What should an energy conscious house hunter be looking for, when choosing a house or condo? It’s a good idea to have this in mind all year, but more people notice this time of year. With our clients, we point out our energy wasters when we see them.
Single zones: If there is only one zone in a big house, then you must heat everywhere, even when you are only in one part of the house. Creating zones is the best answer, if it is cost-effective to do so. Some heating systems can be separated into zones more easily (more cheaply) than others. Steam is the hardest. Hot air is hard, too. Both of these can require re-piping or re-ducting the whole system to create an even flow of steam or air throughout the house. Hot water may or may not be cost-effective, it depends how much re-plumbing is needed. Most of the time, a plumber can find a place to separate the pipes to split the zones.
Zoned heating, if you operate it in a way which avoids waste, can significantly reduce your heating costs. Zoning makes it possible to avoid running bedroom heat when no one is in there all day; it makes it possible to turn off the living room heat while everyone is sleeping. With programmable thermostats, using zones is pretty easy.
Electric baseboard or built-in space heaters: The thing my clients really hate is electric heat. Most of those systems, each room is its own zone. So, if you turn down the heat in every room you are not in, you can run the system effectively. Frequently, sellers of electrically heated places will present the bills for the past year to prove it isn’t so bad. The vast majority of my clients don’t buy it, literally.
Split systems: Electric systems have improved with the more widespread availability of split systems. More on air conditioning and split systems.) There are two kinds: one heats efficiently down to 20 degrees (then gets expensive to run) and one is efficient to something below zero. The cost of the units vary because of this.
Modern split systems allow you to run a program to schedule the temperature in every room, individually. If done right, this can save you from wasting heat (and heating bill funds.) The added value of these systems is that you can add air conditioning to places where ducting would be awkward. I have been suggesting these units for heating and cooling additions and attics.
Upgrading to programmable thermostats is a no-brainer for the energy conscious. There are often great deals on these through MassSave (frequently free.) They are also great for wimps, like me, who hate being cold. In summer, my heating system is set to 55 degrees. That way, I never wake up some night in August because I am cold. Autumn begins anytime from mid-October to mid-November, depending on the year. That’s when the thermostat goes into a scheduled program mode. I go back to that 55 degree setting when spring gets consistently warm (usually in May.)
Condo associations can have additional issues. Some associations have a common boiler in the basement that heats everyone. Is that a good thing? Most of the time, I say no. There are three problems.
- Some units have no thermostats, so you can’t control your own heat. That can be a big negative if your unit is too cold or too hot.
- Second, even if you have control, you are paying collectively for your neighbor’s wasteful habits.
- And lastly, in some condo associations the air conditioning and the heat systems that are building-wide. The heat can run or the AC can run, but the system is switched to one at a time. This creates problems when the weather is turning – if you have usually hot or cold weather in the spring or fall, there could be no AC in a hot May or no heat in a cold October.