With the weather forecasts for Central Illinois calling for another cold winter, it is time to get proactive on keeping heating costs down to a minimum. After viewing utility bills from energy audits in 2014, we have found our clients increased heating costs between 15 and 30% on average when compared to their home from the previous year (before their energy audit and before implementing any recommendations).
Here are some things to consider as you begin to button up the house for the coming winter.
1. Check Your Insulation
One of the most important steps you can take towards making your home comfortable in the winter (and summer) is to upgrade the insulation. Insulation creates a shell around the home and creates a barrier between the indoor temperature and the outdoor temperature. So, take a look at the shell and determine where you need insulation which means the attic, walls, basements, and crawlspaces. The attic (or top) of the house is the most important place for insulation. It prevents heat from the house from escaping into the attic in the winter and prevents heat from the attic getting into the house in the summer. Most homes have insulation placed on the attic floor. Take a look in the attic; if you can see the floor joists in the attic, you don’t have to be a professional to know that isn’t enough insulation. There may be money to help you pay for upgrading your insulation, call us at EverGreen and we can help you determine if you qualify.
2. Seal Up The Leaks
Before any insulation upgrades are performed on the house, it is extremely critical that any air leaks are sealed up before you insulate. When you look into the science of insulation, the primary purpose of any type of insulation material is to trap still air in very small spaces. This includes common insulation types such as cellulose, fiberglass, spray foam, and rigid boards. If air finds a way to move through the insulation, the performance (R-value) drops considerably. While sealing up windows and doors is a good thing, the most important area is the attic floor. So, any penetration through the insulation of the attic needs to first be sealed including (but no limited to) recessed lights, plumbing stacks, wiring, chimneys, and bath exhaust fans.
3. Choose Better Insulation
Whether you hire an insulation contractor or decide to do the work yourself, you don’t have to settle for the most commonly used insulation type – fiberglass. When you look at all of the performance factors that help us compare insulation types, fiberglass is shown to be inferior in every category. While we could write an entire post just on this topic, it is important to know evaluating insulation performance goes beyond just the thermal performance (R-value). Other factors include the product’s density, how it handles moisture, if it deters pests such as mice, if it prevents mold growth, and how it handles fire. One important factor to note is that fiberglass loses 1/2 of its R-value in cold weather. Not all types of insulation work in every situation, so it does help to talk to a professional to find out what works best in your situation.
4. Tune Up The Furnace
Mechanical equipment has a lot of moving parts, and they need to be periodically checked in order to maintain their efficiency and to prevent catastrophic breakdown which usually occurs during the coldest weather. An annual “clean and tune” of a furnace should involve an inspection of the thermostat, furnace blower, pressure switches and vent blower, safety inspection, check and clean burners, clean gas manifold, adjust pilot light, inspect venting, measure stack temperature, check gas piping, clean air filters, clean equipment interior, check and adjust manifold gas pressure, verify combustion ventilation air is adequate, inspect/clean heat exchanger, and check the difference between supply and return plenums.
5. Stock Up On Air Filters
If you have a traditional 1″ thick air filter in your duct system, this needs to be changed on a monthly basis during the heating (and cooling) season. The air filter has 2 main purposes – to filter particulates out of the indoor air and to protect the equipment in the furnace and air conditioning. As filters get dirtier, the filter gets clogged up. When this happens, it limits the amount of air flowing through the system which will reduce efficiencies and even burn out the blower’s motor. Listen to your system when it is running. If it sounds like a high pitch or whistling, it is probably time to change the filter. So, keep a stock of several filters ready to be changed on a regular basis such as the first of every month.
6. Open Up The Registers And Grilles
For a duct system to distribute air properly around the home, it is very important to keep the registers open and free of obstruction. So, make sure there are no couches, beds, bookcases, or other items that are blocking supply air to the room from registers or blocking return air from the room into the grilles.
7. Seal The Ducts
Another critical component of air flow is sealing up the duct connections with paste-like substance called duct mastic. This is used where pieces of duct work join together. Studies show that typical installations of ducts leak 20 to 30% of the air. This is not a good thing for air circulation and energy efficiency. If those ducts happen to run through the attic, crawlspace, or garage then the duct leakage is an even larger penalty. Loss of conditioned air in the house through ducts into an unconditioned space can be a huge drain on energy bills. While this can a DIY project, it may be easier to have a professional access the hard-to-reach areas.
8. Do I Need To Insulate The Ducts?
It depends on where those ducts are located. If all of the ductwork is located within the house and are impacted by room temperature, then it is not necessary to insulate them. However, if those ducts are in an attic, crawlspace, or garage, then it is absolutely necessary to make sure they are sealed and insulated. Imagine the temperature in the ducts during the winter of 130 degrees getting lost through sheet metal in an attic that is 10 degrees. By the time the air hits the register in the bedrooms, it will have lost so much heat the air will feel cold.
9. Check The Thermostat
While we love to see programmable thermostats installed in most homes, we find they are not often programmed correctly or simply put on “hold” which loses the benefit of the program. Review your program to make sure it matches the ever-changing patterns of the family.
10. Consider A Fuel Switch
While there are a lot of complexities to consider, it may help to consider a fuel switch. Historically, electricity has been more expensive of a fuel than natural gas – as much as 2 to 3 times! So, if you have an electric furnace or electric baseboard heat, it is time to consider a switch to natural gas or even a heat pump.
11. Don’t Forget To Check Those CO Detectors!
Now that we are shutting windows and turning on the natural gas appliances and burning wood for the winter, it is a good time to check those CO detectors to make sure the batteries are replaced. Keep in mind that these detectors have a minimum shelf life of 5 years; so they need to be on a replacement schedule.
Overwhelmed By All Of Your Options?
Have more questions? Call us at (309) 253-2245 to schedule an energy audit, so we can help you strategize a plan to make your home energy efficient and more comfortable year round.