March 24, 2016 by Jeff Lowen
Right now is the perfect time to walk through your home with a short to-do list and save money on your home for years to come. Especially if you’ve just moved in or haven’t done it in a while.
Starting on these things as early as possible will allow you to start saving money sooner rather than later. Plus, they’re really easy and you’ll get a great sense of what your home is all about.
Below are 13 to-do’s that will immediately reduce the energy and maintenance costs of your home.
1. Check the insulation in your attic.
Take a look around up in your attic. You should see insulation up there between the beams, and there should be at least six inches of it everywhere. If there’s inadequate insulation up there – or the insulation you have appears to be damaged – install new insulation. Here’s a great guide from the Department of Energy on attic insulation, including specifics on how much you should have depending on where you live.
Many states offer financial incentives, up to a 75% refund for instance, to encourage homeowners to better insulate their homes. Springtime is great to do this before the attic turns into an oven!
2. Lower the temperature on your hot water heater down to 120 degrees.
This is the optimum temperature for your hot water heater. Anything above that isn’t used effectively. Lower the temperature, save money on your energy bill, and you’ll never skip a beat. Most plumbing fixtures in homes these days use a “Scald-Guard” feature, so there’s little chance that extra hot water is getting there anyway.
3. Toss a water heater blanket over your water heater.
While most modern hot water heaters are well-insulated, some are insulated better than others, and many older heaters aren’t insulated well at all. A small investment in a blanket for your water heater will slowly and gradually save you money on your heating bill over time by keeping the heat in the water instead of letting it disperse slowly into your garage or utility closet. Best results in the winter months, but definitely a year round must.
The Department of Energy recommends not to cover the water heater’s top, bottom, thermostat, or burner area. If you have an, on-demand (or “tankless”) water heater, you won’t require a blanket.
4. Install ceiling fans in most rooms.
Ceiling fans are a low-energy way to keep air moving in your home. Because of the air circulation effect, you can get away with keeping your thermostat a degree or two higher in summer and a degree or two lower in winter, netting a rather large savings. It’s important the direction of the circulation, too. In the warm months, you should feel the air directly below the ceiling fan.
5. Wrap exposed water pipes with insulation.
Exposed hot water pipes lose heat as they move water from your heater to your faucet or shower. Wrapping them in pipe insulation, especially in cold basements or garages, can make a two to four degree difference in the temperature of the water, and also allows hot water to reach your faucet faster.
Don’t forget the cold water pipes either. In the summer, the cold will stay cold and in the winter, they won’t freeze and burst.
6. Install a programmable thermostat.
A programmable thermostat allows you to schedule automatic increases and decreases in your home’s temperature, saving money on cooling in the summer and heating in the winter.
They’re easy to install and easy to use, especially if you keep a fairly routine schedule. You won’t really notice the difference until you see your lower utility bill. 🙂
7. Replace your furnace and air filters.
Your HVAC system has an air filter that should be replaced regularly. It’s easy to do, too. They get clogged with dust and your system has to work harder = more $$. Don’t forget about any evaporative cooler, humidifier or electrostatic filters that may be part of the system as well. If you’re not sure, hire a contractor the first time and take notes!
8. Make sure the registers (vents) in all rooms are clear.
If your registers/vents are on the floor or wall in your home, they shouldn’t be covered or blocked by anything. Furniture, rugs, etc. Take a look into each one and make sure they’re dust-free and clean. Floor registers are easy to lift out and clean underneath. Wall and Ceiling vents have two screws that pop out to clean underneath them. You can adjust the damper on them now, too. Do your upper floors get really warm in the summer? Open these vents up and close the lower floors down. You’ll have to play with it to see what works best for your home.
And don’t forget the “Return Air” vent. It’s the big one, there might be two, and there’s no adjustment behind it. This is where the air gets drawn into your system and the tips above for cleaning and not being covered, apply!
9. Mark cracks in the basement masking tape.
Most every home has a few small cracks in the basement walls and floor from foundation settling. You’ll want to know if these are growing. Let’s hope not.
How do you tell if they’re growing? Take some masking tape and cover up the end of any cracks you notice inside or outside, and write today’s date on the tape. Then, in a few months, check it. If it’s getting bigger, you’ll want to call someone to take a look.
10. Check toilets, faucets, under sinks, outside hose bib faucets, pipe connections for leaks or constant running
Take a stroll through your home and check everything closely. One easy way to check under your sinks is to clear a space directly underneath the faucet/pipes and lay some paper towel or toilet paper. One drop will make a big change and just check it in a day. Run the water while your checking it so the drain pipes get used, too.
11. Install LED or CFL light bulbs.
LED and CFL bulbs can save you a lot of money on energy use over the long haul, plus they have much longer lives than normal incandescent bulbs, making them well worth the upfront investment. In many areas, incandescent bulbs are no longer code and very hard to find.
12. Plant shade trees near your house.
Mother nature can help you save significantly on your summer cooling costs — and heating costs in winter, too.
Plant deciduous trees — the kind that lose their leaves in the fall — on the western and eastern sides of your house. The leafy shade trees will naturally cool your home during the hot summer months by reducing the amount of direct sunlight that hits your house.
In the winter, they’ll lose their leaves, allowing that same sunlight to stream through your windows and heat up the home a bit more. And if you plant evergreens on the north and northwest sides of your home, they won’t affect the sunlight, but will shield your home from cold winter winds.
As an added benefit, mature trees can increase your property value. Just make sure to plant them a safe distance from power lines and your home’s foundation. Plant them now, and they’ll grow and shade your house sooner.
13. Air-seal your home.
This isn’t such a problem in new homes, but in older homes, it’s important to look for any places where air may be leaking directly into or out of your home. Common trouble spots are around doorways, windows, and electric outlets, too.
Can you see the dollars following the air? Thankfully, fixing small air leaks is pretty easy – here’s a great Department of Energy guide to caulking and weatherstripping, which will keep such air leaks from drawing the heat in the winter, the cool in the summer – and money – out of your home.
This should keep you busy for a while! As if you didn’t have enough to do already… This way, the money you save can be put toward that vacation to Cancun you’ve always wanted, instead of heating, cooling and lighting the rest of neighborhood!
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