This spring, I had a chance to spend some quality time with an energy-efficiency consultant, who also happens to be my brother-in-law. But that’s neither here nor there.
Anyway, I was able to pick his expert mind about what average homeowners can do to make their homes more energy-efficient.
First, contrary to what many homeowners believe, you probably don’t need new windows. There are a myriad of small ways to conserve energy besides installing new (expensive) windows.
This is something most homeowners can do on their own. Start by installing foam gaskets behind all of your outlets and switches; these are available for less than $1 from most home centers. Then, caulk around window trim. At light fixtures and smoke detectors, caulk the gaps between the light electrical box and ceiling. Then make sure the weather stripping around all doors and windows is in good shape. If not, replace it.
Next, hire a professional to come in and air-seal and add insulation to your attic. (Important: Air-seal from within the attic before adding insulation.) A very handy homeowner could do this without help, but for most people, pro is the way to go for this project.
Most houses lose a tremendous amount of energy through the ceiling — heat rises, after all. So depending on how much insulation your attic already has, this one project could easily pay for itself in just a couple of years. If you have less than 12 inches of insulation in your attic, you need more.
Save 75 percent of the cost of lighting your home in an hour by replacing old incandescent bulbs with CFLs (compact fluorescent) or LEDs (light-emitting diodes). Unlike the old, harsh white light that many people associate with high-efficiency bulbs, CFLs and LEDs have come a long way. They’re available in many shapes, sizes, intensities and light color.
If you haven’t tried a CFL in the last few years, now is the time. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. To get light similar to an incandescent, look for “warm white” or “soft white” light output.
As for LEDs, they used to be extremely expensive but have come down tremendously in price. Plus, they last 30 times longer than traditional bulbs while using only 25 percent of the energy.
The three top appliance energy-hogs? Refrigerators, freezers and top-loading washers. If your fridge or freezer is older than about 15 years, now is the time to replace it with a new Energy Star model. The electricity savings can pay for the new fridge (or freezer) in just a few years.
If you have a top-loading washing machine, consider a new front-loader. It will save at least 25 gallons of water per load, or thousands of gallons per year — usually, hot water that you paid to heat. Plus, clothes will come out dryer, which saves energy by not making the dryer work as hard.
Showers and Sinks
Install water-saving showerheads and bathroom sink aerators. Modern “low-flow” showerheads spray with higher pressure, making them almost imperceptible from “regular” showerheads, but they save about a gallon of water per minute in comparison.
Aerators can be purchased for as little as a couple of bucks, while a new showerhead should be from $5 to $30. This simple change can save you literally thousands of gallons per year of hot water. Saving hot water saves both water and energy — a double whammy.
If you have a furnace, go right now and change the filter, then put it on your to-do list to replace every six months. Clean filters mean that your furnace doesn’t have to work as hard to put out heat. A new filter only costs a few dollars but will pay for itself in very little time and will reduce wear and tear on your expensive heating system.
Hint: you probably don’t need the $20 filter. The $5 filter will do the job just as well. Look for a “MERV Rating” (a measurement of the filtration effectiveness of the filter) of at least 8.Abigail Lovell is the owner of Abigail's Concierge Services LLC, a home watch and concierge service business based in Gig Harbor. She may be reached at 253-432-1888 or info [at] abigailsconcierge [dot] com. For information, go to www.abigailsconcierge.com.