Ace Hardware's home expert offers simple tips for making homes more energy efficient
With one of the coldest, snowiest winters on record lingering, there’s still time to make your house more energy efficient and reduce your environmental impact.
For instance, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a homeowner can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs, or up to 10 percent of their annual energy bill by sealing and insulating.
We asked Lou Manfredini, a national home improvement expert and Ace Hardware's home expert, for a few tipsthat can help homeowners save money and weather the winter.
PGH: Where’s a good place to start making your home more energy efficient?
LM: Focus on your windows and doors. Those are your areas of greatest loss. Even if you have brand new windows and doors that are installed correctly, they’re still the area of greatest loss. Literally for the investment of a couple of tubes of caulk, caulking on the exterior of the windows to make sure they’re sealed can have dramatic effect.
PGH: Are windows really such a big problem area?
LM: The dramatic thing is, people don’t realize that their windows may not be not closed all the way. With double hung windows, they don’t lock their windows they just close them, so the top sash can sag a little bit and that can allow a draft to come in. You want to make sure they’re closed all the way and locked.
PGH: What green home upgrade gives the most bang for the buck?
LM: The single best thing people can do is add insulation to the attic. While there’s no silver bullet when it comes to improvements, do this and you’ll save the most money. Attic insulation equates to the same thing as putting a hat on your head in the winter time. So by putting additional insulation up there, you can maximize any potential tax credits and also can have a dramatic impact on the energy efficiency and comfort of your home.
PGH: Is that something people can tackle on their own?
LM: There’s a lot of opportunity to do this yourself. I’m a fan of loose-fill insulation, whether it’s blown-in fiberglass or cellulose. Either one in the correct thickness will do a good job. Many times when you buy insulation they let you use the machine for free to install. It. It can be dusty and it’s a two-person job. If it’s not something within the realm of your capabilities, have an insulation contractor come out and do this. On the average house, if you do it yourself you’ll spend $500 to $700 on the insulation, and if you hired a professional you’d pay $1,500 to $2,000. So you can save a lot of money doing it yourself.
PGH: What about the heating system?
LM: I’ve recommended for years to have the system inspected and cleaned on an annual basis. The benefit is the unit runs more efficiently and the licensed contractor in your community will be able to ensure that it’s running safely and at peak efficiency.
Heating units, particularly the forced air type, move a lot of air, and that dirt and debris that gets in the system can lower efficiency and run the risk of the thing failing on you in the middle of a cold January night. Then you have to pay twice as much for an emergency service call for them to come and fix it.
Furnaces and boilers are machines and machines can fail at any time, but a well maintained machine is definitely more reliable than one that is not.
PGH: What about bigger tickets items in the home?
LM: If the windows and doors are in bad shape, I would recommend replacing them, if that’s in the budget. It’s not only an energy-efficiency issue but also a value-added proposition for the home.
If replacing a furnace is in the offing, I recommend that people buy the highest efficiency piece of equipment they can from their budget perspective. With these 90-percent-plus efficiency units vs. the 80-percent units, that extra 10 or 14 percent in many cases really adds up in the long term.
The other big push now is in the tankless on-demand water heaters. These on-demand units are very efficient, they make continuous hot water and when they’re off, they’re off. So there’s zero energy being used for water you’re not using at all.
PGH: Finally, any simple steps people can take?
LM: There are great opportunities to heat your home in the wintertime by using the sun, opening up windows and allowing the sunshine to come in. At night close your window treatments to create an extra barrier to hold the warm air the sun heated up inside the home.
For more information, see our Home Energy Audit Research Center.