14 Simply Smart Ways to Cut Energy Costs
Winter is coming, but it doesn't have to bring out-sized heating bills with it. Take a tour of your home and check out these problem areas; fixing them up could dramatically reduce how much you need to spend to keep the place warm and toasty.
1. Replace Worn Weatherstripping
Worn and torn weatherstripping around doors and windows creates drafts and lets in cold air. Seven to 12 percent of a home's heat loss occurs around windows and doors, according to Black Hills Energy, and these leaks often prompt homeowners to turn up their furnace to keep comfy. Even if they don't turn it up, they're losing warm air, causing the furnace to work harder. "Weatherstripping around doors, and caulking around doors and windows, can cut down on drafts," says Jeff Rogers, president of the Energy Audit Institute, an energy audit training and certification company in Springfield, N.J.
Some weatherstripping needs to be replaced every few years because of wear. Replacing it is typically as simple as pulling off the old and tacking on the new.
2. Adjust Door Thresholds
If you can see daylight under your front door, then you're losing the indoor air you've paid to heat. "If the door is not in contact with the threshold, the air is going right under the door," Rogers said.
Some thresholds have four or five screws that let you adjust the height to eliminate a gap. Turn the screws counterclockwise to lift the threshold until daylight is mostly gone. A little light in the corners is okay, but don't raise the threshold so high that it interferes with opening and closing the door. And the door shouldn't drag on the threshold or it'll wear out the weatherstripping.
3. Eliminate Drafts Around Electrical Boxes
Electrical boxes in your exterior walls are notoriously drafty because insulation isn't always placed behind and around them correctly. "You want to try to stop air from flowing around the box and through the box," Rogers says.
To stop the leaks, remove the cover plates and fill small gaps around the boxes with acrylic latex caulk. For large gaps, use foam sealant. Then place a foam gasket over the outlet or switch and replace the cover plate. The gaskets cost about $1.10 for a two-pack. "The gasket is going to save you money for as long as that outlet is in your house," Rogers says. "That small investment pays off for as long as you own your home."
4. Plug Holes in Exterior Walls
Pipes, gas lines, and electrical cables that enter your house often have gaps around them that have been haphazardly filled with some kind of caulk. But that caulk eventually cracks, peels, and falls off. These gaps let in outside air, plus they are ideal entry points for mice and insects.
Seal the gaps with expanding foam. For water pipes under the sink, unscrew and pull back the escutcheon ring, then caulk around the pipe. "The ring is just decorative," Rogers says. "It's not going to block airflow."
5. Buy a Portable Heater (and Turn Down the Furnace)
Put a space heater in the place where your family gathers, like the living room, and turn down the furnace temperature. The rest of the house will be cooler but you'll be warm, and you can save 3 percent on your heating costs for every degree below 70 F that you turn down the furnace, according to utility company Pepco. You'll see those savings all winter long.
Of course, you have to buy the heater and use electricity, which cuts into the overall savings. Portable heaters start at about $30, and an electric heater that uses 1500 watts will cost you 14 cents per hour, based on a rate of 8.14 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to Nebraska Public Power District. Still, the savings from reducing the furnace temperature should offset the cost of using the space heater and then some.
6. Cover Windows and Patio Doors with Plastic Film
Rogers says that windows account for 25 percent of heat loss in homes. Covering the windows and sliding patio doors with clear plastic film can reduce that loss. "Just by using that plastic, you're going to save about 14 percent on your heating bill," he says.
The transparent film is inexpensive; you can find it for about $6 for 62 x 84 inches at home centers. The film is simple to put on and won't harm your trim, and if you put it on correctly you'll barely notice it. In the spring, the film comes off easily.
7. Keep Warm Air from Escaping Up the Chimney
The downside to fireplaces is that when they're not in use, your warm indoor air is escaping through chimney. Even when the chimney flue is closed, some warm air is probably still getting away. An easy solution is to block the airflow with an inflatable chimney balloon. The balloons are available on amazon.com and other retailers to fit various chimney sizes. They cost about $50. "They can save you up to $100 a year, so they're going to pay for themselves twice a year," Rogers says. "They are definitely a good investment."
Blow up the balloon and stick it in the chimney. If you forget to take it out before you start a fire, the balloon automatically deflates, so it won't cause the house to fill with smoke. However, be advised that the balloons can become sooty and hard to manage after repeated uses.
8. Insulate the Attic Access Door
Even in well-insulated attics, the access door may not be properly insulated, letting warm air escape through the attic hatch. And if the door is warped or something obstructs the opening, then the door won't lie flat, allowing air to leak into the attic. "You don't want any air going up the access," Rogers says. "You want to make sure the door is insulated, and you want to make sure it forms a good seal."
To ensure that the door blocks airflow, use adhesive to attach fiberglass batt insulation to the attic side of the door. And if the door won't lie flat, use a latch bolt system to close it tight.
9. Seal Air Leaks in Ductwork
Take a look at the ductwork that's accessible in your basement or attic. Look for places where the ducts may have pulled apart at seams and corners. According to Energy Star, the typical house with forced-air heating loses about 20 to 30 percent of the air that moves through the system to leaks, holes, and poorly connected ducts. Place a mastic sealant or metal tape over any leaks to seal them.
10. Tune up the Furnace and Gas Fireplace
There's some up-front cost here, as you'll need to pay a pro $100 or more to make the service call. But you'll make it up in the long term with more efficient heating that lowers your bills while preserving the life of your furnace. You'll probably also notice a larger flame that throws out more heat from your gas fireplace.
The tune-up includes a furnace or fireplace inspection, preventative maintenance, and identifying parts that may need to be repaired or replaced. The professional can also find any gas or carbon monoxide leaks to keep your family safe. Some furnace warranties actually require this annual or regular maintenance.
11. Upgrade Your Thermostat
The savings from programmable thermostats are well-documented. By automatically turning down the temperature by 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours a day, either when you're not home or when you're sleeping, these thermostats can cut your heating bill by 10 percent or more. Programmable thermostats are now cheaper than ever, with models starting under $25.
But maybe you're ready for the next level and want to by a smart model like the Nest Learning Thermostat. Granted, it has a steep price tag at $249, but you'll save up to 12 percent on your heating and 15 percent on your cooling bills. Plus, rebates and incentives are available (the company's website will show them for your area).
The Nest learns your lifestyle—when you're gone, when you're asleep—and adjusts itself accordingly to save you money, all without you having to spend time manually programming it. Oh, and don't believe the oft-repeated notion that the furnace has to work harder to warm up the house after the temperature is set low, which would negate your savings. It's a myth. You do save money.
12. Use the Sun To Your Advantage
Despite the freezing temps outside, the sun's rays still bring some heat into your home. They're free, so take advantage of them—the added heat will reduce how much your furnace needs to run.
Keep your curtains open during the day, especially on the south side of the house where you get more direct sunlight. Trim any tree branches or shrubs that block the sunlight around your windows to maximize the gains. Close the curtains at night so they act as barriers to reduce drafts.
13. Keep Heating Registers Clear
The warm air blowing out of your registers needs a clear path into the room to provide even heating. So, if you place your favorite recliner or a sofa over the register, you're limiting the flow of heat. It's like leaving the vent partially or completely closed. To cut heating costs, arrange your room so that the register is as unobstructed as possible.
14. Lock Door and Windows
Notice how when you lock your windows, you can often feel them pushing together more tightly? It make a difference for your heating bill. Even when doors and windows are closed, they might not be pressed tight against the weatherstripping if they're not locked, which allows cold outside air to infiltrate the home. Lock your windows early, especially if you live up north. If they freeze in their current positions, then they won't move and you won't be able to lock them without a lot of work.
Home Energy Efficiency Tips
Seal cracks and gaps
Gaps and cracks throughout the home allow hot air to escape and cold air and pests to enter. Energy Star estimates that homes can have a half mile or more of cracks around doors, windows and sill plates alone, and those aren’t the only places in a home where gaps can exist.
Sealing cracks can help prevent air leakage, improve a home’s overall energy efficiency and block out pests and insects. In fact, homeowners can save an average of 15 percent on heating and cooling by air sealing their homes and adding insulation, according to Energy Star.
Insulation is like a blanket that your home wears to help keep everyone inside warm and cozy. If your home doesn’t have the right amount or type of insulation for your climate, it can lose heat, energy efficiency and comfort. About 90 percent of existing homes don’t have enough insulation, according to the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association.
Take care of the HVAC system
If your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system isn’t working as well as it could, you’re sacrificing comfort and increasing your energy bills. Make sure to check the cooling system in the spring and the heating system in the fall to ensure they are operating efficiently.
Have the ducts inspected and seal any leaks. Be sure to change air filters regularly, per the system manufacturer’s recommendation for filter type and frequency. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, dirty air filters restrict airflow, making HVAC systems work harder and consume more energy to heat your home.
Don’t overlook little things
Before the weather turns very cold, make a sweep through your home and check for these minor but important points:
* Windows — Are all of your windows closed? If you’ve recently sealed around windows, you probably opened them for ventilation. Double check to be sure you remembered to close them.
* Thermostat — Is yours properly programmed to optimize energy use by adjusting the temperature when you’re out of the house?
* Ceiling fans — you can use ceiling fans to supplement your furnace during the winter, but you have to remember to reverse the air flow. Most ceiling fans have a switch that allows you to reverse the direction of the fan blades to spin clockwise, which pushes warm air down from the ceiling during winter.
10 Ways to Prevent a Home-Plumbing Nightmare
10 Ways to Prevent a Home-Plumbing Nightmare
When homeowners hoist a wrench to install or repair sinks, tubs and toilets, they risk more than leaks. They risk their sanity, finances and general mechanical disaster. Here are 10 essential principles to avoid plumbing disaster.
1. DON'T GO GALVANIC.
You often see copper and galvanized steel plumbing mixed in residential water systems with nothing separating them other than a little thread sealant or Teflon plumbing tape. The galvanic connection (copper to steel) can be trouble-free for years or the steel plumbing can begin to corrode almost as soon as the connection is tight.
What to do: Use a plumbing fitting called a dielectric union to connect copper pipe to galvanized steel. The fitting uses a steel collar on the steel side and a copper collar on the copper side and isolation bushings to keep the parts separate.
2. FLOW OUT, NOT BACK.
Back flow occurs in municipal water systems (or within a house) when there's a sudden and severe drop in water pressure that causes water to flow back through pipes opposite the direction that it normally flows. When a runaway car severs a fire hydrant, for example, parts of a municipal system will see a flow reversal as water gushes out the hole where the hydrant once stood. The same thing can happen if there's a massive leak within your house.
What to do: If your house's water is supplied by a municipal water system and you do a lot of work outside with a garden hose, use a vacuum-breaker fitting threaded onto the end of the hose bib (the valve mounted on the outside of the house). These fittings prevent back flow from a garden hose and attachments in the event of a massive shift in pressure. Some municipalities require their use, and they're not a bad idea even if you have a well. Suppose you've left a garden hose in a bucket of sudsy water and the severed-fire-hydrant scenario occurs. The vacuum breaker prevents water from being pulled out of the hose and bucket and into the municipal water system. If you're replacing a hose bib, use a freeze-proof type with a built-in vacuum breaker. Common sense measures apply too. For example, don't leave a hose unattended in a bucket and don't leave a hose laying in a puddle on the lawn.
Likewise, if you replace or repair the main supply and valves entering the house, you may likely be required to install a back-flow preventer.
3. USE THE RIGHT CONNECTOR.
Don't forget, gas lines count as plumbing too. Connecting a new gas range or dryer to an existing gas line seems simple, but the job can quickly go awry when you try to hook up a flexible gas connector to the line and find that the connector doesn't fit or you can't make the connection gas-tight, no matter how tight you make the connection.
What to do: This is a thread compatibility problem usually brought about by a mismatch between the iron pipe supplying gas and the fitting on the end of the flexible connector you intend to use to bring the fuel to the appliance. The simplest solution is to buy a universal connection kit for a dryer or for a gas range. The kit will come with a variety of adapters to help you make the transition from the pipe and fitting supplying the gas to whatever appliance will be using it.
4. KNOW WHERE YOUR PIPES ARE.
Pounding nails and driving screws is all well and good, until you puncture a copper or plastic supply or drain.
What to do: Buy a stud sensor that also detects pipes and wirings. You can also look around in the attic or the basement (if it's unfinished) to get a sense of where pipes are hiding. Finally, if the wall will be covered by whatever you're building or installing, you can always carefully cut a test hatch to find plumbing lurking in the walls.
5. KNOW THE CODE.
Plumbing is a tricky business, with rules that dictate how far you can place a fixture from the home's drain-waste-vent line based on the pipe diameter and other arcane matters. The only way you can handle a big job yourself is to know the code and what it calls for in pipe sizing, fixture spacing and related matters.
What to do: There's lots of reference for ambitious do-it-yourselfers. Buy a copy of the International Plumbing Code or the Uniform Plumbing Code. One of the best references that we've used here over the years is Code Check, a handbook that's updated as building codes are updated. One of its best features is that it's written to cover common problems and things that even professionals get wrong.
6. CUT RIGHT, FIT TIGHT.
You can't make a neat water- or gas-tight joint unless the parts are neatly cut.
What to do: Buy pro-level tubing cutters, reciprocating-saw blades, hacksaw blades and a plastic pipe saw. For example, you'll be amazed by the difference between a professional tubing cutter from Ridgid, say, and the $5 special from the home center. Likewise, it seems silly to spend $20 for a plastic pipe saw when a standard handsaw works pretty well. The thing is, the plastic pipe saw works better and leaves less of a burr since its teeth have very little set compared to a saw meant for cutting wood.
Remove burrs from plastic and copper and thoroughly clean both types of plumbing materials before soldering or gluing. Copper is best abraded with plumber's cloth (aluminum-oxide sandpaper on a spool) and plastic requires material-specific primer that softens the plastic so that the adhesive can create an optimal bond. When pipe feels greasy or dirty, use pipe cleaner before applying primer.
A few minutes of preparation goes a long way in ensuring a watertight or gas-tight joint.
7. SEAL THE DEAL.
Only a soldered or glued joint doesn't require sealant; everything else does.
What to do: There are typically two types of sealant tapes in hardware stores and home centers. Tape for sealing water connections (in a blue spool) and tape for sealing gas (in a yellow spool). Yet there's no need for you to be satisfied with just those choices. Pros often carry brushable types, with variations specially formulated for threaded plastic or galvanized steel. Visit a plumbing supply house or shop online to find these varieties. Professional varieties have a higher percentage of gap-filling solids and better ensure a tight joint—no small matter given the lack of thread engagement that you often find today with badly made plumbing materials, valves and fixtures.
8. DON'T OVER-TIGHTEN.
If tight is good, really tight must be better. Right? Wrong.
What to do: Given what I just said about the hit-or-miss quality of many plumbing components today, you'd think that a generous application of wrench torque is called for. Not so. A clean, properly cut and fitted joint that's been sealed just doesn't need to be massively tightened. In many cases, after bringing the parts together firmly hand-tight or using a wrench, often all it takes is another half a turn. In fact, brass–copper gas fittings are particularly vulnerable to wrench damage from over-tightening, while steel pipe is more forgiving.
9. LEAK TEST. ALWAYS.
It should be obvious: Make a thorough leak inspection before closing up and moving on.
What to do: When you've installed a new valve component (or the valve itself), aggressively open and close the valve as well as running both hot and cold water through it. Do the same when checking drains. Run water down a drain and fill up a sink or tub and then drain it to check for leaks. Check gas lines with a soapy water and detergent solution or spend a few dollars for an 8-ounce bottle of bubble-creating leak detector sold on the Web or at a plumbing supply house. The advantage of this material, as opposed to dish detergent, is that it creates larger, more brightly visible bubbles than detergent does.
10. BE KIND. TO YOUR SEPTIC SYSTEM, THAT IS.
We get asked this question all the time: "Should I use an additive to improve the performance of my septic system and reduce the need to pump the septic tank?" An additive can be almost anything from sugar or enzymes to a dead chicken (we're not kidding about the chicken—we get that one plenty).
What to do: Don't bother with additives, especially the chicken. A properly designed, built and maintained septic system will last for decades, and trying to reduce pumping intervals will more likely lead to a clogged leaching field as solids, not clear effluent, flows out of the septic tank and out into the leaching field. A septic-tank-pumping company can advise you on how often the tank needs to be pumped. It will depend on the tank's size and how many people live in the home. Likewise, avoid excessive use of chlorine bleach or caustic chemicals that can kill off beneficial digestive bacteria in the septic tank.
Fire Safety Tips... Two Minutes Might Be All You Have!
Did you know that if a fire starts in your home you may have as little as two minutes to escape? During a fire, early warning from a working smoke alarm plus a fire escape plan that has been practiced regularly can save lives. Learn what else to do to keep your loved ones safe!
Top Tips for Fire Safety
Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.
Test smoke alarms every month. If they’re not working, change the batteries.
Talk with all family members about a fire escape plan and practice the plan twice a year.
If a fire occurs in your home, GET OUT, STAY OUT and CALL FOR HELP. Never go back inside for anything or anyone.
4 Steps to Take Immediately After a Home Fire
Call 9-1-1. Give first aid where needed; cool and cover burns to reduce the chance of further injury or infection.
- Let friends and family know you’re safe.
People and animals that are seriously injured or burned should be transported to professional medical or veterinary help immediately.
- Stay out of fire-damaged homes until local fire authorities say it is safe to re-enter.
Caring for Yourself & Loved Ones
- Pay attention to how you and your loved ones are experiencing and handling stress. Discard any food that has been exposed to heat, smoke or soot.
- Watch pets closely and keep them under your direct control.
- Help people who require additional assistance- infants, elderly people, those without transportation, large families who may need additional help in an emergency situation, people with disabilities, and the people who care for them.
What To Do if a Fire Starts
If a Fire Starts:
- Know how to safely operate a fire extinguisher
- Remember to GET OUT, STAY OUT and CALL 9-1-1 or your local emergency phone number.
- Yell "Fire!" several times and go outside right away. If you live in a building with elevators, use the stairs. Leave all your things where they are and save yourself.
- If closed doors or handles are warm or smoke blocks your primary escape route, use your second way out. Never open doors that are warm to the touch.
- If you must escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to your exit. Close doors behind you.
- If smoke, heat or flames block your exit routes, stay in the room with doors closed. Place a wet towel under the door and call the fire department or 9-1-1. Open a window and wave a brightly colored cloth or flashlight to signal for help.
- Once you are outside, go to your meeting place and then send one person to call the fire department. If you cannot get to your meeting place, follow your family emergency communication plan.
If your clothes catch on fire:
- Stop what you’re doing.
- Drop to the ground and cover your face if you can.
- Roll over and over or back and forth until the flames go out. Running will only make the fire burn faster.
Once the flames are out, cool the burned skin with water for three to five minutes. Call for medical attention.
Did You Know? SERVPRO Southeast Portland Offers Cleaning Services!
A Spotless Building!
The SERVPRO carpet and upholstery cleaning service will not only get out the dirt you see, but will also remove the unwanted dust you don’t. A professionally cleaned carpet and furniture may make all the difference in brightening up a room and freshening up your home.
We all have tasks around the house that don’t make it to the top of our priority list. Properly maintaining your home’s air ducts should not be one of them. Regular duct cleaning can increase your home’s heating and cooling efficiency and improve the quality of the air you and your family breathe.
Your basic cleaning service is not going to have the expertise to effectively deodorize your home. Take advantage of SERVPRO’s residential cleaning services to remove unwanted odors.
Our experts are ready to assist in the clean up of sewage and other biohazard materials and provide deep cleaning services for your home. Find out more about our franchise professionals.
Call our office today to find out what we can do for you!
Mold is even more dangerous than this looks disgusting.
When returning to a home that has been flooded, be aware that mold may be present and may be a health risk for your family.
People at Greatest Risk from Mold
People with asthma, allergies, or other breathing conditions may be more sensitive to mold. People with immune suppression (such as people with HIV infection, cancer patients taking chemotherapy, and people who have received an organ transplant) are more susceptible to mold infections.
Possible Health Effects of Mold Exposure
People who are sensitive to mold may experience stuffy nose, irritated eyes, wheezing, or skin irritation. People allergic to mold may have difficulty in breathing and shortness of breath. People with weakened immune systems and with chronic lung diseases, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs. If you or your family members have health problems after exposure to mold, contact your doctor or other health care provider.
What to do if mold is suspected?
Immediately call a mold removal specialist such as SERVPRO Southeast Portland to assess and remove problem. Stay away from affected areas until mold is removed.
Flood Damage Is #1 Natural Disaster
A flooded business or home is never a good thing.
Floods are the number 1 natural disaster in the United States. Flooding causes damage and destruction across regions nationwide, wiping out homes and businesses. However, many residents and business owners are unaware that they qualify for flood insurance. You can take steps to reduce the financial impact of flooding before a disaster strikes. One important step is understanding your risk. Even a heavy rainstorm can cause significant flooding, contributing to flash floods, mudflows, or overtopping levees and dams.
Contact your insurance company as soon as possible and follow their directions. Not all flooding is covered by a basic homeowners policy, so work with your agent to discover the cause and identify coverage you can qualify for. Do not remove any water before talking to them so you don’t accidentally do anything that will decrease the amount of coverage you’ll be able to claim. If the insurance company wants you to wait for an adjuster before making repairs, do so — but make sure you give them a clear picture of the damage and repairs that are immediately needed.
Post Water Damage Tips
Whether a flood is caused by ground water, falling water, or home water system malfunction, there are some best practices you’ll need to employ within the first 24 hours after the flood to ensure the safety of your home and family and give you the best outcome possible with your insurance company.
If the flood was serious enough for you to leave your home, be sure you stay safe upon your return. The Federal Emergency Management Agency warns that you should check for any visible structural damage, such as warping, loosened or cracked foundation elements, cracks, and holes before entering the home and contact utility companies if you suspect damage to water, gas, electric, and sewer lines.
Even if the power isn’t operational, it’s a good idea to go to your fuse box and turn off the main, plus all of the individual fuse connections. That way, if the power is reactivated, you’re not at risk for mixing standing water and electricity.
Protect Your Health
Even if the water in your home is clear, it could be contaminated by sewage or household chemicals. Wear waders, hip- or waist-high waterproof boots. In addition, wear rubber gloves to remove water-damaged possessions and to avoid contaminants. Be sure to throw out any food that may have come into contact with flood waters. FEMA recommends boiling water until authorities declare the water supply is safe.