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ENERGY STAR’s Top Tips to Save Energy This Winter

Girl in Winter Hat

By: Brittney Gordon-Williams

Did you know that the average family spends $2000 on utility bills each year, and nearly half of that amount goes to heating and cooling your home? With the temperature dipping to dangerously low levels in many parts of the country, this is prime time to make sure that your home is ready for the cold temperatures ahead. Check out these energy saving tips from the experts at the U.S. EPA’s ENERGY STAR program, and get ready to enjoy winter in energy efficient comfort. 

ENERGY STAR’s Top Eight Tips to Save Energy this Winter 

1.)    Use a programmable thermostat: Program your thermostat to match your schedule. To maximize savings without sacrificing comfort, program the thermostat to lower the heat by 8 degrees Fahrenheit or more when you’re away from home or asleep, and you can save about $180 per year.

2.)    Seal leaks and insulate: Hidden gaps and cracks in a home can add up to as much airflow as an open window and cause your heating system to work harder and use more energy. Sealing and insulating can improve your home “envelope”—the outer walls, ceiling, windows and floors—which will make your home more comfortable and improve the efficiency of your heating system by as much as 20 percent. You can save up to $200 a year by sealing and insulating with ENERGY STAR.

3.)    Keep your air filters clean: Check your heating and cooling system’s air filter every month. If the filter looks dirty, change it. At minimum, change the filter every three months. This simple change will help your system work at maximum efficiency—lowering your energy bills and helping your family maintain better indoor air quality.

4.)    Tune up your HVAC equipment yearly: Just as a tune-up for your car can improve your gas mileage, a yearly tune-up of your heating and cooling system can improve efficiency and comfort. Learn more here.

5.)    Install a door sweep: Door sweeps–or weather stops for garage doors–seal the gap between the bottom of the door and threshold, preventing cold air from coming in and warm air from escaping.

6.)    Close your fireplace damper: Fireplace dampers eliminate drafts by sealing your fireplace shut when you’re not using it. Consider using a fireplace “balloon” to make the seal even tighter.

7.)    Change a Light: With shorter days and longer nights, many families will turn on more lighting at this time of year. Select ENERGY STAR certified lighting for bulbs that use 75 percent less energy than a standard incandescent and last 10 times longer.

8.)    Look for the ENERGY STAR: If your HVAC equipment is more than 10 years old or not keeping your house comfortable, have it evaluated by a professional HVAC contractor. If it is not performing efficiently or needs upgrading, consider replacing it with a unit that has earned the ENERGY STAR. Depending on where you live, replacing your old heating and cooling system with ENERGY STAR certified equipment can cut your annual energy bill by nearly $200.

Brittney Gordon-Williams is a member of the communications team for EPA’s ENERGY STAR program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR: Find the Savings Under Your Feet by Sealing and Insulating Your Basement or Crawlspace

 

Basement and Crawl Space

By: Doug Anderson

This week EPA invites you to “Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR,” by sealing and insulating your home. This blog post is the fifth in a five part series from ENERGY STAR’s home envelope expert Doug Anderson about the benefits of sealing and insulating your home, and how you can get started this fall.

In the last two blogs, I talked about taking steps to seal and insulate your attic to get your home ready for the winter. Second to the attic, the next best way to prepare for chilly winter weather and start saving energy is by sealing and insulating your basement or crawlspace.

Deciding whether to do it yourself or hire a contractor

If your basement or crawlspace is accessible and not too difficult to move around in, this may be a good do-it-yourself (DIY) project. However, it is probably best to call in a professional if your basement or crawlspace has any of these issues:

–       Is wet or damp

–       Has pest infestations (bugs/rodents/snakes)

–       Is very moldy

–       Has strong smells or odors

–       There are loose or dangling ducts/pipes/wires

–       There are foundation problems (such as cracks)

The good news is that there are many qualified contractors that can help you address these issues.

Sealing your basement or crawlspace

If you have decided to make this a DIY project, the first thing to do is inspect your basement or crawlspace for air leaks in common locations. Start sealing any gaps or cracks in exterior walls using long lasting, flexible, indoor/outdoor caulk for any gaps or cracks ¼ inch or less. Larger holes (more than 1/4 inch) in masonry that lead outside can be filled with spray foam-in-a-can and sealed outdoors with masonry caulk or a small amount of cement so the hole is covered and the foam is not exposed to the outdoors.  Chimneys, furnace flues, water heater flues, or dryer flues can all get very hot and require metal flashing and high temperature caulk to properly seal.

Next, seal the rim joist (the wood that sits on top of the foundation wall) as described here, and finish by sealing any remaining holes and cracks to make an airtight space.

Safe Sealing

As mentioned in Blog Post#3, before and after sealing your home, have a heating and cooling technician check your combustion appliances (gas- or oil-fired furnace, water heater, and dryer) for proper venting.  This is called combustion safety testing.  The testing is easy, but should be done by a professional contractor who can sign-off that the systems are working properly.

Also, in certain parts of the country, sealing may trap dangerous indoor air pollutants (like radon) in your home.  Visit the EPA website on radon here for more information.  You can do radon testing yourself for a low cost or hire a professional contractor to conduct tests and discuss solutions if they find problems.  The tests are easy and can give you peace-of-mind.

Additional information on achieving good indoor air quality and proper ventilation in your home can be found here.

Insulating your basement or crawlspace

Insulating basement walls yourself needs to be done carefully and with products that are designed to handle some moisture.  Rigid foam boards and spray foam have been shown to work well for this application because they are less susceptible to moisture issues.  For details on insulating basement walls, visit this technical document for guidance.

Before adding insulation to crawlspaces yourself, you will need to decide whether to insulate the crawlspace ceiling or the crawlspace walls.  Again, in this application it is recommended that you use products that are designed to handle some moisture.  For details on sealing and insulating crawlspace walls check out this technical document  or this technical document for guidance.

Learn More

Visit the newly updated Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR website for more detailed information on how to seal and insulate your basement or crawlspace.

We hope you have enjoyed EPA’s five part series on how to improve your home envelope for the winter. Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR this week! Start sealing and insulating your home and enjoy comfort and energy savings for years to come!

Doug Anderson is an ENERGY STAR Project Manager and has been with EPA for 13 years. He works on issues related to the home envelope, including insulation products and energy efficient residential windows.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR: Find More Comfort and Savings by Adding Insulation to Your Attic

Attic Insulation

By: Doug Anderson

This week EPA invites you to “Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR,” by sealing and insulating your home. This blog post is the fourth in a five part series from ENERGY STAR’s home envelope expert Doug Anderson about the benefits of sealing and insulating your home, and how you can get started this fall.

In yesterday’s blog, I covered how the attic is typically where the largest energy savings opportunity exists and how to seal air leaks in this area. To complete your attic energy-efficiency improvements, you then need to install additional insulation. By increasing your attic insulation levels, you can save energy and greatly improve the overall comfort of your home.

Attic Insulation: Deciding whether to do it yourself or hire a contractor

If your attic is accessible and not too difficult to move around in, and you enjoy tackling bigger home improvement projects, adding attic insulation may be a good do-it-yourself (DIY) project for you. EPA’s Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR program provides great DIY resources to guide you through the process. Even if you are not comfortable taking on this project yourself, there are many qualified contractors who can help you get the work done.

Also, consider consulting a contractor if your attic has wet or damp insulation, moldy or rotted rafters or floor joists, little or no ventilation, or pre-1930 knob and tube wiring. These may require repairs before starting.

Check the Level

Whether you are planning to do the project yourself or hire a contractor, start by checking your attic insulation levels or depth.  All you need is a tape measure or yardstick.  Taking a few pictures of the existing insulation in each direction inside your attic can provide a good record of where you are starting from, so bring a cell phone camera or digital camera with you.

Use the tape measure or yardstick to measure the depth of your existing insulation.  Insulation often varies in depth so check in a few places.  Knowing your current insulation depth will help you determine whether you should add more and how much more you should to add.

Choosing your insulation

Next, choose the right insulation for the job. Rolls of insulation can cover large areas of the attic and are great for wide open rectangular attics. They are available in fiber glass, mineral wool, plastic fibers, and natural fibers, such as cotton.   Loose fill insulation is another common attic insulation made up of loose fibers of cellulose, fiberglass, or mineral wool that can conform to any space, making it ideal for odd shaped or hard to reach locations.

Installing attic insulation

When installing additional insulation, you do not have to use the same type of insulation that currently exists in your attic. You can add loose fill on top of rolls, and vice versa. If you use roll insulation over loose fill, make sure the roll has no paper or foil backing; it needs to be “unfaced.” Rolls installed over existing rolls should be placed side-by-side perpendicularly to the joists to cover the entire space.  Think carefully before you choose this option.  The many rolls you will need can be large to carry back from the store in a small car, and can be difficult to squeeze through small attic hatch openings.

If you choose to add loose fill, it may be wise to hire a professional, as the application requires the use of a blowing machine.  Some home improvement stores offer rentals of this machine for the motivated DIYer.  The machines are heavy and usually require an SUV or pickup to get home.

Keep in mind that insulation can create a fire hazard if it comes into direct contact with places that can get hot, like light fixtures, chimneys or flues, so you should take the proper precautions. Use sheet metal or wire mesh to help create a barrier around them.  Some home improvement stores now sell insulation covers for insulating around recessed lights.

Learn More

Visit the newly updated Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR website for more detailed information on how to install attic insulation.

Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR this week. Start insulating your attic to get more energy savings and comfort for your home!

Doug Anderson is an ENERGY STAR Project Manager and has been with EPA for 13 years. He works on issues related to the home envelope, including insulation products and energy efficient residential windows.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR: Unlocking the Comfort and Savings by Air Sealing Your Attic

Attic Air Sealing

By: Doug Anderson

This week EPA invites you to “Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR,” by sealing and insulating your home. This blog post is the third in a 5 part series from ENERGY STAR’s home envelope expert Doug Anderson about the benefits of sealing and insulating your home, and how you can get started this fall.

In yesterday’s blog, we covered how to check your home’s insulation levels and how to look for air leaks. We also covered how to use ENERGY STAR resources to help choose and prioritize your sealing and insulation projects.

To make the largest impact on your utility bill and comfort, you will want to start with the attic.  ENERGY STAR recommends that you always seal the attic first before adding any insulation.

Air sealing the attic: Do it yourself or hire a contractor?

Air sealing the attic is generally a challenging do-it-yourself (DIY) project, but can be well worth the savings in labor costs. If your attic is accessible and not too difficult to move around in, you don’t mind getting a bit dirty, and you enjoy tackling bigger home improvement projects, attic air sealing may be a good DIY project for you.

Even if you are not comfortable taking on this project yourself, don’t let that stop you – there are many qualified contractors who can do the job for you.

How to seal attic air leaks

If you have decided to do it yourself, you will want to start by identifying the locations of leaks, which was covered in the last blog.

Once you have found the leaks, they can be sealed using a variety of materials.  To seal the larger leaks use unfaced fiberglass insulation stuffed into plastic bags, rigid board insulation, a piece of drywall, or expanding spray foam in-a-can.  In some cases, you will need to use metal (such as aluminum) flashing and high temperature caulk to seal holes or gaps near areas that can get hot (such as near chimneys, furnace flues, or water heater flues). Then, seal smaller holes and cracks (under a ¼ inch) with long-lasting, flexible indoor/outdoor caulk like silicone or acrylic latex.

Safety First

After making home improvements that result in a tighter house, there can be an increased opportunity for carbon monoxide (CO) to build up if your gas- or oil-burning appliances are not venting properly.   Have your heating and cooling technician check your combustion appliances (gas- or oil-fired furnace, water heater, and dryer) for proper venting.  This testing is called combustion safety testing.  The testing is easy, but should be done by professional contractor who can sign-off that the systems are OK.

Also, in certain parts of the country, sealing may also trap dangerous indoor air pollutants (like radon) in your home.  To see if you live in these areas or if you just want to learn more about radon, check out the EPA website here.  You can test for radon yourself for a low cost, or hire a professional contractor to conduct tests and discuss solutions if they find problems.  The tests are easy and can give you peace-of-mind.

Additional information on achieving good indoor air quality and proper ventilation in your home can be found here.

Learn More

For more detailed instructions on how to identify and seal air leaks in the attic and throughout the home, visit the Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR website.

Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR this week. Start sealing attic air leaks to unlock the savings in your attic!

Doug Anderson is an ENERGY STAR Project Manager and has been with EPA for 13 years. He works on issues related to the home envelope, including insulation products and energy efficient residential windows.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR: Seal and Insulate Your Home for the Winter

Seal and Insulate

By: Doug Anderson

This week EPA invites you to “Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR,” by sealing and insulating your home. This blog post is the first in a 5 part series from ENERGY STAR’s home envelope expert Doug Anderson about the benefits of sealing and insulating your home, and how you can get started this fall.

When you hear “getting ready for winter,” what comes to mind? Pulling winter coats out of storage? Buying new snow shovels, or maybe getting a new pair of winter boots? How about sealing and insulating your home? In fact, sealing holes and adding insulation in the attic could be some of the most important projects you do this fall.

Believe it or not, many homes are not ready for chilly winter weather. Older, and even some newer homes, are often under-insulated and teeming with hidden gaps and cracks, resulting in winter electric/gas bill spikes, and sometimes an inability to keep rooms comfortable. In fact, if you added up all the holes and gaps in a typical home, they would be equivalent to having one window open all the time!

By doing a few ENERGY STAR-recommended air sealing and insulation projects yourself, or hiring a contractor, you can start enjoying significant benefits, including:

  • Reduced home energy use
  • Lower utility bills
  • Improved comfort (especially during summer and winter)
  • Less household carbon emissions for a reduced environmental impact

How much can I expect to save from sealing and insulating?

EPA estimates that you can save $200 a year* (10 percent off your annual energy bills) by sealing and insulating your home according to guidance from ENERGY STAR. With many utility incentives and tax credits available today, these investments can pay for themselves over time.

The savings come from keeping heat in the home during the winter and outside during the summer. When your home is well-insulated and sealed, your heater and air conditioner can run less, saving electricity, natural gas, and money. Making the proper investments today means less waste and more savings.

Other sealing and insulating benefits

The benefits extend beyond just saving energy and money. By sealing and insulating your home according to ENERGY STAR recommendations, you may also improve your home in other ways, including:

  • Reduced noise from outside
  • Less pollen, dust, and pests entering your home
  • Better humidity control
  • Lower chance for ice dams on the roof/eves

Getting started on your sealing and insulating projects

Visit the newly updated Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR website for more in-depth information and resources on:

Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR this week. Start sealing and insulating your home!

*Note: Assumes that the typical U.S. home spends $2000 per year on utility costs. This amount may be higher or lower depending on your location.

Doug Anderson is an ENERGY STAR Project Manager and has been with EPA for 13 years. He works on issues related to the home envelope, including insulation products and energy efficient residential windows.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Overheated NYC Apartments Can be Prevented!

By Juan G. Gutierrez

May 31st marks the end of the “Heat Season,” for building owners in New York City to provide heat to tenants until October 1st.  This should also mark the period to begin repairing, tuning up, or replacing boilers and radiators in the multifamily buildings throughout the city.  One of NYC tenants’ major complaint, beside very little heat in a city apartment, is an overheated apartment!  Some apartments are so hot that it kills house plants and tenants resort to desert plants! New Yorkers’ solution to overheated apartments for years has been to open up their windows, to release some of the heat trapped in their apartments.  Many of these buildings are overheated simply because they have a hard time ensuring that every apartment is heated.  So some apartments in the same building might be overheating while other apartments might just have enough heat to comply with the City Housing Maintenance Code and State Multiple Dwelling Law.

There are solutions for these old apartment buildings that have problems with overheating by their water or steam radiators.  One consideration could be the installation of thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) on every radiator in the building.  Most TRVs do not require electricity, are easy to install by almost any handy person, and can cost as little as $40 to $50 each.  TRVs have a built-in sensor that opens and closes the radiator according to the temperature in the room, providing an individualized comfort control to any room.

TRV is a proven technology that has been around since the mid 1940’s.  TRV has been put to test in a demonstration project in 1995 here in NYC, by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Report No. 95-14, Titled: Thermostatic Radiator Valve (TRV) Demonstration Project Reference No. PB96-198163.  The report concluded that “overheated apartments achieved energy savings through the installation of TRVs.”    Since the report was written in 1995, the savings associated with fuel cost might be even greater today making the simple payback period even shorter.

Other maintenance tips that apartment building owners and management can do to their boiler heating systems are:

  • Clean boilers and radiators
  • Tune boilers
  • Replace leaking radiator vents and steam main vents
  • Insulate bare piping
  • Reduce domestic hot water at a constant minimum temperature of 120º degrees Fahrenheit to prevent scalds and save energy (check local codes for specific temperatures)
  • TRV temperature should be set at 70º degrees Fahrenheit

The best thing about TRVs is that the investment made to control radiator heat pays for itself in the long run through energy cost savings.  It also provides a comfortable apartment temperature.

About the Author:  Juan is an Environmental Protection Specialist with EPA Region 2.  He is currently the region’s ENERGY STAR coordinator.  He grew up in Corona Queens, NY, and is a former US Marine Corps Sergeant.  He graduated from SUNY Stony Brook with a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Mathematics and Statistics and received a Masters in Public Administration from CUNY Baruch College.  Juan currently resides in Corona Queens where you can usually find him riding a bicycle.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.