Home energy saving tips when on a budget

This winter have you procrastinated making changes to your home that could save you big bucks?

NBC 25'S Ilse Lujan-Hayes visited Mundy Township's Home Depot for some energy saving tips that could keep the cold out and keep more money in your wallet.

One of the first steps experts recommend is to do a simple home energy check up around your home.

You'd be surprised at how many problems can be corrected by first determining where your house is losing energy.



Expert offers tips to keep homes more energy efficient

With extreme temperatures on the way, home heating companies are getting calls around the clock.

Experts say there are some things you can do on your own to make sure your home is working more efficiently.

Sometimes people have a tough time with air flow, keeping the entire home warm--especially when it gets downright cold--but experts have a few simple tips to help you out.

Bitterly cold temperatures are in the forecast, and while most of us want to hunker down and just keep warm, service techs at Bartholomew Heating and Cooling in Kalamazoo are working 24/7.

"We're also getting a lot of furnace calls for failing furnaces, furnaces that have been working really hard, pushed to the limit in the last month or so," said owner Brad Bartholomew.

He adds that there are a few things you can take care of on your own, to keep your home feeling comfortable.

For instance, your thermostat:

"If you set back 6 degrees, cut it down to 3 degrees maybe overnight or not at all," he said.

Bartholomew says while turning down the temperature overnight is a great energy saving move, most of the time it's not a good idea when battling extreme temperatures.

Another savings point, your registers:

"Just make sure that these registers are in the full open position, and then that way we're not taxing the system," Bartholomew said.

He says it's also important to pull couches and other furniture or items away from registers, to make sure your system is working at full capacity.

Don't forget about the furnace filters as well.

"When the systems are going to be working at their maximum capacity, we want to make sure that the air filters are as clean as possible," Bartholomew said.

Bartholomew says many homes have high-efficiency filters that you only need to change once per season, but adds that's probably not the case this winter, because furnaces are working even harder, and will get plugged up much sooner.

In addition, when it gets this cold, you'll want to turn down humidifiers.

Bartholomew says if you don't, you could get water on your windows.



Simple tips to keep home energy costs down and the cold out

As temperatures fall, our energy costs usually rise.

But as forecasters call for temperatures to take a steep dive over the next few days, there are tips homeowners can follow to keep costs down and the cold out.

"You walk into most homes and the thermostat is right by the front door," said Jay Karwoski, from Consumers Energy. "And if you have cold air leaks into your home. That (cold air) leaking under your door is causing your thermostat to think there are different temperature conditions in your home than there really is."

Karwoski is an energy efficient expert and uses a specialized device to pinpoint trouble spots in a home.

"When you have a comprehensive audit done, you know what's causing you issues in each room of your home," he said. "And the contractor will prioritize work based upon the issues you are experiencing in your home."

In a basement..Karwoski says the fix to make the area energy efficient is simple.

"Some really easy things to do on the furnace is changing your furnace filter," Karwoski said. "Everybody hears about that but it really makes a big difference. When your filter is clogged, air has a harder time flowing through it. Your furnace is working harder to deliver you heat and that ultimately costs you more money." 

And don't forget the hot water pipe wrap.

"It prevents all the heat escaping off the hot water line before it makes it's way up to your shower in morning," he said.

Covering your windows prevents heat from escaping.

"There are window film protectants," Karwoski said. "They are super easy to apply. There is a two-sided tape that goes around the edge of your window. You put the plastic on that, smooth out all the wrinkles with a hair dryer and you almost don't even notice they are there."

If you think a fireplace is going to save you money on your heat bill, think again.

"It might be nice and toasty in the room you are in that has the fire place," Karwoski said. "But the rest of your home, once you go into the other areas, you are going to feel that it is significantly colder and it also causes your furnace to work harder." 

Karwoski says becoming energy efficient can save you a lot of cash this winter 

"Our bill even in harsh winter months is typically no higher than $100.



Renovating or adding an addition to your home in 2015? York ductless mini-splits are a perfect

York® Mini-Split Systems

York® mini-split systems fit more comfort into more places with our space-saving ductless design. They’re the perfect solution for homes without ductwork — and for room additions or remodels — as they eliminate the typical cost and hassle of installing ducts.

Affinity™ Series Mini-Split Systems

Affinity™ Series mini-split systems are all ENERGY STAR® qualifed models that offer at least 15% higher energy efficiency than standard models — and are available in heat pump or air conditioning only models. Learn more about Affinity™ mini-split systems.

LX Series Mini-Split Systems

LX Series mini-split systems are flexible — with heat pump, air conditioning only and multiple split models to fit your needs. Learn more about LX mini-split systems.

Factors to Consider in a Mini-Split System


To help you compare systems, Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rates cooling efficiency and Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) rates heating efficiency — with high numbers indicating high efficiency.
Play Video.

Space Savings

To help save space, a mini-split system uses a smaller outdoor unit — and a compact wall-mounted indoor unit — to fit the needs of a variety of situations and areas.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the difference between a mini-split and a central home comfort system?

A: A central air system circulates air from your living space to an air handler that conditions the air to the desired temperature before returning it to the space. A mini-split circulates refrigerant to a small indoor coil with a fan that conditions only the room where it is located. Some mini-split systems are available that can condition up to five rooms with one outdoor, bringing some of the advantages of central air conditioning without bulky ductwork.

Q: Should I be concerned about mini-split Indoor Air Quality?

A: According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), your exposure to air pollutants can be up to 100 times higher indoors than outdoors. York mini-splits use advanced filtration technology, plus a dehumidification feature on select models, to maintain high indoor air quality.



Getting the Seal and Insulate Job Done – Hiring a Contractor

In our last seal and insulate blog post, ENERGY STAR Product Manager Doug Anderson gave advice on how to identify problems that may be keeping your home from achieving energy efficient comfort during the hot days of summer. Now that those issues have been identified, today’s post shows you how to select a contractor to fix any problems.

Unless you enjoy working in hot, cramped attics, it’s best to just pour yourself a cool drink and call a contractor to properly seal air leaks and add insulation to your attic during the summer.  Insulation contractors have all the equipment and experience to do the job right and do it much quicker than you can. Let them do the hard work. Your job is to find a good contractor.

Shop Around – Selecting a Contractor

As with any home improvement project, you want to make sure you’re getting a good price and that the work will be done right:

–          Check with your electric utility or state energy office to see if they offer incentives for improvements or have pre-screened program contractors. (See or for lists of incentives)

–          Get several estimates from contractors (know the square footage of your attic).

–          Make sure the contractor is licensed and insured in your state.

–          Ask if the crew chief is certified to do insulation work.

–          Ask how the contractor will keep your house clean during the work.

–          Make sure the contractor understands you want attic holes and gaps sealed before any insulation is added. If they do not agree to “seal before insulating,” call another contractor.

Some locations in the U.S. have pre-screened, trained and certified contractors available through the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program.  These programs are run by local utilities or State Energy Offices and are a great place to start looking for contractors to help you with your project.  To find out if a program exists in your area, click here.

Make Sure the Job’s Done Right – What to Look For

When hiring a contractor, make sure that you clearly understand the work they’ll be doing. Don’t hesitate to ask questions before the contractor starts, and stay involved throughout the process. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

–          Contractors should seal air leaks in the attic floor before adding insulation. It’s much easier to seal first to ensure you get the full performance out of your insulation.

–          If you have air ducts in the attic, make sure contractors do not step on or damage them.

–          Burying any ducts on the floor in insulation is OK to do – it can even improve efficiency. Just make sure the ducts are well sealed first.

–          Unless your old insulation is wet, moldy, smelly, or contains animal waste, contractors can just add new insulation on top. It is usually not necessary to remove existing insulation.

–          Most contractors use blown-in, loose fill insulation for attic floors, which is quick and easy to install with the right equipment. Typical materials include fiberglass or cellulose – both contain some recycled content (glass or ground up paper) and are inexpensive and safe. If traditional insulation rolls are used for the attic floor instead, be sure that it is “unfaced” (no foil or paper backing needed) so moisture does not get trapped.

–          Any project estimate should also include installing insulation baffles (rafter vents). This ensures that as you add insulation, soffit vents (which allow outside air to enter the attic) are not blocked and your attic has proper air flow.


Installing a Baffle (or Rafter Vent)

–          If you have older recessed light fixtures (can lights) that stick up into the attic floor, the contractor should cover and seal them before installing insulation using specially designed covers that are available at most home improvement stores.

–          Contractors should also seal the chase (hole) in the attic around the plumbing vent pipe.

–          It’s also important to weather strip and insulate the attic hatch or door. There are several off-the-shelf products available for standard-sized openings.

–          EPA recommends having a professional contractor conduct combustion safety testing before and after any air sealing, as this may affect the drafting of any combustion (oil or gas) appliances in the house.

Finally, tell the contractor that you expect documentation at the end of the job to show how much insulation has been added and what the new insulation R-value is for your attic. When it’s done, take a picture and compare it to the pictures you took earlier to see the improvement. Then, you can sit back and enjoy the rest of your summer knowing your home is more comfortable and efficient.

If you would like more information, including details on doing this work yourself, ENERGY STAR has expertise you need.  Check out our website for details.

About the Author: Doug Anderson is an ENERGY STAR Project Manager and has been with EPA for 14 years. He works on issues related to the home envelope, including insulation products and energy efficient residential windows.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.



Water Heaters

Water heaters are the second highest source of energy usage in the home. ENERGY STAR certified water heaters use 14 to 55 percent less energy than equipment that meets the minimum federal standard. 1

ENERGY STAR certified water heaters are an easy choice for energy savings, performance, and reliability. High efficiency water heaters use less energy than standard models, saving homeowners money on their utility bills. If you need to replace your current water heater, or are planning for an upgrade, consider a model that has earned the ENERGY STAR label. Select a fuel type or water heater technology below to learn more.

Water Heater Fuel Types and Technologies:

Electric Water Heaters

Choosing an ENERGY STAR certified high efficiency electric storage water heater, known as a heat pump water heater (HPWH), instead of a standard model can save $3,000 in electricity costs over the lifetime of the water heater for an average household.
Heat Pump/High Efficiency Storage Water Heater

Gas Water Heaters

A natural gas water heater that has earned the ENERGY STAR label can save between $40 and $140 in gas costs annually, and between $530 and $2,900 in gas costs over its lifetime.

Certified ENERGY STAR natural gas water heaters include gas storage water heaters and gas tankless water heaters. If you need to replace your current gas water heater, ask your installer for an ENERGY STAR certified model today. To learn more about the benefits of these measures and how they work, select one of the technologies below:
Natural Gas Water Heaters: High Efficiency Gas Storage
Natural Gas Water Heaters: Whole Home Tankless

Solar Water Heaters

Using sunshine to heat or preheat your water can cut your annual hot water costs in half. An ENERGY STAR certified solar water heating system can cut your annual hot water costs in half, and is generally designed for use with an electric or gas back-up water heater.
Solar Water Heaters

1. Source: U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) ENERGY STAR Water Heater Market Profile. September 2010.^



Our Affinity and Latitude gas furnaces, at just 33 in. high, lead the industry in efficient gas furnaces for homes

Innovation puts one of the industry’s highest ratings in a smaller 33-inch package.

Introducing a modulating design that feels right at home.

A furnace that fits every customer.

We’ve taken the industry-leading features of our Affinity™ and Latitude™ gas furnaces and reduced them to just 33 inches high. And with a precise modulating rate at .65% increments, our Affinity™ modulating furnaces keep your customers consistently at their ideal temperature. We call it improving on an already big idea. You’ll call it perfect for those tighter applications. We’ve also shortened your installation and maintenance time by using modular door panels to simplify airflow conversion and added a slide out blower motor for easier access.

The York® Affinity™ Series 9C Modulating Gas Furnace received high accolades from Consumers Digest—providing further recognition of superior York comfort. (Consumers Digest, October 2010 – PDF, 3.5 MB)

Impressive features that ease installation, while adding to your profits:

  • Save space in your customer’s place with a compact 33-inch cabinet Satisfy the homeowner’s comfort level with .65% increment firing rate on modulating Affinity™ models
  • Fit your buyer’s budget with 95% and up to 98%* AFUE high-efficiency or 80% AFUE mid-efficiency models
  • Sell the energy savings of ENERGY STAR®: qualification on YP9C and TM9V models
  • Provide any configuration with multi-position design
  • Get fast access with 1/4-quick-turn door latches
  • Protect your hands while servicing with double-folded edges
  • Simplify installation with patent-pending internal condensate management system on higher efficiency models

Comparing furnace features.

FeatureAffinity™ models Latitude™ models

Fan motorECM or standardStandard

Fan speedsConstant or variable-speedConstant

Door latches1/4-quick turn1/4-quick turn

Cabinet designStyledStandard

Firing ratesModulating .65% incrementsSingle-stage

Efficiency80% and up to 98%* AFUE80% or 95.5% AFUE

* AFUE no lower than 97.5% on all models with variable-speed motor and 97% on all models with PSC motor.



Did you know proper insulation can save up to 10% on total energy bills?

Why Seal and Insulate?

Save Energy and Money.

Air that leaks through your home's envelope − the outer walls, windows, doors, and other openings − wastes a lot of energy and increases your utility costs. A well-sealed envelope, coupled with the right amount of insulation, can make a real difference on your utility bills.

Increase Comfort.

Sealing leaks and adding insulation can improve the overall comfort of your home and help to fix many of these common problems:

  • Reduced noise from outside
  • Less pollen, dust and insects (or pests) entering your home
  • Better humidity control
  • Lower chance for ice dams on the roof/eves in snowy climates

Most Homes Will Benefit.

Most homes in the United States don't have enough insulation and have significant air leaks. In fact, if you added up all the leaks, holes and gaps in a typical home's envelope, it would be the equivalent of having a window open every day of the year!



Heat & Cool Efficiently

As much as half of the energy used in your home goes to heating and cooling. So making smart decisions about your home's heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can have a big effect on your utility bills — and your comfort. Take these steps to increase the efficiency of your heating and cooling system. For more information, see our Guide to Energy Efficient Heating & Cooling (708KB).

Change your air filter regularly

Check your filter every month, especially during heavy use months (winter and summer). If the filter looks dirty after a month, change it. At a minimum, change the filter every 3 months. A dirty filter will slow down air flow and make the system work harder to keep you warm or cool — wasting energy. A clean filter will also prevent dust and dirt from building up in the system — leading to expensive maintenance and/or early system failure.

Tune up your HVAC equipment yearly

Just as a tune-up for your car can improve your gas mileage, a yearly tune-up of your heating and cooling system can improve efficiency and comfort. Learn more:

Install a programmable thermostat

A programmable thermostat is ideal for people who are away from home during set periods of time throughout the week. Through proper use of pre-programmed settings, a programmable thermostat can save you about $180 every year in energy costs.

Seal your heating and cooling ducts

Ducts that move air to-and-from a forced air furnace, central air conditioner, or heat pump are often big energy wasters. Sealing and insulating ducts can improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system by as much as 20 percent — and sometimes much more.

Focus first on sealing ducts that run through the attic, crawlspace, unheated basement, or garage. Use duct sealant (mastic) or metal-backed (foil) tape to seal the seams and connections of ducts. After sealing the ducts in those spaces, wrap them in insulation to keep them from getting hot in the summer or cold in the winter. Next, look to seal any other ducts that you can access in the heated or cooled part of the house. See our See our Duct Sealing brochure (1.13MB) for more information. for more information.

Consider installing ENERGY STAR qualified heating and cooling equipment

If your HVAC equipment is more than 10 years old or not keeping your house comfortable, have it evaluated by a professional HVAC contractor. If it is not performing efficiently or needs upgrading, consider replacing it with a unit that has earned the ENERGY STAR. Depending on where you live, replacing your old heating and cooling equipment with ENERGY STAR qualified equipment can cut your annual energy bill by more than $115. But before you invest in a new HVAC system, make sure that you have addressed the big air leaks in your house and the duct system. Sometimes, these are the real sources of problems rather than your HVAC equipment.

Ask about Proper Installation of your new equipment

Replacing your old heating and cooling equipment with new, energy-efficient models is a great start. But to make sure that you get the best performance, the new equipment must be properly installed. In fact, improper installation can reduce system efficiency by up to 30 percent - costing you more on your utility bills and possibly shortening the equipment's life. Learn more.



Replace filters annually to keep your furnace at peak efficiency.

Enjoy the full potential of your York® product and extend its useful life with these helpful maintenance tips.

Although mechanical heating and cooling equipment is complex, there are some basic preventive maintenance procedures that you can perform to keep your system running at its best. (If your air conditioner or heat pump is more than 10 years old or your furnace is more than 12 years, call your York® Dealer to see how much you can reduce your utility bills with today’s more energy efficient equipment.)

Indoor Air Quality Equipment Maintenance

  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions for changing (or cleaning) air filters in air handlers/furnaces and other home comfort equipment. Some air cleaners require only an annual filter change, while others need more frequent replacement.
  • Maintaining proper humidity levels can greatly reduce airborne allergens. Make sure pans and coils of humidification/dehumidification unit are clean and free of debris.
  • Regularly clean your return grills to prevent dust and debris from accumulating in ducts and clogging filters.
  • Examine ducts around air handler for holes, loose tape or separated sections that might allow air infiltration.
  • Make sure air system is balanced to avoid negative air pressure from pulling pollens and allergens into home. Consider using a dedicated ventilation system to introduce filtered outside air to create positive pressure with clean air.

Air Handler Maintenance

  • Examine ducts around air handler for holes, loose tape or separated sections that might leak air.
  • Replace your air handler filter once a month to reduce airflow restrictions and wasted energy.

    Air Conditioner Maintenance/Heat Pump Maintenance

    • Clean dust or move objects away from the grates that supply air into each room. Do the same to the large return grate, usually in a hallway, to ensure proper air flow.
    • Clear leaves and debris from the system’s outdoor condenser unit grille. If the interior unit is dirty, contact your contractor to perform a power wash that will not bend the fins of the grille.
    • Examine ducts in attic or crawl space for holes, loose tape or separated sections that might leak air.
    • Trim shrubbery to allow at least two feet of clearance from the unit.
    • Set the thermostat mode to cooling (and heating for heat pumps) to make sure it’s working. Contact the dealer for service if you hear any unusual noises.
    • Replace your air handler filter once a month to reduce airflow restrictions and wasted energy.
    • Make sure condensate line is clear to allow liquid runoff.
    • Set up annual checkup of your system.

    Gas Furnace Maintenance

    • Confirm that the furnace runs completely through a normal cycle from start-up to shut-down. Look at the thermostat reading to confirm that the system shuts off when reaching the high temperature setpoint. (If otherwise, you have a short cycling problem requiring a service call.)
    • Clean dust or move objects away from the grates that supply air into each room and the large return grate, usually in a hallway, to ensure proper air flow.
    • Make sure obstacles are cleared away from the furnace and the safety switch on the furnace door.
    • Check the vent connections for the exhaust pipe and chimney for rust or gaps.
    • Make sure your CO2 monitor is operating properly and that it has fresh batteries.
    • Replace furnace filters annually.



    Tips To Stay Warm And Reduce Energy Costs

    There’s no doubt that heating and cooling your home is the largest energy expense in your home. In fact, according to the Department of Energy, heating and cooling accounts for about 56 percent of the energy used in a typical U.S. home, which makes efforts to reduce energy costs that much more important.

    As you heat your home this winter, the experts at the York brand of heating and air conditioning recommend the following:

    • Perform regular maintenance. Clean air filters, seal any duct leaks, make sure registers are clear of obstructions and check your insulation. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that improper insulation can reduce system efficiency by as much as 30 percent.

    • Hire a qualified technician to inspect and service your home comfort system. The technician will make sure your system is working properly and at peak efficiency. As a rule of thumb, heat pumps and oil-fired furnaces need annual tune-ups, while gas-fired equipment can be serviced every other year.

    • Consider replacing an older, inefficient furnace or heat pump. A knowledgeable technician will be able to recommend a new, more efficient replacement system, such as ENERGY STAR®−qualified equipment that can help save you money on energy bills.

    Efficiency is measured as annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) for furnaces and heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF) for heat pumps. The higher the AFUE or HSPF, the more efficient the unit and the less energy it requires to heat your home.

    • Adjust your thermostat. By lowering it just a few degrees in cooler temperatures, you can help your heating system work less to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.

    • Think about installing a programmable thermostat. Programming your thermostat to accommodate your family’s time away from home and sleeping schedule will help to ensure that your system is operating only when you need it.

    • Learn more. To learn more about efficient products that can help you conserve energy and save money, or to find a heating and cooling contractor near you, visit



    Capabilities without the complexity. You'll love our Affinity Residential Communicating Control

    York® Affinity™ Residential Communicating Control

    • Phone home to your comfort zone: Download the Intellicomfort™ app for iPhone®, iPad® and Android® mobile devices to connect with the smart thermostat from practically anywhere!
    • Change schedule and programs for one or more homes to reduce energy use while you’re away.
    • Zoning capabilities help you reach the comfort levels you desire in each area of your home.

    Higher Intelligence Revolutionary Affinity™ Residential Communicating Control reaches out and "talks" to every enabled device to ensure all are working together at maximum efficiency.

    Good Housekeeping Seal This model is proud to have earned the Good Housekeeping Seal — a nearly century-old symbol of quality and trust.

    Feeling Friendly The iPhone®, iPad® or Android® mobile screen of the thermostat in your hand looks like the smart thermostat on your wall to make checkups and changes fast and easy.



    Our Affinity packaged units come in an all-in-one cabinet for major space savings!

    York® Packaged Units

    A York® packaged home heating and cooling unit can meet all of your comfort needs while saving you money. Look to our large lineup of efficient heating and cooling units to fit your price and performance needs: From our economical Latitude™ Series to the ultra energy-efficient Affinity™ Series models.

    Factors to Consider in a Packaged Unit


    To help you compare home heating and cooling units, efficiency is rated by Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) for cooling, Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) for furnaces and Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) for heat pumps with high numbers indicating high efficiency.
    Play Video.

    Space Savings

    To help save space, a packaged home heating and cooling unit integrates your system components in one compact cabinet.

    Affinity™ Series Packaged Heating and Cooling Units

    Affinity™ Series packaged units come in an all-in-one space saving cabinet and are available in ENERGY STAR® qualified models that offer at least 15% to 25% higher energy efficiency than standard models. Learn more about Affinity™ packaged units.

    Latitude™ Series Packaged Heating and Cooling Units

    Latitude™ Series packaged units let you choose heat pump or air conditioning models in an all-in-one space saving cabinet. Learn more about Latitude™ packaged units.


    Save money, save the planet by making your home energy efficient

    Saving energy is great, but so is saving money.

    The best tools and tips can offer both, according to local businesses, whose lines of energy-efficient products and services are expanding to meet demand for saving green and leaving smaller carbon footprints.

    For local homeowners looking to make major investments, changes to greener living often are motivated by long-term financial stability, said Jason Grottini, operations director at Envinity Inc. in State College.

    “For most, it has a lot to do with comfort, investing in a house they know they will be in for a long time,” he said. “There are a lot of people motivated by minimizing their impact on climate change or costs, too. They don’t want to have to worry every winter about their heating bill. It’s a way to stabilize their cash flow.”

    The design-build firm creates greener homes from blueprint to finished product, incorporating advanced building envelopes, high-efficiency mechanical systems and passive solar energy, a technique that positions a home and landscaping to collect the greatest natural benefits of sunshine through trees and shrubbery that are bare in winter and offer shade in summer.

    “We build all our homes to exceed Energy Star standards for a new home — above and beyond insulation requirements,” he said. “Energy Star is just slightly above modern code requirements. Building to those standards should be the energy norm.”

    For homeowners who are not building or remodeling but still want to find ways to save, Grottini said that an energy audit is a useful first step — and energy savings may be closer than they think.

    “It is the smallest investment you can make, but it gives everybody a capital improvement plan for their house,” he said. “It will outline all the other investments they can make and identifies all the opportunities to reduce energy usage.”

    Changes can range from free or low-cost measures — turning thermostats down or plugging in holes in an attic — to bigger impact changes, such as improving air sealing and insulation.

    “Replacing heating and cooling equipment with high-efficiency equipment is a next step,” he said. “We’re trying to get people off oil and propane as a standard service. Those prices are too volatile for people on fixed energy budgets.

    Once those changes are accomplished, it can be time to consider renewable energy sources, such as solar, he said.

    “That’s our path to getting people to net zero energy,” Grottini said.

    The company also is installing geothermal or insular radiant systems — with a hot water loop under the slab of the home — and combining that with passive solar to create a higher-efficiency system overall.

    The push toward solar panels has slowed, Grottini said, but still can offer a long-term return on investment.

    “Solar has definitely slowed down in Pennsylvania, but we’re still installing one system every month or two,” he said. “It has a lot to do with economics. The price has come down dramatically. The incentives like the state’s rebate program have gone away, and the renewable energy credit market has dwindled.”

    A 30 percent federal tax credit for homeowners still is a good selling point, he said.

    Return on investment for solar is in the 12- to 15-year range — still worth considering because the systems have a 25-year warranty.

    High-efficiency windows can help make the most of natural light, too, if solar panels aren’t in the budget, said Dave Hannon, a 16-year sales rep for the State College office of Pella Window & Door Co., which in 2008 was Energy Star partner of the year for window manufacturing.

    “About 70 percent of the people who are after replacement windows and doors are after a marked improvement in energy efficiency,” he said. “The others are more concerned about aesthetic.”

    For homes built before 1979, return on investment with new windows could be realized more quickly because those older windows usually are single-pane glass or double pane without the current manufacturing standards, Hannon said. Pella’s offerings now are triple-pane and available in wood, vinyl and fiberglass, which can offer the tightest seal for the Pennsylvania climate.

    “I would expect people who replace their windows and doors now from that time period, that it would be a less than a 10-year return on investment,” he said. “I hear of people with $600 or $800 gas bills. I won’t say it cuts it in half, but it’s a double-digit saving.”

    When it comes to appliances, Energy Star is more standard than standout nowadays, said Eric Walker, store manager of the Home Depot in Patton Township. Most products get more energy efficient each year and prices have started to normalize, he said.

    “I don’t think there’s a differentiation between manufacturers,” he said. “Very common large company manufacturers hold themselves to a higher standard. When you find off-brand names, you see quality decrease and efficiency decrease.”

    Heat sources often offer the greatest impact — if a budget allows for one household switch, he said.

    “The efficiency ratings of HVAC units now are so much better,” he said. “Once you’re to the tune of 10 to 15 years old — and you choose to replace that — the efficiency has increased so much that the unit can pay itself off in four to five years just in savings, for each type: oil, gas or electrical. If you buy a new boiler for $7,000 to replace one that is 10 or 15 years old, it can save you that in four to five years.”

    Pellet stoves still are among the hottest commodity, Walker said.

    “Pellet stoves have been an exploding market in the last three to four years,” he said. “People are buying those to augment their primary heat source, but then those become the primary source. We see that a lot.”

    In fall, pellet stove installations rival LED purchases, he said.

    “I think right now, most homeowners are interested in the cost savings of what they’re purchasing versus carbon footprint, but you get both benefits with pellet fuel,” Walker said.

    And more homeowners are catching on to another new potential energy-saver, Wink, a program that allows up to 30 household items to communicate through wireless technology.

    The product can be connected to thermostats and allow consumers to control their homes’ temperatures from their cellphones.

    “If you were pretty conscientious, it could pay for itself in two to three months,” Walker said.

    Similar to better appliances, consumer demand has changed paint products.

    “Almost every paint we carry is a low (volatile organic compound) mixture,” he said. “It was constantly requested by the consumer, who wanted the safest paint out there, especially when there were only one or two lines of paint like that. It was a selling point. It’s great to see these sort of things become industry standards.”

    Low-flow toilets make an easy conservation step, said Barry Noll, plumbing specialist at Lowe’s in Patton Township. One model uses about 1.28 gallons per flush, compared to the standard 1.6. Overall savings vary, of course, by the number of family members in a home and flushing frequency.

    “They are all in the same relative range,” he said. “They’re not astronomically different, so it can be a good choice when you’re looking for a new toilet anyway. Aside from water saving, it saves you money on your utility bill.”

    Simple — or elaborate — lighting changes can cut costs and help homeowners conserve, said Carla Reck, lighting designer in the lighting design center Friedman Electric, which has a location in State College.

    “The basic things are dimmers and timers,” she said. “By changing how you control the lights, you can save some energy in how much you are using or in how much is running. That’s something you can do that with your light sources now.”

    If cost is an issue, switching to LED in one area at a time can help make the expense more palatable, she said.

    “Instead of the whole house, start in rooms where you get a lot of use,” Reck said. “If you’re using a 14-watt LED, you are getting approximately the same as you would with what would have been a 60- or 75-watt incandescent bulb. That’s pretty significant.”

    Some energy companies still are offering rebates to make the switch, too, she said.

    The cost for an LED bulb can run around $35, compared to around $1.25 for an incandescent bulb, but energy expenses for the pricier items over a 50,000 hour period can shrink by more than 75 percent, according to an estimate at

    For families who are not ready to make a major switch but want to be more environmentally friendly, many look to kitchen scraps as a great place to start, according to the Penn State Extension’s Master Gardeners of Centre County, who work to educate the public on composting.

    Worm bins — vermicomposting — require regular attention, said Master Gardener Suzann Tedesco, who often recommends simply taking those composting efforts outdoors.

    “If you look up indoor composting online, most sites just talk about collecting kitchen scraps for transfer to outdoor compost piles,” she said. “That is what I teach when giving a workshop. Even during the winter, things can be added to the pile to await warmer weather when the micro-organisms get back to work breaking down the organic material.”

    Still, she does handle questions on vermicomposting.

    “Many show an interest in vermicomposting, especially as something to do with their children,” she said. “However, I have no idea if many really do it. With the borough green recycling program, many kitchen scraps in State College are going into the green bins to be picked up curbside.”

    Recycling is another area where families can do better — even if they already are filling bins, according to Amy Schirf, education coordinator at the Centre County Recycling & Refuse Authority.

    Though the authority’s crews sort material in the red bins, paper can be problematic. In Centre County, homeowners can recycle all mixed paper: newspaper, tissue boxes, cereal boxes, junk mail or office paper.

    “We really like for them to either bag or tie up their paper,” she said. “It’s actually for the safety of our guys.”

    Homeowners sometimes forget to look outside the kitchen, too, Schirf added.

    “Things like laundry detergent bottles, shampoo and conditioner bottles sometimes are overlooked,” she said. “A lot of times, people would go by the number — only ones and twos. Now we say if it’s a narrow neck plastic bottle or jug, we’ll take it. We don’t really care about the numbers anymore.”

    Another change: It’s not just plastic bags that can go back to the grocery store. offers tips and locations for dropping off non-container plastic items.

    “Any kind of plastic film, if it’s clean and dry, can go,” she said. “You don’t realize how much you have until you actually start collecting it.”

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    How to improve indoor air quality in your home

    With winter on the horizon, homeowners are pre-paring their homes for a season with far more time spent indoors. Unlike the other seasons of the year, when homeowners can comfortably air out their homes by opening windows, cool autumns and cold winters offer no such opportunities to let nature improve indoor air quality.

    Such a reality can make a home feel stuffy and uncomfortable as winter drags on. But that pales in comparison to the health risks presented by poor indoor air quality. Radon, volatile chemicals from fragrances used in conventional cleaners and lead from house dust are just a few of the many sources of indoor air pollution commonly found in homes, and these pollutants can be especially harmful in winter, when many people spend more time indoors thanks to chilly weather.

    While you might not be able to change the weather so you can open windows in fall and winter, you can take steps to improve indoor air quality in your home.

    • Clean the floors regularly. Dirty floors take their toll on a home’s indoor air quality. Dust that’s allowed to settle on floors may contain harmful chemicals and allergens that can lead to respiratory problems and unhealthy conditions. Clean your floors at least once per week during the winter months, ideally with a vacuum that’s equipped with a HEPA filter. The HEPA filter is important because it can prevent dust and dirt from being blown back out of the vacuum in the exhaust. After you have vacuumed, mop the floors as well, as even the most effective vacuums leave potentially harmful dust particles behind. A once-over with a mop and some hot water can remove any lingering dust left behind by the vacuum.

    • Place a floor mat near every entrance. Autumn and winter rains make for a messy time of year, and it’s easy to bring in the great outdoors when you enter your home during cold weather seasons. Dirt that sticks to your shoes may contain potentially harmful chemicals, so place a floor mat near any door where people routinely enter your home and politely ask that all who enter wipe off or even remove their shoes before moving about the house.

    • Choose naturally scented laundry products. Everyone wants their freshly cleaned clothes to smell good, but the price you pay when using laundry products that employ synthetic fragrances may be far steeper than you realize. Such synthetic fragrances emit dozens of chemicals into the air, so choose naturally scented detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets when possible.

    • Avoid plug-in air fresheners. Unless otherwise noted on the packaging, plug-in air fresheners likely contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which contain a variety of chemicals that can negatively impact both short- and long-term health. Instead of plugging in an air freshener to improve a home’s interior aroma, slice fresh lemons and leave them out in the kitchen and keep fresh indoor plants in living areas. Studies from NASA have shown that indoor plants naturally purify indoor air by absorbing materials released by synthetic materials.

    As winter gets set to return, homeowners can employ several simple strategies to improve indoor air quality in their homes.

    Prevent your heating bills from going through the roof

    Heating your home can be a costly endeavor. But you don’t have to make your family suffer in shivering silence to save some money. There are plenty of steps you can take to optimize your heating efforts, as well as prep your home for several months of cool weather.

    • Check and maintain your insulation. Improperly insulated walls, floors, attics, basements and crawl spaces drain away heat and can encourage mold and mildew.

    • Add weather stripping and caulk around windows and doors to prevent drafts which waste energy and money.

    • Install a programmable thermostat that shuts itself off during the day when you're away and at night when you're asleep. This will keep you comfortable when you're home and save you money when you're not.

    • Keep vents and returns free of obstructions. Don't lay carpet over vents, place furniture over or in front of them or obstruct the flow of air.

    • Keep your air filters clean. Check them every couple of weeks and change them as directed by the manufacturer.

    • Let the sun shine in by opening curtains on cold days. Get heavy drapes to keep things cozy at night.

    • Review last year's energy bills. If your heating costs are drastically higher this year, a qualified HVAC/R technician may be able to diagnose the problem. Schedule such inspections twice annually, even if you aren’t experiencing any detectable issues.

    • When choosing a contractor for installation or maintenance, important factors must be taken into consideration. A qualified HVAC/R technician is a skilled professional with proven knowledge who has passed specialized tests. So look for a technician certified by North American Technician Excellence (NATE), the nation's largest independent non-profit certification body for HVAC/R technicians.

    • Even the most eco-friendly, high-efficiency products and appliances can waste money and energy if they're not installed, serviced, and maintained properly. Work with certified technicians to ensure your HVAC/R equipment is delivering on its promised energy efficiency.

    • Consider alternatives to conventional heating. For example, geothermal heating systems use the earth’s natural heat and are among the most efficient and energy-conserving heating technologies currently available.

    • Replacing your system? Purchase equipment with an ENERGY STAR label. High-efficiency systems reduce your impact on the environment and can also save you money. You may also be eligible for a Federal Tax Credit. Check with your local NATE contractor to determine qualifying models. Also, for optimal performance be sure to select the proper size system for your home.

    Get Your Home Ready for Winter

    As we get closer to the Winter months, now is the time to do a few things to get your home ready. If you have plants and animals outdoors, don’t forget to prepare their areas too. Below are a few tips and suggestions.

    Furnaces should be serviced by a licensed specialist. Actually you should get your Units checked twice a year, once prior to the cold weather and once prior to the hot weather. They might need cleaning. If you have an indoor fireplace, you might want to clean it and prepare it for upcoming fires. If you have a gas starter in your fireplace, have it serviced too. If you have not had your chimney checked, you might want to have it checked out and/or cleaned.

    Windows sometimes feel drafty? You might need to reseal them or even replace them. If they are really old, this is going to be more difficult, but a little caulking might help. Replacing windows with highly energy efficient ones will definitely help, but replacements are costly so you might have to budget for this. Most are double pane and insulated.

    Ceiling fans need to be reversed if possible. In the winter mode, they draw air up, verses pushing air down for the summer.

    Alarms should be on your check list too. Make sure the batteries are good. Test them per their instructions.

    Additional insulation in your home can always help with heat and cold. If you have a poorly insulated home, it will get colder quicker. Have a local builder or handy person check this out or call an insulation company.

    Now for protecting the three P’s we always hear on the news. Protecting your Pipes, Plants, and Pets. Here’s some ideas.

    Wrap those pipes outside. There are devices at local stores that help insulate the facets too. Pumps in pump houses should be protected also. Insulate the pump house. Drain garden hoses.

    Finally protect those outdoor plants. Build a green house, move them to a warmer area, build a cover for them, or use protective covering on those really freezing nights. And dear to my heart, protect your pets. Bring your pets indoors, build them a nice warm shelter, or provide heat lamps in a confined area.

    Just a few tips to prepare for the up coming winter. Let’s hope the cool weather gets here soon, just not too cold!

    What is a Heat Pump and is it Right for You?

    Ground Source Heat Pumps, more commonly referred to as geothermal heat pumps, are one of the most talked about heating and cooling systems in the consumer market today.

    Consumers are excited about the incredible energy savings that can be had by installing one of the most efficient heat pumps on the market.

    The problem, you ask? Most contractors and homeowners don’t understand this new technology and the benefits they can get by installing geothermal. Some history of the technology and some tips can help you select the right contractor for the job.

    Ground source heat pumps have existed for more than 60 years. There is a myth of it being a new technology, but the truth is, it is just misunderstood. Some HVAC contractors just choose to not install them for fear of how they actually work, or don’t have the knowledge to design it.

    These systems can achieve energy efficiency ratios (EER) of 41, and a coefficient of performance (COP) of 5.3. The higher the numbers the less money you spend running it, similar to the gas MPG of your vehicles.

    Air source heat pumps cannot reach 50% of that efficiency and don’t perform well when the temps drop in the single digits. The rate of return on most ground source heat pumps is three to 10 years or sooner with the benefit of tax incentives or power company rebates. These rebates change yearly so be sure to research these costs as they can save you thousands off the initial investment.

    The key to selecting the right contractor for your ground source heat pump is to make sure they are designing the system properly. If designed improperly, the expected energy savings may not be attained.

    Make sure the installing contractor does, at a minimum, the calculations called: Manual J and Manual D. Manual J is a calculation which determines the heating and cooling loads on your home based off your homes orientation, outdoor design temperatures, R-Values of the building shell, interior loads, and window performance.

    Don’t be afraid to ask your contractor for a copy of this Manual J load calculation report. If your contractor doesn’t ask questions about those design values, they may not be sizing it correctly.

    Manual D takes the design a step further and designs the ductwork for optimum velocities and pressures needed for correct air delivery. This is calculated by using design parameters from the equipment’s blower performance charts and pressure drops on the duct system. Don’t be afraid to ask your contractor for a copy of the Manual D calculation report.

    The final crucial step for a high performing geothermal system is to ensure the water loop field is designed correctly. Your contractor designing the well systems must research and understand soil types and the ability of the soil to transfer energy. Rock and clay type soils hold more energy therefore the loops may be shorter. Sandy soils absorb less energy therefore your loop field will need to be deeper or more loops may be added.

    If done right on new construction, geothermal systems can reduce the HERS score by up to 25 points. With current tax incentives and rebates, they typically cost $4,000-$6,000 more than a high performing standard system can pay for themselves in less than five years.

    Fall Furnace and Home Inspections Tips for Energy Awareness Month Keep heating costs down and stay safe with tips from Aire Serv®

    October is Energy Awareness Month and Aire Serv has items every homeowner should check to make sure the furnace and home is ready to handle the colder months of fall and winter. Checking these components will let homeowners know if they need to contact a licensed HVAC technician for further inspection, repair or replacement.

    Inspect the ventilation system
    Check the ventilation and ductwork for any holes or cracks that may have occurred over time. Homeowners should also inspect to make sure the ventilation is properly secured to the home. A fall furnace maintenance check is also a good time to clean the vents and registers.

    Visually go over panel controls and switches
    A professional HVAC technician should be contacted for an in-depth inspection of the control panel and switches of the furnace. But, homeowners can do a general inspection of the controls and switches to check for loose connections, corrosion and parts that look damaged.

    Check carbon monoxide detectors
    Before operating the furnace for the fall and winter months, check carbon monoxide and smoke detectors to make sure they are in proper working order. Always put fresh batteries in them and, if possible, test the alarms. It is a good idea to have carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in all the bedrooms of the home.

    "It is important to remember that the best way to conserve energy is to have a system that is up to date," said Harvey Multer, owner of Aire Serv of Southern Maine. "October is a great month to start thinking about saving money during the colder months and there are many general maintenance inspections homeowners can do to save on energy during those months."

    Inspect fan belts and pulley systems
    Though a licensed HVAC technician should do the repairs for fan belts and pulleys, homeowners can visually inspect them to make sure they are not dry, cracked or loose. A loud squeaking sound during start up or operation may indicate the belts or pulleys need to be replaced.

    Keep debris away from the furnace
    There should be unobstructed access to the furnace. When inspecting the furnace for fall and winter use, make sure to remove any objects or debris close to the system. Objects left too close to the furnace can be a fire hazard.

    "When inspecting the furnace before use and notice anything that might be a concern, contact an HVAC professional," said Multer. "Service professionals will be able to tell you if the problem requires immediate attention."

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