An 8-step strategy
If you wince every time
a gas or electric bill arrives in your mailbox, take heart.
You can easily reduce energy use in your home. And we
don't mean by wearing three sweaters, taking cold showers
and shuttering the windows. Energy efficiency and a pleasant
indoor environment work hand-in-hand. You'll not
only reduce the drain on your bank account but also find your home
In this article, we'll give you the BIG picture on how to evaluate your
home's energy performance, determine
where the biggest savings lie and maintain
a healthy indoor environment. Other
articles in this section deal with the
specifics: simple steps you can take to
save energy and money, sealing up
attic bypasses and weatherstripping
windows and doors.
We'll tell you right off that big energy
savings aren't as easy to get today as they were years ago. During the
energy crunch of the 1970s, many homeowners added insulation and
caulked around windows and doors to capture the biggest savings. And
since then, new homes have been built to higher energy-efficiency standards.
Still, if you follow these simple steps, you'll find plenty of savings
still out there.
Major areas of energy loss
Figure A: How Energy is Lost
The biggest culprits are
air leaks (infiltration)
windows. But every
home is unique. An
energy auditor will tell
you where the biggest
savings lie in your home.
Hire an energy auditor
It's worth hiring a pro to evaluate your home and help you sort out the
many possible energy-saving strategies. Call your local utility company to
find energy auditors. It may supply this service for free or recommend an
An energy audit may cost several hundred dollars, but sometimes community programs
subsidize the bill. The energy
auditor will inspect your home and rate
its current performance in terms of
insulation levels, air leakage, condition
of heating or cooling equipment and other criteria.
The auditor can then tell you which upgrades are cost effective and estimate
your energy savings. Cost effectiveness is the key. You can spend thousands
of dollars for upgrades that won't save you much, and a good auditor
will steer you away from those. For an
improvement to be worthwhile, the estimated
savings should cover the cost of
the improvement in about seven years.
For example, adding $200 of insulation
to your attic will be worth it if the estimated
savings are about $30 per year
($210 after seven years). But installing a new efficient window for $200 won't
be worth the cost if you save only $10 per year ($70 after seven years). The
auditor's report should clearly specify the estimated savings.
Keep in mind that as energy costs go up, more retrofit ideas become cost effective.
Tip: Tell the auditor which
improvements you can do
yourself. That eliminates the
labor cost and makes many
more upgrades cost effective.
Reduce air leakage
Think of the warm air leaking out
through gaps, cracks and holes in
your home's walls and ceilings as
your energy dollars floating away
(Fig. A). Sealing these openings is
one of the most cost-effective ways
to save energy.
Stopping air leaks in the attic is
usually the most important task see How to Seal Attic Air Leaks. You don't necessarily have to
work your way through every room
caulking every crack, inside and
out. Just get the largest and worst
offenders, which are almost always
in the attic.
that your house
feels more comfortable
too, because you'll
drafts. The less
warm air that leaks out, the less cold
air that leaks in to replace it.
There are hundreds of energy-saving
steps that cost little or
nothing. Some ideas involve a
small investment of time and
money, for example, installing a
programmable thermostat or
caulking around windows.
lowering the temperature setting
on your water heater and closing
Figure B: Where Energy Goes
About half of the energy consumed
in the average home
goes to space
heating and/or air
conditioning. But all
areas are targets
energy costs rise.
Buy high-efficiency windows (when it's time to replace them)
Windows are the weakest link in your home's outer defenses
against heat loss, accounting for about 18 percent of the heat loss
in the typical home. But windows are
also expensive, so it isn't cost effective
to replace them just to save energy. If
they're worn out, however, it's cost
effective to upgrade to double-pane
windows with low-E coatings. Your
window specialist will help you choose
the type of coating that works best,
depending on whether you mostly need to slow heat loss or reduce
For information on installing a new window, see How to Install Replacement Windows,
How to Install Vinyl Replacement Windows and Proper Window Installation.
Add 6 in. of insulation to an uninsulated attic and you'll reap substantial
energy savings. Add 6 more inches and you'll get additional energy savings,
but to a lesser degree. To find out how much insulation is recommended in your part of the country, consult your local building department. You can also just search “How much insulation” on your computer. The recommended
values are based on climate, fuel costs and other factors. Adding more
than the suggested amounts will result in a longer payback period for
For more on insulation, see Insulating Walls.
Shade your home
Shading is the best way you can save energy dollars
in the summertime with your own sweat equity.
Shading saves energy because it blocks out the
direct sunlight that is responsible for about 50 percent
of the heat gain in your home. Most of it
strikes the roof and works its way through the attic,
then down through the ceiling; the rest comes in
mainly through windows. If you upgrade your attic
insulation to at least 12 in. thick (about R-38) and make sure to buy
light-colored roofing next time you reroof, you'll stop most of that roof
heat. And steps like planting trees, attaching awnings and extending roof
overhangs will shade the most vulnerable south-facing windows as well
as those facing east and west. Most of these are
low-cost, do-it-yourself strategies.
Stop duct leakage
Studies have shown that an average duct system loses 10 to 40 percent
of the cool or warm air through gaps in the duct joints. This cooling and heating is wasted when the ducts run outside the interior conditioned space, in an attic or a
crawlspace. While sealing ducts is a common practice now, few older
homes have had this done. Sealing ducts is difficult. You'll
have to rely on professional HVAC services to test the ducts for leakage and to retest to show the effectiveness of their work.
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Protect your health and the health of your home
can increase the risk of
carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
This can occur in homes
with devices that burn gas, oil or
wood and in
garages. At a
install a CO
measures reduce air leakage,
allowing excessive moisture to
build up inside. This moisture
can cause mold and rot and an
unhealthy indoor environment.
Condensation on windows is
common at the beginning of the
heating season but should largely
disappear except during cold
snaps. Usually the best prevention
strategy is to find the moisture
sources (some of the worst
culprits are improperly vented
dryers, bath fans and the rooms
they're in) and eliminate them or