January 04, 2002  
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Energy Saving Tips

Face it, no one really enjoys spending time and money on home improvements or repairs. But what if making just a few, inexpensive modifications saved you up to 50% on your energy bills, made your home more comfortable, and helped the environment at the same time? Wouldn't that be worth it? It's a little-known that most of the $1,300 the average family spends on home utility bills every year is actually wasted. That's a real drain on your wallet. Energy use has environmental consequences, too. All the electricity used by a single home puts more carbon dioxide into the air than the average car. Look at your whole house as an energy system with interdependent parts. Review all the energy-using components from heating systems to appliance and lights. Then develop an energy efficiency plan. Here are some easy, practical solutions for saving energy throughout your home.

Assess Your Energy Use

The first step is to do a home energy audit. An audit tells you which parts of your house use the most energy and how to reduce your energy costs in the most efficient way. You can do it yourself or hire a professional. Better yet, contract your local utility and ask if they offer audits for free or for a nominal charge. An audit should look at: the level of insulation all through the house; holes or cracks where air can leak into or out of the home; open fireplace dampers; appliances and hearing and cooling systems; and overall lighting needs and use patterns, including reducing the time lights are on and using fluorescent bulbs.

Formulate Your Plan

  • After you know where your home is losing energy, assign priorities to your energy needs. Ask yourself, and your auditor, the following questions.
  • How much money do I spend on energy?
  • Where are the greatest energy losses?
  • How long will it take for an investment in energy efficiency to pay off in lower utility bills?
  • What is my budget and how much time do I have to spend doing improvements? Should I do it myself or pay a contractor.

Insulation and Weatherization

Insulation. Adding insulation is one of the fastest and cheapest ways to reduce your energy costs. You can increase the comfort of your home while reducing heating and cooling needs by up to 30%, just by investing a few hundred dollars. The first place to insulate is the attic.

You probably need better insulation if:

  • Your home is older and you haven't added insulation - only 20% of homes built before 1980 were well insulated.
  • You're uncomfortably cold in the winter or hot in the summer.
  • You've built an addition or installed new siding or roofing.
  • Your energy bills are high
  • You are bothered by noise from outside - insulation helps to muffle sound.

Insulation is measured in R values - the higher the R value, the better your walls and roofs will resist transfer of heat. Insulation products come in four types - batts, rolls, loose-fill and rigid foam boards. Be sure to get the right type for the specific space to be insulated. Compare R values and costs. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recommends certain R values based on local heating and cooling costs and climate conditions in different parts of the country. For a copy of this chart call (800) 363-3732.

Weatherization. Try to prevent warm air from leaking into your home during the summer and out of your home in winter. Reducing these air leaks can save you 10% or more on your energy bills. It's quick and easy to caulk, seal and weatherstrip seams, cracks and openings to the outside. One way to detect an air leak is to hold a lit incense stick next to your windows, doors, electrical boxes, plumbing fixtures, attic hatches and other locations with a possible pathway to the outside. If the smoke travels horizontally instead of up, you've got a leak.

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