Changing your habits can save money on energy bills*

*Your mileage may vary.

A recent study by researchers at the Australian National University showed that behavior has the potential to save 10%-25% on residential energy costs. Saving 10%-25% on energy costs sounds good, especially since the average Massachusetts household spends more than $2,500 on energy costs each year. That means optimizing your energy consumption could reduce your energy bills by $250-$625 per year.

Now, for the bad news. Another equally relevant Israeli study showed that providing people with a lot of personalized energy consumption data had no positive effect on their behavior.

At all.

In fact, study participants who had been given very detailed information about their energy consumption actually used more energy than those who just received general tips on how to reduce their utility bills. Those with the most information about their specific energy habits could have easily spotted costly consumption behaviors. Yet, the exact opposite outcome occurred, even after adjusting for external factors like weather changes and weather extremes.

It’s easy to focus on the “save money on energy bills” part of the headline here (especially when $625 is at stake), but it is harder to succeed at the “changing your habits” stuff. So, if knowledge can’t help you when it comes to changing your energy consumption patterns, is there a strategy that can work?

How to lower your energy bills

“Automating” energy-saving habits is one way to change your actual energy consumption. That would include using a programmable thermostat- which won’t forget to turn the heat or A/C down. Motion-sensing light switches and timers also ensure that the lights get turned off when they’re not in use. Today, lighting won’t account for much of your home’s electric bill, as long as you have switched to LED bulbs. (If you haven’t, switch!)

Another major behavior change involves your buying habits. When you have to replace an appliance, look for EnergyStar-compliant models. Likewise, using WaterSense-compliant faucets, showerheads and appliances can reduce your water consumption significantly. These appliances and fixtures will cost more up-front, but they will quickly repay you in the form of lowered operating costs. You may also need to reconsider replacing appliances that still work well, but consume a lot of energy. This situation can happen easily with freezers and refrigerators. By replacing energy-hogging major appliances even though they may still work, you can reduce your utility bill significantly.

Take the time to seal the drafts and gaps in your home’s “thermal envelope.” Improperly insulated and sealed gaps can leak a lot of air into (and out of) your home. Closing these gaps will reduce your winter heating bill and your summer cooling bill.

Consider using fans to cool your home at night. Typically, the temperature drops after the sun sets. Bringing naturally cooled air into your home with fans can reduce the temperature and save money. But there’s a big caveat here. The humidity is a major factor. If the humidity is high, you’re better off leaving cool-but-wet air outside. You’ll ultimately spend less to cool the drier air that’s already in your home.

Your heating and cooling equipment consume most of your energy

Finally, take the time to understand how much your heating and cooling systems actually cost to operate. It’s very tempting to let an older, less efficient system run. A new, high efficiency replacement could pay for itself in just a few years through sharply reduced operating costs. A newer, high-efficiency system can help you lock in savings, while your older less efficient model locks in your expenses.

If you’d like more information about reducing your heating and cooling costs, give us a call at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to show you how you can take advantage of rebates and tax incentives to lower your energy consumption affordably.

Photo Credit: Nan Palmero, via Flickr

Keeping heat in when the heat is on

There’s no doubt that unusually cold winter temperatures are hard on heating systems. If your heating system is properly maintained, however, it should be able to manage colder temperatures without too much trouble. Nonetheless, keeping heat in your home can ease the burden on your furnace and make your home more comfortable.

Tips for keeping your heat in during super-cold weather

Don’t dial down at night. If you normally set your thermostat to 62°F, consider bumping it up to 64°F or even 66°F at night. A healthy furnace should be able to manage a drop in the mercury. At the same time, maintaining a higher temperature can prevent the unheated portions of your home from freezing overnight. If some pipes in your home are vulnerable to freezing, allow a trickle of water to run from the faucet. Moving water can help prevent freezing, and can relieve pressure in a freezing pipe.

Change your furnace filter. Keep your furnace happy by making sure it can breathe! Changing the furnace filter regularly can help ensure proper air flow to your heating system. In the fall, before heating season begins, have your furnace checked by a heating and cooling professional. Regular checkups can help ensure that you avoid unexpected breakdowns during the winter.

Seal drafts. Air leaks and drafts can make your home feel miserable. In addition to letting heated air escape, leaks can allow moisture in. The moisture level in your home has a lot of impact on your comfort level. Maintaining a proper humidity level can make your home feel warmer even when your thermostat turned down. Sealing drafts may not be a mid-winter task, but cold temperatures will sure help you find them! Windows and doors are likely leakers, especially if they’re older. You may also find generous gaps between your sill plate and the foundation. You may not use your basement for much, but that’s probably where your plumbing is! Frigid air slipping in at the sill plate can freeze your pipes, even when the heat is turned up. You can purchase spray foam insulation from a local home improvement store. It’s inexpensive and will seal these little spaces well.

Consider adding storm doors. If your home doesn’t have storm doors, consider adding them. Storm doors can create a little air gap between the outside and the inside. This little space can cut down on air leaks at the door.

Insulate! Insulation is one of the best ways to help your home retain heat. Many people don’t realize this, but insulation does break down over time. If you haven’t touched your insulation, an insulation professional can evaluate it for you. In many cases, you can simply add insulation to what already exists. If your insulation has been damaged by water or animals, you’ll want to remove and replace it. Replacing or adding insulation may not be a DIY job. Old insulation may have asbestos, formaldehyde or other unpleasantries hidden inside. Insulation that’s been damaged by animals may also be saturated with waste. A side benefit of contracting this work is that they’ll get the vapor barrier correct! Improper insulation work can lead to mold and mildew accumulation in your home.

Consider replacing your furnace. Mid winter probably isn’t the time to consider a voluntary furnace replacement. That being said, new high-efficiency furnaces can save a lot on operating costs. The added reliability of a new furnace also can give you peace of mind. If your current furnace was on the job in 1992, it’s probably time to consider a change. Furnaces older than this are not efficient at all. You can recover the cost of installing a new furnace through reduced operating costs in just a few years.

If you’d like more information about energy efficiency, or furnace repair or replacement, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to discuss your options.

Photo Credit: David Lewis, via Flickr

The Lowdown on Wi-Fi Thermostats

If you’re looking to lower your utility costs, there are a lot of things you can do. One place to start is at the thermostat. While you can save money in the winter by turning down the heat, some people are turning to high-tech thermostats to save some cold, hard cash.

Smart thermostats can help you reduce utility costs without reducing comfort. You can now find Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats in a wide price range. If this is the direction you want to go in, you’re sure to find a lot of options.

Ecobee Wi-Fi Thermostat

Ecobee currently offers several Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats to help control your utility costs. The Ecobee 4 is the company’s top-of-the-line model. It features a built in Amazon Alexa device and remote temperature sensors to help monitor cold spots in your home. The built in Alexa service means that you can control the temperature with voice commands, but you can also make a grocery list, update your calendar and get whatever other information you’re looking for. The Ecobee 4 is also compatible with Google Home devices. It can also control humidifiers, dehumidifiers and other heating and cooling support equipment

The Ecobee 4 also comes with a remote temperature sensor, but you can add more to your setup. The sensor does more than track temperature. It also monitors humidity, occupancy and proximity. That means you can tell the thermostat to prioritize heating and cooling for the occupied rooms in your home.

The Ecobee 4 has a list price of $249 and comes with a single remote sensor. A two-pack of remote sensors is an additional $80. You can also control this device with your smartphone or an Apple Watch. In addition, MassSave is currently offering a $125 rebate on Ecobee thermostats, which you can self-install or hire a contractor to do it for you. (Limit 3.) If having a built-in Alexa is overkill for you, the rebate-eligible Ecobee 3 ($169) is almost identical on functions but doesn’t have an integrated Alexa device.

Nest Wi-Fi Thermostat

The Nest thermostat has been on the market for a while and is widely available. Most consumers recognize it as the “learning” thermostat. The device learns what your schedule is and adjusts your home’s temperature accordingly. For example, the thermostat can communicate with your smartphone to determine when you’ve left the house. (Creepy, no?)

As one of the first players in this market space, the Nest has staked its claim on market share and is backed by Google. (It also works with Alexa.) As with other Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats, the Nest doesn’t support all heating and cooling equipment. It’s important to know up-front whether you’re going to experience compatibility issues. The top-of-the-line “Learning Thermostat” can set you back about $250. You can also get a pared down Nest Thermostat E for $169. Like the Ecobee models, the Nest models can also support remote temperature sensors to provide better control over your living space. The Nest App for your smartphone allows you to control either device remotely. The Nest Learning Thermostat will provide additional information on the display, including time, current room temperature and weather information. The Nest E is a budget version so it doesn’t have this display feature.

Honeywell Wi-Fi Thermostat

If spending a lot on a Wi-Fi thermostat isn’t high on your list of things to do, consider a thermostat from Honeywell. The low-end Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostats look more like the traditional programmable thermostats, but they cost about $100 less than their high-end cousins. Honeywell also makes contemporary Wi-Fi thermostats with a touchscreen design, but these models come with a price tag that’s similar to the Ecobee and Nest models. The Honeywell 7-day programmable thermostat comes with a smartphone app that’s compatible with Android and iOS phones. It also allows access from a computer.

Using a programmable thermostat – whether it’s Wi-Fi enabled or not – will help you save money on heating and cooling costs. Programmable thermostats eliminate the need to remember to “dial down” when you’re away. They also help warm up your home before you arrive. With a Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat, you can also adjust your home’s temperature if your plans – or the weather – unexpectedly change.

If you’d like more information about programmable thermostats, Wi-Fi thermostat or you would like professional installation services, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to help!

Photo Credit: PickMy.Tech, via Flickr