Weatherize your home to save energy before Old Man Winter arrives!

October 13, 2015
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Weather-proofing your home can save on energy bills, make your home more comfortable, and improve indoor air quality all year round.

As the weather cools, and Montgomery County residents spend more time indoors, now is the time to get your home ready for winter. Yes, you can avoid sky-high heating bills and freezing nights that make your basement feel like a dungeon. In fact, there are lots of things that you can do to take back your home this winter that will benefit you year-round.

Step 1: Get a home energy audit

The first step is to get a home energy audit. An energy audit will identify hidden places in walls, attics, basements, and floors where drafts and outdoor pollutants come into your home—and where the air that you paid to heat or cool escapes.

An audit also includes a combustion safety check of your furnace and water heater if you use natural gas, oil, or propane. An auditor will use high-tech equipment such as an infrared camera, and will also do an expert visual inspection in areas not often visited by the home’s residents – such as attics and crawl spaces. These experts look for air leaks as well as moisture problems that could cause mold.

 

Image of thermal energy instrument

 

All Montgomery County single-family homes and townhomes are eligible for $100 home energy audits through Pepco, BGE, or Potomac Edison‘s home performance programs. A comprehensive home energy audit includes a detailed written report that makes recommendations for energy efficiency home improvements.

The Maryland utilities also offer rebates for work performed by participating Home Performance with ENERGY STAR contractors, who have committed to work to the highest standards of quality. The utilities check the work quality as well. Montgomery County also provides an Energy Efficiency Tax Credit for certain home upgrades, and Takoma Park has additional rebates. Low-income Montgomery County residents may qualify for no-cost weatherization through Montgomery County’s Weatherization Program or through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development’s Low Income Energy Efficiency Program.

Step 2: Start sealing those energy leaks

So what are some of the recommendations you might expect from a home energy audit? Click on each of the tips below to learn more.

 

[toggles class=”yourcustomclass”] [toggle title=”Seal air leaks” class=”in”]Caulking windows, weather-stripping doors, and closing your chimney flue when it’s not being used are just a start. Most houses have substantial numbers of outdoor air leaks in the attic and basement. Other leaks are hidden behind walls or under siding. These leaks allow polluted air into the house, and allow heated or cooled air out of the house. An energy-efficient and comfortable home will minimize the leaks.

Image of gap between HVAC pipe and house

Leaks surrounding furnace flues can send heated or cooled air out and pull unconditioned, polluted air in.

[/toggle] [toggle title=”Seal duct leaks”]Most homes have disconnected, tangled, or leaky ducts. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that on average, about 30 percent of the total air being pushed out of your furnace or air conditioner does not arrive to a room where someone lives. Instead, the air is leaked out behind walls or into the attic. You paid to heat and cool this air, but 30 percent of it is floating away. Further, holes in return ducts will suck dust and dirt from the attic or wall cavity and bring it to your furnace or air conditioner, which pollutes the air and can damage your system. Sealing duct leaks makes your system more efficient and improves your comfort.

Air duct disconnected from system

Disconnected ducts are common — and costly, when you consider the amount of air and energy lost.

[/toggle] [toggle title=”Upgrade insulation”]

For optimal energy efficiency, your home should be insulated properly from roof to foundation. Insulation is not only for the attic—it can also be added to walls, basement, crawl spaces, floors, and even your attic door.

Insulation does two important things. First, it provides thermal resistance. Remember that heat always tries to move to colder places unless something (like insulation) gets in the way. Insulation stops the warmth created by your furnace from escaping through your walls to the outside. In summer, it stops the outside warmth from penetrating into your cooler home. Second, insulation makes the surfaces on both sides of a wall similar temperatures. This prevents condensation and mold from growing on the colder surface of the wall where the moisture condenses. To prevent mold, the most important thing you can do is stop condensation. Insulation does this in both winter and summer.

A diagram showing the best places to insulate your home

This diagram shows some of the best places to insulate your home, all of which will help improve your home’s energy efficiency. Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy.

[/toggle] [toggle title=”Improve ventilation”]

Natural ventilation cannot be relied upon to ventilate a house evenly or predictably. In our previous post, we discussed the risks of outdoor and indoor pollution on health. Ventilation plays a critical role, and Home Performance with ENERGY STAR contractors are required to provide ventilation to your home that complies with program standards.

The cheapest way to do this is by installing bath fans that operate in low-speed mode on a regular schedule (such as every 30 minutes). However, the best bet for comfortable rooms and better indoor air quality is to install whole-home ventilation, which exhausts stale, musty air and supplies fresh air to the house. An energy recovery ventilation (ERV) system provides controlled continuous air flow and minimizes energy loss, for healthier air and energy savings.

Diagram of how an ERV system works

An energy recovery ventilation (ERV) system allows healthier, continuous air flow and minimizes energy loss.

[/toggle] [toggle title=”Control humidity”]Proper control of your home’s moisture can prevent mold, dust mites, and other allergens from forming, and improve the effectiveness of your air sealing and insulation. The ideal relative humidity level for human beings is between 40 and 60 percent, which studies show is optimal for avoiding respiratory illness triggers and for protecting the physical building. For most people, a portable dehumidifier should be installed in a basement and can be set up to dump water directly into the drain. For winter, a humidifier can help keep the house comfortable and your skin hydrated.[/toggle] [toggle title=”Wrap your water heater and hot water pipes”]When you are not using hot water, your tank loses as much as 2-4 degrees of heat. Insulate your water heater and its pipes with insulation and pipe sleeves, available at any hardware store or through a home performance contractor.

[/toggle] [toggle title=”Install smart heating and cooling”]

Consider installing a learning or programmable thermostat that can be controlled by time of day, with different settings for day, night, and away modes. “Learning thermostats” detect your habits and adjust accordingly (Nest and ecobee are two leading options). There are also plenty of programmable thermostats from Honeywell, Carrier, and more—and your utility may offer incentives for installing these thermostats!

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While some weatherization and energy efficiency measures can be handled effectively by handy homeowners, most homeowners will see much better results when they use a professional home performance contractor. Plus, Pepco, BGE, Washington Gas, and Potomac Edison have great rebates to help you pay for these improvements.

Now is a great time to get your home ready for winter. The benefits will last all year long.

Guest blog by Reuven Walder, cofounder of ecobeco and Breathe Easy Home.

 



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