Turn Your House Into an Energy Star
You don’t have to start with new construction to have a more efficient house. These home improvement tips are the most important steps you can take toward saving energy. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, log onto energystar.gov for instructions, otherwise consult a contractor.
1. Prevent outside air from leaking into your house. The biggest drafts typically are easy to feel — around doors, windows, and electrical outlets. But hidden leaks in the attic, basement, and around the chimney can also be significant sources of energy loss. Caulk windows; weatherstrip doors, and use outlet protectors (like the ones for baby proofing). In the attic, stuff fiberglass insulation in open stud cavities and behind kneewalls. Caulk small holes (1/4″ or less), like those around electrical wires, with silicone or acrylic latex caulk. Fill larger gaps (up to 3″) such as those around plumbing vent pipes with expanding spray foam insulation. In the basement, insulate the gap between the sill plate and the foundation with caulk or foam.
2. Reduce heat loss through the roof. After sealing attic and basement, check your attic insulation. If you can see floor joists (the insulation is below or level with joists), you should add more insulation. The key is to distribute the insulation (fiberglass, rigid foam, cellulose) evenly with no low spots along the eaves. The ideal level in New England is to insulate to R-49 which requires about 10 to 14 inches of insulation depending on what type you use to reduce heat loss.
3. Insulate and seal air ducts. Heating and cooling ducts in attics, basements, and crawl spaces operate most efficiently when the surrounding air is conditioned (not excessively hot or cold). Ducts are typically made of thin metal that can easily lose up to 30 percent energy when located in unconditioned spaces. The heating and cooling equipment then has to compensate by conditioning additional air, which raises your energy bill. Contractors generally insulate ducts with rigid fiberboard insulation up to R-11 in New England. In terms of sealing gaps in ductwork, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends the use of mastic or metal-backed tape (not standard gray duct tape which fails quickly) to tighten ducts. Also recommended is duct sealant, a paste even more durable than foil duct tape.
4. Repair or replace old or poorly functioning furnaces, boilers, and water heaters. Keep your heating and cooling systems at peak performance by cleaning or replacing the air filter at least every three months and having a contractor do an annual service. If your furnace is more than 20 years old, consider replacing it with an Energy Star qualified furnace. A programmable thermostat is a good idea for families who are away from home for periods during the day. You can set the furnace to automatically lower use when the house is empty and to then warm the house to a comfortable temperature in time for homecoming.
5. Install efficient lighting and appliances. A compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL) uses 75-80 percent less energy than a comparable incandescent bulb. As far as global impact, compact fluorescents can make a huge difference, financially and environmentally. In June 2005 Yankee installed energy efficient lighting in our Dublin, NH, offices. In the first year we saved $2,500, and because the new lights generate less heat, we reduced air conditioning costs, too. The life of a CFL can be shortened if bulbs are turned on and off frequently, so put CFL in high-use areas such as living rooms, bathrooms, and hallways where lighting tends to remain on for longer than 15 minutes. In addition to lighting, look for Energy Star rated appliances, home electronics, and home office equipment.
6. Analyze your energy use online. The Energy Star Yardstick program compares your home’s efficiency to similar homes and recommends improvements. All you need is your last 12 months of utility bills, the number of occupants in your home, square footage, the year your house was built, and your zip code. Log on to energystar.gov, click on home energy analysis, and submit your request.