How To Save Money (On Your Home Heating Bill)?

by Erik North on October 28, 2011

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I know … ‘How to save money’…how broad a question is that?

When having conversations with customers, it’s always more fruitful when our focus is more wide ranging. When discussing how to save money in your home, why discuss just the heating system or insulation?

To best understand how to save money, you need an understanding of all the ways you are losing money. If you focus on just one or two areas, you’ll miss opportunities to save energy in others.

Important note:
Alright…now that I’ve broadened the scope of the conversation, I’m here to say, ignore what I just said. ‘How to save money’ is just too broad. I’m only looking at heating/cooling related energy issues today. Obviously, there’s electric efficiency, water conservation, material reuse and recycling, how green and available various heating fuel sources are, electricity sources, etc etc etc. If I tried to address everything this would be a 900,000 word book, not a 900 word post. So just heating and cooling for today.

How To Save Money – The Four Ways Your House Loses Heat

This may seem incredibly obvious but loads of homeowner don’t have a clear sense of where the heat/energy is going.

There are four general ways your home loses heat and energy and three ways it gains it. The four heat/energy losses are:

  • Solid surface heat loss. This is your thermal barrier. It is heat loss through walls, windows, your attic, the foundation walls…any solid surface in your home which heat can radiate through.
  • Air transported energy loss. This is air leakage, moving conditioned air through cracks, holes and seams everywhere in the building frame.
  • Heating system efficiency is another source. Your heating system consumes a portion of the energy within the fuel source during combustion. If your boiler is 80% efficient, 20% of the BTU content of the fuel is being lost during combustion. For example, flue gases from a furnace or boiler are typically from 350 F to 450 F. The elevated temperature of the flue gases is essential to proper combustion but doesn’t contribute to heating the house.
  • And finally, heating distribution losses. This is the losses from when the heating medium (water, air) leaves the boiler/furnace and when it returns. For example, periodically duct work is run through the attic space. Running outside the thermal envelope can cause elevated heat loss.
  • Those are your sources of energy losses in the house (at least the heating related ones).

    How To Save Money – Three Ways Your House Gains Heat

    Your house (or any building) gains heat in a few ways. Most obvious is the heating system. This is your boiler/furnace, designed to maintain a comfortable indoor temp. External heat gain (aka that giant ball of incandescent gas in the sky) is the solar radiation beaming through your window onto your dozing slumpy pug.

    Slumpy pug and puggle

    So Sleepy...So Slumpy

    The smallest but still appreciable source of gain is internal heat gain. This is the heat radiating from sources inside the building.

    The heating system, hot water pipes, people, even pets radiate heat which adds to the warmth inside a home. The pug pictured above .. adorable pet, life companion, internal heat source!

    Important note 2:
    We’ve been talking mostly about heating but everything here is applicable to cooling in hot climates. For example, external heat gain from the sun as anyone visiting Atlanta in June can tell you is huge. Reducing solar radiation heat gain can ease the cooling load just like allowing it in a cold climate can reduce heating loads.

    So…How To Save Money?

    Saving energy in a building is (excluding all those peripheral items we’re ignoring) all about these seven items. To reduce your energy use and save money, change one of those things:

  • Solid surface heat loss -> Add insulation
  • Air transported energy loss -> Reduce air leaks
  • Heating system efficiency -> Improve the efficiency (tune-ups, smaller output nozzle, replacement)
  • Heating distribution losses -> Improve the distribution insulation and seal duct leaks
  • Heating system output -> Reduce the output (that’d be turning down the thermostat)
  • Solar heat gain -> Let the sun in! Open your south facing shades.
  • Internal heat gain -> Uhh, buy more pets? (OK, this one isn’t so easy to improve)
  • Improve one of these items and you will save money. Simple.

    Adding insulation (improving R-value) will reduce solid surface heat movement. Again this is equally applicable in the South, as more insulation keeps the heat out easing the cooling load for your air conditioner. Airsealing to reduce air transported heat loss (or air infiltration) is a very cost effective approach.

    But it can be complex; for example suppose you replace a big oil boiler with an ultra efficient gas one. The better efficiency is awesome but the oil system radiated tons of heat. It was almost like having a wood stove. The new system? It’s so efficient, all of the fuel energy is burned, none of it radiates into the combustion zone.

    Understanding how the energy moves can help you make smarter decisions about your home. Think carefully about each item and how you can improve them. Once you have a firm grasp on how your house gains and loses energy, you’ll gain an better idea how to save energy in your home (and if I haven’t mentioned it enough…how to save money).

    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    GWN November 20, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    turn the heat off, or call for an energy audit !


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