Reducing your home's energy usage
Save $100 or More This Winter
by Gary Foreman
How to Install a Programmable Thermostat
9 Ways to Cut Costs on Heating and Cooling Your Home
How to Prepare Your Furnace for Winter
According to the Department of Energy, in 2012 the average family spent $3,052 in energy in the home. More than half your home energy usage is consumed by heating and cooling your home. Let's take a look at this information and see if we can't find some savings.
A properly insulated house does reduce energy usage. The DOE says that spending a few hundred dollars on insulation and weather-stripping can save you up to 30% of your heating and cooling bills. That 30% savings would be $457 for the average family each and every year.
Even if your home has been built in recent years, you might not have enough insulation. Some local building codes do not require the optimum amount of insulation. To save in construction costs, they may have allowed less than you'd want.
Even renters should consider weatherizing their residence. If you pay for your heating and cooling, many of these suggestions will more than pay for themselves in a matter of months. Your landlord might be willing to supply the materials if you do the work.
Let's begin with a quick course in insulation. It is typically available in four types. Each kind is designed to be used in different portions of your home.
A "batt" is a rectangular piece that's made to fit between your ceiling joists or wall studs. By purchasing the correct width, only a small amount of cutting is required. Most batts are made of rock wool or fiberglass. They're rated by "R-value". The higher the R-value, the more insulating occurs. In most cases, a thicker batt will have a higher R-value. The temptation is to buy the thickest batt available. After all, it doesn't cost much more. But don't buy batts that are thicker than the space available for them. For instance, if you buy a five-inch batt and install it between two by four studs, you'll end up reducing the R-value of the batts when you compress them.
"Roll" insulation is just that: a large roll of insulation that you unroll over your attic floor. They're very similar to batts, except that they're in roll rather than sheet form. You'll be surprised at how easy it is to add this type of insulation. It's almost as simple as opening a large bed-roll.
"Loose-fill" is designed to be blown into areas that aren't easily accessible, such as between existing walls. The insulation is made of rock wool, fiberglass or cellulose. Adding loose-fill requires professional equipment. Naturally, this increases the cost. But if you need more insulation in exterior walls, it may be your only option.
"Rigid foam boards" resemble a thick sheet of plywood made of insulation. They can be cut to fit and even provide some structural support. The boards are made of expanded or extruded materials and can be used in walls, ceilings and confined spaces. Rigid foam represents the high tech end of insulation products. They're easy to use and offer a high R-value for the thickness required.
Generally, the first place you'd want to add insulation is in your attic. And it's easy to tell if you would benefit from adding some. Just measure how deep the insulation is. If it's less than 5 or 6 inches, you should add insulation. Next consider your basement and exterior walls, floors and finally crawl spaces.
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Now that your home is properly insulated, it's time to tackle the other half of the job. That's eliminating openings that allow air to move between inside and outside your home. Air leaks can increase your heating and cooling bills by 10%. That's $152 per year. If you spend some time this weekend caulking, sealing and weather-stripping your home you'll be rewarded all winter. Have you ever yelled at your kids for leaving the door open? You'll be interested to note that the leaks in the average home, when combined, are like having a 3' X 3' window open.
Finding leaks is a combination of logic and detective work. Begin by looking for joints between materials. Any place that wood, concrete, bricks, aluminum, water pipes, electrical conduit, and glass meet you'll find a potential leak. Start with a visual inspection. Then wet your fingertip and hold it next to places that could be leaking air. You'll feel a small draft if there's an opening. You may want to burn an incense stick and watch the smoke. If it moves sideways, you've found a leak.
Weather-stripping is meant to fill gaps between moving parts like the door and its frame. Caulking is used where non-moving parts meet, like the window frame and the wall. There's a dizzying array of both available. And the only tools you'll really need for this job are a caulking gun and a hammer: no fancy power tools to buy or rent.
Whether you're an expert or a beginner, the best way to simplify the job is to make rough sketches of the areas that you want to weatherize. Remember to note the types of material that you want to seal. You'll need that info to make the proper selection of materials. Then visit your local hardware center with the sketches. They'll be happy to show you various caulks and weather-strips for your specific applications.
Even if you need to do extensive caulking and weather-stripping, you'll find that $40 to $45 goes a long way. This is definitely one of those projects where doing it yourself can save money. Finally, remember that proper insulation and weatherizing is an essential part to good home maintenance. Not only does it keep out the wind, but also bugs and water that can damage your castle. So there you have it. A simple do-it-yourself type project that doesn't require special skills, that has relatively low cost materials, and provides benefits that keep coming for years. Don't know about you, but I've got a step-ladder and a caulking gun waiting for me.
Updated October 2014
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money and CreditCards.com. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.
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