U.S. Department of Energy offers tips for energy efficiency, reducing heating costs

A professional spays an attic with insulation. Adding insulation is one way to weatherize a home and reduce energy costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. (Courtesy photos)

MECOSTA COUNTY — Properly weatherizing a home can save residents money throughout the year.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are various ways to make a home more energy efficient.

If a home is experiencing higher than usual bills for utilities, the first step is to look into a home energy audit, also known as a home energy assessment. This will assess how much energy a home consumes and evaluate what measures can be taken to make the home more energy efficient. An assessment will show problems that may, when corrected, save a homeowner significant amounts of money over time.

With or without having a home energy audit, there are plenty of weatherization tips and tricks available.

One tip is to cover drafty windows. A heavy-duty, clear plastic sheet can be used on a frame or a clear plastic film can be taped to the inside of window frames during the cold winter months. Make sure the plastic is sealed tightly to the frame to help reduce infiltration.

Another option for covering drafty windows is to install tight-fitting, insulating drapes or shades on windows that feel drafty after weatherizing.

While putting up barriers on windows may do the trick, small leaks also could be causing big problems and sending money right out the window.

Homeowners should look to seal the air leaks around utility cut-throughs for pipes (“plumbing penetrations”), gaps around chimneys and recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets.

Leaks around doors and windows can be fixed by adding caulk or weatherstripping to seal the air leaks.

According to energy.gov, fixing leaks around doors and windows is a relatively easy project that doesn’t cost much but can save between 10 and 20 percent in energy costs.

Whether leaks are letting hot air inside during the warmer months or letting in drafts during the cooler season, one of the quickest energy- and money-saving tasks is to caulk, seal and weather strip all cracks and large openings to the outside. Air takes the path of least resistance, so aim to seal the big holes first.

Most caulking compounds come in disposable cartridges that fit in half-barrel caulking guns. Some pressurized cartridges do not require caulking guns. When deciding how much caulking to purchase, consider it typically takes a half-cartridge per window or door and four cartridges for the foundation sill. Caulking compounds can also be found in aerosol cans, squeeze tubes and ropes for small jobs or special applications — but such products usually only lasts a few years, according to energy.gov.

The average tube of white latex window and door caulk costs approximately $2, with specialty colors and types costing about $10. A caulk gun to help squeeze out the material for application generally ranges from $5 to $20.

Leaks around doors and windows can be fixed by adding caulk or weatherstripping to seal the air leaks. According to energy.gov, fixing leaks around doors and windows is a relatively easy project that doesn’t cost much but can save between 10 and 20 percent in energy costs.

Maintaining heating systems is crucial to ensuring both safety and efficiency. Furnaces and heat pumps should have filters replaced once a month or as needed.

Flue vents on wood- and pellet-burning stoves should be cleaned regularly. The inside of the appliance also should be cleaned with a wire brush periodically.

People who use fireplaces to heat homes should make sure to keep the fireplace damper closed unless a fire is burning. Keeping the damper open is like keeping a window wide open during the winter; it allows warm air to go right up the chimney.

When using the fireplace, reduce heat loss by opening dampers in the bottom of the firebox (if provided) or open the nearest window slightly — approximately 1 inch — and close doors leading into the room. Lower the thermostat setting to between 50 degrees and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Homes with fireplaces not being used should have the chimney flue plugged and sealed.

Caulking is not just for doors and windows. Fireplace owners should put caulk around the fireplace hearth.

Insulation is another addition to a home that can reduce heating costs. Unless a home was specially constructed for energy efficiency, the energy bills can likely be reduced by adding more insulation. Many older homes have less insulation than homes built today, but even adding insulation to a newer home can pay for itself within a few years, according to energy.gov.

Before adding insulation, homeowners need to determine where the home is and is not properly insulated, what type of insulation is currently in place and the R-value and the thickness or depth of the insulation you have. (An insulating material’s resistance to conductive heat flow is measured or rated in terms of its thermal resistance or R-value.)

Changing habits and taking small steps also may reduce costs. Residents can take advantage of heat from the sun by opening curtains on south-facing windows during the day to allow sunlight to naturally heat a home, and closing them at night to reduce the chill felt from cold windows.

Adjusting the thermostat also can create a savings. When home and awake, set the thermostat as low as is comfortable. When asleep or out of the house, turn your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours and save around 10 percent a year on heating and cooling bills.

For more tips on energy efficiency and weatherization, visit energy.gov.

Homeowners who need financial assistance with weatherization may be able to receive credits and grants from programs.

Michigan’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) is a federally-funded, low-income residential energy conservation program. The program provides free home energy conservation services to low-income Michigan homeowners and renters. These services reduce energy use and lower utility bills, thus creating more self-sufficient households.

A trained inspector will assess eligible dwellings for energy conservation needs. According to national studies, households that receive weatherization services can expect heating costs to be reduced 20 to 25 percent. At today’s fuel cost, that amounts to about a $300 savings.

To ask about the Weatherization Assistance program, call the Michigan Department of Human Services at (517) 373-8896.

avatar

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.

Leave a Reply