Checking for drafts, proper insulation key to energy-efficient homes this winter

SEALED UP: State Street Hardware employee Joyce Osburn points out the different types of weather stripping homeowners can use to seal windows and doors during the winter. According to energy.gov, the potential energy savings from reducing drafts in a home may range from 5  to 30 percent per year. (Pioneer photo/Emily Grove-Davis)

SEALED UP: State Street Hardware employee Joyce Osburn points out the different types of weather stripping homeowners can use to seal windows and doors during the winter. According to energy.gov, the potential energy savings from reducing drafts in a home may range from 5 to 30 percent per year. (Pioneer photo/Emily Grove-Davis)

BIG RAPIDS — With winter fast approaching, there are many things homeowners can do to make sure their homes are in tip-top shape in terms of being energy efficient.

While a professional utility audit is always an option, homeowners are more than capable of looking for problem areas and fixing them, said Sarah Adkins, housing program manager with Mid-Michigan Community Action Agency.

“To start with, the easiest and most inexpensive thing homeowners can consistently do is change their furnace filter every three months,” Adkins said. “This fix allows your furnace to perform at its best and most efficient.”

The furnace itself also could be replaced, especially if the unit is more than 15 years old. In that case, homeowners should consider replacing the system with one of the newer, energy-efficient units, according to energy.gov. A new unit greatly reduces energy consumption, especially if the existing equipment is in poor condition.

Ductwork should be inspected for dirt streaks, especially near the seams. These indicate air leaks and they should be sealed with a duct mastic. Insulate any ducts or pipes that travel through unheated spaces.

Making sure the house is sealed up tight and well-ventilated should be another top priority. According to energy.gov, the potential energy savings from reducing drafts in a home may range from 5 to 30 percent per year, and the home is generally much more comfortable afterward.

Homeowners should check for indoor air leaks, such as gaps along the baseboard or edge of the flooring and at junctures of the walls and ceiling. Also check for leaks on the outside of the home, especially in areas where two different building materials meet.

“Feel around the doors and windows for cool air coming in,” Adkins said. “Use weather stripping and caulk where the air is getting through.”

Checking insulation can be more difficult, Adkins said, but it is possible to do on your own.

TAKING A PEAK: Checking a furnace for efficiency is one of the main ways homeowners can save money on utility costs. Furnaces older than 15 years should likely be replaced. Furnace filters should be switched out every three months in order for a furnace to properly work. (Photo courtesy energy.gov)

TAKING A PEAK: Checking a furnace for efficiency is one of the main ways homeowners can save money on utility costs. Furnaces older than 15 years should likely be replaced. Furnace filters should be switched out every three months in order for a furnace to properly work. (Photo courtesy energy.gov)

Heat loss through the ceiling and walls in your home could be very large if the insulation levels are less than the recommended minimum. Given today’s energy prices, the level of insulation might be inadequate, especially in an older home.

If the attic hatch is located above a conditioned space, check to see if it is at least as heavily insulated as the attic, is weather stripped, and closes tightly. In the attic, determine whether openings for items such as pipes, ductwork and chimneys are sealed. Seal any gaps with an expanding foam caulk or some other permanent sealant. When sealing gaps around chimneys or other heat-producing devices, be sure to use a non-combustible sealant.

While inspecting the attic, check to see if there is a vapor barrier under the attic insulation. The vapor barrier might be tarpaper, Kraft paper attached to fiberglass batts or a plastic sheet. If there does not appear to be a vapor barrier, homeowners might consider painting the interior ceilings with vapor barrier paint. This reduces the amount of water vapor that can pass through the ceiling. Large amounts of moisture can reduce the effectiveness of insulation and promote structural damage.

Make sure the attic vents are not blocked by insulation. Any electrical boxes in the ceiling also should be sealed with flexible caulk (from the living room side or attic side) and cover the entire attic floor with at least the current recommended amount of insulation.

Another money-saving tip Adkins suggests would be keeping the water heater set at 120 degrees. It’s unnecessary and more costly to keep it set higher than that, she said.

Homeowners also should check appliances to ensure they are running efficiently, Adkins said.

A fridge should not be running constantly. If it is not running well, homeowners can try adjusting the temperature to see if it makes a difference, but it may just be better to replace the appliance.

“Energy-efficient appliances, such as a refrigerator, can make a big difference in utility costs,” she said. “Replacing an old appliance can be expensive, but there are programs to assist with buying a new, energy-efficient model.”

According to energy.gov, energy for lighting accounts for about 10 percent of the home’s electric bill. Examining the light bulbs and possibly replacing the inefficient bulbs with a more efficient choice, such as energy-saving incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps or light-emitting diodes, can save consumers money.

Another tip from Adkins is to unplug items when not in use to avoid drawing electricity unnecessarily.

Being energy efficient and preparing a home for winter is something that can truly pay off, Adkins emphasized.

“Energy costs can decrease by an average of between $200 and $500 a year after a home has been weatherized,” she said. “In some cases, it could save homeowners upwards of $1,000.”

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Posted by Emily Grove

Emily is the Pioneer and Herald Review crime and court reporter, covering crime in both Mecosta and Osceola counties. She can be reached by e-mail at emily@pioneergroup.com or by phone at (231) 592-8362.

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