With the current slump in the economy, it seems that everyone is looking to save money and cut expenses wherever they can. A potential savings that’s overlooked by a lot of people is home energy conservation. While there has been a lot of talk of renewable and alternative energy sources, there are several, easy “do it yourself” projects that can add up to big savings on your energy bills. I’ve put together a list of 10 that only scratches the surface of ways to cut back on consumption.
1. Add and Improve Insulation- Insulation may be the single most important element of energy efficiency. It is critical that you have sufficient coverage in the key areas, which include: walls, ceilings, floors, and attics. The most obvious place to start is the attic and ceiling, which in many cases are are the same. Unless your home is extremely old (more than 50 years), chances are, there is some amount of insulation in the attic or ceiling. Adding more will only help to block the heat or the cold from spreading to the living spaces inside the home. Adding additional insulation to the attic is a, fairly, easy job if it is accessible. The most common type to add will be fiberglass batts, which come in various lengths, widths, and thicknesses. The width and thickness are made to accommodate various wall and ceiling cavity sizes between studs, rafters, and ceiling joists.
However, when adding insulation in an attic, this, most likely, won’t be a factor, since you’ll be laying it over the existing. The other option is blown insulation, which is a loose material that is by use of a blower. While this provides good coverage, it is a messier and more complicated process. But if you’re up for the challenge, you can buy the insulation and rent the blower in some hardware and home improvement stores. Insulating walls in existing homes is a little more challenging due to the fact that the wall cavity has been covered up with drywall or other wall coverings. The expense and work associated with opening up the wall is probably not worth it unless you have an older home with no wall insulation. There is one option that I used on garage that we were converting into a bedroom. At the top of the wall, near the ceiling, we cut holes roughly 6″x6″ between each of the studs in the exterior walls and blew in the insulation. We then repaired the drywall in the small spots rather than replacing it on the entire wall. If your home is built above the ground with a crawl space or if you’re in a mobile home, it’s important to be sure that the floor is properly insulated. This will not be an easy job because it will involve either removing the flooring to work from above or crawling on your back from below. Both of these options involve a lot of work, but if the floor is not properly insulated, heating and cooling the home will be extremely difficult.
2. Attic Ventilation- Proper attic ventilation is critical to efficiently heating or cooling your home. When hot, cold, or moist air remains trapped above the ceiling it will travel into the home below even if the ceiling has been insulated. Ventilating the attic can be accomplished several ways and the better the ventilation, the better and easier the air comfort below. The most common methods are soffit, ridge and turbine vents. Even if you’re not familiar with the terms, chances are, you’ve seen these before. Soffit vents are found in the eves around the perimeter of the house and may be small louver type or continuous with a screen. Soffit vents usually work in conjunction with roof turbines and gable vents to move a flow of air through the attic space, thus, bringing the temperature up or down with the outside air. Ridge vents are long plastic vents that are put in place of the decking running along the ridge at the peak of the roof. If you want even better ventilation, you can install roof or gable mounted vent fans, which are controlled by a thermostat that automatically turns the fan on or off at set temperature levels in the same manner as a central HVAC system. The cans can be electrically wired or solar powered with the cost of the fan itself running between $70 and $500.
3. Install Radiant Barrier- The installation of radiant barriers has become an increasingly popular method of reducing energy consumption. The process involves installing a reflective material on the under side of the roof that will then reflect the majority of the sun’s radiant heat. There are several different products available. The most common and effective being a foil strips that can be attached to the bottom side of the roof either between of over the rafters. If you are building a new home or replacing an existing roof, there is plywood decking that comes with the foil already attached to one side. There are several types and manufacturers of the foil to fit different applications and budgets. I recommend doing some research before buying. There are also radiant coatings and paints that can be brushed, rolled, or sprayed on and, while the consensus is that the paints don’t offer as much benefit as the foil, it will help and the installation process may be easier.
4. Manage Power to Electronics- While the modern home electronics available today offer great convenience and entertainment value, they are some of the biggest users of electricity. Managing the power to computers, televisions, and gaming systems can reduce your energy costs more than you might think. Computers are some of the biggest power hogs. Adjusting the settings to send it to sleep mode or turning it off when you’re not using it will help, but it will still use a small amount of power. Unplugging the machine altogether or using a timer to completely shut off the power will make a huge difference. Plasma and LCD TV’s as well as gaming systems burn lots of electricity, spending a little more for models with the “Energy Star” rating will pay for itself. In addition, have a talk with the family about turning everything off when it’s not in use. I know, in my house, it’s not uncommon to have 3 or 4 TV’s on at once while everyone is outside.
5. Using Energy Efficient Lighting- The use of compact fluorescent light bulbs has become very popular in the last few years and only use 30% to 40% of the power of incandescent bulbs. They are available in a variety of sizes and strengths and are also now available in dimmable bulbs. I replaced 95% of the bulbs in my house with these and saw about a 30% decrease in consumption immediately. While the price is significantly higher than incandescent, they should last 7 to 10 times longer and will quickly pay for themselves in energy bill savings. You can find much better prices by buying in bulk online. If you are replacing light fixtures or ceiling fans, there are a variety of energy efficient products to choose from.
6. Replacement Windows- Your home’s windows can make a huge difference in the amount of energy that is needed to heat or cool the home. Replacing existing windows with new energy efficient models may provide a huge savings. However, it can also be extremely expensive. I recommend a good deal of research and shopping because prices vary greatly. It’s also important to weigh the cost of the windows against the potential savings to see how long it would take them to pay for themselves. Building codes, for the past few years have mandated the use of double insulated windows. So, if your home was built within the last 10 years, there’s a good possibility you have insulated windows. Another more cost effective method of shielding the home from outside temperatures is tinting the glass or using window coverings such as heavier draperies, shades, or shutters.
7. Weather Stripping and Sealants- This is pretty basic, but often neglected. Cracks around windows, doors, and other wall penetrations are a constant source of energy loss. Caulking or sealing cracks around windows and doors will do wonders for keeping outside air from entering the home. It’s also important to be sure that all exterior doors are properly weather stripped. If the weather stripping has become loose or defective, there are a variety of replacement products available at hardware and home improvement stores. One of the most crucial places to check are access doors to attics and basements.
8. More Efficient Water Heating- Heating water is one of the biggest energy expenses in any home. For bathing, washing clothes, dishes, and sometimes swimming pools, we are almost constantly heating water. There are several measures that can be taken to reduce this cost. An easy and inexpensive method is to further insulate the tank and pipes where the enter and leave the tank. Lowering the temperature setting on the heaters thermostat, will reduce the workload while still providing comfortable water temperature. If you live in warm climate states, installing a solar powered water heater may be an option and there are installation instructions available on the internet. On demand or tankless water heaters are available in electric or gas models and will provide a saving on energy costs. However, with addition circuits or gas lines needed, the installation cost may out weigh the savings.
9. Proper Maintenance of the Heating and Cooling System- Insuring that your home’s heating and cooling system is operating at peak efficiency can make a big difference in how hard and how much your system has to work. Regular cleaning and maintenance will also save you money by extending the life of your system. A couple of things you can do as a homeowner are to regularly change the filters and clean the coils and materials for this can be found in hardware, home improvement, and even grocery stores. I would also recommend having a professional technician clean and inspect the system at least once a year.
10. Government Grants and Tax Credits- With the nationwide emphasis on energy conservation, the federal government, as well as many state and local governments, have established grant programs or tax credits for making energy efficient improvements to homes and businesses. If you qualify, this could amount to hundreds or thousands of dollars in addition the the savings in energy costs. Check with the department of energy or agencies in your state to see what is available.