Get Your Home Ready for Spring: Make Every Room Energy Efficient

“Spring has sprung”…so the saying goes. To me, this means beautiful weather and finally being able to be outdoors more. I’ve also noticed an influx of work trucks in my neighborhood. It looks like it’s also a time for home improvements. Lately, with so much emphasis on the importance of making your home energy efficient, I wondered where it is best to spend money – making home improvements or making my home more energy efficient. I read that before remodeling a home, it’s good to consider investing in making it more energy efficient. This will help save on energy use and money over the long run. However, there’s no telling how long, the “long run” will actually be. So, after doing some research, I found the best options – saving on our energy usage AND saving money too! I divided them into five categories for the rooms that my family uses most:1. Bedroom. Even though we’re asleep, most of the time we’re in the bedroom, it is still a very important room. During the hot months, many people crank down the air conditioner just so they can be comfortable when they sleep. This wastes a lot of energy which is reflected in increased energy bills. That is where the ceiling fan comes into play. Ceiling fans help circulate cool air in the summer by pushing cooled air downward, and then you can reverse the blade direction in the winter which pushes the cool air upward, to mix with the warm air. By doing this, you’re able to be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter while saving some energy.Plus, there are a number of models that look nice and can add a decorative touch to the room. In the summertime, just by using a ceiling fan, you can raise the thermostat around four degrees with no reduction in comfort. Quick energy saving tip: A ceiling fan cools people, not the room as it acts as a wind chill to cool the body, so leaving a fan on when out of the room does nothing but waste electricity. So, save more energy and remember to turn it (and any lights or electronics) off when leaving the room.Another easy improvement is with lighting. You may or may not know that there was a federal law that passed, which is phasing out incandescent bulbs. Starting in 2012, American manufacturers will no longer be allowed to make 100-watt bulbs and the light bulb as we know it will be replaced by compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and LEDs (light emitting diodes). So, knowing this now, could get you a head start on the movement. Yes, they don’t give off the best light, but according to the website, www. energysavers. gov, CFLs not only use about 75% less energy but they last up to 10 times longer than standard light bulbs.2. Attic. If you’re looking for a home improvement that not only makes your home energy efficient, but you can see results instantly, then I recommend adding insulation. This project was done in our house and we saw savings on our next energy bill. Our home is older and required more insulation, so the amount of insulation needed and the energy savings you’ll see depends on how much insulation is already in your attic. Insulation helps save energy because it acts as a barrier that keeps heat in during the winter and keeps heat out during the summer. In order to maximize the efficiency of adding insulation, it’s best to air seal your attic to prevent air leaks first before adding the insulation. You can do this by caulking, sealing and weather stripping all seams, cracks and openings to the outside in your attic.The main sources of air leaks in your attic are around the chimney flashing, all ducts, the attic entrance, any recessed lighting and a dropped ceiling. Once the air leaks are filled, then it’s time to add the insulation. To determine if your home needs insulation, you can either hire a qualified home energy auditor who will do an entire home energy assessment for you or you can inspect it yourself. If you do decide to do the inspection yourself, you need to find out the following:
A) where your home needs to be insulated,
B) the thickness and the R-value of your current insulation and
C) the type of insulation you already have.The R-value is a measurement for insulation’s resistance to heat flow and the higher the value the greater the effectiveness.3. Kitchen. Some people consider the kitchen the “heart” of a home. The problem is that it takes a lot of electricity to keep that “heart” beating. So, an easy way to give your kitchen a facelift and make it energy efficient is to upgrade your appliances. For example, by replacing an older refrigerator with an Energy Star labeled model, you will use 40% less energy than conventional models sold in 2001 or earlier. Just think how nice your kitchen will look and how much energy (and money) you can save by replacing all your kitchen appliances with new Energy Star models. In addition to updating your appliances, you can also replace all lighting in the kitchen with CFL’s, which use less energy and create less heat, which is especially helpful when cooking during the hotter months. If you aren’t looking to upgrade your kitchen but are interested in ways to save energy and cut down on your energy bill, here are a few energy saving tips for the kitchen:*Use pressure cookers or microwave ovens instead of the stove. They will save energy and reduce cooking time.
*If you do use the oven, try to cook several items at the same time. Also, don’t open the door to peek in; opening the door can lower the temperature inside up to 25 degrees.
*Only run a full dishwasher but be sure it’s not overloaded.
*Let your dishes air dry. There should be an automatic air-dry option but if not, then turn off the dishwasher after the final rinse and open the door to let the moisture escape.
*Allow foods to partially cool before putting them in the refrigerator since it takes more energy to cool hot food.4. Living Room. When I think of the living room, the first things that come to mind are comfort and electronics (i.e., TV and music). So, an easy (but pricey) way to help with your energy bills is to upgrade your electronics, like your TV or sound system and make sure they are labeled, “Energy Star”. This labeling helps reduce energy consumption without reducing the quality of the product.Quick energy saving tip: Remember to turn off lights and electronic devices when not in use. Contrary to what you might expect, even in stand-by mode those items still consume electricity unless they are completely shut off. If you are looking for less expensive options, just like in the bedroom, you can adopt the same tips for the living room as well. Use/install a ceiling fan and switch to CFL lighting. Whether you work from the home, are a stay-at-home parent, or at home for any reason during the day, you may find that you spend most of your time in the living room. So keep in mind these money savings tips in your living room. Also, it can be beneficial to update your windows and doors, not only in your living room, but in all rooms throughout your home.If you have older single pane windows, chances are you have leaks in them. This is a problem because air conditioned air is escaping through the leaks and outside air is coming in through them as well. A simple fix would be to replace those windows with new, double pane windows that are much more energy efficient and labeled “Energy Star”. This method is costly, but they can add better curb appeal to your home plus can reduce air loss of up to 50%. Go to The U.S. Department of Energy’s website for information on how to choose the best window option for you. If replacing windows is not the option for you, then you can add caulk and/or a weather strip to reduce air leakage. Determine if there are air leaks entering your home by inspecting windows and/or doors to feel any air coming through. If there is, you can apply caulk to fill in the gaps. Lastly, if you do not have curtains or window coverings, it is a good idea to add them. By keeping them closed during the hottest part of the day, it will help block out the sun and keep your room cooler in the warmer months and they add a nice decorative touch.Before I continue, I thought I’d point out that there is a 2011 tax credit for replacing windows, doors, insulation, and more with an Energy Star model. With this credit, you can get 10% of the cost of the new product, up to $500, or a specific amount from $50-$300. This credit expires on December 31, 2011 and is only applicable for updates made to an existing home that is your primary residence. This does not apply to new construction or rental properties. Go to the website for more information on this tax credit.5. Garage. The garage is probably one of the last places people think to make improvements to or make energy efficient. What many people don’t realize is the garage (especially if it is attached to the home) can be one of the largest culprits of air loss in your home. One of the easiest ways to help prevent this loss is to add a weather strip to the bottom of the garage door and the door entering your home. This prevents the outside air from coming in and the air conditioned air from escaping – and as a bonus – it acts as a cushion for the garage door, which cuts down on noise when it closes. If you feel a breeze on the sides of the garage door, you can add weather stripping tape to seal the leaks.Now, if you’re looking to increase curb appeal or just tired of your garage door altogether (or if it’s old and falling apart), you can purchase an energy efficient garage door that will look better and prevent air from leaking. Another quick fix, just like throughout the rest of the house, is to replace the garage lighting with energy efficient CFL lights. Lastly, many people have a refrigerator or freezer in the garage for extra storage. This becomes a problem if you live in an area that has extreme high and low temperatures. Keeping the fridge/freezer at the proper temperature in extremely hot weather causes it to work harder. This is tough on the appliance AND it uses more energy, which costs you more money. So, if you are set on having another fridge or freezer in your garage, then think about replacing it with a model that is built garage-friendly and can withstand extreme temperatures.Hope these ideas work for you and happy home improvements!

The Top Seven Questions About Energy Conservation With Home Energy Audits

Energy efficiency, energy savings, and money saving get a lot easier with a simple home energy audit walk through of your home or apartment. Every single home, even energy efficient homes, lose energy. But with the insight gained from a detailed energy audit, you can create energy savings and turn your home into an energy saving home by limiting your home’s energy loss and using energy wisely.Here are the top seven frequently asked questions and answers about home energy audits and how they can help you save energy — and save money.1. What is a Home Energy Audit?A “green homes” energy audit is a simple process of walking through your home, room by room, paying careful attention, and writing down how you use energy in that room, plus possible places where you home uses… and loses… energy. You can “do it yourself,” or hire a professional. The energy audit professional typically looks at heat loss with specialized thermal imaging equipment and other techniques that “visualize” heat loss and energy gaps. But the “do it yourselfer,” however, can very easily take note of energy usage and energy loss in each room. And when you add up the numbers, you’ll see exactly where you can save on energy. Computer spreadsheets are a valuable tool for the do it yourself home energy auditor to save and compare your findings on a room by room and year by year basis.2. How Long Does it Take to Do an Energy Audit?The first time you do a home energy audit, it will take several hours at least, and you may decide to spread it over a few days – depending on your home’s size and how much you have in it. As you do your “energy walk” through your home for the first time, you will find many areas of energy usage you hadn’t thought of before. Future energy saving audits will take a little less time – because you’re already aware of these “hidden” areas. Also, as you fix the energy leaks in each room, those will no longer need your attention, saving time. Fixing any problems you find, of course, may take a bit longer.3. How Often Should I Do an Energy Audit?At least once each year, though I would definitely recommend energy audits more often. The best times to do home energy audits are: spring, before you see the jump in your energy bills for the high energy air conditioning season, and fall before you see the jump in your energy bills for the heating season.4. How Much Can I Save on my Energy Audit if I “Do It Myself?”The amount varies by home and location. By doing an energy audit yourself, you’ll probably save several hundred dollars because you’re not paying someone to conduct the audit. This is on top of the potential 15% – 40% savings in energy costs that many people realize when actually finding and reducing energy usage. The nice thing about doing it yourself is that you become intimately familiar with all the energy consumers and energy losers in your home, and can set your own agenda to fix it.5. What’s the Best Room to Start In?It doesn’t matter, as you will do them all. I prefer to start in the basement. There is a lot going on in the basement that gets my mind thinking about energy saving! Ducts, vents, registers, furnace, washer, dryer, lights, hot water heater, sump pump, etc. All these items have an energy related cost to them. If you don’t have a basement or prefer to start elsewhere, go for the kitchen. Ultimately, you will want to do your energy audit in every room to maximize your potential energy savings.6. What’s the Best Way to Test for Drafts Around Windows?A simple strip of single ply tissue taped to the end of a pencil, or flame from a candle (please be careful!). These will quickly show you any air movement, which is what you’re looking for. It’s best to do your testing on a breezy day, because more air will leak on those days so you can see it more easily. You can also close all the windows in the home and set a couple of fans blowing out in a couple of open windows and turning on any exhaust fans to help draw air into the house through the leaks and cracks and make them easy to spot with your tissue tool or candle.7. How Do I Record the Results of My Audit?On a simple piece of paper! Label it with the date and room so you can easily compare notes between rooms, and between successive audits conducted at later dates. (So it’s best to use one sheet for each room!) Here is where home computers come in especially handy. Record your data for each room in a spreadsheet program and the computer can “do the math” for you. And then you have an easy way to compare results, notes, and numbers from energy audit to energy audit.Because a home energy audit looks at your home’s energy usage and your personal energy usage, it will show you, in black and white, your home’s energy patterns… and energy problems. Once you know where the problems are, you can start your own energy savings plan that will work for your home because it “attacks” the energy problems that are specific to your home. Replacing all the windows in your home with newer, well-sealed energy efficient models, will, of course, save anyone money. But it will also cost a lot of money, and your particular home may not need to have the windows replaced because some windows are perfectly fine and just need some new or additional caulking to seal the cracks around the frame. But some homes might need new energy efficient windows or doors, or a new energy saving hot water heater, or any one or several energy saving tips. And, of course, you may need to change some personal habits to cut down on energy usage. A home energy audit — especially if you do it yourself – will tell you what you need to do and where you need to do it to save energy and save money in your own home.