Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Weatherizing and taking steps to improve the efficiency of your home can work wonders to keep your home comfortable and less expensive this winter. Here, we’ll start with the basics and then provide some additional resources for further consideration.
Thinking of comfort first will usually lead to solutions that also save energy. For example, if you feel drafts at your feet, check for any sources of airflow near the floor of your home. This could include heat registers, door bottoms and the perimeter of the floor along outside walls. If not properly sealed, these areas are allowing cold air into the home.
Drafts due to poor sealing usually cause more discomfort than the actual heat loss through inefficient doors and windows. We recommend checking these first. Sealing with door seals is generally the easiest and first step. If that significantly improves the draft problem, then additional steps may not be necessary.
Another common comfort issue is general heat loss. For this situation, it is a good idea to consider what type of heat the home has. For centrally heated homes, it is important to maintain airflow. This means ensuring floor registers and air returns are not closed, covered or blocked.
When the furnace was installed, it was balanced to heat all areas, so closing off rooms or registers can actually reduce the system’s effectiveness. Properly attaching registers and sealing them to the ducting ensures heat is delivered to the interior.
For homes with zonal heating like baseboard heaters, adjust the heat for comfort when occupied and turn it down when not in use. For average homes, it’s fine to turn down the thermostat while away, and at night. It typically doesn’t take more energy to “heat up” the home than leaving it at the higher temp at night or when no one is home.
General heat loss itself can usually be attributed to inadequate insulation and inefficient windows and patio doors. A good solution is to use a window heat-shrink film that is crystal clear and easily applied to the interior window frame. The material creates a dead air space between the glass and the interior, which provides an insulating factor. Sealing large single-pane or double-pane metal-framed picture windows and old patio doors provides great protection against general heat loss. Thermal blinds and drapes can also help provide additional insulation.
Adding insulation to walls, attics and floors, as well as to ducting in the crawl space or attic, is a tremendous solution for general heat loss. Insulation keeps warm air in and cold air out (and vice versa in summer).
When insulating, proper ventilation and air sealing are critical. We recommend enlisting the assistance of insulation professionals to ensure projects are completed to industry standards. Utility rebate programs are available to help offset the cost of insulation upgrades.
Once air leakage and heat loss have been addressed, we suggest ensuring heating equipment is maintained properly. Not surprisingly, heating and cooling comprise the largest energy use in U.S. homes. An annual maintenance check by a certified professional is advised, and can help detect issues before a “no-heat” scenario arises. Think of it as you would an oil change for your car.
Changing furnace filters as often as needed is important, too, especially when equipment is running daily. Dirty filters restrict airflow and force the equipment to work harder.
Upgrading your thermostat can be a great investment, especially if the current one is very old. Programmable thermostats are more accurate and user friendly than ever, and “smart” thermostats offer remote control via Wi-Fi, and additional features to help keep your home at optimal temperatures.
Water heating is the third-largest energy use in U.S. homes. To increase efficiency and reduce costs, insulate water pipes to reduce heat loss and prevent freezing. Insulate the water tank, especially if it is located in an unheated space. For most households, setting the tank temperature to medium is ideal.
Finally, repair costly faucet leaks and install efficient showerheads and aerators. Besides saving energy, you’ll save water.
While not exhaustive, these steps will get you well on your way to a more efficient and comfortable home. The Sustainable Living Center can help with additional resources. We offer low-cost home energy audits and can help answer questions about utility rebates, free energy-saving kits and other available incentives.
On Tuesday, we will host a public workshop on weatherization and home energy savings where we’ll demonstrate how to apply window film, show tools and materials, provide handouts and share additional tips.
The workshop will be held at the WWCC Water & Environmental Center, 640 Water Center Dr., from 6:30-8 p.m. There is no charge to attend. To learn more, please contact us at 509-524-5218 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erendira Cruz is the executive director of the Sustainable Living Center. She has a bachelor’s degree in business management from Montana State University.
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