Posts Tagged ‘DIY’

Home Energy Saving Tips

October 9, 2014


This month, with the focus on energy, we want to encourage every homeowner to take action no matter how big or how small to conserve energy.  Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Cooking is like a puzzle. Match your pot to the size of your stovetop burner.  Using smaller pots waste heat when used on large burners.
  2. Don’t soak. Take short showers instead of baths.  If you want to save even more energy, use a low-flow showerhead.
  3. Power off, completely. If you aren’t in the room, turn off lights, TVs, computers, etc.
  4. Unplug battery chargers when not in use. Many chargers continue to burn energy even when the device isn’t plugged into the charger.
  5. Slow down. Drive safe and slow down.  Not only is speeding dangerous, it wastes fuel too.
  6. Upgrade your thermostat. Using a programmable thermostat may save you an estimated $180 a year.  It saves energy, too.
  7. Use cold water. Washing clothes with cold water can save you 40 cents per load.
  8. Forget the dryer. Dry your clothes on a clothesline or drying rack and save an estimated $252 a year.
  9. Ditch the incandescents. CFLs and LEDs are more energy-efficient and give off the same amount of light.  More information can be found on our fact sheet.
  10. Get an energy audit. Find out where your home is using and losing energy.  More than likely that lost energy is also costing you money.  Learn more in this video.

Sources:  Duke Energy, ENERGY STAR, Energy Information Administration, Choice Home Warranty

It’s vacation time!

June 24, 2014

If you have plans to travel this summer, ensure your home will be in good shape when you go. The sun is out and you should be too, but keeping your home safe and energy costs down is important. Vacation Here are a few tips:

  • Use a programmable thermostat.  Depending on where you live, programmable thermostats can help regulate the temperature and humidity in your home.  When programming it, remember you don’t need to cool your home as much when you are away and no one is home.
  • Check your insulation.  Believe it or not, having enough insulation and duct work that works properly can help reduce your energy costs.  Let us explain, watch this short video.
  • Leave a light on, but only if it’s a CFL or LED.  It’s good to leave a light on or two maintain the appearance of being home.   Save money and energy by using CFL’s or LED’s.  Changing your lightbulbs is an easy thing to do.  More facts about lightbulbs can be found here.
  • If no one’s using hot water, turn it off.  If you plan on being gone for a while, think twice about leaving your electric water heater on.  Turning it off at the breaker will help you reduce energy costs.  Your water heater might even have a vacation setting too.

Have a safe trip!


Photo from MrJack  on

When to hire a Professional

April 13, 2011

When it comes to weatherization and our search for comfort, there are lots of things homeowners can successfully accomplish on their own. Many of us have added weather-stripping or tightened up a door and these things may help, but may not make a huge impact on the comfort of the home.

 A Home Performance professional is one that focuses on improving energy efficiency as well as comfort, health and safety in a home. The reason we encourage homeowners to hire a Home Performance professional when it comes to the efficiency, health and safety of their home is simple: It’s complicated. A house is a dynamic system with many parts that interact with each other. It is not just a heating or cooling unit, not just an attic with insulation (or one that is un-insulated), a drafty room, condensation on the windows, not just a bath fan or a damp basement, but an intricate system that needs to be maintained and tuned. No one expects a furnace to work well year after year without a tune-up and in fact it’s a health and safety issue if it isn’t maintained. The same goes for the home.

Hiring a professional to assess the home can help to establish a game plan, and in Home Performance may cover the work of a number of trades such as HVAC, moisture management, ventilation, insulation and air-sealing, and that is a good thing. The value for a homeowner is that they hire someone who understands the interactions in a home, not just one part. It helps them to make an informed decision.

Hiring a number of contractors to complete a project can work too, but it certainly is harder on the homeowner, and there is also a greater risk of some details being overlooked. Either way there may be some recommended measures that the homeowner will still want to take on and that’s ok too, since now they are making an informed decision and know what they are doing is worth the effort and investment.

Speaking of investment, often when a homeowner calls a professional to fix a problem such as comfort in the home, they think of it as an expense. The work of a Home Performance Professional not only addresses comfort issues, but by increasing the efficiency of the home, the improvements often pay for themselves at the same time. The cost of hiring a professional in this instance can be a real money saver.

This post can also be seen at where we  contibute as part of a panel of experts.

Scary attics need insulation, too!

November 29, 2010

At GreenHomes, we spend a lot of time in attics–because attics need a lot attention!  We talk a lot here about air-sealing and insulating attics.  In addition to hazards suchs as electrical, suspect insulation, and falling through the ceiling, we run into a myriad of scary things.  We had a DIYer talking about dead birds.  And here’s a shot passed along by Syracuse Advisor Bill Meadows of an enormous wasps’ nest in the attic of a recent project.  I’m sure glad this project included redecking the roof so that there was easier access to this monstrosity.

big wasp nest in an attic

Be safe up there!


DIY Insulation

September 21, 2010

With winter just around the corner our attention turns from cooling to heating. Today I want to talk about an integral component in the heating of homes – insulation.

Insulation is not so much about producing heating as it is about not loosing heat to the cold outside. The idea is pretty simple – we use an insulator (e.g., cellulose, foam, or fiberglass) to prevent warmth from escaping.  The reality is actually a little more complicated, and the implementation is something that is not intended for the feint of heart.

The reality of insulating a home is a two-part problem because homes lose heat in two primary ways. First, if a home is not properly sealed, warm air will escape directly to the outdoors. Second, if a home is not properly insulated it will loose heat through conduction, causing ice damming and other nasty side effects.  [OK, I hear the engineers screaming, “What about radiation–the third mechanism?”  Yes, that plays a role, too, especially with windows.  But I’m going to set that aside for now.]

To tackle a two-part problem, you need a two-part solution:

(1)  Proper sealing, and
(2)  Effective insulation.

It wouldn’t be practical in a blog format to tell you everything you need to know to properly seal your attic because different materials and techniques are needed for different types and locations of cracks and holes. If you decide to do this job yourself, make sure to read ENERGY STAR’s Do It Yourself Guide to ENERGY STAR Home Sealing, because improper sealing is not only ineffective, it can also be a fire hazard.  And prepare to get dirty (and sweaty and itchy–no one said this was going  to be fun).

To air-seal properly, you first have to move the itchy stuff (pink, white, or yellow-itchy is itchy!) out of the way. And make sure not to fall through the ceiling while you're doing it!

Once your attic is properly sealed you can start thinking about insulation.  The good new is your probably won’t get any dirtier; you are probably already filthy from removing the old insulation and crawling around in the attic to seal air leaks, so maybe the grime isn’t your primary concern right now. Maybe your primary concern is your safety, which would put you squarely in the company of the sane.

Attics are not only dirty they are also dangerous. Not in the ‘axe murderer lurking in the dark’ way, in the ‘bare electrical wires, places you shouldn’t put your feet if you wish to keep your ceiling whole, watch out for that exposed nail, oops better get a tetanus shot while the doctor is sewing your hand back together’ kind of way. So be careful. Read the ENERGY STAR guide, and be careful.

Watch out for exposed nails and other hazards!

Presuming you are able to stay safe and finish the job yourself it is important to call in a professional to check your work.   There are lots of ways you could make small mistakes that will lead to big problems down the line, and if nothing else it makes sense to have a qualified professional check to ensure your combustion equipment (furnace, boiler, water heater etc.) are venting properly and do not pose a fire hazard.

There are some of us out there who will not be dissuaded by the difficulty in finding and sealing cracks, the filth, and the danger to our lives inherent in insulating one’s own attic. To those people I have three pieces of advice…

(1)  Watch this do-it-yourself testimonial,
(2)  Schedule twice as much time to complete the job as you think you’ll need, and
(3)  Please, have a professional check your work, especially your combustion equipment like furnaces and water heaters after you’re done.

To learn more, check out this informative video and read Mike’s previous post on this topic.

DIY Ductwork

June 15, 2010

As a follow-on to yesterday’s post about the DIY furnace horror story, John Scipione, a Senior Advisor in our Syracuse office, forwarded a shot of a furnace he ran across during an audit.  Many people know (and many more do not!) that your garden variety duct tape is good for lots of things, but not sealing ducts.  In this picture, sure enough, we can see some failing duct tape.  😉   That, however, is only part of the problem on this do-it-yourself duct job.  But at least this homeowner did find something to do with those old moving boxes!  And I do confess to a certain admiration for that can-do ingenuity.  Nonetheless, this example is not a good illustration of the fast road to energy-efficiency and a well performing home.

DIY Furnace Installation–NOT THIS WAY!

June 14, 2010

The subject of much amazement and discussion around my neighborhood this weekend, a DIY furnace installation gone terribly wrong in Connecticut.   Stuck arm, three days, infection, Sawsall, amputation…not words you necessarily want to hear together.  Thank goodness it sounds like the guy is going to be OK.  But not the approach we’d like to see replicated by homeowners anywhere!

The DIY attic insulation video I pointed to earlier today, makes THAT seem like fun in comparison.

Homeowner with too much time on his hands?

June 14, 2010

Matt insulated his own attic.  And he did it right by air-sealing (and more air-sealing) first—-please, please also air-seal first!   But as he points out, the DIY project wasn’t all fun and games.  And who has the time to put together a video documentary of their project?

DIY—Do it yourself attic insulation and air-sealing

February 18, 2010

With winter still hammering parts of the country, the mid-Atlantic states being plagued by ice dams, and people being interested in good home economics in today’s tough national economy, a lot of people are insulating their attics now.  This is a great step, if done correctly.  We think there are big advantages to using a well-trained professional to do the job properly. But some handy folks are inclined to handle it all their own—and that’s a reasonable approach. If you’re doing it yourself, however, it’s important to use the right details not just to save energy but also to stay safe!

DIY Done Right–The Short Version

  • Do NOT just roll out batts of insulation in the attic.  You need to air-seal first. The best resource guide for homeowners that I’ve come across is ENERGY STAR’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to ENERGY STAR Home Sealing.  And do this safely.  You don’t want to fall through ceiling.  And improper installation causes problems, like moisture issues and fire risk.
  • Be prepared to stay the course—this isn’t a fun job. It’s generally dirty, cramped, and uncomfortable—but you need to do it right if you want to see results. With some guidance from the ENERGY STAR guide, a friend and neighbor recently completed an insulation and air-sealing project. He’s very glad he did because he’s saving energy and his house is more comfortable. But he did say he’d never do it himself again. The hassle isn’t worth it and he’d rather hire someone. Check out his fun video on his DIY attic insulation project below.
  • After you’re done, make sure a professional checks the safety of all combustion equipment—furnaces, boilers, water heaters, etc.—in your home.

DIY Done Right–The Longer Version

Do NOT just roll out batts of insulation in the attic.  You’ll get very little benefit with fiberglass batts without rigorous attention to air-sealing.  Think of wearing a lose sweater or fleece on a windy winter day.  That fleece is a good insulating layer.  But when the wind blows through it, the heat gets sucked right out.  The same thing happens in your home as wind and the “stack effect” allow heat to escape through leaks in your home and blow right through the insulation.  (The stack effect:  warm air rises, and in the winter you whole house acts like a big chimney with the warm air rising out the top—unless you stop it)  This is a reason why you’ll see stained, dirty insulation in the attic.  It has essentially been filtering all of the air escaping your house–air that you paid to heat and cool and that you’re losing to outside. 

In fact, not adding insulation without air-sealing can lead to moisture and mold problems in the attic as the warm, moist air hits cold surfaces in the attic and the water condenses out just like it does on a glass of iced tea on a summer day.  Over time, this can lead to structural failure and other issues! 

Thus, it’s important to air-seal the attic.  This can be tricky as you need to use different materials and techniques depending on the type of holes and leaks.  For example, you can’t use foam against chimneys and flue because of the fire risk.  I can’t get in to all of the variations here.  The best resource guide for homeowners that I’ve come across is ENERGY STAR’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to ENERGY STAR Home Sealing.

Attics aren’t usually fun places, but you need to spend the time finding the holes and leaks.  And be careful up there!.  You don’t want to fall through the ceiling, you need to be on the lookout the electrical wiring, you need to watch out for protruding nails and screws, and you need to use the right techniques.

After insulating and air-sealing, it is very important to make sure that your combustion equipment—furnaces, boilers, water heaters, etc.—are operating safely and venting properly.  Most homeowner don’t have the equipment or skills to do this, so I won’t describe it here.  Your fuel company, a home performance specialist, or a good heating contractor should be able to do this for you.  As I’ve mentioned previously, carbon monoxide is not something to take lightly. 

All-in-all, this job may be more than most people want to handle.  If you hire someone to do this, make sure they are willing and able to do it right, with proper air-sealing and combustion safety testing.  If the contractor you’re talking to balks or doesn’t understand, walk away and find a contractor who can deliver what you need.

Insulation batts blamed for several fires in Australia

September 29, 2009

As reported by Malcolm Holland in The Daily Telegraph, improperly installed insulation has resulted in seven home fires in Sydney, Australia in the past six weeks alone.  New South Wales  Fair Trading Minister Virginia Judge said yesterday many insulation batts were being laid incorrectly and that  at least 26 homes in NSW had been destroyed or damaged this year by fires caused by poorly placed ceiling batts touching recessed lights. Several fires happened within a day of batts being installed.

The ARRA tax credits encourage people to add insulation, and that’s a good thing.  Just make sure that it’s done correctly and safely, whether you do it yourself or hire a contractor! 

Yesterday’s post on recessed can lights points to this—as do earlier posts about DIY insulating.

Be comfortable, be energy-efficient, but above all, be safe!


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