chimney effect is so pronounced it’s like leaving the front door open during the winter.

The chimney effect is the most common air leakage contributor, but there are three other culprits you should be aware of — wind pressure, chimney/exhaust pressure, and duct pressure.

  • Wind pressure. Wind blowing against an exterior wall can push cold air into your home on the prevailing side and create negative pressure on the leeward side. The wind pushes air through holes and cracks in the windward wall, then exits through the leeward wall. The result is a cold and drafty home.
  • Chimney/exhaust pressure. This is created by active ventilation such as exhaust fans and clothes dryers. These fans can be so efficient at removing air that “replacement” air is drawn through holes or cracks in exterior walls or even down your chimney, creating a potentially dangerous condition known as backdrafting.
  • Duct pressure. In homes with forced air heating systems, the furnace blows heated air into the living areas and is resupplied with air through a system of return ducts. If the return ducts system is leaky to the extent that the flow of air back to the furnace is restricted, it may double or triple air leakage through exterior walls compared to not using the furnace at all. It is essential to seal as many sources of duct leaks and possible to keep energy costs low.

If you are uncertain about your home’s duct work, a service tech from your HVAC contractor can provide a quick inspection during a semi-annual system checkup. Like a formal energy audit, duct specialists can also conduct a variety of tests to find leaks and inefficiencies.

Summer Airflow Dynamics

In an air conditioned house in warm weather the process is reversed.

Cool air is denser than warm air, so it sinks as warm air rises. As you cool the air in your house, it gradually sinks through air leaks and is replaced by the warm air from the attic, which is pulled in through air leaks in the thermal envelope separating the attic from the top floor.

Another major air leak culprit in an air conditioned house is the duct system that distributes cooled air. Duct leaks are often hard to find, which is why it’s best to have your service contractor or an energy or ductwork specialist conduct an audit to pinpoint and address leaky ducts. This could save you up to 25 percent on air conditioning costs.

And don’t forget there can be substantial air leakage around windows and doors, along baseboards, through electrical outlets.

Benefits of Summer Sealing

Sealing your home with an eye toward summer air flow dynamics . . .

  • increases occupant comfort
  • saves energy (and saves money)
  • improves indoor air quality, since moisture carries biological contaminants such as mold
  • improves indoor air quality by keeping harmful chemicals from building materials like particle boards and glues at bay
  • keeps bugs, pests, and assorted other creatures out of the home, something homeowners don’t have to worry about as much in the winter
  • prevents moisture infiltration, which can compromise insulation, building decomposition, wood warping, metal decomposition, and mold.