I’m all for clean energy. I think solar panels are sweet, and wind turbines are über cool. The problem for me is the cost.[social_buttons]
While it may make sense for some people to add these to their house, for most of us, they’re simply out of the question. Our budget doesn’t include ten or twenty thousand dollars for future energy costs.
The easiest way to go green with our energy use is to simply reduce our consumption. Instead of adding megawatts, let’s focus on “negawatts” – cutting our usage through conscious energy management. Most houses were not built with energy efficiency in mind, but there are some easy, low-cost hacks for the home that will help you to cut costs and lower your energy footprint. Some municipalities even offer rebates to cover some of the costs.
Seal the envelope: The perimeter of your house, or the “envelope”, holds the heat in during cold weather and keeps the heat out during the summer. Chances are, you’ve got some big holes in your envelope. Luckily, it’s one of the easiest things to fix.
Start by examining your windows. If you feel a draft coming from the sill, your heating budget is going right out the window. Weatherproofing strips (closed cell foam or silicone) are easy to install and generally a cheap fix. Some key points to check are where the window meets the sill and the joint between the upper and lower window (if you have windows that open). Also check between the windowsill and the wall, and stuff with insulation and then fill with caulking. If you have storm windows, seal the frame to the sill (don’t caulk the windowpane if you want to be able to remove them during the summer.) If you have only single pane windows, an easy hack is bubble wrap. Simply cut a piece to fit your window, moisten it and apply it to the inside of the pane. You’ll still get a fair amount of light through it, and you’ll slow the heat loss considerably.
Now check your doors. Add weatherstripping to the doorjamb where the door meets it, and put a “sweep” on the bottom that will seal the crack when it’s closed. Check the area where the doorjamb meets the wall. Many houses were built during the building boom, when quick outweighed quality. If you don’t have a storm door, now might be the time to install one. Places like Habitat for Humanity or Resource usually have plenty of used ones, and a building supply center may have some on the clearance rack for way below full price.
Get control: Investing in an automatic thermostat for your furnace can save tons of money over the course of just one winter. Setting it to keep the temperature down at night and to kick on in the morning just before you wake up makes it a no-brainer. If nobody’s home during the day, program it to keep a lower temperature until right before you get back.
Close the heating vents in rooms that aren’t in use most of the time. You can easily open them when you want to be in there. If you have a space that water pipes go through, wrap them in insulation rather than heating the whole room.
Check the thermostat on your hot water heater. Chances are, it hasn’t been adjusted since installation, and the factory setting is generally way too hot. Think about it: When you take a shower, you have to turn on the cold water to make it tolerable, and then you’ve just undone all of the heating of the water that you paid for. Turning the temperature down to below scalding will save you money every single day of the year. After adjusting it, wait 12 hours before changing it again, as you don’t want to get lukewarm water when expecting hot.
Wrap that sucker: If your hot water heater is in an unheated space, consider wrapping it with insulation to improve efficiency. There’s no sense in heating up the tank and then letting most of the heat dissipate into the surrounding room. Most building supply stores sell “jackets” that fit perfectly, and they don’t wear out, so you only buy it once. The same thing goes for your hot water pipes. Ask at the hardware store for the right product for your needs.
A good investment might be an on-demand water heater, as you only heat the water you need, not 50 gallons at a time. With natural gas as your heat source, you’ll also be shifting demand away from a coal-burning electric plant.
Put on an extra layer: Because heat rises, much of the heat loss in your house is through the attic and roof. If you’ve got snow on the roof, check for spots where it’s melted, as those are sure signs of an insulation issue. A well insulated house will keep a layer of snow on the roof (which in turn will help to keep the house warmer). If you have an older house, rolling out another layer of insulation over what’s already there will allow you to keep the heat you’re already paying for. It’s kind of a dirty job, but doesn’t take any special skills or tools. You’ll need to wear long sleeves, some good gloves, a dust mask, and some goggles.
Use your dryer: The clothes dryer sends huge amounts of heat right outside that may be used to partially heat your home. An electric dryer can be unhooked from the outside vent, letting the warm moist air circulate inside. One caveat here is that if your dryer is in a confined space, you may find that it puts too much moisture into the air and may lead to other issues (like mold). Caution: Don’t do this with a gas dryer! The exhaust from a gas dryer should always be vented outside.
What have you done to cut your home energy costs?
Image: Jeremy Levine Design at Flickr under Creative Commons License