What is “Conditioned Air”?
Conditioned air is air that has been heated, cooled, humidified, or dehumidified, usually with the end goal of optimizing comfort for humans occupying the space. So even though you usually think of cool air when you talk about “air conditioning”, the term “conditioned air” is not limited to just cooling.
It’s arguable that Americans are addicted to conditioned air. A typical American lifestyle includes living inside a conditioned house and driving in a conditioned car to visit conditioned offices, schools, or commercial settings. In fact, the average American spends 93% of their life within a building or car (which are both usually conditioned), and only 7% of their time outside.
We’ve gotten quite picky with our comfort levels as well. The average person is most comfortable in relative humidity levels between 40-60% at temperatures between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. The cost of maintaining this comfort at home comes in the form of heating and cooling expenses on your energy bills.
How Much Money Do You Spend to Condition the Air in Your Home?
Heating and cooling costs for the average US household account for 42% of energy bills, with coolings costs at $273 per year and heating costs at $609 per year. But it’s important to remember that these costs are highly dependent on your local climate. For example, many in Florida may never turn on the heat, but pay way more than $273/year for cooling. Likewise, homes in upstate New York may not even have air conditioners but could pay way more than $609 per year for heating.
Heating and cooling costs can also greatly depend on the size and age of your home. Larger homes have more space to heat and cool. And older homes tend to have higher air leakage, making the heating and cooling systems work harder to maintain indoor temperature.
How Can You Reduce the Cost of Conditioning the Air in Your Home?
No matter what your heating and cooling setup is, the best first step in reducing your heating and cooling expenses is to minimize air leakage within your home. Then your cooling and heating systems don’t have to work so hard to maintain indoor comfort. To minimize air leakage, we want to focus on something called building envelope. Building envelope separates conditioned air from unconditioned air. So examples would be things like attic insulation or weather stripping on doors and windows.
The goal is to have a tight building envelope, which means that it’s difficult for conditioned air to escape to unconditioned spaces (like the outdoors or unconditioned basements or garages). The tighter your building envelope, the less energy your cooling and heating systems will use to maintain indoor air temperature and humidity, saving you money on your energy bills.
The average US home has plenty of room for improvement when it comes to building envelope. There’s so much air leakage in the average home that it’s equivalent to leaving a 2ft by 2ft window open 24/7. This loss of conditioned air can account for up to 30% of your heating and cooling costs, which means the average household wastes almost $265 per year conditioning air that escapes the house.
How Can You Improve Your Building Envelope?
Fix Air Leaks
An easy place to start with tightening your building envelope is by identifying any areas with high air leakage. If you can feel drafts near doors or windows or if you can see a gap between the frame and the wall, you know that air is leaking outside when it shouldn’t be. For reference, a 7-ft tall door frame with a ¼-in gap on one side is a 21-square-inch hole in the wall.
You put caulk or foam weatherstripping along door and window frames to reduce drafts. You can also add door shoes to exterior doors to prevent air leakage under the doors.
It’s important to decrease both air leakage and heat transfer. You can reduce heat transfer by adding insulation to your roof and walls. You can add insulation to floors over crawl spaces and to your ductwork too! Since heat rises, it’s generally more effective to add insulation to your roof compared to your walls. And unless you’re building a new home or tearing down drywall, it can be a bit tricky to add wall insulation.
Another common cause for air leakage are electrical outlets along exterior walls. So be sure to hire an electrician to insulate those gaps as well.
Combining this new insulation with weatherstripping your doors and windows, you can reduce your heating and cooling costs by 15%.
Keep Your Windows and Doors Shut
If your heating or cooling system is on, your windows, doors, and garage doors should be shut to avoid air leakage. And if you have a chimney in your home, installing a glass door to prevent air from escaping can reduce your energy bills by up to 2%. If it’s a nice day outside, you should consider turning off your heating and cooling systems altogether, and instead opening your windows to provide natural ventilation.
It’s also important to know when to open and close your blinds. If the sun is shining through your window, it’s heating up your house. If your windows feel warm to the touch compared to your interior walls, you know that heat is coming in through the windows. So in the summer, you usually want to keep your blinds closed so your cooling system doesn’t need to work so hard. In the winter, you can leave your blinds open on a sunny day for windows that face the sun.
You can save up to 12% in heating and cooling costs by upgrading to EnergyStar certified doors and windows. EnergyStar doors and windows have higher resistance to heat transfer between indoors and outdoors. If you have higher resistance, your indoor air temperature will be maintained with less energy from your heating and cooling systems.
Disclaimer: Please consult with a professional before making any upgrades to your building envelope, insulation, windows, doors, or home. Any and all upgrades should maintain proper health, safety, and sanitation levels within your homes. It All Adds Up and its affiliates are not responsible for any household damage or personal injuries that should occur from following any suggestions from It All Adds Up.