Ask Eartha: How can a house’s warmth be improved cheaply? (column) | SummitDaily.com

Ask Eartha: How can a house’s warmth be improved cheaply? (column)

Eartha Steward
Ask Eartha

Dear Eartha,

My home is absolutely freezing in the winter. My energy bills are through the roof and I don't have the funds to make any major improvements. What can I do to make my home more comfortable while saving some coin?

—Jillian, Blue River

We field this question all the time at the High Country Conservation Center. I get locals coming up to me at events to bend my ear on a myriad of home energy concerns. They ask me what I do in my own home to stay efficient and conserve energy. They ask me whether they should continue to cope with their outdated shag carpeting, in hopes that it's cutting down on heating costs. Almost every conservation however, begins and will not end before they let me know that "it's got to be my awful windows, they are the worst." I'm writing this column to set the record straight.

A typical Summit County home is unique in several ways. Considering our cold and windy climate, much of the local housing stock was constructed before modern energy efficiency codes. Our homes, for the most part, are ill equipped for the conditions of our high-alpine climate. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 93 percent of their life indoors. With so much of our time spent in our homes, I think it's a valid argument to say that we all could do more to improve the conditions in our home, conserve energy and thus save some money.

While I always list several typical energy saving actions anyone could take in their home, I typically start by answering this question with a statement that every home is unique. This is why the High Country Conservation Center offers comprehensive home energy assessments. A home energy assessment will identify health and safety concerns specific to your home, building durability concerns (i.e. condensation or improper ventilation), and of course several opportunities for energy conservation. For these reasons, I always start by recommending an energy assessment. For our Summit County locals out there looking to save money, but who fear large assessment or project costs, we offer a limited number of home energy assessments and energy-efficient products such as LED light bulbs at no cost.

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A no-cost home energy assessment is a tremendous value and is available to any Summit County property owner or renter whom earns up to 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), a level that is ideal for our local working class. This no-cost program is supported by Xcel Energy so it's a service we all already pay into as customers. The best news is, upon receiving a complimentary energy assessment at your property, the High Country Conservation Center will facilitate several improvement projects at your home at no additional cost to you. These projects include new insulation, sealing up drafts and air leaks around your home, and even new energy-efficient refrigerators. If you're truly looking for the most cost-effective way to make your home more efficient and comfortable to live in, this is the place to start.

If you can't wait to get started with an energy assessment at your property and want to dive in tonight with your dinner party guests, here's some energy saving tips for you:

Replace all your lighting with LED bulbs. The cost of LED lighting technology is constantly falling, making this home improvement increasingly attractive. Participation in our energy assessment program will also include free LED bulbs for your home.

Install heavy drapes over those cold windows. Sometimes the windows in our homes are truly a major concern. Too often however, windows are mistaken for being inefficient. To put things into perspective, windows are almost never recommended in our home energy assessment reports, simply because several other improvements are far more affordable and contribute more towards energy conservation in a typical Summit County home.

Replace the worn weather stripping on the exterior doors to your home. Oftentimes, a full door replacement is not necessary, but rather some TLC on the weather stripping solves issues with drafts and air leaks. Install a programmable thermostat to control your heating system. If you already have a programmable thermostat, spend 15 minutes to learn how to properly program it to conserve the most energy.

For more energy saving tips, and to learn more about our energy efficiency programs, give us a call or visit HighCountryConservation.org.