Hassle-Free Ways to Save Energy This Winter
Depending upon where you live, home heating costs are projected to rise anywhere for thirty to seventy percent this winter. This is especially devastating news for seniors and folks on fixed incomes who are already having a difficult time making ends meet.
The good news is that you don’t have to succumb to either high utility costs or poor living conditions if you are willing to take decisive action and make a few cost effective energy saving improvements that will pay BIG dividends. Consequently, you’ll be more comfortable in your home, you will keep your utility bill in check and, as an added bonus, you’ll help save the earth.
• Install a setback thermostat: Do you heat your home all day when you’re away or all night while you’re sleeping? Are you a slave to your thermostat? Do you make several adjustments throughout the day and night to attempt to manage utility costs? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you need a setback or “programmable” thermostat. Quite simply, a setback thermostat is a thermostat on a time clock. Like the television pitchman says about his rotisserie oven; “you set it and forget it!” The setback thermostat is designed to automatically bring the heat up in the morning just before your feet hit the floor and then lower the temperature during the day when your family is off to work or school. Later in the day, this “smart” thermostat will raise the temperature just in time for your return home and until bedtime when it will drop the temperature while you’re snug under the covers — until it repeats its cycle when you’re ready to arise the following morning. There are both analogue and digital models depending upon the features and programming desired. The simplest models offer a single program – the same routine seven days per week. More complex models offer up to 28 programs – four per day, seven days per week. If you don’t have a setback thermostat, install one. You can save up to 20 percent on your heating and cooling costs.
• Look for holes in your house and fill them: An electrician runs conduit for a new appliance through the siding in your home; the cable guy drills a hole in the wall to run cable into a room in your home; the plumber drills a hole in an exterior wall to fun a gas line to your new gas dryer. These are some of the obvious examples of holes in your house that may be allowing precious energy to escape. There are other less obvious examples such as at the base and/or top of walls where plumbing pipes and electrical wires make their way into attics, crawl spaces and basements. Thanks to expanding polyurethane spray foam that’s available in a can, you can save lots of money on your utility bill. The best part is that it’s easy! Simply spray a little expanding foam into the gap and it immediately expands to permanently seal the hole. We refer to it as “home maintenance in a can.” Although polyurethane foam is great stuff for large gaps, caulk is best used for narrow cracks.
• Seal windows and doors: Test a window or door for energy leaks by holding a lighted candle near all joints and connections. If the candle flickers, you have an air leak. Narrow gaps and cracks around windows and doors are best filled using caulk. The kind of caulk to use depends on the area being caulked. Glass, metal, wood, plastic, and other surfaces respond differently to caulk. Read the manufacturer’s label carefully before making your purchase.
• Add insulation: According to the US Department of Energy, adding insulation is one of the most cost effective means of saving energy and improving comfort. And when it comes to insulation, the attic is the best place to begin. Chances are good that you may think that your attic is well-insulated because you remember seeing some of that furry stuff up there last time you peeked into the attic to store your holiday decorations. The truth is that if you haven’t had an energy audit in the last ten years, the insulation may not be thick enough (R-Value) or, for older homes, the material may be compacted, which greatly reduces it efficiency. In addition, owing to improved indoor air quality, formaldehyde-free insulation is available for folks with allergies or other health concerns. Many local utility companies will perform a free home energy audit that will offer information on where and how much insulation your home may need. In addition to the attic, exterior walls and floors are prime candidates for insulation upgrades.
• Use fluorescent lights: Have you visited the light bulb section of your local hardware store or home center lately? If you haven’t, you are in for a real surprise. The selection of compact fluorescent light bulbs now rivals that of its incandescent counterpart. Previously, all one could find in the way of fluorescent lighting were the tubes for kitchen and garage ceilings. Now, there are energy saving fluorescent lights for virtually every place an incandescent bulb can be used. They are available in the size and shape of a traditional incandescent bulb; there are spots; recess down lights and “rings” especially suited for kitchens and baths. Compact fluorescent lights cost more up front, but last ten times longer, produce less heat and use less energy. In the long run fluorescent lights go a long way to save energy and lower utility bills.
• Lower your water heater temperature: According to the US Department of Energy, a temperature of 120 degrees at the tap is adequate for most household chores with a minimal danger of scalding and maximum energy efficiency. However, that is the temperature at the tap, not in the tank. Keep in mind, however, that tank temperature should be not be less than 130 degrees to prevent bacterial growth that can lead to illnesses such as Legionnaires disease. Think about it — the only appliance that requires a hotter water is the dishwasher, with a recommended temperature of 140 degrees or higher for proper disinfection and cleaning. Since most dishwashers pre-heat the water to the proper temperature, lowering the setting of your water heater will have no effect. However, if you have turned the pre-heating function of your dishwasher off, you should turn it back on. Alternatively, it may be time to retire your old gas-guzzling water heater and replace it with a new state-of-the-art tankless water heater. As the name implies, this device is sans tank and only heats water when it is needed, thus eliminating wasted energy by heating water in a tank day in and day out. A tankless water heater will cost more to purchase and install than a traditional tank type unit, but in the long run will save lots of energy and add immeasurably to comfort and convenience.
• Use your washer and dryer at night: Many utility companies will offer reduced energy rates during off-peak hours. Great incentive for using appliances at night.
• Change your furnace filter: Most folks think that the primary purpose is to purify indoor air. While this may be true for high quality filters, the fundamental purpose of a filter is to keep the interior workings of the furnace clean and operating efficiently. Conversely, when a filter becomes clogged it makes the furnace motor work harder, reduces efficiency and wastes energy. Get the best bang for your filter buck by buying better filters and checking them often. If your old furnace is no longer up to the task, you may contact hvac companies to get an estimate of how much a new oil or gas furnace installation is as well as conduct HVAC Test Preparation services.
• Use low-flow water restrictors: A low-flow water restrictor reduces the flow of water but still gives you a comfortable shower. Many water companies will provide low-flow restrictors for free or a nominal charge. They are easy to install and, in addition to saving energy on heating water, as an added bonus they will lower your water bill.
Don’t be an energy “victim” this winter. Take control by saving energy. You’ll be a lot more comfortable and your wallet (and not your utility company) will be a lot fatter!
For more home improvement tips and information visit our website at www.onthehouse.com or call us at 1-800-737-2474 every Saturday, 9 AM to 1 PM EST.