Energize It

By Mark J. Donovan

July 23, 2018 4 min read

Energy efficiency is tantamount to keeping winter heating bills down while your home keeps you warm and toasty. Heating and cooling is the highest energy expense for most U.S. homes, typically accounting for about 48 percent of energy use, according to the Department of Energy. Even if your home was originally constructed to be energy-efficient, time and nature have a way of taking their toll. There's no need to hire a professional to find pain points that need fixing. Conduct your own home energy audit in the fall, before temperatures drop and your home is tried and tested, and you'll no doubt find ways to save. Grab a pen and notebook, and tour your home to find big and small improvements to make.

Start in the furnace room and see when you last had your furnace cleaned. A clean and properly maintained system is critical for safe operation and delivering maximum output without wasting energy. A furnace should be cleaned every year, even if it is a gas furnace. Conduct routine cleaning maintenance as needed, and consider calling a professional for any mechanical maintenance.

If you have a basement, head down and see if the exposed hot water supply pipes have pipe foam insulation. If not, adding it will positively benefit both energy and water consumption. As the Department of Energy explains: "Insulating your hot water pipes reduces heat loss and can raise water temperature 2 degrees F to 4 degrees F hotter than uninsulated pipes can deliver, allowing you to lower your water temperature setting. You also won't have to wait as long for hot water when you turn on a faucet or showerhead, which helps conserve water." This is a cheap and easy do-it-yourself project.

Doors and windows need to be in good working order to seal heat in and keep cold air out. They should open and close properly and have no cracks or holes. Ideally, you should examine them on a cool, windy day so you can feel any leaks or cold drafts. Inspect the weatherstripping to confirm that it's not worn or damaged. If it needs replacing, visit your local Lowe's or other home improvement store to find the proper materials.

The attic is the chief culprit for home energy loss during winter. Heat rises, and if the attic is improperly insulated, heat from the lower living areas will find its way into the attic and out of the home via the ridge and soffit roof vents. Inspect the insulation carefully, as even the smallest of breaks or uninsulated areas can lead to a dramatic reduction in energy efficiency. Depending on the climate and location of your home, you should have at least R-30 or R-38 insulation to be cost-effective. Check the Energy Star government website for your recommended R-value. Attic insulation is an important and valuable investment that offers high returns.

After addressing all these big-ticket items, move on to the smaller details like water and light fixtures, and electrical appliances. Using and wasting less hot water will lower heating costs. Replace your old bathroom shower heads with low-flow alternatives for $10 to $20 and achieve savings of 25 to 60 percent. Change out standard incandescent lightbulbs for compact fluorescent lightbulbs and you could use about 70 percent less energy. And if you have the budget, consider replacing appliances like your refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave and washer and dryer with Energy Star-certified appliances, which meet strict energy efficiency criteria set by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency. Any of these simple swaps can add up to big savings.

When it comes to ice-cold winter months, curling up by the fireplace at night can only be so enjoyable when you know your heating bills will be as high as the snow pile outside. A fall home energy inspection will give you access to how you can save money and be more comfortable in your home.

Mark J. Donovan's website is at http://www.homeadditionplus.com.

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