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Heating and Cooling the Empty Nest



It’s that time of year again—when students head off to college and parents find themselves with an “empty nest.” It can be a time for both celebration and sadness, for parents and kids alike.

This transition can have an impact not just on your emotions, but also on your finances. Once the kids’ college tuitions have been taken care of, the empty nest period can be an important time to save for retirement.

For many households, utility bills drop significantly when the kids move out.  There are things you can do to maximize those energy savings. That can give you more money for retirement as well as for enjoying your newfound freedom.

See Also: Know What Size HVAC and What Degree of Technology is Best For Your Home and Lifestyle

How Does An Empty Nest Affect Utility Bills?

Fewer people in a household generally means less water and energy use. So when kids move out, the bills for these utilities usually go down on their own.

That’s especially true if you have a teenager who likes to take long showers. Maybe you have an athlete whose sweaty uniforms and workout clothes. Perhaps hungry boys who eat more food than seems humanly possible? These things require more cooking and endless loads of dishes and laundry.

According to one empty-nester, writing for, their household’s water bills dropped by a whopping 65% when their kids moved out. And their electricity and gas bills decreased 27%. Those are some big savings!

See Also: Does Energy Efficient Mean a Lover Utility Bill

HVAC Needs Change in an Empty Nest

Transitioning to an empty nest can particularly impact heating and cooling. And that’s not just because you don’t have kids sneaking around and changing the thermostat when you’re not looking!

Having fewer people living in your household impacts your heating and cooling. This is in part because human beings generate heat. In fact, the average person at rest generates about 330 BTU/hour, including both latent and sensible heat. (Latent heat is the heat carried by moisture in the air. Sensible heat is the “thermometer” temperature.)

The more active the person, the more heat they generate. So if you have active teenagers in your house, they can put out a lot of heat. In fact, the amount of heat generated per person is significant enough that it’s included in calculating the heating and cooling load of a home.

This means that your HVAC system will likely have an easier time keeping your empty nest cool in the summer. It may have to work harder to keep it warm in the winter. Since we generally expend a lot more energy on cooling here in the Tennessee Valley, this will most likely work out in your favor.

Another significant change in HVAC needs can occur with the transition to an empty nest. Frequently, empty nesters find that their house is now “too big.” They find they have rooms that simply aren’t needed or regularly used anymore.

Obviously, downsizing to a smaller home can result in energy savings on heating and cooling. This is assuming that the smaller home is at least as energy efficient as the previous home. However, there is another way to take advantage of this energy-saving opportunity.

See Also: Adding Value to Your Home by Enhancing Comfort and Efficiency

Maximizing Your Energy Savings in an Empty Nest 

Aside from downsizing, another major way that empty nesters can save money on heating and cooling is by having a zoning system installed. Zoning your HVAC system allows you to direct heating and cooling to the rooms where you need it, and away from the rooms where you don’t.

Some people try to “zone” their houses by simply closing off rooms that aren’t being used and/or closing the vents in those rooms, but this is very counter-productive. HVAC systems are designed to work with a free flow of air through ducts and from room to room.

Closing vents or shutting off rooms can cause air pressure imbalances in your ductwork and in your home. This can lead to inefficient heating and cooling, an increase in infiltration by outside air (drafts), and even damage to your HVAC system.

For instance, if shutting off rooms means that your HVAC cannot draw enough air back in through the return, it could lead to the fan motor burning out or even damage to the compressor. That’s no way to save money!

Instead, if you want to avoid wasting energy heating and cooling bedrooms, rec rooms, and other spaces that are no longer regularly used, you should have a zoning system installed. Pairing that system with a smart thermostat will allow you precise control over the heating and cooling of your home, saving energy and money.

Because empty-nesters don’t need to use as much energy, this can also be a great time to consider alternative energy sources. For instance, AARP reports that a team of Northwestern University students have designed a solar-powered home specifically for empty-nesters.

The rooftop solar panels on this 1000 square foot home built for two provide enough electricity for the home. This is including its high-efficiency heating and cooling system, as well as the power needed to charge an electric car.

Ultimately, an empty nest can become a significantly more energy efficient nest. And that means you can save more money for retirement—and spoiling the grandkids!

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