How to Save Money on Heating and Cooling

energy cost savingIn today’s world, just about everything is more convenient and accessible due to the advancement of technology. Modern technology simplifies life in so many ways and the rise in infrared technologies is no different. Technologies such as infrared thermometers and thermal imaging cameras are becoming increasingly prevalent within the home and at work. Their main benefit (aside from using the laser as a toy for your cat to chase) is that they efficiently diagnose problems. In doing so, they can save people…MONEY!!!

Professional users of infrared thermometers and thermal imaging cameras regularly use these diagnostic instruments in order to detect problems with equipment and machinery before they fail, saving both money and time.

Regardless of the original purpose in buying an infrared thermometer, or thermal imaging camera, one prime way of being able to put them to use and save a lot of money is within the family home. By doing a simple walk-through energy audit every homeowner will be pleasantly surprised at just how much money can be saved for very little effort.

Doing The Sums

Experts estimate that heat loss can account for up to 50% of total energy consumption in a typical family home. Of the entire heat loss from a home, it is suggested that around a third is lost through window panes, leaving two-thirds originating from:

  • infiltration/air-leakage
  • window and door seals
  • floors
  • walls
  • ceilings

save money on heatingSimilar problems arise during the summer months when air-conditioning units are in use to cool the home and drafts leak the cool air outside while the warm air infiltrates inside.

With the average expenditure for heating during winter at $952 and the average home air-conditioner system costing $280 per year to run, let’s be conservative and round the total energy costs for a typical home each year down to $1,200.

This equates to $400 per year of a household’s annual energy consumption costs that could be saved by identifying drafts and undertaking some simple maintenance to stop air leakages and better insulate the family home. That’s a lot of money that could be saved each and every year.

Related: Best Temperature Guns Under $30

Shoot First, Save Money Later

An energy audit allows homeowners to understand where they are using energy at home and where savings can be made. Fortunately, making your home more energy efficient is not overly difficult. The difficulty lies however with being able to identify those invisible leaks around the home in the first place. Finding exactly where the cold air is finding its way into the home during winter and the cool air-conditioned air is lost outside during the summer is the key.

These are often impossible to detect by viewing or by touch alone and this is where an infrared thermometer, or thermal infrared camera, can play an important role. They allow homeowners to pinpoint drafts and cold spots in your home where insulation may not be at its optimum to retain heat or cold air inside the home.

Pinpointing Drafts

Air infiltration or exfiltration around doors, windows and other areas is a major area of concern. By looking for changes in temperatures of more than a few degrees along doors, windows and other areas, it is easy to determine where air is leaking out.

If using an infrared thermometer, moving it around a window frame to see if there are any changes in temperature of more than a few degrees is a great place to start. Door seals, or other areas where plumbing, electrical or other services penetrate the home are other common culprits for where air is leaking between heating and unheated spaces.

Don’t forget to investigate electrical outlets, light switches and fan vents as well, as these are a common source of hidden drafts.

The important things to remember when using an infrared thermometer for these types of tasks are:

  1. Distance-to-spot ratio – this ratio is the size of the area to be measured as it relates to distance. In other words, the target object being measured will become larger as the distance between it and the thermometer increases. As a general rule, the shorter the distance between the user and the object being measured, the more accurate temperature measurement that will be obtained.
  2. Emissivity – For those infrared thermometers with fixed emissivity, it is crucial that you take into account the surface type you are measuring from in order to obtain an accurate temperature reading. Reflective or shiny surfaces are unlikely to be suitable to gauge an accurate measurement. For those unfamiliar with emissivity, a detailed explanation can be found here.

For those homeowners with a thermal imaging camera, the process of identifying leaks is similar. Take images of the relevant areas with the camera to ascertain variable temperatures. Most units comes with a feature which allow for the recording of the hottest or coldest temperature in any particular scene which is ideal for this type of application.

Once any drafts have been pinpointed, the next step is to simply fill in the gaps. Caulk, sealant or expanding urethane foam (from a can) are ideal for smaller gaps. For larger holes, plugs can be created from a piece of drywall and once pushed into place, seal the edge with urethane foam. New outlet covers can usually address any issues with electrical outlets or light switches with a minimum of fuss. For gaps underneath doors, door sweeps are an inexpensive solution while for windows, self-adhesive foam strips are easy to install.

Identifying Cold Spots / Insulation Deficiencies

home insulationInsulation reduces the rate in which heat is transferred from the home and in turn reduces the amount of heating that is required in the winter (and air-conditioning in the summer). Insulation increases the surface temperatures on interior walls during cold weather and reduces the risk of condensation and increased humidity which can result in mold growth. Recommended levels of insulation have been calculated for all areas of the United States depending on climate and it is worth checking to see if the family home has adequate coverage.

There are a number of ways to determine if a home has adequate levels of insulation. The simplest way is to use an infrared thermometer or thermal imaging camera to take temperature measurements across an insulated wall, ceiling or floor and those areas where there are significant decreases in temperature will generally indicate where there is a deficiency in insulation. While this method is simple, the difficulty lies in knowing the existing level of insulation within the home in the first place.

A slightly more labor intensive way to calculate levels of insulation within the home more accurately can be achieved by following these steps:

Step 1

The first step is to determine the air temperature outside. This can be obtained by taking an infrared thermometer, or infrared camera, outdoors and take the temperature of a number of different objects and then average those readings. This is the outside air temperature reading.

Step 2

Once the outside temperature has been obtained, return inside the home and determine the temperature of an interior wall. It is important that the interior wall is one which does not back onto the outside of the home. Both sides of the wall should be inside the home. As the name would suggest, this is the interior wall temperature.

Step 3

The next step is to ascertain the temperature of an exterior wall. This is a wall inside the home where one side of the wall faces outside. This is the exterior wall temperature.

Step 4

It is then necessary to subtract the difference between the interior wall temperature (I) and the exterior wall temperature (E). (I) – (E) = difference between interior and exterior.

Step 5

The final step in the process is to use the outside air temperature figure with the difference in interior and exterior temperatures from step 4 to find the estimated R-value in the table below.

R-value

For example, if the difference between the interior wall and exterior wall is 6°F and the outside air temperature is -20°F, the estimate of the level of insulation in that wall is R-10.

Depending on where the home is located, if the R-value is below the recommended levels (as provided in the link above), then upgrading the insulation in that particular area is recommended.

Other Ways To Slash Your Monthly Power Bill

It’s important to remember that it’s not only the loss of heat around the home which when fixed can save owners money, but faulty or inefficient appliances and lights and electrical equipment left on standby can also result in increased electricity usage around the home. An infrared thermometer or thermal camera can often assist in diagnosing faulty or inefficient appliance such as HVAC systems.

Blinds and drapes to cover windows are also an essential ingredient in ensuring that the heat stays in during winter and remains out during summer. Alternatively, single-pane glass replaced with double-pane glass will cut a significant percentage from a household’s heating or cooling bills.

Show Me The Money

Every homeowner can save a significant amount of money by following all, or just a few, of the simple steps mentioned above. And it’s all courtesy of the trusty infrared diagnostic tools which themselves are readily available. An infrared thermometer or thermal imaging camera can make extremely quick work in identifying energy inefficiencies within the home and pay for themselves many times over with the savings they can create. Try it, you won’t regret it.

Sources:

http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/tips-insulation

http://www.oeic.us/articles/your_home/calculate_and_measure_r_values

http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/steo/tables/pdf/wf-table.pdf

http://www.carbonrally.com/challenges/22-air-conditioner-costs

http://www.flir.com.au/instruments/building/display/?id=49418

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