If you’d love to make your Ann Arbor home more energy-efficient, but aren’t ready for a remodel or retrofit for a greener home, you can still save money on your energy bills this winter. These simple tasks can boost your home’s coziness factor while cutting your spending, and you can do them yourself.
1 Seal it up
Heat may be escaping around your doors and windows — experts estimate 7-12% of heat loss happens here.
Wielding a tube of caulk or installing weather stripping for a couple of hours will go a long way toward cutting down on cold drafts. While sealing the cracks around doors and windows are no-brainers, don’t forget the places where utilities and pipes make the trip from outside to in. These gaps may be better sealed with spray foam. As a bonus, sealing these gaps can help keep mice and other pests from making their home in yours.
You can also install storm windows. Measure carefully, and get them made at home improvement stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s. The DIY Network has great step-by-step instructions here.
In an unfinished basement, run caulk between the top of the foundation and the sill plate to keep cold air from seeping into the living spaces. The U.S. Department of Energy has this illustration to help.
2 Turn it down
Setting your thermostat under 70F can save you a lot on your energy use — especially when you’re not home or asleep. Installing a programmable thermostat makes varying the inside temperature even easier, you won’t have to remember to lower it every morning or at bedtime. According to Direct Energy, you can save up to 10% on your bills by turning the thermostat down 7-10F degrees from your normal setting.
3 Tune it up
Maintain your heating unit regularly and it will work more efficiently and use less fuel. A yearly tune-up by your HVAC pro will take keep your heating system running at its best. If your system uses forced air for heat, check your air filter every month, and change it when it starts to get dirty — the air will flow more freely.
Cleaning your air ducts will give you cleaner indoor air, and getting rid of dust and debris will move your heat more efficiently, taking a load off your blower system. The National Air Duct Cleaners Association, which is a thing that actually exists, has a much more detailed explanation on their site.
4 Lay it down
Lay down insulation in your attic floor. Energy Star recommends using about 10 to 14 inches of insulation, depending on the type. Also insulate the attic door — whether it’s a regular door or pull-down version. Leaving that space bare will allow heat to creep up and away from your living area.
5 Wrap it up
If your water heater is warm when you touch it, it’s probably not insulated well enough. A water tank should have an insulation level of at least R-24, and you can check the label on the tank. If you have an older unit, and it’s warm to the touch, insulating it will cut heat loss by 25-45%, saving 7-16% every year on the energy it takes to heat your water. You can buy insulated blankets for your heater, and your energy provider may have them available at a discount. Consider adding insulation around your water pipes where you can — like in an unfinished basement space.
Even with a newer heater, you can save energy by turning the temperature setting down. Most water heaters come from the manufacturer and are installed at the default setting of 140F. Turning it down to 120F can save 4%-22% annually. Before you do, though, make sure your dishwasher has a booster heater — a lower temperature might not get your dishes clean enough. And if anyone in the home has compromised immunity or has a breathing problem, leave it at 140F. Otherwise, it’s safe to do and will minimize scalding risks.
6 Check it out
Get a home energy audit. There’s a DIY option, the Energy Star Home Energy Yardstick is a good tool. It’s due to be updated by the end of the year, so you may want to check back in to see how your home fares.
A more hands-on option is to call your energy provider. Many offer free or discounted audits by a professionally accredited auditor who’ll use special equipment to test your home for air leaks, and infrared imaging to find hidden leaks and the places where you need more insulation.
Along with saving on your energy bills, you’re doing the environment a solid by buttoning up your home. Up to half of your home energy use goes toward heating and cooling it. In an inefficient home, you’re burning your money, using more electricity, oil, or gas, and making a bigger carbon footprint. With a little time and effort, you’ve created a win-win, for your wallet and your environment.