7 Home Energy Upgrade Myths

Dec 6, 2011 by

Improving home energy efficiency is becoming more and more popular these days for a couple of rea-sons. First of all, many homeowners are concerned about increasing costs for electricity, natural gas, propane, and fuel oil –the main energy sources used in the home. The second motivating factor is the growing green movement. Green-living advocates understand that saving energy means cutting harmful carbon emissions and reducing our dependency on fossil fuels.

Although the motivating factors for improving home energy efficiency are clear, the route to this destination can be very confusing. This isn’t surprising, considering all the sales pitches, “expert” opinions and homebuilding folklore we’re exposed to on a daily basis. Help is on the way. Understanding the reality behind the seven myths discussed here should help you make smart decisions about making your home more energy efficient.

MYTH #1: Newer homes are more energy efficient than older homes.
REALITY: It’s true that we know a lot more today about energy-efficient construction than we did a decade ago. We also have more products designed to save energy than ever before. But in most parts of the country, local building codes still allow contractors and developers to build very inefficient houses. It’s not right, but it’s real: A new house can be as much of an energy hog as an old one.

MYTH #2: Installing energy-efficient replacement windows is an effective way to save energy.
REALITY: Yes, you’ll save energy if you install ENERGY STAR® replacement windows. But the energy dollars you save in a year after this expensive upgrade probably won’t even cover the cost of a single replacement window. For comparison purposes, consider that upgrading your attic insulation will cost much less and yield greater energy savings. Installing replacement windows will improve your home’s appearance and curb appeal, but it doesn’t come close to other more affordable energy upgrades in terms of how quickly your investment pays for itself in energy savings.

MYTH #3: When installing new heating and air-conditioning equipment, it’s smart to specify slightly oversized systems to ensure optimum performance at all times.
REALITY: This HVAC rule of thumb has a long history, and the practice of oversizing an HVAC system “just to be on the safe side” still goes on today. But it’s absolutely the wrong way to deal with a house that has been improved with air-sealing and insulation upgrades. If your house has had these upgrades, it needs a smaller, “right-sized” HVAC system in order to maximize comfort and energy savings. Home energy experts recommend improving the home’s “thermal envelope” before replacing old HVAC equipment for this reason.

MYTH #4: Duct tape is designed for sealing heating and air-conditioning ducts.
REALITY: Wrong. Duct tape was developed during World War II to seal ammunition cases. Today this famous fabric-backed tape has thousands of uses. But sealing ductwork isn’t one of them. When used on ducts, duct tape eventually dries out, disintegrates and comes loose. For effective and permanent repairs, special duct-sealing mastic or aluminum-faced tape should be used.

MYTH #5: Houses need to breathe. Making a house too airtight can cause health problems.
REALITY: Indoor air pollution is a serious health issue. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency considers it one of today’s top 5 environmental threats. But sealing air leaks to make a house more airtight and more energy efficient isn’t what causes indoor air pollution. Poor ventilation is often the culprit when indoor air quality is poor. Bathrooms and the kitchen range must have vent fans to exhaust indoor air, preventing humidity and fumes from accumulating indoors. In a well-sealed house (one that shows less than 0.35 air changes per hour in a blower door test), an HVAC contractor may recommend installing a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) or energy recovery ventilator (ERV) to exchange stale interior air for fresh outside air. These ventilation strategies are usually more than adequate measures to ensure healthy air quality in a “tight” house.

MYTH #6: A powered attic fan will cut air-conditioning expenses by exhausting hot air from the attic.
REALITY: The second part of the statement is true: Powered attic ventilators (PAVs) do indeed exhaust air from the attic. But the suction caused by the fan also pulls cool, conditioned air from the living space into the attic. As a result, the PAV is removing the air you just paid to condition, and consuming electricity to boot. The best attic efficiency improvements for cutting AC expenses are air-sealing, insulation, a radiant barrier, and proper passive (no electricity required) ventilation through soffit, gable and ridge vents.

MYTH #7: Energy-saving upgrades like air sealing, insulation and an energy efficient water heater aren’t likely to improve a home’s resale value because they’re features that prospective buyers can’t see.
REALITY: It’s true that a home’s curb appeal has traditionally been defined by visual elements like landscaping, light fixtures, and ample closet space. But these days more and more home buyers are paying attention to an energy-performance feature that’s just as visible: the utility bill. Real estate agents in many parts of the country report that “green” homes with energy-efficient features sell faster and for higher prices than homes without these features.

4 Comments

  1. My utility bill lowered right away when i added insulation and did a walk around to seal all the cracks. the savings i realized helped to pay for a new more efficient water heater. Thanks for the insight. I have had more then one HVAC guy tell me to “over size” my furnace.

  2. Wow, I was about to upgrade my windows. The sales person was very good. I didn’t think about how long it would take to pay for the windows. My guess is that I’ll be dead on gone before they pay for themselves. Thanks for this article and giving me pause in my research to rethink. JR

  3. Robert Johnson

    In regards to attic vents, whole house fans are very efficient when the weather is hot during the day but cool at night (my guess is you’re talking about a fan that only vents the attic). Since we’re usually away during the day, the house sits uncooled and can get very warm (we don’t leave the AC on when we’re not there). When we get home, we crack the windows and turn on the whole house fan. I have a 2600 sq ft home that gets nice and cool after 45 minutes with one whole house fan. The fan sucks in the cooler outside air and vents the hotter air into the attic. You can actually feel the cool air pouring in.

    • DRESblog

      Thanks for your comment. You’re correct to point out the difference between “whole-house” fans that pull air from the living space and exhaust it into the attic, and attic fans that exhaust hot air from the attic. Attic fans are generally not recommended when a house is being cooled by an air conditioning system, because they create negative pressure in the attic that can actually pull cool conditioned out of your living space and into the attic. It sounds like you are using your whole-house fan instead of a conventional AC system, which will definitely save money. However, it’s important to be wary of moisture problems that can occur when humid outside air is drawn into the house and comes into contact with cool surfaces, causing condensation to occur. While the air movement might help dry out some of that condensation, we often see homes with these fans begin to develop mold problems in corners, closets, cabinets, and some rooms.

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