Winter Energy Efficiency

January 13, 2012

Those who live in the northern U.S. or in mountain areas, more than likely have snow on the ground or are expecting snow. Where we are, in South Carolina, it has yet to snow and it is not in the forecast anytime soon. However, it is rather cold at night. With such cold temperatures outside, how warm are you inside?

Energy efficiency in our homes is a must, especially in the winter. We can lose heat through our windows, doors, outlets, attic access, and loose or detached ductwork. While there are excellent investment options like replacing all the windows in the house or installing all new insulation, there are several ways you can save energy without emptying the wallet.

The Ups and Downs
There are two great options for saving energy with regards to the thermostat. The first is to set the thermostat anywhere from 65 to 68 degrees and leave it. Some households have difficulty keeping the thermostat at the same temperature all day because there's always that one family member who is freezing and keeps turning it up (not that anyone in MY home is like that...ha, ha). The second option is to install a programmable thermostat. The price range is very wide -- from just over $20 to nearly $400 depending on how much you have to invest and how many features you want. The benefit is that you can set a daytime temperature, for when family members are at work or school, and a nighttime temperature, for when everyone is home and wants to stay warm.

"Treat" Them Well
New weatherstripping is an inexpensive way to save energy in your windows. Also consider your window treatments as an opportunity to save energy. In our kitchen, we have two large, ceiling-to-floor bay windows adjacent to one another. This area has the potential to be a huge energy waster. We have installed a curtain rod straight across each opening which is covered by the room's crown molding. We selected a tapestry type fabric for our curtains. At sunset, we close the curtains to keep out the cold. During the day, we pull them back to let in the sunshine.

Born in a Barn?
Entries can contribute significantly to the energy loss in the home. Leaving the doors open for extended periods of time means choosing to pay extra money to the electric company. Remember what your mother always asked when you were a kid, "Were you born in a barn?" Dads usually were a little more harsh with, "When you have your own house, you can leave the door open all you want to, but not here!" or "Are you going to get a job to help pay the electric bill?" Aside from simply closing the doors, you can purchase and install new weatherstripping and add a curtain if you have a window in your doors. For those crafty people, another idea to prevent energy loss at the doors is to make a "draft stopper". It is made with fabric, cut to the width of the door, stuffed with styrene pellets or fiberfill. Also put in several gravel stones or a bag of beans (keep the beans in the bag) as weights to keep it in place.

Letting It Out?
Did you know that you could be losing energy efficiency through the outlets and wall switches in your house? Here's how to avoid it: foam insulation gaskets. You can purchase these at any home improvement store in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit what you have in your home. To install, simply remove the coverplate, add the gasket, and then put the coverplate back on
SAFETY NOTE: While it is not necessary to have electrical skills to add insulation gaskets to your outlets, please be careful not to touch your screwdriver to the wiring behind the coverplate. Also, the work is unsafe for children, so it must be done by an adult.

To the Attic We Go
Most homes have some type of attic space above rooms with an 8' ceiling. There is either a square hole that has a panel over it or a pull-down ladder. While the attic space provides you room to put things, it is another huge opportunity to lose energy efficiency. Consider purchasing a roll of insulation or panels of insulation board and adhere with heat-resistant double stick tape. Remember when working with any insulation, it is important to wear gloves to protect your hands.

Get Your "Ducts" in a Row
It does not require a professional visit to explore your ductwork to make sure everything is attached properly. Take a look under the house or in the attic yourself, and then call in professionals if you find something wrong. Here's what you are looking for:

  • Openings between your ducting and the HVAC unit, or on the HVAC unit itself. If you can't see large openings, feel all the way around the duct to check for leaks. You will feel air blowing if there is an opening.
  • Space between your ducting and the vents they are supposed to be connected to. This will take a while to investigate since there are many vents in the home. There will be at least one in every small room, and at least two in every larger room. If you are unable to see clearly from the attic or under the house, go to each room in your home and remove each vent to see if everything is connected properly. There should be NO space between where your duct stops and the vent hole. If there is, then your are losing energy. Remember to check your return vents as well.
  • The last thing to look for is anywhere in your ducting where it appears that air is cut off. Straps are used to help keep ducting up, either in the crawl space or in the attic. When there are long spans between straps, it can cause sagging, thus cutting off air flow.
If you can locate problems in your ducting, usually you can correct it without paying a lot of money. Duct tape can be used to correct it, or you can purchase duct mastic. Be sure to read the instructions thoroughly before taking on the the task. If you feel that the task is too much for you, or you have physical limitations, call in a professional to help you. Let them know that you have researched the problem are aware of any connection issues.

An additional tip for energy efficiency in your ductwork, be sure to replace your air filters at least once every three months, if not more frequently. This will prevent blockage of air due to dirt and debris caught in the filter. If you can afford one, it's a great investment to purchase a permanent, washable filter, which is more environmentally friendly.

The tips I have provided will not only keep you warm in the winter, they will help you keep your electric bill more manageable. If you know of an elderly person or someone who has physical limitations, offer to assist them with doing these tasks. Many of the ideas are do-it-yourself projects and will not require a professional. In the event you require contracted services, be sure to check their references first. If someone tells you they need money upfront, do not use them. They should be able to complete the work before asking you for a dime. Doing your homework and investigating your energy loss ahead of time will ultimately save you time, effort, and money.

Please feel free to post comments below, and share this article with family and friends. 

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