Your Home - Fall 2010 - Energy Saving Tips
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Fall 2010
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Preparing Your Home Heating System for Winter - Part 2

Insulating and Sealing Up Your Home
One of the best ways to keep your home warm while keeping the bills down is ensuring that it is insulated and sealed as effectively as possible.

A well-insulated and ventilated attic will not only save on the heating bill, but may prevent ice dams as well. Consider adding a second layer of insulation to the attic. R-30 insulation is considered the minimum a home should have. Newer homes are more likely to conform to this minimum, but if your house is older it is probably time to add insulation.

To determine whether you should add insulation, you first need to find out how much insulation you already have in your home and where. A qualified home energy auditor will include an insulation check as a routine part of a whole-house energy assessment. An energy assessment, also known as a home energy audit, will also help identify areas of your home that are in need of air sealing. (Before insulating, you should ensure that your home is properly air sealed.)

Warning: if you think you have vermiculite insulation in your attic, there's a chance it could contain asbestos; don't disturb it. Only insulation contractors certified to handle and remove asbestos should deal with vermiculite insulation.

Before installing any type of insulation in the attic, follow these steps:

  • Seal all attic-to-home air leaks. Most insulation does not stop airflow.
    • Duct exhaust fans to the outside. Use a tightly constructed box to cover fan housing on attic side. Seal around the duct where it exits the box. Seal the perimeter of the box to the drywall on attic side.
    • Cover openings—such as dropped ceilings, soffits, and bulkheads—into attic area with plywood and seal to the attic side of the ceiling.
    • Seal around chimney and framing with a high-temperature caulk or furnace cement.
    • At the tops of interior walls, use long-life caulk to seal the smaller gaps and holes. Use expanding foam or strips of rigid foam board insulation for the larger gaps.
  • Install blocking (metal flashing) to maintain fire-safety clearance requirements (usually 3 inches) for heat-producing equipment found in an attic, such as flues, chimneys, exhaust fans, and light housings/fixtures unless the light fixtures are IC (insulation contact) rated. IC-rated lights are airtight and can be covered with insulation.
  • Make sure insulation doesn't block soffit vents to allow for attic ventilation.

Check the attic ceiling for water stains or marks. They indicate roof leaks or lack of ventilation. Make repairs before you insulate. Wet insulation is ineffective and can damage your home.

Check Windows and Doors
Older windows and doors, or those that were not properly installed are a major source of energy loss. Look around your window and door trim for cracks or other openings. Caulk minor cracks between the window or door and surrounding trim to seal air flow.

Large holes should be sealed by cutting wood strips, or pieces of foam board to fit the gaps or by redoing the framing around the window and door. This is a home improvement project that requires some carpentry skills to make it all look right. If you lack those skills, look for a reputable contractor or handyman service that can do the job.

Now is the time to install storm windows and doors, replacing any screens in the home. It is especially important to have storm windows if your windows are older and not constructed of modern insulated glass.

If you are considering replacement windows for the older models, now may be the time to look into the Federal Tax Credits for Consumer Energy Efficiency. Currently, purchasing an energy-efficient product or renewable energy system for your home, may qualify you for a federal tax credit.

Look for cracks in the home around window frames, doors, pipes, and electrical outlets. Seal up open drafty cracks where air and wind can seep through as thoroughly as possible. Other areas where cracks should be checked and treated are around the chimney and fireplace, as well as gaps around the dryer, bath, and kitchen vents.

Insulate Pipes to Prevent Freezing
As the winter approaches, you should make every effort you can to prevent the risk of pipes freezing, which can cause a blockage of the water supply, and in the worst case, lead to pipes bursting. When pipes freeze the flow of the water is completely blocked. As water expands as it turns into ice, making the pipes likely to burst. This can be an expensive problem to fix, and a disastrous occurrence in the frigid winter months.

Outdoor pipes are not the only danger of freezing, pipes that run along exterior walls or crawl spaces that are exposed to colder temperatures are at risk as well. Both hot and cold-water pipelines alike can freeze, so be sure to protect both.

Begin to insulate pipes early to prevent freezing, starting before freezing temperatures hit. Pipes can be insulated with foam rubber sleeves or fiberglass insulation, wrapping the insulating material around the pipes. For extra protection in the areas of your home that are not heated, pipes may first be wrapped with special heating strips, and then outer insulation wrapped on top of that.

If your home has faucets attached to the exterior, chances are that there is a turnoff valve somewhere on the pipe on the interior. Turn off the water at this valve for the duration of the winter; if you do not have a switch, you should seriously consider installing one to save trouble later. Switch the valve shut, and then open the outside valve to drain out the remaining water. This will protect the pipes leading to the outdoors from freezing.

Try to spot any trouble with your pipes before it’s too late, keeping your eye out for signs that may signify pipes are beginning to freeze. Is the water pressure becoming reduced? There is a good chance the water in your pipes is starting to freeze and you should take action immediately.

If there is an especially cold spell and you fear your pipes are going to freeze, despite what efforts you have taken, there is still a last-resort trick. Leave one of your faucets, farthest from the supply of your home's water, open and running slightly. If the water is running, it will be less liable to freeze, and the flow of the water should also work to thaw wherever the water already may have frozen in the pipes. It might be a waste of water, but in an extreme case it is a better alternative than a frozen, busted pipe on a freezing winter night.

Reduce Heating Costs With These Money Saving Tips

We live in a region that is cold in the winter, where heating costs can take a big bite out of the monthly budget for 25 - 50% of the year. Due to the rapidly escalating costs of home heating oil, propane, and kerosene, many are paying twice as much to heat their homes than just a few years ago. Heating costs can be significantly lowered by following these money-saving tips:

  • Keep the furnace, heat pump, or other heating equipment in top operating condition. Dirty filters reduce the efficiency of your furnace or heat pump. Poorly tuned units are inefficient and use more fuel. An annual maintenance agreement is well worth the money to ensure that your equipment is properly maintained and will last as long as possible.
  • Do an energy audit of your house, identifying areas where heated air is leaking out. Check around doors, windows, fireplaces, and other areas that may feel drafty. Use caulk, weather stripping, door sweeps, plastic, and other appropriate means to close off these leaks. If your house is poorly insulated, adding additional insulation will pay for itself in reduced heating costs.
  • Minimize your use of ventilation fans such as bathroom fans and kitchen hood fans in winter. A bathroom fan can suck all the heated air out of the average house in little more than an hour. Over the course of the winter, ventilation fans can increase your heating costs by a surprising amount.
  • Don't heat areas of the house that aren’t used regularly, such as guest rooms. Close heating vents or turn back thermostats in those areas and close the doors for a painless reduction in heating costs.
  • Turn down the heat and use space heaters to heat the room you spend time in.
  • Don't turn the thermostat up above the desired temperature. It won't heat up any more quickly and will make the furnace work harder. While it makes sense to turn the heat back when you're sleeping or not at home, turning it down too low can actually cost you more because the contents of the house have to be re-heated in addition to the air. Averages between 68 to 70 degrees while home and awake, and 60 to 65 degrees while asleep or not at home are reasonable temperatures.
  • Consider a programmable thermostat to raise and lower the temperature at pre-set times.
  • Check the temperature setting on your hot water heater. If you have a dishwasher, the water should be heated to 120 degrees. If the water heater is in an unheated space like an unfinished basement, wrap it in an insulation blanket available at hardware stores to prevent heat loss.
  • Wash clothes in cold water whenever possible.
  • It's tempting to stand under a hot shower on a cold morning for as long as possible, but cutting your shower time in half can save up to 33% on your hot water heating costs.
  • In winter, open the blinds and curtains on the sunny side of the house (the south-facing side) when the sun is shining and close them as soon as the sun goes down to retain the solar heat. Close curtains on the shady side of the house (north-facing side). If you don't have curtains, consider installing some. Curtains made from heavy fabric with lots of folds (fullness) can prevent cold air from seeping in and warm air from seeping out, which reduces heating costs even further.


Some nice green grass
Some nice green grass

From the Editor
Saving Energy

Saving energy is on everyone's mind this Fall. From worries over winter energy costs to concern for the environment, there are many ways you can reduce your home's energy output.


Preparing Your Home Heating System for Winter
Part 1 | Part 2
Cleaning out the furnace

Spotlight On

Find out about what type of insulation you ahve in your home and how it works

Go Green
Energy Efficiency Audits
Professional energy audits expose problems that are invisible to the eye

Energy Saving Do’s and Don’ts

Switching to a timed thermostat can make a real difference in your energy usage


Some nice green grass
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