December 28, 2009

Easy Resolutions to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient

By James Stevenson, Extension Specialist, Urban Sustainability, Pinellas County Extension

Part I: HVAC Systems

Are you looking forward to saving money in 2010? Are you ready to finally make those changes that will make your home more energy efficient? UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension would like to help. In 2010 we will be offering classes and workshops on energy efficiency, alternative energy and the incentives that are available to help you achieve your goal. In the mean time, here are some easy and affordable steps you can take to begin streamlining your home into an energy-efficient one.

According to the University of Florida, the average home devotes 40% or more of its monthly energy towards the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system. In Pinellas, this figure may be slightly higher, as many of our homes are older and less energy-efficient than homes built in the 1980s and later. As for the remaining 60% of your bill, approximately 20% goes to lighting, 15% for heating water, and about 10% is attributed to refrigeration. That leaves 15% for other appliances, TVs, computers, and energy you don’t even get to use. This is “phantom energy” and a great target for savings; but more on this later.

As the biggest energy consumer, it is important to make sure the HVAC system is running as smoothly and efficiently as possible. The cheapest and easiest way to reduce the HVAC system’s power-draw is to adjust the thermostat. Setting the thermostat to 76ºF in summer and 68ºF in winter will show significant savings, and by using ceiling fans in summer, the indoor temperature will feel like 72ºF. It is important to note, however, that ceiling fans only make a difference if you are in the room with the fan. It is the breeze we feel on our skin that keeps us cooler; therefore it is not recommended to run ceiling fans when the home is unoccupied. Set fans to run clockwise in winter, to draw heated air back down into the room, and counter-clockwise in summer for that cooling breeze.

Making sure the air filter is kept clean is another easy way to keep the HVAC system running smoothly. Make a note on your calendar to check them once a month, and be sure to replace them as needed.

A low-cost modification that can help you achieve savings is in the form of a programmable thermostat. These devices are easy to install, and allow you to set the times and temperatures in your home. Make sure to compare several models, choose an EnergyStar® rated model, and be sure to select a thermostat that will be easy for you to use. There are three basic types of these thermostats, the 7-day model that allows for the greatest flexibility (good for families with children with all sorts of schedules,) a 5 + 2 model that uses one set schedule for the week and one for the weekend (good for people who work away from home during the week,) and a 5+1+1 model that allows for one schedule during the week and a flexible schedule on the weekend. Enlist the help of a qualified HVAC contractor to install this device if you are uncomfortable with the small amount of wiring that is involved. Here is the EnergyStar® recommended setting:

Programmable Thermostat Setpoint Times & Temperatures
SettingTimeSetpoint Temperature (Heat)Setpoint Temperature (Cool)
Wake6:00 a.m.≤ 70° F

≥ 78° F


8:00 a.m.

Setback at least 8° F

Setup at least 7° F


6:00 p.m.

≤ 70° F

≥ 78° F


10:00 p.m.

Setback at least 8° F

Setup at least 4° F

(Source: Note: The national standard of a 78ºF may show the most savings, but studies have shown that mold may begin to grow at temperatures above 76ºF. See Mold Happens and Basic Mold Prevention for more information.

It would be good to mention here, the program run by our local energy provider, Progress Energy Florida, called the Home Energy Check. This is a free service offered by Progress, and can be completed online, over the phone or as a visit paid to your home by a qualified inspector. Essentially, this head-to-toe evaluation of your home’s energy efficiency will give you a clear idea of where changes will be most effective. After completing a Home Energy Check, you will qualify for Progress Energy’s many financial incentives for increasing your home’s energy efficiency. We will discuss incentives, including local, state and federal more in-depth in a future article.

Finally, the ultimate investment towards an efficient HVAC system is an upgrade to a newer, more efficient, EnergyStar® model. If you have had a Home Energy Check, Progress will pay up to $150 to replace a less-efficient heat pump and up to $350 to replace strip heat in your home. In addition, if you install an efficient heat pump AND participate in other Progress programs (the Duct Check Program or the Insulation Check Program) you will receive an additional credit on your electric bill.

We look forward to bringing you more on energy efficiency, incentives and the latest information on alternative energy in 2010. On February 20 we will be hosting Doug Gregory, UF/IFAS Faculty from Monroe County, who will be discussing the technicalities of installing solar power in the home. Join us for Solar Power in the Sunshine State from 10:00-12:00. Register online from our home page.

Energy Efficient Homes: Easy Steps to Improving Your Home’s Energy Efficiency -

Energy Efficient Homes: Air Conditioning -

EnergyStar®’s Heat and Cool Efficiently -

Progress Energy’s Home Energy Check -

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