Ask Eartha: DIY home energy improvements you can do before winter
We’ve had some chilly nights recently and some of my friends have already turned the heat on in their homes. Do you have any low-cost suggestions for keeping my home warm this fall and winter?
I’m starting to feel it in the air, too. Cooler nights and leaves changing color mean that winter is quickly approaching here in Summit. We’re all excited to get out in that white fluffy stuff, but we also want our homes to be warm and cozy when we do venture inside — and without breaking the bank.
Fortunately, energy efficiency is a win-win. Highly efficient homes provide the same or better quality of life, cost savings on utility bills, greater indoor comfort and health benefits, all while reducing impact on the environment. With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite no- and low-cost energy efficiency tricks for keeping my home warm throughout the winter.
DIY energy efficiency hacks
Thermostats: According to the Department of Energy, you can save up to 10% on your heating costs each year by turning your thermostat back 7-10 degrees for about eight hours a day. Some thermostats can even be adjusted remotely, which is great if you forget to set yours back before vacations.
If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, Xcel Energy offers discounted models to customers. Not all heating systems are compatible with programmable thermostats. So if you have electric baseboard heat or an older boiler, you may need to consult your favorite electrician or handyman first.
You could also take your efforts further by keeping your house a few degrees cooler all the time. Choose a week or two when it starts getting colder and then start bumping your thermostat down 1 degree each day. When you or someone in your house feels that it’s too cool for comfort, go back up 1 and leave it there. Even just a few degrees lower on your heating setpoint can turn into huge savings when multiplied over the course of a winter. You might surprise yourself with how low you go!
LED light bulbs: These days LEDs come in a variety of options to match your preferred style, color temperature and brightness. They’re an easy way to save electricity year-round. LEDs are 90% more efficient and last up to 25 years longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
Seal air leaks: Heat escaping through air leaks commonly accounts for the greatest inefficiencies in homes, especially in our climate zone. Air sealing is likely the single most effective thing you can do to improve efficiency and comfort in your home. Caulking around windows, doors and baseboards can often go a long way to sealing up those leaky spots. Sealing any break in drywall, like electrical outlets and switches or light fixtures, is also a simple project to take on. Use caulk for gaps an eighth of an inch wide or less and spray foam for larger spaces.
Weather stripping: Before winter is a good time to check all the weather stripping on your doors and windows and replace any that doesn’t create a tight seal.
Hot water pipe and tank wrap: Wrap hot water or heating equipment pipes with insulation and install a water heater tank wrap. These improvements won’t provide earth shattering results, but they’re cheap and easy and will improve the efficiency of these systems by keeping the heat where you want it.
Smart power strips: Plug appliances, TVs and other electronics into smart power strips. These devices prevent the small trickle of power electronics draw even when powered off, and often have added features like voice control.
Heat tape controls: Heat tape uses a ton of energy to run. Just 100 feet of heat tape can easily cost over $800 a year in electricity. Add a timer or improved controls to operate these costly systems more efficiently.
Heating equipment maintenance: Change the filters on your furnace or other air handlers. Enroll your heating equipment in a regular maintenance program. Boilers can lose up to 1% efficiency per year if not properly maintained.
For other tips to save energy and money, check out Energy Smart Colorado’s energy efficiency tips. Consider this your fall to-do list for taking greater control of your home’s energy and comfort before the snow starts falling.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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