5 Important Home Maintenance Projects for Energy Efficiency
Improve Energy Efficiency at Home and Save Money
Each year, homeowners throw away thousands of dollars in unnecessary heating and cooling costs. By improving energy efficiency, however, you can save money on your monthly utility bills.
When you keep the heat or cool air indoors, you can comfortably adjust your thermostat by several degrees, which is the equivalent of putting at least $120 back in your bank account every year!1
What could you spend that money on instead?
There are three primary ways to achieve better energy efficiency at home:
- Sealing doors and windows
- Adding insulation if necessary
- Implementing passive solar heating/cooling techniques
The five important home maintenance projects, described in detail below, are relatively inexpensive, easy to complete over a weekend, and can be accomplished by most homeowners themselves!
1For every degree you adjust your thermostat, you save 3% on your heating or cooling bill. So, 3-4 degrees will save you 10% per month ($10 off $100 bill adds up to $120 annually).
Home Improvement: Energy Efficiency
1. Caulk and Seal Doors and Windows
You wouldn't leave the door ajar when you have the inside of your home at a comfortable temperature, would you? Yet, leaky doors and windows allow heated or cooled air to escape, which makes your HVAC system work harder to maintain the interior temperature you desire. Not only that, but damaged caulk can allow unwanted moisture or bugs into your home - Ick!
One of the easiest, important home maintenance projects is to check, re-caulk and seal doors and windows every year. A simple DIY project to find air leaks is to inspect door and window frames for gaps or cracks. Utility lines, such as phone, natural gas, electricity or cable enter your home may also be allowing heat to escape. Don't forget skylights, and outdoor faucets, too.
If drafts are hard to locate with a simple inspection, you can depressurize your home by closing all windows and doors, then running all exhaust fans in the home, usually in the bathrooms and kitchen. Then, take an incense stick, light it and slowly move it around door and window frames or other suspected leak areas. You'll see drafts when the smoke is blown out.
Once you find a leak, its very easy to fix. You will need to prepare the area to be sealed by gently wiping it down with a damp cloth to remove dirt and debris. Chip off any old, damaged caulk to remove it. Allow the area to dry completely, then use a caulking guns filled with caulk sealant and apply a strip along areas that need sealing. You are literally filling in the gaps and cracks to stop air leaks and drafts.
To seal doors and windows, use polyurethane caulk (there are other types of caulk for use on bricks, concrete, glass, metal and wood). This type of caulk lasts a relatively long time and does not shrink up after application. Smooth it out, if desired with the back of a spoon before the caulk dries.
If you have any questions, a retail hardware store sales associate can help you select caulk and use a caulking gun. But this home maintenance project is simple enough that you should not need to hire a professional.
Weatherize Your Home by Caulking WIndows and Doors
2. Inspect and Add Insulation
If you live in a new home (less than 10 years old), you probably have minimally sufficient insulation, as new construction is built to recent energy efficiency standards. Older homes, however, or even newer homes, may benefit from additional insulation.
It is easiest for homeowners to inspect existing insulation within a garage, basement or attic where structural elements of the home are exposed. You are looking for the type of insulation, and determining its thickness, measured in inches.
If you don't have such areas in your home, you can still inspect insulation through an electrical outlet by turning off power to the outlet via your breaker box, removing the outlet cover, and using a flashlight to estimate the thickness of insulation. Check several outlets within the home for consistency, particularly if there have been structural additions. With gloves on your hand, pull a sample of the insulation from the wall so that you can determine what type of insulation was used.
For homeowners in the United States, check out the Department of Energy's Insulation Fact Sheet to determine the R-values of insulation in your home. Afterward, use the DOE's Zip Code Insulation Calculator to determine whether you need to add insulation and if so, how much and where new insulation should be installed to maximize your home's energy efficiency.
3. Perform Annual Maintenance of Your Hot Water Tank
Did you know that you should drain your hot water heater annually to prevent sediment build-up? This is an easy, but important home maintenance project that you can do yourself, without having to hire a professional.
Follow these steps for a DIY home improvement project to extend the life of your hot water heater:
1. For electric heaters, turn off power to the tank via the breaker box. If your water is heated with gas, switch the thermostat to pilot mode.
2. Turn off the water supply that goes into the hot water tank.
3. Locate the drain valve on the tank, and connect a hose to it, but wait before opening the valve.
4. Turn on a hot water faucet in the house and leave it running during the remaining maintenance steps. Return to the hot water tank and open the drain valve. Make sure the hose is on the ground, directing the hot water into the driveway or street.
5. Once the tank is completely drained, turn on the water supply again to flush out sediment. When the water runs clear, close the drain valve, allow the tank to refill with water, and turn off the hot water faucet that you left running in your home during the maintenance.
6. Finally, turn the power back on or switch the thermostat from pilot mode after the water tank has filled again. About 1-2 hours later, test the pressure relief valve on the hot water tank to ensure its proper functioning. Follow the instructions on your tank. If you determine the valve to be faulty, it may need to be replaced by a professional.
Hot Water Tank Maintenance
4. Install Landscaping for Passive Solar Techniques
One of the simplest home maintenance or DIY home improvement projects is to install landscaping that will help to heat your home during winter or keep it cool during summer. Known as passive solar techniques, homeowners can improve the efficiency of their HVAC systems by reducing the strain on them, simply by positioning leafy trees or bushes near windows, or overhanging a portion of the roof.
During summer months, deciduous landscaping can block some of the hot rays of the sun from beating down on rooftops or through windows. Leafy trees or shrubs are at the height of their growing season, providing cool shade for your home. On the other hand, when leaves fall during autumn, bare branches allow radiant heat through over winter, helping to warm interiors.
Other passive solar techniques include installing a retractable awning over decks or patios, which also help reduce interior heating during summer months. Concrete patios or walkways should be replaced with decking, bricks or gravel to cut down on reflected heat, as well.
5. Install Drapes or Blinds for Passive Solar Techniques
Drapes or blinds can be used as additional insulation for a home, trapping warm air inside during winter months, or keeping things cool during the summer. Windows allow more than just light indoors.
Radiant heat from the sun can heat things up significantly when the mercury rises, so you'll want to block sunlight from baking the interior of your home. Be sure to pull drapes or blinds closed before you leave for the day, or before afternoon sun streams through the windows. As discussed above regarding landscaping tips, this use of passive solar is simple, relatively inexpensive and is disguised as a regular home improvement, rather than an energy efficiency measure.
Conversely, during winter, even sealed windows allow heat to escape. After all, they are not insulated as are walls and the roof of a home. Think of drapes or blinds as a blanket that traps warm air inside. Shut them before leaving for the day. If you are at home, consider covering the windows of rooms not in use, such as bedrooms.
Passive Solar Home
Additional Energy Saving Tip: Use a Programmable Thermostat
Once you have implemented these five important home maintenance projects, you should add one more. If you don't already own or use a programmable thermostat, you can save even more money by installing one.
With a new thermostat, you don't have to remember to turn down the heat at night or during the day when you are gone. Simply set the time and day of the week to pre-set the thermostat to switch on about 1/2 hour before waking or before you return home at the end of the day. Remember the statistic above about saving 3% of your power bill for each degree you adjust your thermostat. How easy would it be to cut your utility bill 10% every month?
Today's new smart programmable thermostats give you data based on peak energy usage during the day, show you where you are wasting power, and even allow you to turn off appliances or lights in your home remotely via smartphone applications! The return on investment for these smart thermostats is usually 1-2 years, or less.
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© 2012 Stephanie Hicks
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