Warm Your Home, Keep Your Cash

Efficiency tips save energy and dollars

According to the Energy Coordinating Agency, most of Philly’s aging housing could use around 40 to 60 percent less energy, but it will require more than just changing light bulbs. Many solutions are simple DIY projects, but larger projects carry some risk. Insulation, for example, can cause moisture build-up (and thus mold) and dangerous levels of contaminants like radon and carbon monoxide. It’s always best to consult a professional first.

Start by sealing any obvious openings. All holes, cracks and loose joints need low VOC (volatile organic compound) caulk. Use removable sealant on window frames and door perimeters and put a plastic sheet on the window’s surface. Most energy experts will also tell you that cutting consumption starts with habit. Just turning your thermostat down one degree can cut utility costs by three percent. An extra sweater and electric blankets are great, but also try installing a programmable thermostat. Turn off lights, keep appliances unplugged and consider the number of watts before plugging in. Energy is also wasted through the water heater—it runs at maximum temperature and then uses more energy to cool down for use. In general, water thrift, i.e. short showers and air-drying your laundry, is also effective.

Experts Top Tips:

Wrap hot water pipes and older water heaters (read the manual; newer ones don’t need it) with insulation using kits like TierraPath’s, pre-cut tubes for the pipes, or small rolls of insulation.
Chris Robinson, Energy Coordinating Agency

Rigid insulation panels, Super-Tuff-R or Thermmax, can be cut with a utility knife and attached behind radiators to keep heat in your rooms, not your walls.
Don Hull, Ground Source HVAC

If your HVAC ductwork goes through unheated spaces, seal it with rolls of insulation, like the Reflectix foil-faced kind.
Judy Robinson, Continuum Architecture

Before sealing up, get a combustion analysis on your heating and water systems.
Sean Crane, Hometown Green

Caulk the edges of your electrical outlets.
Seal ductwork edges with aluminum metal duct tape.
Laura Blau, BluPath Design, GreenSteps

Use glass door fire screens for any fireplaces.
Open south-facing shades for sunlight exposure, while keeping all other drapes closed.
Lynne Templeton, Greenable

If your water heater is reaching retirement age, replace it with a tankless instant-on system, which uses 25 percent less energy.
Dan Orzech, Earth Rising Homes

Sealing up the house for efficiency can increase the concentration of any existing pollutants Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector that has a UL (Underwriters Laboratory) 2034 certification.
Jim Quigley, Healthy Spaces

Efficiency Purchases

Windows and Doors: Windows with multiple argon-filled panes create an effective barrier. Vinyl and fiberglass frames transmit less heat to the outside and low-emissivity (low-E) coated glass traps in heat waves from sunlight. Newer doors have multiple panes of insulated glass and are made with insulated materials, like fiberglass, wood cladding and steel with a polyurethane core.

Insulation: Use soy-based foam spray to fill gaps between the ceiling and wall of your basement. Add insulation made of cellulose (recycled newspaper) or cotton (old blue jeans) to your attic floor and inside walls by cutting a hole in the plaster or sheet rock. Home improvement stores will usually rent a blower or sprayer.

Heater: Once your house is tight, get a smaller heating system. Ask the contractor for a design load calculation, which gives an idea of how much heat your house needs. EnergyStar products—particularly condensing furnaces, with over 90 percent Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency—are more expensive, but the most efficient.