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Save Energy and Money in the New Year

With some discipline and an $85 investment in energy-saving products, you can slash up to $500 off bills in the New Year. Even better, those savings will continue year after year, even if you don’t investment another dime. Projected savings are based upon the average home’s energy bill of $2200. If you live in a bigger than average house, your costs – and savings – will be greater. 

home energy

Begin where you spend the most

Heating and cooling costs account for between 45 and 50 percent of your home’s energy use, so it’s a good place to begin saving money. Adding insulation to attic floors and exterior walls, of course, can dramatically reduce energy use. Before making that investment, however, look for places where insulation was forgotten altogether. Common locations include over garages with living space above, inside cantilevered floors, and in cavities around windows. Consult with a company that performs home energy audits to help you decide where you need insulation the most and the best kind to use. It will have instruments and equipment that can literally let you see and feel exactly where you’re losing energy. 

If you’re not ready to make a big investment in insulation – jobs can run $2000 or more -- focus on sealing off air leaks instead. The materials don’t cost much, it’s something you can do yourself, and the results can be dramatic. Air leaks allow huge volumes of heated air to escape in winter and AC-cooled air to escape during the summer. Small gaps around windows, doors, recessed lighting fixtures, bath and kitchen vents, and attic doors and hatchways can add up to holes that are the size of an open window! Chimney flues, openings around flues, plumbing chases, and the rim joists that rest upon your foundation often are responsible for major air-leaks. There are also places you might not think could leak much air, including at the base and top of perimeter walls, and through electrical switches and receptacles. Arm yourself with caulk, cans of spray foam, and rolls of weather stripping. Depending upon the number of gaps you are able to seal, you can save 10 percent of your heating and cooling costs or about $100. Investment: $35 for 2 cartridges of caulk, 2 cans of foam insulation, and several rolls of weather stripping. 

Sealing ducts that carry heated and cooled air is another great way to reduce air leakage and energy loss. Ducts lose up to 20 percent of the heated or cooled air that passes through them – air that you’ve already paid to heat or cool! To seal up duct leaks, brush duct sealant, also called mastic, directly over duct joints, holes, and seams with a disposable bristle brush. For wide gaps, embed fiberglass tape over the mastic and apply a second coat of mastic. Don’t rely on duct tape for this job. It won’t stay put for long. Pay special attention to high-pressure leaks near the blower. By sealing ducts, you can save about $175 of your heating and cooling costs. Investment: $20 for a gallon of mastic, a brush, and a roll of fiberglass tape. 

A good idea in theory

Contrary to conventional wisdom, a programmable thermostat does not necessarily save energy. In my own case, it actually caused us to use more -- although it did add some convenience to our lives. If you own a programmable thermostat, try setting it to the absolute minimum temperatures at which you can be comfortable in winter. Similarly, set it to maximum temperatures during the cooling season. Override the settings only as necessary. By reducing the temperature setting during the heating season by one degree, you’ll reduce your fuel consumption by 1 percent. Increasing the setting saves electricity in summer. Don’t be afraid to experiment. During our New England winters, we have found that setting the thermostat to 50 degrees at bedtime and pulling up a down comforter is perfectly comfortable. During the day, it’s much less expensive to pull on a sweater or sweatshirt rather than to push the up button on the thermostat. By being diligent with your thermostat, expect to save $150 per year on fuel costs. Investment: $0 

Heat wasting hot water habits

After heating and cooling your living space, heating water for washing is your next biggest opportunity to save. It represents about 12 percent of a home’s energy use. Most water heating is done at the water heater, so it’s a good place to start. Set its thermostat to 120 degrees, which should be adequate for most tasks. You’ll find it near the base of most units. Insulating the tank will also reduce energy consumption. Just be sure to follow the maker’s directions for your heater. Never cover the burner compartment or thermostat. With gas- or oil-fired units, do not insulate the tank’s top or bottom either. 

Another important way to reduce water heating costs is to use less hot water. Use cold or warm settings on your washing machine whenever possible. Take shorter showers. Wait until your dishwasher is full before running it. Install low-flow faucets and showerheads; they’ll conserve both water and the energy you’d otherwise use to heat the water. All of these efforts, taken together can easily save $75 per year. Investment: $30 for water heater insulation. 

Make 2013 the year of home energy conservation

This is the year to reduce your energy expenses. Not only will you save enough money to treat the family to dinner at your favorite restaurant every month of the year, but you’ll have done your part to reduce the emissions that cause global warming, melt ice caps, and set the stage for super storms, droughts, and unprecedented weather patterns. You’ll also reduce the pressure on government to open environmentally sensitive areas to destructive technologies, such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), deep water drilling, and transcontinental pipelines.


Joe Provey writes for Basement Systems and is the author of several books on green living, including Convert Your Home to Solar Energy.