Get Your Home Ready for Spring: Make Every Room Energy Efficient
"Spring has sprung" so the saying goes. To me, this means beautiful weather and finally being able to be outdoors more. I've also noticed an influx of work trucks in my neighborhood. It looks like it's also a time for home improvements. Lately, with so much emphasis on the importance of making your home energy efficient, I wondered where it is best to spend money making home improvements or making my home more energy efficient. I read that before remodeling a home, it's good to consider investing in making it more energy efficient. This will help save on energy use and money over the long run. However, there's no telling how long, the "long run" will actually be. So, after doing some research, I found the best options saving on our energy usage AND saving money too! I divided them into five categories for the rooms that my family uses most:
1. Bedroom. Even though we're asleep, most of the time we're in the bedroom, it is still a very important room. During the hot months, many people crank down the air conditioner just so they can be comfortable when they sleep. This wastes a lot of energy which is reflected in increased energy bills. That is where the ceiling fan comes into play. Ceiling fans help circulate cool air in the summer by pushing cooled air downward, and then you can reverse the blade direction in the winter which pushes the cool air upward, to mix with the warm air. By doing this, you're able to be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter while saving some energy. Plus, there are a number of models that look nice and can add a decorative touch to the room. In the summertime, just by using a ceiling fan, you can raise the thermostat around four degrees with no reduction in comfort. Quick energy saving tip: A ceiling fan cools people, not the room as it acts as a wind chill to cool the body, so leaving a fan on when out of the room does nothing but waste electricity. So, save more energy and remember to turn it (and any lights or electronics) off when leaving the room. Another easy improvement is with lighting. You may or may not know that there was a federal law that passed, which is phasing out incandescent bulbs. Starting in 2012, American manufacturers will no longer be allowed to make 100-watt bulbs and the light bulb as we know it will be replaced by compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and LEDs (light emitting diodes). So, knowing this now, could get you a head start on the movement. Yes, they don't give off the best light, but according to the website, www.energysavers.gov, CFLs not only use about 75% less energy but they last up to 10 times longer than standard light bulbs.
2. Attic. If you're looking for a home improvement that not only makes your home energy efficient, but you can see results instantly, then I recommend adding insulation. This project was done in our house and we saw savings on our next energy bill. Our home is older and required more insulation, so the amount of insulation needed and the energy savings you'll see depends on how much insulation is already in your attic. Insulation helps save energy because it acts as a barrier that keeps heat in during the winter and keeps heat out during the summer. In order to maximize the efficiency of adding insulation, it's best to air seal your attic to prevent air leaks first before adding the insulation. You can do this by caulking, sealing and weather stripping all seams, cracks and openings to the outside in your attic. The main sources of air leaks in your attic are around the chimney flashing, all ducts, the attic entrance, any recessed lighting and a dropped ceiling. Once the air leaks are filled, then it's time to add the insulation. To determine if your home needs insulation, you can either hire a qualified home energy auditor who will do an entire home energy assessment for you or you can inspect it yourself. If you do decide to do the inspection yourself, you need to find out the following: A) where your home needs to be insulated, B) the thickness and the R-value of your current insulation and C) the type of insulation you already have. The R-value is a measurement for insulation's resistance to heat flow and the higher the value the greater the effectiveness.
3. Kitchen. Some people consider the kitchen the "heart" of a home. The problem is that it takes a lot of electricity to keep that "heart" beating. So, an easy way to give your kitchen a facelift and make it energy efficient is to upgrade your appliances. For example, by replacing an older refrigerator with an Energy Star labeled model, you will use 40% less energy than conventional models sold in 2001 or earlier. Just think how nice your kitchen will look and how much energy (and money) you can save by replacing all your kitchen appliances with new Energy Star models. In addition to updating your appliances, you can also replace all lighting in the kitchen with CFL's, which use less energy and create less heat, which is especially helpful when cooking during the hotter months. If you aren't looking to upgrade your kitchen but are interested in ways to save energy and cut down on your energy bill, here are a few energy saving tips for the kitchen:
*Use pressure cookers or microwave ovens instead of the stove. They will save energy and reduce cooking time.
*If you do use the oven, try to cook several items at the same time. Also, don't open the door to peek in; opening the door can lower the temperature inside up to 25 degrees.
*Only run a full dishwasher but be sure it's not overloaded.
*Let your dishes air dry. There should be an automatic air-dry option but if not, then turn off the dishwasher after the final rinse and open the door to let the moisture escape.
*Allow foods to partially cool before putting them in the refrigerator since it takes more energy to cool hot food.
4. Living Room. When I think of the living room, the first things that come to mind are comfort and electronics (i.e., TV and music). So, an easy (but pricey) way to help with your energy bills is to upgrade your electronics, like your TV or sound system and make sure they are labeled, "Energy Star". This labeling helps reduce energy consumption without reducing the quality of the product. Quick energy saving tip: Remember to turn off lights and electronic devices when not in use. Contrary to what you might expect, even in stand-by mode those items still consume electricity unless they are completely shut off. If you are looking for less expensive options, just like in the bedroom, you can adopt the same tips for the living room as well. Use/install a ceiling fan and switch to CFL lighting. Whether you work from the home, are a stay-at-home parent, or at home for any reason during the day, you may find that you spend most of your time in the living room. So keep in mind these money savings tips in your living room. Also, it can be beneficial to update your windows and doors, not only in your living room, but in all rooms throughout your home. If you have older single pane windows, chances are you have leaks in them. This is a problem because air conditioned air is escaping through the leaks and outside air is coming in through them as well. A simple fix would be to replace those windows with new, double pane windows that are much more energy efficient and labeled "Energy Star". This method is costly, but they can add better curb appeal to your home plus can reduce air loss of up to 50%. Go to The U.S. Department of Energy's website for information on how to choose the best window option for you. If replacing windows is not the option for you, then you can add caulk and/or a weather strip to reduce air leakage. Determine if there are air leaks entering your home by inspecting windows and/or doors to feel any air coming through. If there is, you can apply caulk to fill in the gaps. Lastly, if you do not have curtains or window coverings, it is a good idea to add them. By keeping them closed during the hottest part of the day, it will help block out the sun and keep your room cooler in the warmer months and they add a nice decorative touch.
Before I continue, I thought I'd point out that there is a 2011 tax credit for replacing windows, doors, insulation, and more with an Energy Star model. With this credit, you can get 10% of the cost of the new product, up to $500, or a specific amount from $50-$300. This credit expires on December 31, 2011 and is only applicable for updates made to an existing home that is your primary residence. This does not apply to new construction or rental properties. Go to the Energy Star Tax Credit website for more information on this tax credit.
5. Garage. The garage is probably one of the last places people think to make improvements to or make energy efficient. What many people don't realize is the garage (especially if it is attached to the home) can be one of the largest culprits of air loss in your home. One of the easiest ways to help prevent this loss is to add a weather strip to the bottom of the garage door and the door entering your home. This prevents the outside air from coming in and the air conditioned air from escaping and as a bonus it acts as a cushion for the garage door, which cuts down on noise when it closes. If you feel a breeze on the sides of the garage door, you can add weather stripping tape to seal the leaks. Now, if you're looking to increase curb appeal or just tired of your garage door altogether (or if it's old and falling apart), you can purchase an energy efficient garage door that will look better and prevent air from leaking. Another quick fix, just like throughout the rest of the house, is to replace the garage lighting with energy efficient CFL lights. Lastly, many people have a refrigerator or freezer in the garage for extra storage. This becomes a problem if you live in an area that has extreme high and low temperatures. Keeping the fridge/freezer at the proper temperature in extremely hot weather causes it to work harder. This is tough on the appliance AND it uses more energy, which costs you more money. So, if you are set on having another fridge or freezer in your garage, then think about replacing it with a model that is built garage-friendly and can withstand extreme temperatures.
Hope these ideas work for you and happy home improvements!