by Ingrid Justick:
Vol. 27, No. 4
Finding ways to maximize your wintertime energy savings is the most effective way to reduce your home’s global warming footprint. Many winterizing fixes are simple strategies that require minimal cost, with a high return on savings.
Plug Air Leaks: If one fourth of U.S. households sealed leaks around their doors and windows, it would save enough energy in heating and cooling costs to prevent eight million tons of CO2 from being emitted, according to the EPA. One technique to identify leaks is by walking with a lit candle near potential draft-causers, such as windows, doorways, vents and electrical outlets. When the candle flame starts to flutter, you found a leak. Also look for dirty or frosty spots in insulation, which indicate leaks. Use caulk to fill small gaps, and use weather stripping for larger gaps. Conventional caulk often contains formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, as a preservative. Find nontoxic caulk at your local hardware store, or at Green Building Supply (800-405-0222).
Upgrade Your Insulation: Installing more insulation will help you reach your efficiency goals. Your local home supply store can tell you the recommended “R” value of insulation you need, based on where you live. (R-values are measurements of how well insulation keeps heat from passing through.) Insulating your attic properly is most important. Use natural fiber insulation that contains no chemical irritants. To add to your energy efficiency, seal and insulate your ducts with duct sealant or metal-backed tape focusing on ducts that move through attics, basements and garages. Homes with central air can lose up to 60 percent of heated air if ducts are not properly insulated. In many cases, air leaks can be hidden away in places hard to find. Hiring an energy efficiency auditor associated with the EPA’s Home Performance program can help you identify energy inefficiencies. Local utility companies sometimes provide energy audits for free.
Check Your Windows: If your windows feel drafty, there are several inexpensive ways to seal them. Add storm windows to provide additional draft protection. Close your curtains or shades at nighttime; it can reduce heat loss by 30 percent. Install a programmable thermostat. Energy Star recommends a temperature of 70 degrees or less when you are at home. Set the temperature back by eight degrees at night when you are sleeping. To save more energy, install zone heating. You heat highly used zones in your house instead of the whole house.
Clean Your Filters: Check your air filters monthly. Dirty filters prevent efficient airflow; therefore you are using more energy for less heat because the system has to work harder.
Humidify: Humid air feels warmer than dry air at the same temperature. So when you use a humidifier, the heat index of a room increases, allowing you to set your thermostat at a lower temperature.
Some of the simplest measures can also be the most satisfying way to warm our homes and hearts, when we know we are taking steps toward a more sustainable future.