Energy Saving Tips
Weatherproof Your Home or Business
- Save money by insulating
- Place weather-stripping and Caulking around doors and windows
- Determine energy loss around doors, windows and outlets for energy loss
- Landscaping can reduce energy costs
- Laundry and dishes
- Save with lighting
- Using space heaters
- Maintaining hot water
- For refrigerators and freezers
- Heating with wood
- Tips for winter
- Tips for summer
- Tips for all seasons
Experts estimate that 40 million single-family homes in the United States need more insulation. Could yours be one of them?
The Value of R-Value
R-value is a number that measures insulation's resistance to the passage of heat. The higher the R-value, the more effective the insulation. When you buy insulation, be sure to check its R-value, and specify the R-value you want when dealing with a contractor.
Start at the Top
Your attic floor, or the ceiling of your top story, is your building's primary candidate for insulation. You could save up to 30 percent of your energy costs by better insulating your attic or top floor.
Insulate on all Sides
You could save as much as 20 percent of your heating and cooling costs by insulating your exterior walls.
Energy Loss Underfoot
You can save about 8 percent of your energy costs by insulating the floor over any unheated spaces such as crawl spaces, basements, and garages.
Blanket and Batt Insulation
Blankets (continuous rolls) and batts (pre-cut sections) of rock wool or glass fiber are used to insulate attics, walls, and rafters as well as underneath floors. They work best where there's a standard space between joists or rafters and few obstructions. Both types are available with or without vapor barrier backing.
Loose-Fill and Blown-In Insulation
It's easy to insulate unfinished attic floors with poured-in glass fiber, rock wool, cellulose, vermiculite, or perlite insulation. Check to make sure your insulation meets federal specifications. Blown-in insulation also is good for filling the nooks and crannies in finished frame walls.
Rigid Board Insulation
Board insulation made of polystyrene, urethane, or fiberglass works best for outside wall insulation. Some kinds require extra fire safety precautions and should be installed only by a contractor.
When buying insulation, ask about its resistance to fire and moisture. Don't seal off vents, don't insulate over recessed lighting fixtures, and keep the material at least three inches from any heat-producing fixtures. Avoid buying too much insulation.
Use Vapor Barriers and Attic Ventilation Against Condensation
Condensation can be a heating season problem for your energy savings and your home or business. Vapor barriers, usually made of plastic or aluminum foil, should face the heated part of the building. But don't put a vapor barrier over existing insulation. For your attic, calculate one square foot of vent area for every 300 square feet of attic. A variety of attic ventilators are available, including roof louvers, turbine wheel vents, gable-end louvers, ridge vents, and soffit vents.
As much as 7-12 percent of a building's heating and cooling loss occurs around windows and doors, so weather-stripping is an important part of your energy-saving curriculum. And most weather-stripping is a do-it-yourself homework assignment. When you shop for weather-stripping, consider how durable the material needs to be: Is this a heavily used door or a window that's almost always closed? Many varieties of weather-stripping are available:
Measure your door, buy the approximate height and width of material you need, and trim to final size. Nail into place.
Aluminum and vinyl stripping for the bottom of your door is rather inexpensive, fairly easy to install, and will last for several years.
Tubular Vinyl Gasket Stripping
Used for both windows and doors, it's durable and flexible enough to seal uneven gaps and joints.
Thin Spring Metal Stripping
Excellent and durable for windows and doors, this is probably the most expensive and difficult to install. It's practically invisible when properly applied.
Easy to install but it also wears out easily. Good for windows and sliding doors.
Wrap around ducts that pass through unheated areas, like a crawl space.
Great for increasing the efficiency of your hot water system.
Garage Door Weather-stripping
Thick, durable weather-stripping here will help seal off a common area of energy leakage. Get a friend to help you install this type.
Caulking seals cracks and joints to keep air and moisture out of your home or business. Apply it wherever two unmoving parts of the building come together, including:
- Around window sills and door frames
- Where wood siding meets a concrete foundation
- Around chimneys
- Water faucets
- Intake and exhaust vents, etc.
Types of Caulking
Oil-based caulks are the cheapest, but least durable, and should be used only in narrow cracks. Butyl-based caulks are medium-priced and fairly durable. Acrylic latex caulks are medium-priced, fairly durable, and easy to work with. Silicone-based caulks are the most expensive and the most durable. To fill large cracks or holes, use oakum, caulking cotton, sponge rubber, or fiberglass. Then apply regular caulking in the smaller cracks.
Prepare for Caulking
Before starting a caulking project, remove any old caulk, clean the surface, and allow the area to dry. Don't caulk if the temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Amount of Caulk
As a guideline, you'll need about half of a caulking cartridge for each window sill, two cartridges for a two-story chimney, and about four cartridges for a foundation sill. If it's your first time caulking, buy a little more than you'll need so you can practice before starting the project. Cut the nozzle to make a bead just big enough to cover the gap.
When you're finished, store the remaining caulk by putting a large nail in the nozzle hole, then wrapping the nozzle with aluminum foil.
Closing the Door on Energy Loss
To test your door's insulation, put one hand on the door and one hand on the wall on a cold day. If the door is noticeably colder, it's letting out heat. Storm doors are the best way to insulate attractively, but they can be expensive. For a door that's not seen, like an attic door, staple foil-faced fiberglass to the backside. Fiberglass duct wrap is good for insulating the inside of garage doors.
Double Glazing Can Cut Energy Loss in Half
The R-value for each pane of glass on a window is R-1. Your best energy bet is to achieve R-2, either by installing double-pane windows or installing storm windows over a single pane.
Plug Up the Holes Around Outlets
Hardware stores sell styrofoam plugs to seal off energy loss around outlet plugs and light switches inside your home or business.
Your Heating Appliances Need to "Breathe"
In a building that is tightly caulked and you've added weather-stripping, it's important for any flame-operated heating device to be properly vented. If it can't "breathe in" fresh oxygen and "breathe out" exhaust, dangerous carbon monoxide may accumulate. This may be a problem with kerosene heaters, because they're unvented. This wasn't so much of a concern in the past, when most buildings were drafty and there was always a steady exchange of outdoor and indoor air.
Leafy Trees for Shade or Sun
Leafy or deciduous trees seem almost made for energy savings. Plant them on the south and west sides of your home or business. In summer, they provide shade from the hot sun.
In winter, they shed their leaves to let the warming sunshine through. Evergreens can be a good winter windbreak. Plant them along the north side and wherever prevailing winds tend to chill your home.
Insulate with Shrubbery
Consider encircling your home or business with an evergreen hedge, planted about a foot away from the foundation. It will create a "dead air" space that helps insulate your home during the winter.
Buy Bulbs by the Lumens and the Watts
Lumens measure the amount of light produced by a bulb, and watts measure the electricity the bulb uses. Consider both factors when you buy. Bulbs with larger wattage give you more lumens per watt than small-wattage bulbs.
For example, six 25-watt bulbs give off the same amount of light as one 100-watt bulb. And "long-life" bulbs give off less light than a standard bulb of the same wattage. A bulb with a clear finish will give you more light than a frosted bulb.
Fluorescent Lighting Can Save
A fluorescent lamp can last 10 to 15 times longer than an incandescent (standard) one and produce five times as much light - and it stays cooler. Some fluorescent lamps are made to fit into sockets designed for incandescent lamps.
Reflector Lights Are Brighter
Reflector lights can produce nearly twice as much illumination for the wattage.
Reconsider Outdoor Lighting
Mercury vapor lights and sodium lights may be more economical to operate. You can get a photo-electric cell or timer to turn off the light during the day.
Get a Remote Switch
For lights in the basement or garage, get a remote switch with a red pilot light indicator. It'll help keep you from leaving a light on by accident.
"Light Zone" Your Home
Reading rooms, work shops, hallways, and stairs all have different needs. And remember to turn off the light when you're finished.
Educate Yourself About Switches
Save energy by selecting a switch that meets your needs. Dimmer switches and three-way switches let you select just the amount of light you want.
Keep Lighting Fixtures Clean
A cleaner bulb is a brighter bulb. But let incandescent bulbs cool before cleaning, or they may break.
Be an "Enlightened" Decorator
Decorate your home or business with illumination in mind. Light colors reflect light, so use them in areas you want to be bright.
Natural Gas Room Heaters: Automatic Temperature and Fuel Supply
High-tech natural gas room heaters are good for space-heating an add-on room, workshop, or garage without adding ductwork. They feature automatic thermostats and the convenience and economy of the most cost-effective fuel source. They're available in several sizes and models, all designed for economy and safety.
Electric and Quartz Heaters
Quartz heaters use fragile mineral quartz rods as a heating element, while ordinary heaters use coil wires.
Look for an automatic shutoff in case the unit tips over. Also, be sure that the outside of the unit stays comparatively cool to reduce fire and burn hazards.
With any space heater, keep the unit away from drapes, furniture, and other flammable materials. Look for a UL listing or approval from another recognized testing authority, and make sure your insurance covers the use of the heater you choose.
Heating In an Emergency
Just as you should practice family fire drills, you should prepare for the possibility that your normal fuel and heat source could be cut off for a period of time. Plan to use emergency heating other than your normal heat. You should have a standby source of fuel on hand - and plan for safety. For example, if you would use a wood-burning stove, make sure the chimney works properly. If you would use any kind of flame-operated emergency heating system, plan for adequate ventilation. And make sure all members of your family or business know the procedures to follow in case of an emergency.
Fix That Leaky Faucet
One drop of water per second equals 60 gallons of water a week. A leak that would fill a coffee cup in 10 minutes would waste 3,280 gallons of water in a year.
Buy a Water Heater Carefully
A high-tech water heater is more efficient. Choose the right size for your home or office. Also consider the recovery rate - how much of its water capacity the unit can reheat in one hour. The minimum recommended recovery rate is 75 percent, which would be 30 gallons of a 40-gallon tank.
Use Cold Water When You Can
Modern detergents allow you to use cold water more than ever before.
Lower Your Water Heater Setting
Lowering your temperature setting a few degrees can save energy. With a dishwasher, you probably need a setting of 140 degrees. Otherwise, 120 should do. Experiment, and see how much you can save.
Water Heater Maintenance
To remove sediment, it may be a good idea to drain a bucketful of water from your water heater every month. However, you should do this only if your water heater is less than a year old or if it has been drained regularly. If it hasn't been drained regularly, the drain valve could become clogged and you might not be able to shut it again.
Insulate Your Water Heater
You can easily wrap insulation around the pipes coming out of your water heater, and the heater itself. But be careful not to insulate the top or bottom of a gas-operated or oil-operated water heater, because it may interfere with venting.
Take Showers, Not Baths
Typically, a shower uses 10-20 gallons of water, while a bath uses 30. But don't shower for more than five minutes.
Install Flow Restrictors and Aerators
There are different types of flow restrictors for shower heads and aerators for other faucets. They all reduce water usage without being noticeable.
Don't Keep Your Refrigerator or Freezer Too Cold
Recommended temperature is 37 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit for the fresh food compartment of the refrigerator and 5 degrees Fahrenheit for the freezer section. If you have a separate freezer for long-term storage, it should be kept at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Check Refrigerator and Freezer Temperature
Place an appliance thermometer in a glass of water in the center of the refrigerator and read it after 24 hours. To check the freezer temperature, place a thermometer between frozen packages. Read it after 24 hours.
Defrost Refrigerators and Freezers Regularly
Frost buildup decreases the energy efficiency of the unit. If you have a manual-defrost refrigerator or freezer, don't allow frost to build up more than one-quarter of an inch.
Make Sure Your Refrigerator Door Seals Are Airtight
Test them by closing the door over a piece of paper or a dollar bill so it is half in and half out of the refrigerator. If you can pull the paper or bill out easily, the latch may need adjustment or the seal may need replacing.
Cover Liquids and Wrap Foods Stored in the Refrigerator
Uncovered foods release moisture and make the compressor work harder.
Clean the Condenser Coils
Move your refrigerator out from the wall and vacuum its condenser coils once a year unless you have a no-clean condenser model. Your refrigerator will run for shorter periods with clean coils.
Find a Good Wood Supply
Properly dried hardwood is the best for a wood-burning stove, furnace, or fireplace. Check into the price and availability of hickory, oak, maple, or ash.
Fireplaces Can Make You Cold
If it's not properly designed, a fireplace can pull cold air into the building along the floor and make the room cold. Many newer fireplaces are made with vents to provide fresh cool air and give off warmed air. Glass panels on the fireplace can be effective.
Locate your wood-burning appliance safely away from walls, and make sure the chimney is installed according to safety guidelines. Keep the chimney clean and well-maintained.
- Adjust your humidity. A well-humidified house at 68 degrees Fahrenheit is as comfortable as a dry house at 75 degrees. Aquariums and house plants can add humidity.
- Insulate your attic with a minimum of 6 inches of insulation (preferably 10 to 12 inches).
- If you have an older home or office, consider replacing older windows that allow air drafts. If that's too expensive, consider initially replacing the draftiest windows first.
- Install glass storm doors.
- Install weather-stripping along cracks located at windows and doors.
- Install water flow restrictors and aerators. There are different types of flow restrictors for showerheads and aerators for other faucets. These devices lower water usage.
- Close any openings, such as fireplace dampers, when they're not in use.
- Clean your furnace filter (monthly is a recommended practice) and follow any other routine maintenance procedures described in the owner's manual.
- Prior to the start of the heating season each year, have a professional check your furnace. A professional can keep your furnace operating efficiently as well as spot and correct any potential safety problems.
- Keep radiator surfaces clean. Like anything else, a radiator works better when it's cleaner. Try to avoid painting your radiator, too. If your radiator is against an exterior wall, put aluminum foil behind the radiator to reflect heat back into the room.
- Adjust your thermostat in the morning and evening. If you don't have a clock thermostat, at least turn down your thermostat regularly. Set it at about 68 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 55 degrees at night.
- Dress warmly in your home. Wearing sweaters or other warm clothes at home can really help. Loose-fitting clothes are comfortable and they help hold in your body heat naturally.
For Your Air Conditioner
- Set the air conditioner thermostat at 75 degrees Fahrenheit or higher - 78 degrees is more economical.
- Use a programmable thermostat that can automatically raise the thermostat setting at least 5 degrees when no one is home. To adjust the thermostat manually, lower the setting a few degrees at a time rather than all at once. It's more economical - and comfortable - to raise the thermostat setting rather than turn off the air conditioner.
- Before buying an air conditioning unit or system, find out its Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER). Divide the cooling capacity (measured in Btu's per hour) by its energy requirement (in watts). An EER of 10 or more is very good, 8 or 9 is good, and 6 or 7 is fair. For the best savings, look for an air conditioner with the highest EER and the smallest capacity that will meet your needs.
- Consider replacing old, inefficient air conditioning equipment with a high-efficiency heat pump or air conditioning unit. Heat pumps cool during the summer and provide heat during the fall and winter.
- Trim bushes or plants near the outdoor air conditioning unit so air can circulate.
- Make sure the clothes dryer vent does not blow on the outdoor air conditioning unit.
- Keep storm windows closed when the air conditioning is operating.
- Locate room air conditioners on a north wall or a side of the building that's shaded.
- Keep blinds, shades, and drapes closed during the hottest part of the day.
- Dim your lights. Standard incandescent light bulbs produce heat, so keep the lights low.
- Cook during the early morning or late evening hours.
- Use cold water whenever possible. Many laundry detergents allow you to use colder water.
- Take showers, not baths. Typically a shower uses 10 to 20 gallons of water, and a bath requires about 30 gallons. Avoid showering more than 5 minutes.
- Lowering your water heater temperature a few degrees can save on energy usage. With a dishwasher, you need a setting of about 140 degrees.
- Don't let a furnace pilot light burn all summer. If your furnace has a standing pilot light, have it replaced with an intermittent ignition device. Then it will use fuel only when necessary.
- Use ceiling fans to help feel cooler and distribute the cool air.
- Check to make sure fireplace dampers are closed and fit tightly.
- Install water flow restrictors and aerators. There are different types of flow restrictors for showerheads and aerators for other faucets. These devices lower water usage.
- Install an attic ventilator. An attic ventilating system draws cool air up through the house and may provide as much comfort as an air conditioner at a much lower cost. Use the system to "pump in" cool air during summer evenings, then seal up the house during the day. Attic ventilation is good for the heating season, too.
Use Awnings and Overhangs
Use awnings to keep the sun out of south-facing windows in the summers, then take down the awnings to let the sun shine in during the winter. You could even plan the overhangs so that they'll shade windows from the high summer sun, but let in the lower winter sun.
A Window Shade Can Help
A simple window shade will help let in or screen out the sun more than you might imagine. Many types of insulating shades, drapes, and even shutters also are available. Reflective plastic films can be applied to windows in the summer and removed in the winter.
Close Off Unoccupied Rooms
Close the vents and shut the door.
Get a Handy Clock Thermostat
A clock thermostat helps you regulate your home or office temperature for both comfort and savings. During the winter, it will lower the temperature while you're away or when you're sleeping. During the summer, it will raise the temperature during those times. Also, locate your thermostat on an inside wall where it won't be affected by the sun or a heat source.
Close the Fireplace Damper
When you're not using the fireplace, closing the damper could save 8 percent of your home's heat. Another solution is to put glass doors on your fireplace. They'll keep heat from escaping up the chimney when you can't close the damper.
Cooking in the oven uses less energy than cooking on surface burners.
Don't Peek If You Can Help It
Check foods through the oven window. You may lose 25 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit each time you open the door.
Turn Oven Off Just Before Finishing
For many dishes, especially those that require a long cooking time, you can turn off the oven a few minutes before finishing. The oven will remain hot enough to complete the job.
Self-Cleaning Feature Is Expensive
Learn to wipe up promptly after baking or roasting to avoid using the self-cleaning feature. A "continuous cleaning" oven doesn't use extra energy.
Put a Shine On Your Reflector Pans
Dirty, dull pans absorb heat instead of reflecting it.
Match the Pan to the Surface Burner
Not too large and not too small - a pan that fits the burner cooks better.
Thaw First and Then Cook
It's wasteful to thaw food by cooking it. And food won't cook as well, either.
Wash a Full Load, Not an Overload
Don't use an entire wash cycle for only a couple of garments. On the other hand, jamming too much into a wash load causes extra wrinkles and lint.
Look Before You Dry
Clean the lint screen, and double-check the pockets of your garments. You'll be doing your dryer a favor.
Don't Go Overboard On Suds
Too much detergent may hurt your clothes and your washing machine. And plan your drying cycle. First dry larger, bulkier clothes, and then use a shorter cycle for small, light garments.
Use Cold or Lukewarm Water When You Can
You'll save with every load when you use cooler water. And cold water helps reduce lint.
Hand Irons Aren't Cheap
A hand iron uses as much energy as 10 100-watt light bulbs. Keep that in mind when you consider buying permanent press garments.
Your Energy-Saving Dishwasher
It may be more efficient to do one dishwasher load a day than to wash by hand three times during the day.
But you have to use the dishwasher correctly:
- Don't crowd your dishes. Don't block the spray arms when you load. Before loading, scrape off dishes and rinse them quickly in cold water.
- Don't use the Rinse-Hold cycle. It takes 3 to 7 gallons of hot water.
- Air dry your dishes. You can save 10 percent of the cost of operation with this tip. If your model doesn't have an automatic air dry switch, turn off the control knob after the final rinse and open the door.
Can your home or office pass a draftiness exam? Here are some "spot quizzes" to help you test for energy leaks:
Have someone go outside at night and shine the flashlight at and around doors. The flashlight will shine through any cracks or openings.
Candle or Tissue Quiz
To detect faint drafts around windows, hang a piece of tissue on a clothes hanger and hold it (or you can use a lighted candle) next to a closed window. If the tissue ripples or the candle flickers, you've got an energy-leaking draft.
Is energy slipping out your doors and windows? If you can slip a quarter underneath your door, energy dollars are walking out that door. Now place a dollar bill across the weather-stripping on a window, close the window, and pull out the bill. If it comes out easily, you're letting your energy dollar slip away.
Call for an energy audit. That's the sure way to track down any energy escaping from your home or business. An insulation contractor can conduct an audit, identify where you may be losing heat, and show you the most cost-effective conservation measures.
If you hire a contractor to work on your home or office, you'll want to be sure it's a dependable firm. Call the Better Business Bureau and ask about the company. Contact someone who has hired the contractor before. Agree on a price and get it in writing before work begins.