Making Your Home More Energy Efficient

We’ve all seen Top 10 Things You Can Do To Make Your Home More Energy Efficient lists that don’t seem to have much to do with the real world. The list I’m looking at right now has Install Solar Systems as #2. Yep, I think I’ll go out and install a solar system this afternoon. In my spare time. While installing passive solar collectors may be a great idea for some, it’s an expensive long-term investment, and not something to casually check off a real-life to-do list!

Well, THIS list is one you can actually utilize. Each suggestion is something a handy homeowner can do him- or- her self. A less-than-handy homeowner can probably find someone to help out with the promise of a homecooked meal and a good movie. And none require a loan.

This is the real world. Let’s see what we can do to make it better!

  1. Invest in a programmable thermostat and here’s the important part actually program it! (By the way, Austin Energy gives these away to customers.)
  2. Install CFL bulbs in the light fixtures you use the most. Don’t throw away usable old-fashioned bulbs though . . . use them in closet fixtures that you only keep on for very short periods of time, until they burn out. This way you will eventually get all your bulbs replaced with CFLs but without waste and with the cost spread over time. Also, consider using smaller-wattage bulbs in places where lighting isn’t used for tasks.
  3. Use ceiling fans in occupied rooms, but ONLY in occupied rooms. In the summer, ceiling fans help by cooling people, not by cooling air. In the winter, ceiling fans will push warm air down into the living area, and that will be most noticeable if someone is in the room. Turn fans off when you leave the room! And remember to switch the fans’ direction seasonally: clockwise in the summer (will appear counterclockwise when looking up) and counterclockwise in the winter (will appear clockwise from below).
  4. Use your microwave or toaster oven whenever you can instead of heating the big oven for a small dish. In the summer, try to cook later in the evening when it’s cooled down some. In the winter, leave the oven door open after you’ve turned it off and let it heat the house while it’s cooling down.
  5. Lower the thermostat on your water heater to 125 degrees (check your owners’ manual if you have a dishwasher as some dishwashers require specific temperatures). Consider washing laundry in cold water. Insulate whatever portions of the hot water pipes are easily accessible, whether they are in the conditioned space, or not. Either way, you don’t want them radiating heat into the conditioned air in the summer, if they are in the house, or losing heat to the cold air in the winter, if they are outside, in the attic, or the garage.
  6. Plug gaps where unconditioned air within the walls can enter the living space. Using caulk or spray foam, seal the holes around the pipes where plumbing enters the wall sunder sinks in kitchen and bathrooms. Apply foam gaskets behind the switchplates on your outlets and electrical switches. Don’t just do the outside walls’ unconditioned/unheated attic air comes down into all the walls, and out any gap, it can find.
  7. Seal leaks in your exterior walls, too. Caulk or foam around exterior electrical boxes and exterior plumbing, and fix holes in the siding. Keep the outside air outside!
  8. Check the fit of your exterior doors. If you can see light around a door when it is shut and latched, it needs to be weatherstripped. You can get easy-to-install aluminum and silicon bulb weatherstripping at the hardware store. If your house is old and not very square, simple stick-on foam weatherstripping may work better. If there’s old weatherstripping around the door, be sure to pull that off first. If you can see light under the door, install a door sweep (easy) or replace the threshold (a little trickier).
  9. Shade your south, east, and west- facing windows. Consider planting a tree or shrub for long-term shade. For quicker results, you may be able to erect a free-standing trellis a few feet out from the window and plant a fast-growing flowering vine on it. Other options include installing solar shades (Austin Energy gives rebates on these) or awnings. If you can’t come up with an external source of shade, the next best thing is to hang heavy drapes or shades and pull them shut during the day. It’s better to keep the heat out entirely, but this will at least trap some of the heat between the drapery and the window.
  10. Locate your attic access hatches, and if they are inside the air-conditioned/heated part of the house, insulate and weatherstrip them. You may be able to get an insulation batt remnant from a friend, a construction site (with permission!), or a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Cut to size and attach to the attic side of the hatch with spray adhesive. Apply stick-on foam weatherstripping around the edge of the opening, and you’re good to go. Less unconditioned air will escape from the attic.

And here’s a bonus idea, which you may be able to do yourself, but may not want to: add insulation to your attic and seal your ducts and return air supply. Both involve crawling around in a generally pretty uncomfortable space and both require having some knowledge about what you’re doing. Give it a go on your own, or call a professional, like Smart Air’s weatherization crew. If you’re an Austin Energy customer, Smart Air can help you to qualify for rebates on insulation and duct sealing as well.