Hey, friends! Happy Friday! Today we’ve got a guest post from our friend, Ruben. Bio: Ruben Keogh is a retired plumber and sprinklerfitter, landscaper and lawn-saver who found his true calling after progressing from apprentice to journeyman blogger. When he acquires enough experience, wit and insight to become a master blogger, he’ll let you know. He hikes, fishes and gardens with his wife whenever possible.
If the gift-giving portion of the holiday season is defined by a celebration of generosity, togetherness and goodwill, the New Year observance is a celebration of change. There are resolutions to improve one’s habits and behavior in the coming year, anticipation for new and exciting changes to come, etc. However, for those of us that live in more northerly climes, there is one constant: when the New Year rolls around, it’s gonna be cold.
Thanks to the wonders of the modern technology developed over so many New Years, though, we have the means to stay warm. The real trick to maintaining that warmth and comfort is doing so with the expenditure of as little fuel and energy as possible. Happily, saving fuel and energy also means saving money. So here are a few cheap and easy hacks for making those savings happen- think of it as a win-win New Years Resolution.
Sealing the Breach
Even the most efficient and efficacious home heating setup is going to burn through energy and your pocketbook if the heat being produced is slipping through a house’s gaps. In fact, every year the average household loses around $350, a full third of their heating and cooling bill, to leaks or gaps through which air enters or exits a house.
Not surprisingly, the chief home heat-loss offenders are the places where breaks in the structure’s construction: windows, doors, pipes coming in and out, etc.
Windows and Doors
The most cost- and labor-intensive step homeowners can take to optimize window heat security is the installation of double-paned windows. If that’s not an option (or if it is, really), more basic but very effective fixes should be implemented. First off, be sure that windows fit well in their frames. Badly-fitting window allow for substantial heat loss. Check around the window, windowpanes, setting and molding for gaps, breaks, cracks, etc. Seal those off with caulk.
Then, if those nicely-fitted and sealed windows aren’t equipped with weather stripping, remedy that. It’s inexpensive and really effective. Also really effective and relatively inexpensive are cellular or “honeycomb” shades. Pretty much all of the same applies to doors as well (with the exception of double panes and shades). Weather stripping on doors is supposed to be checked and/or replaced every two years. If there’s a gap beneath the door too wide for weather stripping, invest in an “under door” draft guard or draft stopped.
Pipes, Studs, Chimneys and Lights
Doing a home energy audit should cover both indoors and out, focusing on the earlier-mentioned places where there are breaks in a home’s construction. Look for gaps or breaks around pipes, faucets, stud cavities, under sinks and the like and then fill those with insulation, caulk or expanding foam insulating foams.
Don’t neglect to consider less obvious weak spots. Some of the biggies include open chimneys and flues (not to mention any breaks or gaps around those chimneys and flues). Another often overlooked troublemaker is the recessed light. Recessed lights generally are at the bottom of vents that open into the attic. As will be soon established, attics are notorious heat-thieves. Having an un-insulated tube leading up to the attic is an abetting of that heat thief, and a costly one.
Basements and Attics
Heat rises and in many of our homes it rises right up to the attic where it escapes. (On a quick tangent- don’t forget about your ceiling fan. Reversing the default direction of that fan recirculates that risen heat through a room, warming it.) Attics, in fact, are responsible for the great majority of home heat loss. Failing to insulate attics or doors (or trap doors, access panel, etc.) is arguably the most energy-efficiency-destroying oversight one can make. If the roof and attic are a house’s head, that head needs a warm hat.
In basements, check around windows, doors and the rest of the aforementioned wall-breaks. They’re often overlooked and, as such, often lead to considerable heat loss.
Your Heating System
Once you’ve cozied-up your abode, trapping its warm air and keeping out the cold, look to your heating apparatus. Becoming familiar with the type of heat-creation enjoyed by your home is the big first step. Is it hydronic, forced air, radiant, steam, geothermal? Become familiar with possible shortcomings and failures attendant to those systems- leaks and rust with hydronic and steam or clogged furnace filters for instance.
Find out what you can do personally to ensure it’s running at its best. Checking and changing that furnace filter is a good example. For everything you don’t feel comfortable dealing with, become familiar (and friendly, if possible) with a good technician and have that technician give your heating system a good once over.
Finally, making the (reasonably-priced) investment in a programmable or “smart” thermostat will pay for itself many, many times over. Proper use of a programmable thermostat saves the average household hundreds of dollars a year. And, as mentioned earlier- making a resolution to do your part in making the world a healthier place by using less energy, while you save money, is a great resolution by any standard.
I have underfloor heating in my UK property. Had never heard about it but the bill is incredibly low. And keeping your feet warm is the best feeling. I imagine it costs a ton to install in an old house but for a new build it may be worth it.
I’ve heard great things about the in-floor heating systems, Pauline, and the idea of cozy, warm feet does sound wonderful. 🙂
I lived in a place once with radiant floor heating and I loved it! Lauren’s 100% right- warm feet is a luxury you don’t immediately consider but when you have it, it’s hard to give up!
Great tips! Funny, we lived in our home for the first two years, and some of the rooms never got much air flow at all, until we went to the basement and discovered furnace ducts have dampers to control the air flow. Doh! We’re planning to redo our windows this year, because a couple of them are now starting to fog up from the inside. But it’s a really expensive option, if you don’t have to. We had a couple of companies quote us 2 years ago $1000 per each avg sized window!! Our heating costs aren’t that high, so that would take me years of energy savings to recoup the initial investment!
Wow, yeah, I can see how the new windows just might not be worth the investment. A lot depends on how long you want to stay in the house too, I suppose.
Thanks for the tips! However, I don’t really pay for heat. I live in Oregon where there are plenty of forests full of fallen trees. Go cutting for an hour or two, you’ve got heat for a month!
Yeah, that’s our plan for next year, Josh. We’re hoping to heat with wood the whole winter through.
Great tips! We have to re-insulate some parts of our house sue to some roof damage and we notice a big difference. We hope to complete this on the entire house soon.
That’s on our list too this year, Brian. We have to get a new roof and insulate up in the attic. Yuck on the budget. 🙁
Great advice, I loved it! We’re working on reducing heat loss during the winter for a couple of years now since our house seemed to be with just one goal in mind: to lose heat :)) We’ve managed to install double-paned windows everywhere, this year we’ve managed to isolate most of the attic and results are indeed starting to be felt. There is still some work, including the installation of a central heating system which will hopefully be done this year.
LOL, sounds like our house, C! We’re hoping to make some changes this year too that will reduce heat loss for next year.
These are great tips — I didn’t even think about the recessed lighting and the stud cavities.
Yeah, Ruben shared lots I didn’t know here too!
Thanks, Rebecca! Glad I could help. It helps to have a background in it, but doing a heat (and cooling)-based inventory of my house was a real eye-opener. The recessed lighting in particular was one I hadn’t thought of but once I realized, it seemed like it should have been obvious! Good luck.
We live in my in-laws’ basement (we are in serious debt-repayment mode). Just last week we put a door at the bottom of the stairs so that all our heat doesn’t go straight up the stairs. It’s been mentally planned for a long time, but it finally happened! Hooray!
Another huge way to save on money was to wait to turn the heater down. We just dressed warmer and wore slippers. We’re kind of crazy, so we waited until January, but any waiting and “toughening up” will help. Then when you turn on the heater, set the thermostat a lot lower than the standard 70 degrees people are used to. It will feel great because you toughened up.
Stephanie, I love that you guys are taking extreme measures to get out of debt. We keep the house a lot colder than we’d like too. It’s not fun, but it’ll be worth it. 🙂
Stephanie – In other articles I’ve written on roughly the same subject, I often suggest that even once a house has been heat-optimized, at the risk of sounding like millions of parents to their chilly, frustrated children, sometimes throwing on an extra sweater is the most cost-effective heating hack available.
My realization of that was definitely one of those moments of semi-bemusement at how much more like my parents I seemed to have become and a concurrent appreciation that what I once considered TOTALLY unfair, lame-o and miserly money-grubbing was actually *sigh* frugal common sense. It’s great how little things like layered clothing and a door at the top of the stairs can shave digits off the heating bill! Congrats on the debt reduction. If only there was a handy sweater one could put on for cutting debt!
LOL, funny, isn’t it? We feel like our parents now too in that way. The kids will be cold, and we’ll say “tough bounce – go put on a sweater” or we’ll run around being the Light Police like my dad used to do. Ruben, if you find a sweater for cutting debt, you let me know, and we’ll buy several in a heartbeat! 🙂
For us, the only one affected by the cold is me. My kids don’t even notice the cold and my husband always feels at least 10 degrees warmer than me, so it doesn’t bother him.
LOL, I’m a huge baby when it comes to the cold. I just had a friend over yesterday – they are working hard to obtain debt freedom too and keep their house heat at 54 degrees. I fear I’m much too wimpy to go to that extreme. 🙁
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