Home Energy is part of a series of Efficiency Checklists and Topics that can help you to assess all areas of your farming operation for energy efficiency and find ideas to save energy and reduce costs. For links to other articles in the Efficiency Checklists and Topics series, see Additional Resources at the end of this article.
Farm Home Energy
The farm home is the structure most used on the farm throughout the year. Homes should be insulated and sealed properly to keep energy use to a minimum during both the heating and cooling seasons.
Questions to Ask:
- Is ceiling insulation adequate?
- Are windows sealed to restrict air movement?
- Do you have double or triple glazing on all windows?
- Is insulation placed to the eave and in the corners of the attic?
- Is the attic space vented with eave and gable or roof vents?
- Is the air conditioner properly sized for the home?
- Do you have insulation on the basement walls from the floor joists to at least 4 feet below ground level?
- Do you have a vapor barrier on the warm side of the wall and ceiling insulation?
- Is your furnace or boiler more than 20 years old?
- Was your refrigerator manufactured before 1993?
- Are you using a programmable thermostat or thermostat setbacks?
- Do you have trees or vegetation planted that provide shade in the summer and a windbreak in the winter?
- Will your improvements pay for themselves in energy savings?
Facts and Actions: Farm Home Energy
- Recommended Home Insulation Levels depend on where a person lives. General recommendations call for a minimum R-value of 30 in southern climates to 50 in northern climates for the ceiling and at least R-values of 15 in southern climates and R-21 in northern climates in the walls. The Department of Energy’s Energy-Star Home program recommends increasing attic/ceiling insulation to R-60 for all zones and adding R-5 insulating wall sheathing beneath siding (1-inch foam board) when re-siding any home to reduce heat loss and heating bills. As a rough estimation, blown-in or fiberglass insulation has an R-value of 3.3 per inch of insulation and foam board insulation has an R-value of 5 per inch of thickness.
- Be sure to provide an air space between the eave inlets and the attic space. Blown-in insulation can easily fill between the roof joists, limiting air movement from the eave to the attic. Vents (air chutes) are available that can be installed between the roof joists that will help maintain space for air movement.
- The attic space needs to be ventilated with eave and roof or gable vents to keep heat from building up under the roof deck. Heat under the roof in the winter is the major cause of ice dam formation on a roof.
- Air infiltration is a major energy waster. To limit this, install caulk between the window frame and the siding. Place a wind retardant barrier or house wrap under the siding. Caulk or foam around any wall switches or outlets between the box and the wall board and any holes in the box.
- Add weather stripping around the edges of all doors to produce a good seal with the frame. Replace worn weather stripping.
- All windows should be double- or triple-glazed. A single-glazed window will have an R-value of about 0.9. A double-glazed window with an inert gas between panes will have an R-value of between 3.0 and 4.0, reducing the heat loss by 60 to 75%.
- Basement walls made of concrete or concrete blocks are poor insulators. Any part of the wall that extends above ground and 4 feet below the soil surface loses a considerable amount of heat. This occurs even if the basement is “not” heated. Install 2 inches of an extruded foam board on the walls extending at least 4 feet below ground level and to the bottom of the wall if the basement is not insulated on the inside. The foam board should be protected from sunlight and physical damage on the exterior with sliding, concrete coating (stucco) or a rubber or plastic membrane.
- Air conditioning is another large user of energy. A well-insulated and tight home will help reduce this cost. Set the thermostat at 76 degrees F. – that should provide comfort for most people and keep energy costs at a reasonable level. When running the air conditioning, make sure all windows are closed tight and doors are shut. Hot air leaking in will increase cooling loads and your energy bill.
- Replace an older furnace or boiler with a high efficiency unit with an efficiency greater than 90%. High efficiency furnaces or boilers have an extra heat exchanger to condense the water vapor out of the flue gas to scavenge additional heat out of the fuel.
- Regular maintenance is important on furnaces to make sure they are operating efficiently. Check filters monthly to ensure air flow is not restricted and replace semi-annually or sooner if dirty. Have your heating dealer inspect the furnace annually to ensure proper operation and high efficiency
- Ceiling fans can reduce heating and cooling requirements by keeping the air from stratifying and providing air movement to promote evaporation. Reversible fans should be pushing air down during the cooling season and up during the heating season. By using ceiling fans it is often possible to set the thermostat 1 or 2 degrees lower during the heating season and higher during the cooling season and still feel comfortable and use less energy, saving money.
- Replace refrigerators that are more than 15 years old. New ENERGY STAR models can save up to half of the energy compared to refrigerators made before 1993. Consider replacing or getting rid of the extra refrigerator in the garage or basement. At least turn it off when it is not needed.
- If your hot water heater is not a new, high efficiency model, install an insulation blanket to reduce standby losses. The standby losses on the average water heater can range from 24 to 60% per day. The blankets are inexpensive and pay for themselves in energy savings within a year. When the time comes to replace the water heater, consider an instantaneous water heater. An instantaneous gas water heater has an efficiency factor (combustion and standby losses combined) of 80% versus about 55% for the average gas or oil water heater.
- Flush the drain on your water heater monthly to reduce sediment buildup in the bottom, which reduces heating efficiency of the water heater.
- Programmable thermostats can lead to significant energy savings. Turn down the thermostat when your home is not occupied or at night to save 1% for each degree the thermostat is lowered for an eight-hour period.
- Plant shelterbelts around homes and other buildings as a natural way to reduce heating and cooling costs. Planting deciduous trees on the south and west sides of buildings reduces cooling in the summer. In the winter the plants lose their leaves, allowing the sun to penetrate and help warm the house. Plant evergreen trees on the north and northwest side of the house to reduce the impact of wind on heating during winter months. Link: Farmstead Windbreak
- While saving money is not the only reason to reduce energy consumption, it is important for many individuals to do improvements that will pay for themselves in energy costs overtime. Certain energy related activities can pay for themselves in energy savings in a short amount of time such as applying a fresh bead of caulk around windows and doors while others may take a number of years to recoup investment costs. Replacing heating systems is an example of a measure that may take a number of years to pay for itself. A calculation to determine a ratio of investments that pay for themselves is the Savings to Investment Ratio.
- Home Energy Website, eXtension has many fact sheets and tools to make home energy decisions.
- Recommended Home Insulation Levels
- Insulation Types and Applications
- Farmstead Energy Audit, North Dakota State University Extension.
- Housing Fact sheets, Cornell University.
- About the House, University of Wisconsin Extension.
- Housing Resource website, North Dakota State University Extension.
Efficiency Checklist and Topics:
- Farm Energy Efficiency Checklist and Tips
- Farm Lighting Energy Efficiency Checklist and Tips
- Farm Shop Energy Efficiency Checklist and Tips
- Grain Drying Energy Efficiency Checklist and Tips
- Greenhouse Energy Conservation Checklist
- Home Energy Efficiency Checklist and Tips
- Irrigation Energy Efficiency Checklist and Tips
- Livestock Buildings Energy Efficiency Checklist and Tips
- Livestock Watering Systems Energy Efficiency Checklist and Tips
- Tractor and Field Operations Energy Efficiency Checklist and Tips
Contributors to this Article
This publication was adapted from the Farmstead Energy Audit, North Dakota State University Extension.