Keep the Heat In

Date: Jan. 14th, 2010
Contact: Tasha Eichenseher
You could save big on heating bills with just a few simple adjustments and sealing and insulating techniques.

The average household racks up just over $180 a month in energy bills, according to the U.S. government’s Energy Star program. Up to 30 percent of that, or nearly $50 a month, is spent on heating.

But you’re wasting your money if hot air is leaking out and cool air is leaking in.

Consider these five steps to reduce wasted energy—and your bills.

Step One: Turn down the thermostat.
For every degree you lower, you could be reducing energy use by up to five percent, according to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) research. All it may require is an extra sweater or blanket.

Step Two: Get an energy audit to determine where air leaks out of your home. 
Leaks can account for up to 30 percent of heat loss, according to DOE.  Common areas of loss are window and door frames, baseboards, electrical outlets, fireplace dampers, attic hatches, and around window-mounted air-conditioning units, wiring, and ducts. A professional audit, often paid for or subsidized by city governments, can help you determine where to invest resources when you take it to the next step and seal your home. Auditors will often use infrared cameras or a device called a blower door—which forces, then measures air escaping under doors and through other cracks—to determine the extent of leaks.

Step Three: Caulk and Weatherstrip.
Once you’ve located leaks, use caulking—the same kind you’d use to seal faucets--to seal around doors and windows, and plug holes around pipes, electric outlets, and wiring, when gaps are less than one-quarter-inch wide.
On average, it takes about a half a cartridge of caulk for one window or door. While many caulking products contain toxic materials, it is possible to find a few that have zero to few toxic ingredients. Check out F.W. Horch’s Safecoat Caulking Compound or PhenoSeal Does It All Vinyl Adhesive Caulk.
Make sure to clean surfaces of dirt and old caulk before applying a new layer, and try to caulk in a straight, continuous stream. Keep in mind ventilation in your home, especially if you burn natural gas, fuel oil, propane, or wood as a heat source. You’ll have to find a balance between sealing and keeping enough air moving through your home to maintain healthy indoor air quality. Weatherstripping generally takes the form of pliable vinyl, felt, or foam strips that are suitable for moving joints in windows and doors, or large gaps such as those often found under doors.

Step Four: Assess your insulation situation.
Insulation stops the flow of heat, so significant heat loss can also occur if you have poorly insulated ceilings and walls. As heating costs rise, more insulation may be necessary to keep bills down.  Since heat tends to rise, and moves from warmer to cooler spaces, start with the attic. Make sure that the entrance is insulated and weather stripped. There is no point in heating an attic that is rarely used.  Unfortunately, testing the thickness of insulation in walls is a bit more tricky, and may require a professional termographic inspection, which measures heat loss through infrared scanning.  If you opt to add or replace your insulation, consider more environmentally friendly materials such as cellulose insulation made from recycled newspaper, or fibers such as cotton.

Step Five: Clean your furnace filters.
Just 15 minutes could save you up to 5 percent on your energy bills. That is all it should take to remove your furnace filter and vacuum it off. Repeat every month during times of heavy use.