With colder weather approaching, our minds turn to heating bills that will soon appear in our mailboxes (or maybe they already have!) What steps can we take to keep cost reasonable this winter? There isn't a shortage of articles and advertisements in newspapers, magazines and on the internet touting the need to replace windows, and heating and air conditioning systems to save energy costs - and get dollars back from rebates or tax credits. Investing in energy saving products for the home is certainly a benefit for the environment, a benefit for the economy, and if done in the right way, a benefit for your own personal comfort and financial well-being.
If you need to replace windows because they are damaged, hard to open and allow wind infiltration and leakage of heated or cooled air from the house, investigating all the options on window types, energy efficiency ratings and replacement costs, and moving ahead with the best option makes sense. If your insulation is the insulation installed when the house was built 40+ years ago, undoubtedly an upgrade is needed and will be worthwhile. Likewise if your heating or air conditioning system is very old or giving you trouble, replacement with a unit with a high energy efficiency rating will be worthwhile - regardless of any manufacturer or tax incentives.
But before falling to the media or manufacturer hype on products or contractor pressure to upgrade simply because your windows or heating unit is not the most efficient one available, there are some things to consider:
- What is the future life expectancy of the existing equipment? Do you need a new unit now; in a few years; ten years down the road?
- What is the true cost of the new equipment? Get information on all possible costs. Often a new heating or cooling system will also need accessories such as a new controller or special high-price thermostat.
- What is the cost of installation? Putting in a new unit means removing and disposing of the old one. Older equipment may contain asbestos or other materials that require special handling and disposal.
- Does it qualify for rebates, tax credits or other special money savings programs? Look at the details of the various programs. A 1% difference in the energy efficiency rating of an air conditioner may mean the difference between a $1500 tax credit and no tax credit.
- What will the actual energy savings be? Many energy upgrades, particularly windows or high-priced heating or cooling equipment, may not provide a return for 10 or more years.
- Will there be a comfort benefit or aesthetic benefit?
- Are there lower cost alternatives that will save energy?
- Will there be consequential effects? Will a new system have a detrimental effect on an old chimney? Get answers from a qualified contractor or the manufacturer.
Can you do it yourself. Installing windows and heating or cooling equipment is not for the average homeowner; however, with a little attention to the basics of enveloping the conditioned areas of a house with a blanket of insulation, most reasonably handy homeowners can tackle many insulation and weatherstripping projects.
Yes, there are many reasons to upgrade the energy efficiency of your home. Before tackling such a project, take some time to research it's true value to be sure that it is right for your home and your wallet.