Inexpensive home energy makeover

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Inexpensive home energy makeover

Energy-saving upgrades such as weather stripping compact fluorescent light bulbs, low-flow faucets and showerheads, and lifetime air conditioning filters can save you up to 25 percent annually on your utility bills. Here are some energy-saving tips you can apply to your home. And these don’t cost a lot of money, either.

Immediate insulation

A good strategy in your green campaign is taking a look at places for immediate insulation—not the battings in the attic, but right at hand. For example, if your water heater is warm to the touch, that’s a sign that you are heating more than just the water. You can buy an easy-to-install insulating “coat” for around $25.

If you have exposed water pipes or heating ducts, they may also be candidates for immediate insulation—to keep them warm in winter and cool in summer. Again, this insulation is easy to install and not expensive.  It’s also a project you can work on foot by foot.

And in winter, consider insulating yourself. That extra sweater or cozy fleece outfit lets you lower the heat a couple degrees. (In summer, use a ceiling fan. The gentle circulation lets you keep the thermostat a couple degrees higher.)

Go with the low-flow

Low-flow fixtures like faucets, showerheads and especially toilets can offer significant savings. The American Water Works Association says nearly one-third of a home’s water usage to flushing with standard toilets. Low-flow models, at 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf), cut this by more than half which saves water and shows up as a saving on your water bill. In fact, there are even HET fixtures (High Efficiency Toilet) the use a mere 1.3 gpf. The City of Charlottesville and the Albemarle County Service Authority both offer help in the form of rebates. Both offer $100 each toward the purchase of low-flow toilets

Convert showerheads to low-flow models for additional savings. Older showerheads have flows as great at 5.5 gallons per minutes (gpm), while newer ones are designed to feel nearly as forceful with flow rates of 2.5 gpm or even less. Adding an inexpensive aerator—a screw-on faucet tip—generally restricts the flow so less water (and the energy to heat that water) is used.

Prevent the bad flow

You’ve heard it before, but sealing air leaks in the home can make a big different in how much you have to heat or cool. Older houses are especially likely to have gaps, so check for obvious leaks by shining a bright light on the edges of doors and windows while someone is inside to see. Then use putty caulk or rope caulk to seal cracks, both on the inside and the outside.

Weather stripping comes in a variety of easy-to-install styles from sticky-backed foam to bronze that requires brads to keep in place. Most homeowners can apply weather stripping themselves.

Clean your filters

When the filters on your furnace or air conditioning units and the lint trap on your dryer are not regularly cleaned, those units have to work harder. Clean the lint filter on our dryer after each use (tuck the lint in an empty tissue box) and mark your filter change date on your calendar. Always have filters on hand available for changing so you don’t have to make a special trip to the store.

An interesting alternative is to install washable air filters which are up to ten times more efficient than standard disposable furnace filters. Washable furnace filter are electrostatically charged and snag up to 94 percent of the dust and allergens that pass through the filter. These filters, which should be washed every three months, generally last up to five years.

Turn the lights down low

Actually, with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) you can turn the lights “down” and still have good lighting. You see, a 75-watt incandescent bulb can be replaced by a 20-watt CFL bulb that uses about a quarter of the power.  Multiply that power savings by all the bulbs in your home and you’ll be paying your electric company less. You won’t have to change bulbs so often, either, because the CFLs generally last 8 to 10 years. This is especially nice with lights that are hard to change like those in a stairwell.

While CFLs can be used almost anywhere, special CFLs must be used with three-way lights, dimmers, or out of doors. Another consideration is that a broken CFL can release mercury vapor or a tiny amount of mercury powder. If a bulb is broken, suggests the Environmental Protection Agency, turn off your heating or cooling so fumes aren’t circulated and open windows to let the room ventilate. Don’t use your vacuum cleaner! Instead, wear gloves to clean up, using sticky tape to pick up the smallest pieces. Finally wipe the area with a damp paper towel, put the used towel in a plastic bag with the broken pieces, seal the bag and discard it in the trash.

These may seem like small steps to take, but many small moves add up to real savings for your wallet and the environment.

Marilyn Pribus lives with her husband in Albemarle County near Charlottesville. “The secret to surviving winter is SmartWool® socks,” she says. “Summer’s secret is a whole-house fan plus two ceiling fans.”

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