Already this year, we’ve set records for low temperatures threatening to send utility bills skyrocketing. While you can’t do anything about the chilly weather, you can take steps to make your home more energy efficient and pay less for heating.
Homeowners should start with smaller tweaks to their home before making big-ticket purchases. There are a lot of changes you can do before you get a new furnace. What matters most is keeping the warm air in and the cold air out. There are a number of measures you can take to accomplish those goals, from inexpensive, do-it-yourself repairs to more pricey renovations that require hiring a contractor.
This article will prove you with Winter Home Improvement Tips to help you save energy during the cool fall and cold winter months.Some of the tips below are free and can be used on a daily basis to increase your savings; others are simple and inexpensive actions you can take to ensure maximum savings through the winter.
TIP 1: Get an Energy Audit
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, we should mention that the best way to get your home operating at its maximum efficiency is to hire a professional BPI certified energy rater to evaluate your spaces. This person will conduct what’s called an “energy audit” and he or she will test your home for energy losses and safety issues, and generate a detailed report highlighting what your home’s issues are. With a report in hand you can easily target and prioritize exactly what you need to do, and what you can afford to do.
TIP 2: Seal Your Walls
Reducing the amount of air that leaks in and out of your home is a cost-effective way to cut heating and cooling costs, improve durability, increase comfort, and create a healthier indoor environment. A simple tube of high quality caulk and a plan to tackle all those problem areas can go a long way if you know where to look.
What keeps the outside air out of your home is typically the interior walls (or drywall), but you’ll find many holes that have been cut out of these walls to install your plugs and switches. If you have ever removed the face-plates of these plugs and switches during cold weather, you’ll have probably noticed some cold air pouring out. Reduce this leakage by using caulk to seal around the the area where the electric box meets the drywall. If you’re comfortable working around electricity, head to the breaker, turn it off, then test the outlets to make sure they are really off. Once off, you can then pull them out of the box and begin to seal up all the little holes in the back of the box, including where the wires come through.
TIP 3: Seal Your Home’s Can Lights
The problem with can lights is they are usually NOT airtight. This means that air can easily move from inside the home into the attic directly through the can light. Usually the air inside the home is relatively warm and moist when compared to the air in the attic. In cold weather, the foil inside a vented attic is usually pretty cold. When warm moist air comes in contact with a cold surface (the radiant barrier) you get condensation. Condensation occurs when water in a vapor form converts to its liquid form. This water can turn to ice if it’s cold enough. The last thing we want is water or ice forming under your radiant barrier foil.
It’s very important that you not put an incandescent bulb in the can. Instead, opt for something like a Cree LED recessed light – this light is dimmable, super-efficient and does not build up heat. Moreover, if you have a non-IC rated can, it’s a really good idea to put a note inside to not use incandescent lights in the future. An overheated fixture has the potential to cause serious problems. If you can’t give up your incandescent, another approach is to go into the attic, install and seal a box made from drywall around the light, and then insulate from above. This has the added benefit of improving you r-value, or insulating effectiveness.
TIP 4: Close Gaps Around Flues and Chimneys
Building codes require that wood framing be kept at least 1 inch from metal flues and 2 inches from brick chimneys. But that creates gaps where air can flow through. Cover the gaps with aluminum flashing ($12) cut to fit and sealed into place with high-temperature silicone caulk ($14). To keep insulation away from the hot flue pipe, form a barrier by wrapping a cylinder of flashing around the flue, leaving a 1-inch space in between. To maintain the spacing, cut and bend a series of inch-deep tabs in the cylinder’s top and bottom edges.
TIP 5: Check and Tune-up Your Heating System
Before the start of the cold season, it’s not a bad idea to tune up your furnace. 30% of an average home’s energy costs are related to heating, and this number can spike further if you have inefficiencies with your furnace or boiler system. The first place to start is by replacing the filter at the beginning of the season and every couple of months while you run the furnace. When purchasing a new filter, note that the cheap ones are made just to protect the furnace fan motor, so make sure to get a more efficient and healthy pleated filter for improved air quality.
A tune-up is a good way to cut down on energy, prevent carbon monoxide leaks, and keep the air inside your home safe and healthy for you and your family. A tune-up should be a top priority, especially given that your furnace or boiler system will be running at full blast for months to come — you don’t want it to give out right when you need it the most! While the cost of a tune-up may at first glance seem like an unnecessary expenditure, keep in mind that small problems can easily turn into much larger, expensive replacements down the road. A new furnace is a substantial financial investment — regular maintenance postpones its replacement.
TIP 6: Check Your Windows and Doors
In the main living areas of your home, the most significant drafts tend to occur around windows and doors. If you have old windows, caulking and adding new weatherstripping goes a long way toward tightening them up. Bronze weatherstripping ($15 to $35 for 17 feet) lasts for decades but is time-consuming to install, while some self-stick plastic types are easy to put on but don’t last very long. Adhesive-backed EPDM rubber ($8 for 10 feet) is a good compromise, rated to last at least 10 years. Nifty gadgets called pulley seals ($9 a pair) block air from streaming though the holes where cords disappear into the frames.
Weatherstripping also works wonders on doors. If a draft comes in at the bottom, install a new door sweep ($9).
TIP 7: Install a Smart Thermostat
Ok, so you got through the grunt work, now its time to put in some sexy technology to really save some energy. Programmable thermostats (or t-stats) have gotten a bad rap for being difficult to use, and the EPA has yanked their Energy Star designation as a result. However, there are new, much more intuitive designs out there, like the Wi-Fi enabled Honeywell t-stat. Honeywell’s model not only lets you control the device from your iPhone or computer, but it tells you when there are significant temperature swings coming and even when the filter needs to be changed.
Programmable thermostats come in many varieties and price ranges, and getting one can save the average household about $180 a year if it’s used right. The idea is simple: these smart devices allow you to optimize your home’s energy-efficiency by setting pre-programmed temperatures for different situations, seasons and times. For example, you probably don’t want to be paying for heat during the day when you’re not even there, right? You can set your programmable thermostat to automatically turn down the heat during those hours and turn it up when you and your family come home to save money and energy.