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Low-Cost Tips for Reducing Home Heating and Cooling Costs

Homeowners can significantly reduce their utility bills by making simple, low-cost home improvements, as described below. For more tips, visit the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Savers Web site at www.energysavers.gov.

Keeping Out the Elements:

  • Caulk and weatherstrip doors and windows that leak air.
     
  • Caulk and seal air leaks where ducting, plumbing, light fixtures or electrical wiring penetrates through exterior walls, floors and ceilings.
     
  • Install rubber gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on exterior walls.
     
  • As a less costly and less permanent alternative, you can use a heavy-duty, clear plastic sheet on a frame or tape clear plastic film to the inside of your window frames during the cold winter months. Remember, the plastic must be sealed tightly to the frame to help reduce infiltration.
     
  • During cold-weather months, keep the draperies and shades on your south-facing windows open during the day to allow sunlight to enter your home. Keep these draperies and shades closed at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows. In warm-weather months, keep the window coverings closed during the day to prevent solar gain.
     
  • WARNING: Prior to reducing the air infiltration of a home, all gas burning appliances need to be checked for proper burner operation and the furnace heat exchanger needs to be tested for leaks. Failure to do so may cause elevated carbon monoxide levels in the home.


Sources of Air Leaks in Your Home:

 

1) Dropped Ceiling

2) Recessed light

3) Attic Entrance

4) Sill plates

5) Water and Furnace Flues

6) All ducts

7) Door frames

8) Chimney flashing

9) Window frames

10) Electrical outlets and switches

11) Plumbing and utilities access

 

Caulking

Caulking is an easy, energy-saving project you can do yourself. It is relatively inexpensive - and very effective. In fact, it will usually pay for itself in energy savings within one year. Caulk is a compound used for filling cracks, holes, crevices and joints on both the inside and outside of your home. You will need only a few simple tools and a minimum of skill to caulk these areas. Start at the back of your house and work toward the front so that your skill level is improved by the time you caulk places that are visible.

Try to choose a mild day to tackle this project. The outside temperature should be above 40°F for the caulk to be applied correctly. So, plan to caulk during the spring, summer or fall for best results. Old, cracked caulk should be removed before new is applied. Check your home repair center for a "puttying tool" that will make the job easier and provide a more professional look.

Where to Caulk

As a general rule, caulk should be applied wherever two different building materials meet on the interior or exterior of your home. Different building materials expand and contract at various rates. Through the years, with temperature extremes and caulk drying out, cracks develop between materials. Because these cracks allow air infiltration, the cracks need to be caulked.

On the interior of your home, you can check for air leakage by moving your hand around the windows and doors on a windy day. If you can feel air movement, you need to caulk and/or weatherstrip. You will probably be surprised to find how many spots are "air leakers!"

The following are areas that should be checked:

1. Around door and window frames - inside and out; check window pane putty.

2. Places where brick and wood siding meet.

3. Joints between the chimney and siding.

4. Between the foundation and walls.

5. Around mail chutes.

6. Around electrical and gas service entrances, cable T.V. and phone lines, and outdoor water faucets.

7. Where dryer vents pass through walls.=

8. Cracks in bricks, siding, stucco and foundation.

9. Around air conditioners.

10. Around vents and fans.

11. Wherever two different materials meet.


The material used in sealing air leaks depends on the size of the gaps and where they are located. Caulk is best for cracks and gaps less than 1/4" wide. Expanding foam sealant is good for sealing larger cracks and holes that are protected from sunlight and moisture. Rigid foam insulation may be used for sealing very large openings such as plumbing chases and attic hatch covers. Fiberglass insulation can also be used for sealing large holes, but it needs to be wrapped in plastic or stuffed in plastic bags because air can leak through fiberglass.


Types of Caulking Compounds

Compound Durability Elasticity Cost Comments
Oil based 1-5 yrs Poor Low Very low elasticity.
 
Acrylic latex 2-10 yrs Fair to good Moderate Easy to apply, water clean-up, paintable.
 
Butyl rubber 5-10 yrs Fair Moderate Difficult to apply, solvent clean-up, high moisture resistance.
 
Polyurethane 20 yrs Excellent Moderate Solvent clean-up, excellent elasticity,
to high adheres well to most surfaces.
 
Silicone 20 yrs+ Excellent High Paintable silicone available;
also available in clear.

Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning:

  • For gas appliances, look for blue flames; yellow flames indicate the gas is burning inefficiently and an adjustment may be needed. Consult your manufacturer or your local utility.
     
  • Replace or clean furnace air filter(s) once a month. Have your furnace serviced before each heating season to ensure it is operating safely and efficiently.
     
  • Manually turn your thermostat down to the lowest comfortable setting. Lower your thermostat from 72 degrees to 65 degrees for eight hours a day to save up to 10% on your heating bill. Use thermostat setback strategies when the home is unoccupied or when occupants are sleeping. (Setback may not be appropriate with heat pumps. Check with the equipment supplier or your service company).
     
  • Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed; make sure they're not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.
     
  • Use kitchen, bath and other ventilating fans wisely; in just 1 hour, these fans can pull out a houseful of warmed or cooled air. Turn fans off as soon as they have done the job.
     
  • Keep your fireplace damper closed tightly when not in use.

Water:

  • Repair leaky faucets promptly; a leaky faucet wastes gallons of water in a short period.
     
  • Install water-saving showerheads and faucet aerators.
     
  • Lower the thermostat on your water heater to 120 degrees.
     
  • Wrap your water heater with an insulated jacket. On electric water heaters, be careful not to cover the thermostat. On gas water heaters, be careful not to cover the water heater's top, bottom, thermostat, or burner compartment; when in doubt, get professional help.


Hot Water Savings

  • Fix any hot water leaks promptly.
     
  • Install high-efficiency showerheads. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 mandates that any showerhead manufactured after January 1, 1994, must not be more than a 2.5 gallon-per-minute (gpm) flow (at 80 psi). Some showerheads have valves that allow water shut-off at the shower head without losing temperature mix.
     
  • Low-flow faucet aerators for the kitchen are covered in the same legislation. They reduce flow to 2.5 gpm.
     
  • Take short showers.
     
  • Use your dishwasher wisely instead of washing dishes by hand.
     
  • Set washer cycles for the lowest temperature and water amount that will get clothes clean.
     
  • Always rinse on cold water setting.
     
  • Set water heater temperature at 120°F - 130°F.

Indoor Water Usage

The average family's indoor water usage is about 50 gallons of water per person per day. If your family's water usage is more than that amount, you need to look at your water use habits. Flushing the toilet accounts for about 42 percent of the total, bathing is 32 percent, and laundry is 14 percent. The amount of water that is used for drinking or cooking is probably less than 4 percent of the total. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 has maximum water-use standards for plumbing fixtures. Toilets manufactured after January 1, 1994, have a 1.46 gallon per flush flow (as opposed to 3.5 or 5 gallons per flush for older units), and showerheads will have a maximum flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute. Replacing a showerhead or an older-model toilet is a good investment.


Water Usage Efficiency Hints

  • Fix all leaks promptly.
     
  • Don't let the water run while shaving or brushing your teeth.
     
  • Use low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators.
     
  • Take short showers and don't overfill the bathtub.
     
  • Use your dishwasher wisely instead of washing dishes by hand.
     
  • If you wash dishes by hand, don't let the water run for rinsing.
     
  • Use full loads in your dishwasher and in the washing machine.

Lighting:

  • Turn off the lights in any room you're not using.
     
  • Install compact fluorescent bulbs in place of existing incandescent bulbs where practical and when operation is more than two hours per day.
     
  • Use task lighting; instead of brightly lighting an entire room, focus the light where you need it.

Appliances:

  • Move your refrigerator out from the wall and vacuum its condenser coils once a year. Your refrigerator will run for shorter periods with clean coils.
     
  • Don't keep your refrigerator or freezer too cold. Recommended temperatures are 37° to 40°F for the fresh food compartment of the refrigerator and 5°F for the freezer section. If you have a separate freezer for long-term storage, it should be kept at 0°F.
     
  • When not in use, turn off televisions, stereos and computers. ENERGY STAR ®-labeled computers come with power management features that "power down" after a user-specified period of inactivity.

Landscaping:

Planting trees and shrubs around your home will help reduce your heating and cooling costs. How much it reduces costs depends on the choice of plants, where you locate them, the location of your home and its construction.

Trees and shrubs also reduce noise and air pollution and make your home more attractive and more valuable.

Therefore, money spent on landscaping your home is a good investment.

Winter

An unprotected home loses much more heat on a cold, windy day than on an equally cold, still day. Well-located trees and shrubs can intercept the wind and cut your heat loss. Studies of windbreaks show they can reduce winter fuel consumption by 10 percent or more. Trees and shrubs planted close to a building reduce wind currents that otherwise would chill the outside surfaces. Foundation plantings create a "dead air" space which slows the escape of heat from a building.

Foundation plantings also help reduce air infiltration losses around the foundation of the house. Closely planted evergreens are suggested for this area.

Deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall and allow the winter sun to enter the windows and warm the inside space. In the summer, their leaf cover provides cool shade which reduces your home's need for mechanical air conditioning.

Summer

The maximum air-conditioning need in Missouri is usually in late July and early August, and most electrical power for air conditioning will be used in the late afternoon hours. With this in mind, landscape plantings should include trees and tall shrubs to shade west-facing walls, windows, and the southwest corner of the home during the hottest summer afternoons. Quick-growing vines may be planted on trellises to provide summer shade screens while trees are growing. If there is no roof overhang to significantly reduce the effects of the sun on south walls, deciduous trees and shrubs should also be planted to shade south walls and windows.

When planting trees, choose the site carefully. Plant tall growing trees such as hickory, walnut, oak, pecan, sweetgum and pine well away from any power lines so branches do not tangle in the wires. Avoid planting trees over underground utility lines.

For More Information Contact:

Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Division of Energy
P.O. Box 176
Jefferson City, MO 65102
1-800-361-4827 or (573) 751-3443
E-mail: energy@dnr.state.mo.us
Web site: http://www.dnr.mo.gov/energy/