Summer's ending and soon enough heating season will be upon us. Here are seven home improvement tips offered by "The Daily Green" to get your house ready for an energy efficient fall and winter.
1) Get an energy audit - You will want to know where your house is wasting energy so that you can address those areas first. There is no reason to waste money on heating bills just to see that heat seep and leak from your house. As Grandpa would say, "we're not heating the outdoors...." You can perform you own energy audit but there is no substitute for an energy audit performed by a trained professional who can use the right equipment and methodology to assess your home's energy efficiency.
2) Caulk cracks and leaks - The Department of Energy says that up to 30% of the cost of cooling and heating is consumed by leakage. Caulking will prevent heated or cooled air from seeping out of your house. Use silicone caulk when joining differing materials like brick, metal flashing, stone and wood. It will stick to painted surfaces but paint will not adhere when cured. Water-based foam sealant is good for window and door frame cracks, but not for larger gaps. The area to be caulked should be clean and the caulk bead should be applied in a constant stream rather than a series of bursts from the caulk gun.
3) Use weather-stripping - To stop air leaks from windows and door frames, weather-stripping can be applied where caulk would not be convenient, such as door frames to be opened and closed where the weather-stripping can form a tight seal when the door is closed. Felt weather-stripping is good for window and door frames, but is not durable for multiple seasons and should not be exposed to moisture. Tape weather-stripping is useful for door frames, window sashes and non-opening windows. Several other specialized weather-stripping types are available; you can learn more at your hardware supplier.
4) Seal and insulate ducts - Forced air systems lose heated air through joints and vents. Duct sealing prevents loss of heated or cooled air. The insulation used should have an R-value at or over 6. The project should pay back its cost within a year, saving energy costs after the small cost of the insulation is recovered.
5) Add insulation where needed - Floors, walls and attics often lack sufficient insulation to prevent heat loss. Sometimes one or more rooms of the house are insulated less than others, creating uneven heat distribution and inefficient use of the heating system. An R-value chart will show whether, based on what area of the country you live in, you need insulation rated between R13 and R30 for floors, R25-R49 for walls and R30-60 for attics. A tax deduction of 10% of the cost of materials up to $500 is available through 2011.
6) Replace old appliances - A new Energy Star rated refrigerator, dishwasher, clothes washer, furnace, water heater or central air conditioner can save 10% or more on energy costs. While popular, some state rebate programs are still available for assistance with the costs of a replacement. See our August 18 post "Financial Incentives for Energy Efficiency"for information about available programs.
7) Plant trees - One of the oldest ways to improve the environment can improve conditions in your home. Evergreen trees planted on the stormy side of your house will save on heating bills by blocking cold winds. Shade trees on the west side of your home can block heat, reducing their strain on your cooling system. Trees also increase salability of your home, though planting them while they are young will require some patience until they grow to their full usefulness.
Your home is a breathing living entity. It grows with you and it supports your way of life. Creating a more energy efficient home is an ongoing project – as much an art as a science. As your needs change, as the seasons change, as the condition of your home changes, you will need to respond in kind, to get the most out of your house with the least energy expenditure. No answer is good for every homeowner, but all home owners can try to achieve greater efficiency. The result, a more energy efficient community, a more energy independent nation, can be the outcome, one we should all desire.