Heating and cooling inefficiencies are the major cause, and the prevention is, in many cases, simple and inexpensive. Here are some simple solutions for making your home more comfortable and less expensive to heat. You'll also be helping the environment.
Perform a Draft CheckInstall Door Sweeps and Draft GuardsBlock Drafts from Electrical OutletsUse the DrapesApply Plastic Window KitsConsider a Heater FanReverse Your Ceiling FanInstall a Programmable ThermostatConsider Tankless Water HeatersInsulate Storage-Style Water HeatersLower Settings on Your Water HeaterInsulate Water PipesReplace Furnace FiltersIncrease Furnace EfficiencyVent the FireplaceBurn Wood Efficiently
Perform a Draft Check
The one home improvement which saves the most energy with the least investment is draft proofing.
A simple way to locate outside air coming into your home is with a stick of incense. (Some hardware stores sell “smoke pencils” for this purpose.) Light the incense and inspect your home, from the inside, for air leaks. Choose a breezy day, and go around windows, areas where plumbing and wiring go through walls, attic doors, entry doors, and fireplace dampers.
How much the smoke drifts horizontally from the incense will reveal how serious the leak is.
Most leaks can be quickly plugged with exterior silicone caulk: be sure to caulk the leaks from the outside of the house, or moisture will build up inside the walls. Weatherstripping and door sweeps will fix the door leaks quickly and easily. For larger voids use easy-to-apply insulating foam.
Install Door Sweeps and Draft Guards
The warm air in a heated home escapes wherever it can. Under the door is the common site for heat loss or cold air entry.
Door sweeps are available at home supply stores for about $10. They can be installed without having to take the door off its hinges. Simply slide the sweep under the door and cut off excess length with a hacksaw. A few screws, provided with the sweep, hold it in place. Draft guards are also available to stop drafts coming from under interior doors.
Block Drafts from Electrical Outlets
Rooms in many homes may have cool air seeping in through the electric outlets on walls which face outdoors. A simple draft check (see above) will let you know if this is the case in your home. Simply plug the outlet with inexpensive outlet safety caps to prevent drafts. This is also a safety measure if there are young children who might otherwise poke things into the outlet slots.
Use the Drapes
Most heat loss in the average home is through and around the windows. Drawing the drapes at night is an effective block, making it harder for your warm air to escape. Lined drapes are best. Drapes will also help reduce window condensation because the space between the drapes and the window is cooler than the room air. Drapes can be lined with less expensive material or re-used bed sheets. The cost of the material is recouped by the savings in energy.
Apply Plastic Window Kits
Plastic window kits are affordable alternatives to double glazing for doors and windows. They contain sheets of plastic film, which looks like cling-film, but slightly thicker. Double-sided tape is applied to the window frame, then the plastic is cut to size and fixed to the tape. Finally, a hair dryer is used to shrink the plastic sheeting tight.
The fitted plastic creates an air-tight gap which prevents drafts and condensation. They cannot be used on most aluminum-framed windows and doors, as there is not enough of a gap between the window frame and the glass to work effectively.
Plastic window kits are available at Eartheasy’s online store. Most hardware stores also have special mounting tracks or frames for making your own plastic film storm windows.
Consider a Heater Fan
These heat-powered circulating fans are designed to set directly on top of woodstoves or gas room heaters. They send the heat out horizontally, instead of letting it rise upwards, which results in much faster and more efficient room heating.
Another feature of the heater fan is the operating cost: nothing! No batteries or electricity are required. The thermoelectric module runs by the heat of the stove. The fans are nearly silent, and designed to last a lifetime.
One concern with these fans, however, is that they can ‘burn out’ if the diode is overheated. With wood heaters, care must be taken if there’s a large, hot fire. Set the fan on a brick, or remove it temporarily from the heater surface until the fire settles down.
Although these fans cost from $50 to $150, the savings in energy costs, year after year, is greater. Available online and at home supply and hardware stores.
Reverse Your Ceiling Fan
Although ceiling fans are most often associated with home cooling, they can also help with home heating. Most of the heat generated by your heating systems rises to the ceiling where it slowly dissipates or radiates into the upper walls and ceiling.
“You may have overlooked the simplest heat-save method of all … during the winter months, wear a sweater indoors and turn the thermostat down a couple degrees. It’s perfectly comfortable, and the cooler air indoors keeps one from getting dozy.” – Miles, London
If you have ceiling fans in your home, check to see if they are reversible. In winter, the blades should rotate clockwise. This reverse rotation will collect warm air from the ceiling and pull it downwards. Set the fan at its slowest speed so as not to create a breeze. The energy savings will only be realized if you lower your thermostat correspondingly. For each degree you lower the thermostat, heating costs will be reduced by 3 – 5%.
Install a Programmable Thermostat
You can save as much as 10% a year on your heating bills by turning your thermostat down 10 – 15% for 8 hours each day. You can do this automatically without sacrificing comfort by installing a programmable thermostat.
A programmable thermostat lets you preset the times your home is heated, so heat can be lowered while you are asleep or out of the house. The cost, between $30 – $50, is offset by the long-term energy savings. Installation is easy for the average home handyman – you don’t need to hire a serviceman.
Consider Tankless Water Heaters
Tankless water heaters can save as much as fifty percent of the cost of heating water.
Space saving, highly energy efficient “tankless” water heaters can deliver as much as 200 gallons of hot water per hour and since there is no tank to run out, they supply hot water endlessly. Because there is no storage tank to keep heated all day, and no pilot light, these water heaters only burn gas when you need hot water. This eliminates standby heat loss which can be as high as 3 – 4 % every hour for storage tank type water heaters.
Different models offer varying water-delivery capacities. The units are easy to install, and available in gas or electric models.
Insulate Storage-Style Water Heaters
Although water heaters are insulated, they can lose heat and waste energy if located in an unheated space, or designed with minimal insulation. If your water heater feels warm to the touch, you will save money and have more hot water by adding more insulation.
Water heater blanket kits are available for gas or electric water heaters which are non-allergenic (no fiberglass), and provide up to 97% radiant heat loss.
You can also make your own water heater blanket which can be thicker and cost even less to install. Here’s how:
- If your heater is gas powered, do not cover the burner access. Leave three inches of exposed area around the flue collar.
- Use ‘faced’ fiberglass insulation (one side is papered over) to keep the fiberglass particles out of the air. Cut strips of insulation 3″ longer than the circumference of the heater. Wrap them horizontally around the heater and seal with vinyl duct tape.
- Using a razor knife, cut away around thermostat controls, drain faucets, and vents.
- If you have an electric heater, cut a circle of insulation and fit it over the top, cutting slits for the pipes to go through. Seal any exposed fiberglass with duct tape.
- Covering up labels on water heaters may, in some cases, void warranties. Be sure to read labels to see if this condition applies.
Lower Settings on Your Water Heater
Most water heaters are factory pre-set at 140 degrees. This may be more than you need, especially in a one or two person household. If your hot water supply is adequate, try lowering the thermostat to 120 degrees. Experiment within the 120-140 range to find the lowest setting which supplies you with enough hot water. Every degree you reduce will save energy costs and reduce pollution.
Insulate Water Pipes
Most water pipes in homes are uninsulated, which results in lost heat and causes the water heater to work harder, thereby increasing energy costs. If you have pipes which are warm to the touch, which ‘sweat’, or go through unheated areas, the fix is simple and very inexpensive.
Pre-slit, foam pipe insulation is available at most hardware stores, and usually comes in 3′ (1m) lengths.
Simply snap the insulation over the pipe and run a strip of duct tape over the seam where pieces butt together. Join the split so it is facing downwards on horizontal runs, and tape the long seam as well. Cut short lengths of the foam insulation with a razor knife and bend around elbows and joints.
Do not wrap too tightly as it will lose some of its insulation value. Any part of the insulation that is outside should be painted.
While you’re at it, insulate the cold water pipes too: this will help keep them from freezing in unheated areas or during cold weather if you’re away from home. (In areas of sustained freezing temperatures, the pipes will ultimately freeze; the insulation will only slow the process. The only way to prevent freezing is to drain the water or add heat (e.g. heat tape)).
Replace Furnace Filters
If your home is heated by a central furnace, check the filters every month during winter. Clogged filters reduce airflow and cause the furnace to work harder, using more energy. Severely clogged filters can even lead to premature compressor damage.
To check the filter, hold it up to a light and see if the light shines through. New filters cost about 50 cents each, and are simple to replace. Measure your old air filter before shopping – they range in size from 12”x12” to 30”x30”. Turn off electric power to furnace while inspecting filter.
It’s recommended that filters be replaced at least every three months of furnace use.
Increase Furnace Efficiency
The following steps will help your furnace operate more efficiently:
- Shut off the pilot light during the summer months.
- If furnace has a fan belt, inspect for cracks or wear, and replace if necessary. Be sure to shut off electricity at switch and at circuit breaker before inspecting fan belt.
- Keep vents and air returns clear of obstructions.
- Check chimney and furnace vent system once a year. Pipe should be securely connected, with no signs of corrosion or damage. Chimney and flue should be clear of obstructions.
- Keep the area around the furnace clear. Nothing should be leaning against it.
- Have furnace serviced regularly to be sure it’s working at peak efficiency.
Vent the Fireplace
When the wood fireplace isn’t in use, close the damper to prevent warm air from escaping out the chimney, and ensure the damper fits tightly. Most importantly, provide outside combustion air directly to the fireplace by installing a small vent to the outside wall. This vent can also be installed through the floor, if fireplace is on the ground floor with an unheated crawl space below. The vent can be screened to keep out bugs, but should be checked annually to clear any cobwebs or other obstruction building against the screen and reducing its air flow.
Remember that natural gas fireplaces are more economical, and provide more heat and less pollution, than wood burning units.
Burn Wood Efficiently
If you heat your home with wood it is important to be as efficient as possible, both for the energy savings as well as the health benefits.
The heater should be cleaned at the start of the heating season and periodically thereafter. The air intake duct should be clear of webs or debris, the chimney inspected and excess ash removed from the firebox. Wood should be seasoned.
For more information about burning wood safely and efficiently, see: Wood Heating Tips.