No matter if you're bundled up in Des Moines or hitting the beach in Miami, ensuring your home isn't wasting your hard-earned cash through inefficiency is a must-do, especially during the winter months.
You may not know it, but your home is probably leaking a lot of that climate-controlled air that you're paying so much to create every month.
Before your thoughts of "not my house!" get too loud, chew on this: The average, unweatherized U.S. home leaks air at a rate equivalent to a 4-square-foot hole in the wall, according to the " Solar Living Sourcebook" by John Schaeffer. And with the residential sector consuming 35 percent of available energy to consumers, reducing our use of this costly resource can result in big savings.
So what should you do to prevent wasting your hard-earned cash on leaks? Check out our handy guide to weatherizing your home.
Simple Tests and Adjustments
Do an Audit: First, assess how much you're spending each month in heating and cooling. Many electricity providers will provide you with a report that compares your energy usage with similarly sized homes in your area. ENERGY STAR also provides a similar service. Where do you fall? If you're in the mid to high range, then there's work to be done!
You can also pay to have an energy audit performed on your house by a professional, taking the guesswork out of where you can improve your home's efficiency.
Make sure they conduct a blower door test, which depressurizes a home and can reveal the location of many leaks. Without a blower door test, there are ways to find some air leaks yourself, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
If you don't think leaks are a big problem, think twice: In California, the average duct system loses 30 percent of its heating or cooling to leaks. To detect them in your home, look to areas where different materials meet, such as between brick and wood siding, between foundation and walls and between the chimney and siding. Some of the main places in your home that you should check include:
- Door and window frames
- Mail chutes
- Electrical and gas service entrances
- Cable TV and phone lines
- Outdoor water faucets
- Where dryer vents pass through walls
- Bricks, siding, stucco and foundation
- Air conditioners
- Vents and fans
You can also try these steps to help detect leaks in your home:
- Shine a flashlight at night over all potential gaps while a partner observes the house from outside. Large cracks will show up as rays of light. However, this is not an accurate way to detect small cracks.
- Shut a door or window on a piece of paper. If you can pull the paper out without tearing it, you're losing energy.
- Check the attic, walls and floors adjacent to an unheated space, like a garage or basement. The structural elements are usually exposed in these areas, which makes it easy to see what type of insulation you have and to measure its depth or thickness.
- Inspect exterior walls using an outside electrical outlet. Make sure to turn off the power to the outlet before removing the cover. Then, shine a flashlight into the area, where you should be able to see if there's insulation in the surrounding walls and, potentially, how thick it is.
If you find air leaks, check out DoItYourself.com's guide to types of caulking and weatherstripping and where and how they should be applied to the various areas in your home.
Check Your Thermostat: Set your thermostat between 65-68 degrees when you are home, and wear layers if you’re still cool. If you dread the prospect of rising to a freezing house, investing in a programmable thermostat is a great option. Set it to warm up the house just as you wake.
If the initial cost of a programmable thermostat (about $115) deters you, keep in mind that it will save you $180 every year you use it. That's $1,800 over 10 years, making the up-front cost feel like pennies.
Other simple steps can include wrapping a water heater with an insulation blanket and replacing heating and cooling filters.
Many cities are investigating and testing weatherization programs to help residents save money and increase home values.
The Houston Residential Energy Efficiency Program (REEP) provides about $1,000 to weatherize qualifying homes. Studies show that homeowners received dramatically reduced electricity bills after their homes were weatherized. On average, electricity usage was reduced by 12-18 percent each month.
These techniques weren't complicated or advanced, either. Basic measures included weatherstripping, window caulking, attic insulation and energy efficient light bulbs. In fact, during the summer months (when electricity bills are higher), homeowners witnessed reductions of up to 20 percent. So far, the city has weatherized more than 7,000 homes.
But you don't have to live in the Houston area to find huge savings on home weatherization. According to Matt Rogers, senior adviser to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, more than $5 billion was appropriated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to draw up a weatherization program across the country.
"What we're doing through the Reinvestment Act is both weatherizing homes, but we're also demonstrating that this is a high-return investment for homeowners everywhere," said Rogers. "You'll put 20 or 30 cents back into [your] pocket every year for every $1 that you invest in energy efficiency."
You can see how much of this funding was awarded to your state on the Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's Web site.