Air leaks can waste a lot of your energy. One of the quickest energy-- and money-saving tasks you can do is caulk, seal, and weather strip all seams, cracks, and openings to the outside.
TIPS FOR SEALING AIR LEAKS
Test your home for air tightness. On a windy day, carefully hold a lit incense stick or a smoke pen next to your windows, doors, electrical boxes, plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, attic hatches, and other places where air may leak. If the smoke stream travels horizontally, you have located an air leak that may need caulking, sealing, or weather-stripping.
Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows that leak air.
Caulk and seal air leaks where plumbing, ducting, or electrical wiring comes through walls, floors, ceilings, and soffits over cabinets.
Install foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on walls.
Inspect dirty spots in your insulation for air leaks and mold. Seal leaks with low-expansion spray foam made for this purpose and install house flashing if needed.
Look for dirty spots on your ceiling paint and carpet, which may indicate air leaks at interior wall/ceiling joints and wall/floor joists, and caulk them.
Cover single-pane windows with storm windows or replace them with more efficient double-pane low- emissivity windows.
Use foam sealant on larger gaps around windows, baseboards, and other places where air may leak out.
Cover your kitchen exhaust fan to stop air leaks when not in use.
Check your dryer vent to be sure it is not blocked. This will save energy and may prevent a fire.
Replace door bottoms and thresholds with ones that have pliable sealing gaskets.
Keep the fireplace flue damper tightly closed when not in use.
Seal air leaks around fireplace chimneys, furnaces, and gas-fired water heater vents with fire-resistant materials such as sheet metal or sheetrock and furnace cement caulk.
Fireplace flues are made from metal, and over time repeated heating and cooling can cause the metal to warp or break, creating a channel for air loss. To seal your flue when not in use, consider an inflatable chimney balloon. Inflatable chimney balloons fit beneath your fireplace flue when not in use, are made from durable plastic, and can be removed easily and reused hundreds of times. If you forget to remove the balloon before making a fire, the balloon will automatically deflate within seconds of coming into contact with heat. A reasonably capable do-it-yourselfer can create an inexpensive, reusable fireplace flue plug by filling a plastic trash bag with fiberglass batt scraps and jamming it into the flue. Attach a durable cord with a tag that hangs down into the fireplace to (1) remind you the flue is blocked and (2) provide an easy plug removal method.
Insulation is made from a variety of materials, and it usually comes in four types: rolls and batts, loose-fill, rigid foam, and foam-in-place.
ROLLS AND BATTS
Rolls and batts -- or blankets -- are flexible products made from mineral fibers, such as fiberglass and rock wool. They are available in widths suited to standard spacing of wall studs and attic or floor joists: 2 inch x 4 inch walls can hold R-13 or R-15 batts; 2 inch x 6 inch walls can use R-19 or R-21 products.
Loose-fill insulation is usually made of fiberglass, rock wool, or cellulose in the form of loose fibers or fiber pellets. It should be blown into spaces using special pneumatic equipment. The blown-in material conforms readily to odd-sized building cavities and attics with wires, ducts, and pipes, making it well suited for places where it is difficult to effectively install other types of insulation.
RIGID FOAM INSULATION
Rigid foam insulation is typically more expensive than rolls and batts or loose-fill insulation, but it is very effective in exterior wall sheathing, interior sheathing for basement walls, and special applications such as attic hatches. Foam insulation R-values range from R-4 to R-6.5 per inch of thickness, which is up to 2 times greater than most other insulating materials of the same thickness.
Foam-in-place insulation can be blown into walls, on attic surfaces, or under floors to insulate and reduce air leakage. You can use the small pressurized cans of foam-in-place insulation to reduce air leakage in holes and cracks such as window and door frames, and electrical and plumbing penetrations.
There are two types of foam-in-place insulation: closed-cell and open-cell. Both are typically made with polyurethane. With closed-cell foam, the high-density cells are closed and filled with a gas that helps the foam expand to fill the spaces around it. Closed-cell foam is the most effective, with an insulation value of around R-6.2 per inch of thickness.
Open-cell foam cells are not as dense and are filled with air, which gives the insulation a spongy texture. Open-cell foam insulation value is around R-3.7 per inch of thickness.
The type of insulation you should choose depends on how you will use it and on your budget. While closed-cell foam has a greater R-value and provides stronger resistance against moisture and air leakage, the material is also much denser and is more expensive to install. Open-cell foam is lighter and less expensive but should not be used below ground level where it could absorb water. Consult a professional insulation installer to decide what type of insulation is best for you.
Consider factors such as your climate, home design, and budget when selecting insulation for your home.
Use higher R-value insulation, such as spray foam, on exterior walls and in cathedral ceilings to get more insulation with less thickness.
Install attic air barriers such as wind baffles along the entire attic eave to help ensure proper airflow from the soffit to the attic. Ventilation helps with moisture control and reducing summer cooling bills, but don't ventilate your attic if you have insulation on the underside of the roof. Ask a qualified contractor for recommendations.
Be careful how close you place insulation next to a recessed light fixture—unless it is insulation contact (IC) rated—to avoid a fire hazard.
Follow the manufacturer's installation instructions, and wear the proper protective gear when installing insulation.
LONG-TERM SAVINGS TIPS
One of the most cost-effective ways to make your home more comfortable year-round is to add insulation to your attic, including the attic trap or access door, which is relatively easy.
To find out if you have enough attic insulation, measure the thickness of the insulation. If it is less than R-30 (11 inches of fiberglass or rock wool or 8 inches of cellulose), you could probably benefit by adding more.
If your attic has enough insulation and proper air sealing, and your home still feels drafty and cold in the winter or too warm in the summer, chances are you need to add insulation to the exterior walls. This is more expensive and usually requires a contractor, but it may be worth the cost—especially if you live in a very cold climate. If you replace the exterior siding on your home, consider adding insulation at the same time.
You may also need to add insulation to your crawlspace or basement. Check with a professional contractor for recommendations.
Heating and cooling your home uses more energy and costs more money than any other system in your home -- typically making up about 54% of your utility bill.
No matter what kind of heating and cooling system you have in your house, you can save money and increase your comfort by properly maintaining and upgrading your equipment. But remember, an energy-efficient furnace alone will not have as great an impact on your energy bills as using the whole-house approach. By combining proper equipment maintenance and upgrades with recommended insulation, air sealing, and thermostat settings, you can cut your energy use for heating and cooling -- and reduce environmental emissions -- from 20%-50%.
HEATING AND COOLING TIPS
Set your programmable thermostat as low as is comfortable in the winter and as high as is comfortable in the summer, and -- depending on the season -- raise or lower the set point when you're sleeping or away from home.
Clean or replace filters on furnaces and air conditioners once a month or as recommended.
Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed; make sure they're not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.
Eliminate trapped air from hot-water radiators once or twice a season; if unsure about how to perform this task, contact a professional.
Place heat-resistant radiator reflectors between exterior walls and the radiators.
Turn off kitchen, bath, and other exhaust fans within 20 minutes after you are done cooking or bathing; when replacing exhaust fans, consider installing high-efficiency, low-noise models.
During winter, keep the draperies and shades on your south-facing windows open during the day to allow the sunlight to enter your home and closed at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.
During summer, keep the window coverings closed during the day to block the sun's heat.
If you've ever stood on a roof on a hot summer day, you know how hot it can get. The heat from your roof makes your air conditioner work even harder to keep your home cool.
If you are building a new home, decide during planning whether you want a cool roof, and if you want to convert an existing roof, you can:
Retrofit the roof with specialized heat-reflective material.
Re-cover the roof with a new waterproofing surface (such as tile coating).
Replace the roof with a cool one.
A cool roof uses material that is designed to reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat than a standard roof. Cool roofs can be made of a highly reflective type of paint, a sheet covering, or highly reflective tiles or shingles.
By installing a cool roof, you can lower the temperature of your roof by up to 50°F and save energy and money by using less air conditioning. Cool roofs make spaces like garages or covered patios more comfortable.
As cool roofs become more popular, communities will benefit from fewer power plant emissions and less demand for new power plants. Cool roofs can lower outside air temperatures, reducing heat islands in urban areas.
Nearly any type of home can benefit from a cool roof, but consider climate and other factors before you decide to install one.
You may also consider installing a green roof. Green roofs are ideal for urban buildings with flat or shallow-pit roofs, and can include anything from basic plant cover to a garden. The primary reasons for using this type of roof include managing storm water and enjoying a rooftop open space. Green roofs also provide insulation, lower the need for heating and cooling, and can reduce the urban heat island effect. This roof type can be much more expensive to implement than other efficient roof options, so you should carefully assess your property and consult a professional before deciding to install a green roof.
Water heating is the second largest energy expense in your home. It typically accounts for about 18% of your utility bill.
WATER HEATING TIPS
Install aerating, low-flow faucets and showerheads.
Repair leaky faucets promptly; a leaky faucet wastes gallons of water in a short period of time.
Set the thermostat on your water heater to 50°C to get comfortable hot water for most uses.
Insulate your electric hot-water storage tank but be careful not to cover the thermostat. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations.
Insulate your natural gas or oil hot-water storage tank but be careful not to cover the water heater's top, bottom, thermostat, or burner compartment. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations; when in doubt, get professional help.
Insulate the first 6 feet of the hot and cold water pipes connected to the water heater.
If you are in the market for a new dishwasher or clothes washer, consider buying an efficient, water-saving model to reduce hot water use.
Install heat traps on the hot and cold pipes at the water heater to prevent heat loss. Most new water heaters have built-in heat traps.
Drain a quart of water from your water tank every 3 months to remove sediment that impedes heat transfer and lowers the efficiency of your heater. Follow the manufacturer's directions.
Although most water heaters last 10-15 years, it's best to start shopping now for a new one if yours is more than 7 years old. Doing some research before your heater fails will enable you to select one that most appropriately meets your needs.
Windows can be one of your home's most attractive features. Windows provide views, daylighting, ventilation, and heat from the sun in the winter. Unfortunately, they can also account for 10% to 25% of your heating bill by letting heat out.
If your home has single-pane windows, consider replacing them with double-pane windows with high-performance glass—low-e or spectrally selective coatings. In colder climates, select gas-filled windows with low-e coatings to reduce heat loss. In warmer climates, select windows with spectrally selective coatings to reduce heat gain.
If you decide not to replace your windows, consider following these tips to improve their performance.
COLD WEATHER WINDOW TIPS
Use a heavy-duty, clear plastic sheet on a frame or tape clear plastic film to the inside of your window frames to reduce drafts.
Install tight-fitting, insulating window shades on windows that feel drafty after weatherizing.
Close your curtains and shades at night to protect against cold drafts; open them during the day to let in warming sunlight.
Install exterior or interior storm windows, which can reduce heat loss through the windows by 25% to 50%. They should have weatherstripping at all movable joints; be made of strong, durable materials; and have interlocking or overlapping joints.
Repair and weatherize your current storm windows, if necessary.
WARM WEATHER WINDOW TIPS
Install white window shades, drapes, or blinds to reflect heat away from the house.
Close curtains on south- and west-facing windows during the day.
Install awnings on south- and west-facing windows.
Apply sun-control or other reflective films on south-facing windows to reduce solar heat gain.
LONG-TERM SAVINGS TIP
Installing high-performance windows will improve your home's energy performance. While it may take many years for new windows to pay off in energy savings, the benefits of added comfort, improved aesthetics, and functionality can offset the cost.
SHOPPING TIPS FOR WINDOWS
Check with local utilities to see what rebates or other incentives are available for window replacement.
Choose high-performance windows that have at least two panes of glass and a low-e coating.
Choose a low U-factor for better insulation in colder climates; the U-factor is the rate at which a window, door, or skylight conducts non-solar heat flow.
Look for a low solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC)—this is a measure of solar radiation admitted through a window, door, or skylight. Low SHGCs reduce heat gain in warm climates.
Select windows with both low U-factors and low SHGCs to maximize energy savings in temperate climates with both cold and hot seasons.
Look for whole-unit U-factors and SHGCs, rather than center-of-glass (COG) U-factors and SHGCs. Whole-unit numbers more accurately reflect the energy performance of the entire product.
Have your windows installed by trained professionals according to manufacturer's instructions; otherwise, your warranty may be void.
Consider windows with impact-resistant glass if you live along a coast or in areas with flying debris from storms.
An average household dedicates about 10% of its energy budget to lighting. Switching to energy-efficient lighting is one of the fastest ways to cut your energy bills. Timers and motion sensors save you even more money by reducing the amount of time lights are on but not being used.
You have many choices in energy-efficient lighting. The most popular light bulbs available are halogen incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Although they can initially cost more than traditional incandescent bulbs, over their lifetime they save you money, because they use less energy.
HALOGEN INCANDESCENT LIGHTING
Energy-saving, or halogen, incandescent light bulbs are about 25% more efficient and can last up to three times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. They are available in a wide range of shapes and colors, and can be used with dimmers.
CFL bulbs last about 10 times longer and use about one-fourth the energy of traditional incandescent bulbs. A typical CFL can pay for itself in energy savings in less than 9 months and continue to save you money each month.
You can buy CFLs that offer the same brightness and colors as traditional incandescent bulbs. Some CFLs are encased in a cover to further diffuse the light and provide a similar shape to traditional incandescent bulbs.
CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury and require special handling if they are broken. CFLs should be recycled at the end of their lifespan. Many retailers recycle CFLs for free.
LED bulbs are rapidly expanding in household use. They come in a variety of colors, and some are dimmable or offer convenient features such as daylight and motion sensors.
In addition to standard screw-in bulbs, you'll find LEDs in applications such as recessed down-lights, desk lamps, kitchen under-cabinet lighting, and outdoor area lights.
INDOOR LIGHTING TIPS
Replacing 15 inefficient incandescent bulbs in your home with energy-saving bulbs could save you about 15 pounds per year.
When remodeling, look for recessed light fixtures or "cans" which are rated for contact with insulation and are air tight (ICAT rated).
When replacing incandescent bulbs from recessed light fixtures, use energy-efficient bulbs that are rated for that purpose. For example, the heat buildup in down-lights will significantly shorten the life of spiral CFLs.
Controls such as timers and photocells save electricity by turning lights off when not in use. Dimmers save electricity when used to lower light levels. Be sure to select products that are compatible with the energy-efficient bulbs you want to use.
Keep your curtains or shades open to use daylighting instead of turning on lights. For more privacy, use light-colored, loose-weave curtains to allow daylight into the room. Also, decorate with lighter colors that reflect daylight.
Many homeowners use outdoor lighting for decoration and security. A variety of products are available from low-voltage pathway lighting to motion-detector floodlights.
LEDs work well indoors and outdoors because of their durability and performance in cold environments. Look for LED products such as pathway lights, step lights, and porch lights for outdoor use. You can also find solar powered outdoor lighting.
OUTDOOR LIGHTING TIPS
Because outdoor lights are usually left on a long time, using CFLs or LEDs in these fixtures will save a lot of energy. Most bare spiral CFLs can be used in enclosed fixtures that protect them from the weather.
CFLs and LEDs are available as flood lights. These models have been tested to withstand the rain and snow so they can be used in exposed fixtures.
Many people work from home at least one day per week. Working from home saves energy and time by cutting out the commute, but it may increase your home energy bills unless you use energy-saving office equipment.
HOME OFFICE TIPS
Selecting energy-efficient office equipment and turning off machines when they are not in use can result in significant energy savings.
Spending a large portion of time in low-power mode not only saves energy but helps equip-ment run cooler and last longer.
Putting your laptop AC adapter on a power strip that can be turned off (or will turn off automatically) can maximize savings; the transformer in the AC adapter draws power continuously, even when the laptop is not plugged into the adapter.
Using the power management settings on computers and monitors can cause significant savings.
It is a common misperception that screen savers reduce a monitor's energy use. Use automatic switching to sleep mode or simply turn it off.
Another misperception, carried over from the days of older mainframe computers, is that equipment lasts longer if it is never turned off.
LONG-TERM SAVINGS TIP
Consider buying a laptop for your next computer upgrade; laptops use much less energy than desktop computers.
HOME ELECTRONICS TIPS
Unplug appliances, or use a power strip and use the switch on the power strip to cut all power to the appliance, to avoid "vampire" loads. Many appliances continue to draw a small amount of power when they are switched off. These vampire loads occur in most appliances that use electricity, such as DVD players, TVs, stereos, computers, and kitchen appliances. Unplug battery chargers when the batteries are fully charged or the chargers are not in use.
Use rechargeable batteries for products like cordless phones and digital cameras. Studies have shown they are more cost effective than disposable batteries. If you must use disposables, check with your trash removal company about safe disposal options.
You have many options for using renewable energy at home, including solar panels and small wind turbines.
Solar panels are the most popular form of renewable energy today. You can use them to generate heat, electricity, and indoor and outdoor light.
If you live on at least one acre of land with an ample wind resource, you can generate your own electricity using a small wind electric system. You can also use a small wind turbine for pumping water, or to charge a sailboat battery.
You may have also heard of using a geothermal or ground-source heat pump to heat and cool your home. While not technically a renewable energy technology, this energy-saving technology makes use of the constant temperature near the earth's surface for heating and cooling.
In addition to using renewable energy in your home, you can buy electricity made from renewable energy like the sun, wind, water, plants, and geothermal from your utility company. Check with your local utility for more information.
RENEWABLE ENERGY TIPS
Installing solar-powered outdoor pathway lights is one of the easiest ways to use solar energy at home.
Building a new home is the best time to design and orient the home to take advantage of the sun's rays. A well-oriented home lets in the winter sun in south-facing windows to reduce heating bills, and blocks the heat from summer sun to reduce cooling bills.
Heating water is a great use of solar power. If you have a swimming pool or hot tub, you can use solar power to cut pool heating costs. Most solar pool heating systems are cost competitive with conventional systems and have very low operating costs. It's actually the most cost-effective use of solar energy.
Installing small wind turbines, which range in size from 400 Watts to 20 kilowatts, can provide some of the electricity for your home. Other uses of micro wind turbines (20-500 Watts) include charging batteries for sailboats and other recreational vehicles.
LONG-TERM SAVINGS TIP
If you've already made your home as energy efficient as possible, and you still have high electricity bills and have access to a good solar resource, you might want to consider generating your own electricity with a solar power system. Solar panels can be easily installed onto ground- or roof-mounted racks, and new products are available that integrate solar cells with the roof, making them much less visible than older systems.
You should consider several factors if you want to install a solar power system, such as your solar resources, siting and sizing the system, the type of system (grid-connected or stand-alone), and electrical safety. Because of the complexity and need for proper installation, it's best to have a professional solar contractor install your system.
IS A SOLAR POWER SYSTEM RIGHT FOR ME?
You could consider adding a solar power system to your house if your location has adequate solar resources. A shade-free, south-facing location is best. At least one of the following should also be true:
You live in a remote location and your home is not connected to the utility grid. Using solar power might cost you less than extending a power line to the grid. Your power provider will connect your solar system to the electricity grid and credit your bill for any excess power you produce.
You are willing to pay more up front to reduce the environmental impact of your electricity use.
Avoid idling. Think about it -- idling gets you 0 miles per gallon. The best way to warm up a vehicle is to drive it. No more than 30 seconds of idling on winter days is needed. Anything more simply wastes fuel and increases emissions.
Avoid aggressive driving, such as speeding, rapid acceleration, and hard braking, which can lower your highway gas mileage by up to 33% and your city mileage by 5%.
Avoid high speeds. Above 60 mph, gas mileage drops rapidly.
Avoid keeping heavy items in your car.
Reduce drag by placing items inside the car or trunk rather than on roof racks, which can decrease your fuel economy by 5% or more.
Combine errands. Several short trips, each one taken from a cold start, can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.
Check into telecommuting, carpooling, and public transit to save driving and car maintenance costs. Many urban areas provide carpool lanes that are usually less congested, which means you will get to work and home faster and more refreshed!
CAR MAINTENANCE TIPS
Use the grade of motor oil your car's manufacturer recommends. Using a different motor oil can lower your gas mileage by 1%-2%.
Inflate your tires to the pressure listed in your owner's manual or on a sticker in the glove box or driver's side door jamb. This number may differ from the maximum pressure listed on your tire's sidewall.
Get regular maintenance checks to avoid fuel economy problems due to worn spark plugs, dragging brakes, sagging belts, low transmission fluid, or transmission problems.
Don't ignore the check-engine light - it can alert you to problems that affect fuel economy as well as more serious problems, even when your vehicle seems to be running fine.
Replace clogged air filters on an older car with a carbureted engine to improve gas mileage by as much as 10% and to protect your engine.
LONG-TERM SAVINGS TIPS
Choose vehicles according to your need. For example, if you mostly drive in cities, a smaller hybrid might be right for you because they get better mileage in city driving and are easier to park.
If you need a vehicle for towing or heavy use, consider a clean diesel vehicle. Diesel engines are quieter, more powerful, and 30%-35% more efficient than similar-sized gasoline engines. The new generation of clean diesel vehicles must meet the same emissions standards as gasoline vehicles.
Many vehicles are flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs), which can run on E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) and other ethanol-gasoline blends. Check your owner's manual to find out if your vehicle is an FFV.
Consider buying a highly fuel-efficient vehicle. A fuel-efficient, plug-in electric (PHEV), hybrid, or alternative fuel vehicle could cut your fuel costs and help the environment. See the Fuel Economy Guide for more information on buying a new fuel-efficient car or truck.
Also, if you have a plug-in hybrid electric or an all-electric vehicle, charging stations for electric vehicles are increasingly available throughout the country.
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