Would you rather: a.) Shovel out your driveway after a big snowstorm or b.) Pay your utility bills in January? Unfortunately, most of us donâ€™t actually get to choose whether or not to pay our utility bills â€“ that is, if we want to keep coming home to a warm house this winter. However, you can choose to perform some DIY upgrades in your home that will at least help you lower the amount of money youâ€™re spending to heat your home this winter.
Here are five energy efficiency improvements you can make to save money on your utilities and lower your heating bill:
1. Seal your ducts
The Problem: Many older duct systems were originally sealed with duct tape, which can break down overtime, creating air leaks in your ductwork. This causes two problems. First, it significantly decreases the overall efficiency of your HVAC equipment, especially if your ducts are located outside of your living space (i.e. in a crawlspace or attic). The second problem is that dust and other pollutants can get into leaky ducts and irritate existing health problems such as asthma and allergies.
The Fix: Sealing leaky ductwork isnâ€™t a DIY project for everyone because it can involve bending into uncomfortable positions in small, dirty spaces. That said, for those who are ready to take it on, youâ€™ll need to purchase a bucket of duct mastic and fiberglass tape. Apply a thin layer of mastic at the duct joints and then wrap the tape around the ducts. Once the tape is in place, apply another layer of mastic to seal around the joint completely.
2. Change your furnace filters
The Problem: Air filters, as their name suggests, filter air as it is being pulled in through your return vents to keep any dirt out of your furnace. However, if these filters are dirty, it restricts airflow and the furnace has to work harder, which reduces the overall efficiency.
The Fix: Change your furnaceâ€™s air filters once a month during the months youâ€™re using your furnace. This will help reduce the energy your furnace consumes to heat your home. If you feel like your air filter doesnâ€™t get dirty, you may want to have it looked at by a qualified technician because the return air may be bypassing your filter, which means all of the dirt and grime is reaching the interior of your furnace.
3. Seal up air leakage in your â€œexterior shellâ€
The Problem: When youâ€™re paying to heat the air in your home, you donâ€™t want it to be seeping out through the gaps in your homeâ€™s exterior shell (i.e. exterior walls, windows, doors, attic, basement), only to be displaced with cold, and sometimes wet, air.
The Fix: Some of the simplest areas to seal up are the leaks found around windows and doors, and doing so doesnâ€™t cost a lot of money. You can use caulk around trim and other areas without movable parts. For areas of windows and doors that do need to open and close, you can use weatherstripping or door sweeps. Another problem area that is easy to fix is exterior wall outlets. You can purchase and install outlet insulators, which are installed behind the outlet plate so you donâ€™t even notice them.
4. Cover your windows
The problem: Old or single-pane windows can be a real problem in cold climates. While poor quality windows can cause major comfort issues, theyâ€™re also really expensive to replace and usually have a slow return on investment. However, there are ways to improve your current windows without replacing them.
The Fix: One of the easiest and most affordable ways to make your windows more efficient and make your home more comfortable (besides caulking and weatherstripping) is to install a temporary clear plastic film over the windows. You can purchase a kit that includes plastic and double-sided tape, and then all youâ€™ll need is a hair dryer and a pair of scissors. After putting the tape around your window, cut the plastic to the right size. Finally, gently blow hot air over the plastic until it is tight around your window. Be careful not to get the blow dryer too close to the plastic because you might create a hole, and then youâ€™d have to start all over, which is never any fun. Adding this layer of plastic is like adding a storm window, and it can help stop air leaks in the window frame.
5. Install a programmable thermostat
The Problem: When youâ€™re in a rush to leave the house in the morning, itâ€™s easy to forget to turn down your heat. And when you do remember, coming home to a cold house can be really uncomfortable, which may cause you to overcompensate by turning the furnace way up.
The Fix: By installing a programmable thermostat, you can program a temperature schedule for the weekdays and weekends with your thermostat lowering just after you leave the house and heating up just before you get home. Before installing your programmable thermostat, make sure to turn off your electricity. As for the installation, make sure to read the instructions carefully and to install it on an interior wall away from any heater vents.
Where to start?
A great way to figure out what areas to target in your home is have your house checked out by a professional energy auditor who can test your home and give you recommendations on energy efficiency upgrades. If youâ€™d like an idea of what an auditor might be looking at and recommending for you home, check out EnergySavvy.comâ€™s free online energy analysis. Not only will you get a list of energy saving recommendations, but the analysis will also tell you how much money you may save on your utility bills by making the upgrades.
You may also be eligible for energy rebates from your local utilities and a tax credit from the federal government for the improvements you make on your home. To find out what incentives are available in your area, check out EnergySavvyâ€™s list of energy rebates. These rebates may also help you prioritize your DIY project checklist.
Anne Maertens is the marketing manager at EnergySavvy.com. She enjoys blogging to help further EnergySavvy’s mission of making energy efficiency easier for homeowners.