by Donna De Palma
Want to save money this winter and keep warm without cranking up the heat? Winterizing tips that increase energy efficiency and keep you comfortable all winter long start with a home energy check-up.
Where’s that draft coming from?
According to the U. S. Department of Energy, drafts waste 5% to 30% of the energy used in your home. Drafts come in from any opening to the outside. Under a door, block drafts with DIY draft snakes. Make or buy a simple fabric form, fill with sand so it stays in place, then place it under drafty doors. Some of the most likely places where drafts come from are:
Seal leaks with caulking and weather stripping
Look for places in your home where different materials meet like corners, chimneys, or pipes and wires exiting your home. Check around your foundation for areas where air might be escaping. Electric wall plugs and switches can let cold air in. Pre-cut foam gaskets are easy to install and fit behind switch plates to prevent leaks. Check around outlets and dryer vents to prevent warm air from escaping.
Your chimney is like an open window drawing warm air out. Close the damper on your fireplace when it’s not in use. Remove window air conditioning units from windows so heat doesn’t escape.
Sealing the rim joist area in your basement makes a big difference when it comes to reducing drafts. Look for air leaks in your attic and attic hatch. Cover and seal leaks around an attic hatch with spray foam and rigid foam board, when necessary.
Although it gets a bad rap, plastic is a great buffer against drafts. Stapling plastic around windows is a useful method of keeping wind out. A window insulation kit costs about $58 at any hardware store and, if installed properly, will be almost invisible.
Furnace filters matter
During the heating season, replace or clean your furnace filter monthly. Airflow is restricted by a dirty filter and that increases energy demand. A cheap and easy solution for swapping out filters is to install a whistle on your furnace that alerts you when your filter is clogged and needs replacing. You can buy one for $7.98 in a local hardware store.
Another great option is to purchase a permanent electrostatic filter for your furnace. Electrostatic filters make your furnace work more efficiently. On average they collect 88% of bacteria, mold, viruses and pollen before they have a chance to circulate through the house. Compare that to a disposable fiberglass filter that traps only 10%-40% of debris.
Another option is a HEPA filter which removes 99.97% of airborne particles, but comes at a price. If you choose an electrostatic or HEPA filter, prepare for a price tag of between $50-$1000. These options pay back with the air quality inside your home and in energy efficiency.
Lower the temperature on the water heater
If your water heater is set to 140 Fahrenheit– a standard setting right out of the factory–lower it. Lowering the temp to 120 Fahrenheit reduces your heating costs by 6%-10% and will provide you and your family with plenty of hot water in the winter months.
Run fans in reverse
Ceiling fans aren’t just for staying cool in summer. Install ceiling fans that have a switch to reverse the direction of the blades. Clockwise rotation of a ceiling fan makes your room warmer. The warm air that’s rising to the ceiling is circulated back down to where you need it. Ceiling fans in clockwise motion can cut as much as 10% off your heating bill.
Tune ups aren’t just for cars
It may not sound like much, but a clean and properly adjusted furnace will save you 5% on heating costs this winter. Contact your local utility for a free annual check-up. Maybe it’s time to upgrade to a more efficient furnace. Energy Star-certified models save 15% – 20% on heat. If your furnace is really old, replacing it could save you 50% or more on heating.
Energy Efficiency: Audit your usage
Perform an energy audit or hire an expert to assess your home’s energy needs. If you hire a pro, it will cost you about $350. The Department of Energy certifies Energy Star home performance contractors, trained to improve energy efficiency in residential homes. Many government incentives– including tax credits–require that work be done by a government-certified contractor. If you’re more of a DIYer, you can purchase a thermal leak detector for about $50 that spots hard-to-find drafts.
Stop the flow
Before winter howls in, drain your water lines and AC pipes. Look for water pooled in your equipment. Some air conditioning units have a shut-off valve. Turn it off. Look around the yard for hoses that need to be drained and stored for winter. Shut off water spigots on the exterior of your home.
An extra layer of protection
By installing a storm door, you can increase energy efficiency by 45%. Storm doors come in Energy Star-certified models. Energy Star-certified products must meet standards for energy efficiency and will qualify you for federal tax incentives.
Turn it down
Turn down the thermostat when you go out and when you go to bed. The average homeowner spends 50% – 70% of their energy budget on heating and cooling. When you don’t need the heat, turn it down. A thermostat that’s lowered by one degree saves between 1% and 3% on your monthly bill. Programmable thermostats take the guesswork out of how to set the temp in your home. At a cost of $50 on average, you save $180 a year if you go programmable.
Monitor that energy use
An energy monitor lets you know how much electricity you’re consuming in real time. Select a device that indicates the amount of electricity each appliance is using. Research shows that using and reading an energy monitor will significantly increase a home’s energy efficiency. Studies show that savings from an energy monitor alone can add up to a 15%-20% reduction each month.
Sounds old-fashioned but pulling out a sweater when when you feel a chill can save you dollars. Estimates show wearing a lightweight sweater allows you to lower the thermostat by two degrees and a heavyweight sweater chisels four degrees off your room’s temperature.
Ductwork is an important part of the infrastructure of your home. Research shows that 10% -30% of heated or cooled air escapes from the ducts in an average home. Old duct tape is the worse thing to use to seal ductwork. It dries up over time, allowing junctions and splices to open, spilling heated air into your attic or under the house. Hire a professional to check your duct system and fix flaws. You’ll save on average $140 a year, if your ducts are sealed properly. You can save roughly 10% of your heating bill by preventing leaky ducts. Proper ductwork protects against dust and mold too.
More insulation please
Adding insulation saves money and increases the energy efficiency of your home. Insulate your attic. In an older home, it can be the most cost-efficient way to cut home heating costs. Bulk up insulation between walls during a home renovation. Insulate pipes so hot water stays hot. If your pipes are warm to the touch, they need to be insulated. Pre-slit pipe foam, available in hardware stores, can be cut to size then fastened in place. Insulating pipes also decreases the chance of pipes freezing in sub-zero temps. Insulation is rated to measure heat-blocking power. Look for the highest R-value that’s practical. Pipe insulation is usually R-3.
Give yourself credit
There are lots of tax credits out there for homeowners who install renewable energy products or who upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes. Incentives exist on the local, state and federal levels for replacing old windows and doors, adding insulation, HVAC upgrades and for furnace and water heater installations. The federal government will reimburse 30% of your cost up to $1500 for most energy efficient home projects. A low-income household qualifies for up to $6500 for winterization upgrades through programs administered by each state. Check out Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency to see if you qualify.
Find an alternative
Alternative energy sources like solar panels, geothermal heating, biomass stoves, small wind turbines and fuel cells all carry a hefty price tag but will pay you back in the money you save. Consider the long-term savings of going green by upgrading your home heating to one of the latest alternative sources. Maximize federal incentives when you go green. Many home energy efficiency incentives cap at $1500 but if you choose an alternative, incentives cover a full 30% of upfront costs.
Follow this checklist to make your home more comfortable this winter. Then use the savings to escape and leave the snow and ice behind. A warm, sunny beach, a couple of beach chairs, hot sand, cool surf, kick back and, well, you get the idea.