The leaves are changing and despite the mild summer in the Northeast, my body wasn’t quite prepared for the cold temperatures that are starting, and furnaces are turning on. (OK, the southern half of the country doesn’t know what I’m talking about—but winter is on the way for you, too.)
In the spirit of recycling, I’m pull out an old post on some of the high impact things you can do to stay warm and comfortable this winter and reduce you heating bills, too! These are general recommendations. To find out what’s most appropriate for you and your home, you should start with a good home energy audit to help find hidden issues, prioritize your improvements, and make sure your home is operating safely and efficiently. (See a short video on what’s included in a good audit.) [Note, below you won’t see bogus claims for overpriced “miracle” cures with or without Amish mantles or for $20 ceramic heaters price at $200 to pay for full-page newspaper ads. Stay away from these things!]
- The attic is a great place to start. Air leaks from rooms below into the attic can be one of the biggest drains on energy and your bank account. Sealing attic air leaks can have a huge impact.
- Use caulk or foam to seal around the plumbing stack vent, where it goes through floors. This is a pipe (PVC, or cast iron in older homes) that runs from the basement sewer pipe up through every floor, and out through the roof. Holes for electric wiring, and around chimneys, are also problem areas worth addressing.
- Insulate and air-seal your attic hatch. Often, builders overlook the hatch when they insulate the attic.
- Many homes today have recessed ceiling lights, also called can lights. These fixtures look great, but are a notorious source of heat leaks into the attic, and between floors. You can install new air-tight fixtures, use air-tight baffles, or build air-tight boxes around them in the attic. With existing fixtures, check with an electrician first to make sure the fixtures you have are “IC” rated so it’s safe to put insulation against them.
- Only after you’ve done air-sealing, put an extra layer of insulation on the attic floor, on top of the insulation you currently have there. Sixteen to 24-inches is not excessive in cold climates—and it will keep you cooler in the summer too!
- Vents to the outside of your home are pipelines for cold air leaking in, and warm air leaking out. Install one-way baffles on your kitchen fan vent, dryer vent, and bathroom fan vents.
- Keep your boiler and furnace tuned up. If they’re reaching the end of their lifespan, consider replacing with a high-efficiency unit, one that at least qualifies for Energy Star®.
- Install and use a programmable thermostat—this ensures that you don’t forget to turn the heat down at night or while you’re away at work.
- Do you have a forced air heating or cooling system? If so, make sure to seal and insulate the ductwork in attics and crawl spaces. As much as 30% of the air you heat (or cool in the summer) can escape outside through leaky ducts.
- Replacing appliances? Look for Energy Star qualified models of dishwashers, refrigerators, light fixtures, and compact fluorescent bulbs.
BONUS: The ARRA (Stimulus) federal tax credits can help you pay for these home energy improvements.
With some advice from your local home center, over four or five free weekends and with a willingness to crawl through dirty, itchy insulation, a handy homeowner can tackle many of these projects. The energy savings, and effect on comfort, are cumulative, so do as many as you can. If you don’t relish the idea of strapping on a tool belt, consider a contractor that specializes in home energy solutions. GreenHomes can complete the entire scope of work in a few days. Our whole-home solutions guarantee a minimum 25% reduction in energy consumption, with most customers seeing much higher reductions, often up to 40, 50 and 60 percent.
And whether you do the work yourself or you have it done by a contractor, after you tighten the house you should have any combustion equipment like furnaces and water heaters tested to make sure they’re running safely and efficiently.