While a long-term warming weather trends may make us less likely to worry about keeping our homes efficient, there are still several things that can be done to save you money during the winter months. Winter comes each year, and when you feel the frigid winds bearing down on your home, you’ll be happy if you’ve got your home buttoned up in advance.
There are big projects you can undertake to save on heating costs, but there are also smaller ones that require minimal technical skills, and just a few items available at your local hardware store. In this post, we’ll give you some free advice on how to look at sevens ways get the job done. If you get stuck, please call us in for professional assistance.
The best way to get your home to maximum operating efficiency is by hiring a professional BPI certified energy rater to evaluate your home. These professionals will conduct an energy audit which will test your home for energy losses and safety issues. Upon completion of the audit they will provide you with a report that details any issues your home may have with energy efficiency. Once you have this information, you can then prioritize and plan the steps you’d like to take to save yourself some money on heating.
If you’d rather forego the expense of an energy audit, you can pinpoint some of your vulnerabilities by purchasing a non-contact infrared thermometer. These devices allow you to measure surface temperatures and locate spots where your home is literally “leaking heat” to the great outdoors. Leaks can be attributed to bad seals and/or caulking, or to missing insulation. Such leaks can account for up to 30% of your average energy bill. We can help you with this task if you like.
Sealing Your Walls
Sealing gaps, cracks and holes where air penetrates through your walls causes drafts and fluctuating temperatures inside your home. You can do a lot of this work yourself with a simple tube of good quality caulk. Remember that infrared thermometer we referenced above? Once you find those leaks, seal them up with caulking to stop the energy drain.
Interior walls have many “holes” in them where warmth can escape, only to be replaced by a cool breeze! Electrical outlets and switches are prime candidates for making your walls leaky. By simply removing a face plate on an outlet, you may feel some cool air escaping the opening. You can fix this by using caulk to seal the space between the electric box and the drywall. Only do this however if you are knowledgeable about the dangers of electricity. Turn off the breaker feeding each box before opening them up. Once this is done, you can seal up the little holes in the back of the box, including where the wires enter the box. If in doubt, call NL&B Construction for help.
Sealing Ceiling Can Lights
While you will feel heat emanating from the recessed ceiling lights in your home, the heat generated by the light bulbs may be disguising the heat that is being lost through an unsealed light can. Many older can lights were vented on purpose to prevent overheating by the light bulb (these are called non-IC, or non-insulation contact rated cans), and you may want to consider replacing them with newer units.
An unsealed can light below a roof can be a big problem since warm air rises. This can allow moisture to seep into your attics and cause damage. It is recommended to use only a florescent bulb or LED recessed light (LED lights are dimmable) that are very efficient and will not build up heat in the can. You can then seal the inside of the can with caulk or aluminum tape to keep the warm air in your home from escaping into the attic.
If you’re not willing to give up your incandescent light bulbs, don’t seal the can for safety reasons. Instead go into the attic and install and seal a box made from drywall around the light. Then you can insulate from above the box, which will give you the added benefit of an improved r-value (better insulation).
Find Insulation Gaps
Any opening in your walls will more than likely result in an air leak. Look around outside faucets, dryer vents, and other plumbing for gaps in insulation that will permit warmth to escape from your house. Expanding foam is an excellent product to use when sealing these gaps. However, do not seal next to a gas flue or you may create a fire hazard. We can do this work for you if you prefer to not take the chance.
The next step will require you to get a little dirty! Examine your home’s foundation where it meets the house and crawlspace. You will likely find little cracks here and there that are leaking heat. You may see glimmers of daylight coming in through from the outside. That’s Mother Nature’s way of telling you there is an efficiency problem at the foundation of your home.
Expanding foam can be used to seal these holes and gaps. There are two types of foam that can be used, one for “big holes” and another that works as a “fire block” for use between floors or for sealing electrical boxes. Be sure to wear gloves since this stuff is quite sticky before it sets.
You may find that larger gaps cannot be filled with expanding foam alone. In those cases, use fiberglass or denim insulation. The later is made of high-quality natural fibers that also provide great sound absorbtion, and won’t give you that “fiberglass itch” that the pink stuff gives off.
Tune Up Your Furnace
You can’t tuna fish, but you can tune a furnace! Upwards of 30% of your home’s energy costs are related to heating, and an inefficient furnace or boiler can push this number even higher. The simplest thing that any DIY’er can do is to changge the furnace filter at the beginning of the season and once or twice during the heating season. Clogged filters make your furnace’s fan motor work harder and less efficiently. Keep in mind that while cheap filters will protect your fan motor, more expensive filters will provide improved air quality for your family to breath.
Having your furnace tuned-up will cost you some cash, but will result in savings on energy, prevent carbon monoxide leaks, and will keep the air in your home safe and healthy for your family. Remember, your furnace will be running at full tilt for several months and you do not want it to give up the ghost on a cold night in January!
The upfront cost of a furnace tune-up may save you money on expensive replacement down the road. Regular furnace maintenance means longer life and postpones replacement at a substantial cost. Think of it as you do when you change the oil on your car.
Take a Good Look at Your Windows
Insulated glass that is double-paned or even triple-paned can transform the comfort of your home and reduce your energy bill. Installing inexpensive windows may be a cost-saving effort initially, but it will cost you many times over in our cold winter climate. There are three main types of windows on the market today, including single-pane, double-pane, and triple-pane.
Older houses typically have single or double paned windows, but newer homes are commonly built with windows treated with “low-emittance” (low-E) coatings. These coatings are microscopically thin, virtually invisible, metal or metallic oxide layers that are deposited on the window to suppress radiative heat flow. This coating keeps the heat on the side of the glass where the heat is coming from, while also letting light pass through. This is valuable all year round since winter heat will be reflected back into the house, and summer heat will be reflected out, thereby keeping the house cool inside.
A more recent development are triple-paned windows, or “super windows” that feature a third pane of treated glass which sometimes contains a krypton/argon/air gas mixture in between the window panes. These windows are second to none in thermal performance and can reduce your heating or cooling bill by hundreds of dollars.
NL&B Construction excels on windows and would be happy to give you a bid on replacement.
Replace Your Thermostat
Here is something you can do without getting dirty! Replace your old fashioned mercury or spring based thermostat with a “smart” thermostat. Also known as programmable thermostats (or t-stats) will allow you to automatically adjust the heating or cooling in your home based on a schedule that you can change to suit your lifestyle.
This allows you to program the thermostat to automatically drop the temp after bedtime to 60° F, and turn it up to 68° or 70° shortly before your alarm clock goes off. You can even program them for specific days of the week, which allows you to automatically lower the heat during the day when no one is home, or keep it higher on the weekends when you are not at work. There are even thermostats out there that you can control via your iPhone or your computer, that will also provide you such information as when to change the furnace filter.
You can save up to $175 a year on energy if you install and properly use a programmable thermostat. These smart devices allow you to optimize your home’s energy-efficiency by programming the temperature for different situation, seasons, or times. This is a quick job, and NL&B Construction can help you with the project as well.