How to shave 20% off your bill with energy conservation
Do you wince when your heating or electric bill comes during the winter or summer months? When the temperatures go to extremes, the extra cost of heating and cooling can come as a serious shock. I want to tell you about a really great way to reduce your heating and cooling costs, and get some impressive energy conservation, with very little cost or effort.
One of the most effective ways to cut your energy costs is also the most simple. No, it doesn’t involve a big capital investment and it doesn’t involve fancy technology. You simply need to identify and seal air leaks.
Why is this so effective? Whether you are in a 400 square foot apartment or a 4,000 square foot home, air leaks simply cause air to circulate between outside and inside, making your efforts to heat or cool your home needlessly wasteful.
And, it’s an easier problem to solve than you might think. Here’s how.
Identify air leaks
The Department of Energy has a really great primer on how to identify exactly where your air leaks are. It’s worth a read. There are two steps to finding leaks – a visual inspection and a pressurization test. They are both very easy to do.
On the outside of your home, walk around and look at any area where two building materials meet, such as corners, brick, siding, and also where any pipes are exposed. Common places where they may be a gap are dryer vents, chimneys, and around the basement and foundation.
Inside your home, look around outlets, baseboards, phone and cable lines, electrical plates, and anywhere that there is a vent, such as a heating, cooling or dryer vent. Try to find cracks, areas that are not flush with the other materials and any noticeable gaps.
And finally, the most common place to have air leakage is around windows and doors. You can visually inspect windows around the outside and inside frame, and particularly any place where panes are designed to slide apart. For doors, what you are looking for is any place that is wide enough to place a dollar bill and be able to pull it out easily.
Doesn’t a pressurization test sound rather fancy, like something you would need a crew for? It sounds like some sort of major undertaking when, in fact, all you need is a candle or incense stick! What you want to do is pick a day when it is cool outside and moderately windy, turn off all of your heating and cooling systems, turn on your vents in order to suck the air out of the house – dryer, bathroom, kitchen vents – and then get your candle or incense ready.
Next, simply walk around and hold your candle or incense next to any sites that you suspect air is leaking between the outside and the inside, and watch for the flame or smoke to indicate movement. This method will help you identify drafts.
Fix air leaks
Depending on the size and number of leaks that you find, you might consider hiring a handyman (or handywoman!) to fix them, but in most cases it can be very simple to do it yourself. Some of the materials that are most effective in plugging air leaks are caulk, specialized tapes and metal door attachments.
For leaks around cracks or fixtures that don’t move, like window frames, if they are less than a quarter inch wide, caulk is the best choice to block air leaks. There are many different kinds of caulk to choose from. This page has a list of the different types, including clear caulk which is white when it is applied and then turns transparent.
I have some experience caulking my bathtub which was good preparation for getting acquainted with a caulking gun! My advice? Practice a bit to get a sense of how to apply an even layer of caulk to a surface before touching up your interiors or exteriors.
If you detect leaks on movable fixtures, like doors or the mechanical part of a window, your best bet is to use weatherstripping. There are seemingly endless types of weatherstripping to suit any need.
One thing I’ve found is that they vary on how attractive they are and also how durable. Many of the tapes which are very inexpensive will sometimes pop off after a while. Here’s a guide from Lowe’s that walks you through the steps to seal a window.
You want to make sure that you are applying weatherstrips to a clean and dry surface. Weatherstrips are inserted between the parts of a window or door that move and are typically made of foam so that when the door or window is closed or opened, the foam edge creates an air-proof seal.
If you have a window with larger gaps, you can use weatherstrips over the gaps and then apply also “weatherseal” tape over it to hold it in place until you can get a new window or get your window properly fixed.
Some simple weatherproofing materials you can find at any hardware store.
For doors, you can use weatherstripping down the channel of the door, and what’s called a door sweep at the bottom that prevents air from blowing in or leaking out from under your door. Here is a resource from This Old House on how to install simple weather stripping and sweep, and you’ll find a more involved method to install a sweep, for our handier homeowners, here.
Never wonder about your energy costs again
I wouldn’t necessarily know how much I would save by conserving energy, if I didn’t have an easy way to keep track. If you don’t have our home planner, get it for free here. You’ll never have to wonder what your winter or summer electric bills will look like again. And, you can easily see the affects of your energy conservation efforts!
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