This is a guest post by Andrea Horn, personal finance coach and creator of Recession Proof Living. Considering I just spent $150 on my heating bill last month, I need to listen up! – G.E.
When Tom Harrison decided to have an energy audit performed on his aging suburban home, he knew he would probably find a few leaks and other problem spots here and there. What he didn’t know was just how costly those problems were, and how much it would impact his utility bill to make simple changes to fix them.
Among the audit’s findings: An air leak in the joint between the floor and the baseboard, A rickety attic door that was causing major heat loss through the uninsulated attic, and framing gaps in the basement that leaked cold air into the house. With the help of some infrared photography and a lot of elbow grease, Tom has managed to cut his heating bill in half!
Here’s how he did it:
First, Tom sealed cracks and gaps, had cellulose insulation blown in the areas where it was deficient, and replaced old weather stripping. Then he had a follow up energy audit to assess his progress. “You can almost feel the increased warmth and comfort of the house where blue spots turned to red on the infrared images,” he said. The photos below illustrate one of the problem spots, both to the naked eye and to the infrared camera. Heat shows up as red, cold as blue. Tom’s baseboard was clearly leaking cold air into the house. (You can read more details and see more photos at Tom’s blog).
The solution? A bead of caulk. Through basic fixes like caulking, spray-on foam insulation, and weather stripping, Tom managed to seal up his home from air leaks. He says that simple air sealing measures reduced his home’s air infiltration from 0.87 NACH (natural air changes per hour) during the heating season to 0.42 NACH.
All told, Tom spent about $1175 on his do-it-yourself fixes, and is saving about $1000 per year on utilities. In other words, his efforts paid for themselves in about one year, and are pure profit every month after. Not a bad return on investment! Here are some lessons than you can apply to earn significant savings on your heat bill.
Get an Energy Audit!
The first step to taking a whole-house energy efficiency approach is to find out which parts of your house use the most energy. A home energy audit will pinpoint those areas and suggest the most effective measures for cutting your energy costs. You can conduct a simple home energy audit yourself, contact your local utility, or call an independent energy auditor for a more comprehensive examination.
For more information about home energy audits, including free tools and calculators, visit www.energysavers.gov
It’s the Little Things that Count
As Tom discovered, plugging cracks and other air leaks can pay off big time. A roll of weather-stripping, a tube of caulk and a can of spray-foam insulation can do wonders in making your home more efficient. Check for holes or cracks around your walls, ceilings, windows, doors, light and plumbing fixtures, switches, and electrical outlets that can leak air into or out of your home. Seal and plug any visible cracks you find.
Insulate your Home
Does your home have enough insulation, or are you spending your hard-earned money to heat and cool the outdoors? According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you should add insulation to your house when:
- You have an older home and haven’t added insulation. Only 20% of homes built before 1980 are well insulated.
- You are uncomfortably cold in the winter or hot in the summer—adding insulation creates a more uniform temperature and increases comfort.
- You build a new home, addition, or install new siding or roofing.
- You pay high energy bills compared to similar homes.
- You are bothered by noise from outside—insulation muffles sound.
Adding insulation in the areas shown in the picture below may be the best way to improve your home’s energy efficiency. Insulate either the attic floor or under the roof. Check with a contractor about crawl space or basement insulation.
Maintain your equipment
By properly maintaining your heating and cooling equipment, you can save electricity and prevent future problems and unwanted costs. Inspect, clean, or change air filters once a month in your central air conditioner, furnace, and/or heat pump. A dirty filter can increase energy costs and damage your equipment, leading to early failure.
Also, keep your cooling and heating system at peak performance by having a contractor do annual pre-season check-ups. Contractors get busy once summer and winter come, so it’s best to check the cooling system in the spring and the heating system in the fall. To remember, you might plan the check-ups around the time changes in the spring and fall.
Get a Programmable Thermostat
You can save as much as 10% a year on your heating and cooling bills by simply turning your thermostat back 10% to 15% for 8 hours. You can do this automatically by installing a smart programmable thermostat like this Nest (highlighted on my money savings products page). Using a programmable thermostat, you can adjust the times you turn on the heating or air-conditioning according to a preset schedule. As a result, the equipment doesn’t operate as much when you are asleep or when the house is not occupied.
Programmable thermostats can store and repeat multiple daily settings (six or more temperature settings a day) that you can manually override without affecting the rest of the daily or weekly program. For example, if nobody is home between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., you can set the thermostat so that it will keep the house a few degrees warmer or cooler during those hours—and save you money!
Don’t let leaks and poor insulation rob you of your hard earned cash. Get an energy audit and a programmable thermostat, start insulating and plugging cracks, and watch your bills begin to drop. You’ll thank yourself later.
Add-On Tips from G.E.
- Check with your local utility to see if they offer any free ‘energy savings pack’. For filling out a home energy survey online, mine sent me $25 worth of free CFL’s, a showerhead, caulk, and some other energy saving goodies.
- Check out my post on the energy tax credits – there are still some tax savings to be had in home improvements that save energy.
Heating Bill Discussion:
- Have you had an energy audit done for your living space? Was your utility company offering it free or at a discount?
- How much money did you save as a result of an energy audit?
- How were you able to cut your heating bill?