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Saving Money, Saving Energy

by Paul Scheckel, Author The Home Energy Diet (New Society Publishing, 2005)

Over the past 12 years, I've had the enjoyable job of performing energy audits in thousands of homes, both new and old.I like to tell people that energy efficiency shouldn't be a hardshipó in fact, it can be very rewarding. Not only is increasing the energy efficiency of your home the first step toward a sustainable use of fuel and lower pollution levels, it also offers you greater security and independence by insulating you from volatile energy prices, along with lower energy bills, and can make your home a more comfortable place to live. Heating costs vary according to the type of heating system you use, the amount of insulation in your house and the climate where you live, but there are some steps nearly everyone can take to reduce their use of heating fuels.


Think of your thermostat as a valve between your fuel supplier and your wallet. For every degree you reduce the temperature, you can save as much as 3 percent of your heating energy. A ten degree setback over 8 hours can cut your heating bill by up to 10 percent. When you use a programmable thermostat, you save energy without even thinking about it -- simply adjust the settings once, and it will turn down the temperature automatically at night and while you're away at work. Keep in mind that it doesn't take long to heat your home, so when you program the thermostat, allow only about 15 minutes to return the temperature to a comfortable level. Never adjust the thermostat above the desirable temperature; it will not heat your home any faster. Some heating systems have multiple thermostats, with each one providing temperature control to a heat "zone" in the house. If you are installing a new heating system, make sure you have enough zone control to keep seldom-used areas of the house at cooler temperatures. It's easier to create heating zones with a hot water boiler than it is with a hot air furnace.


Older windows are often big energy wasters. If the sashes and frames are rotten, then it's time to think about replacement. If you're ready to invest in new windows, always look for the Energy Star label, indicating an efficient choice for your climate. But before you buy, you should know there may be more cost-effective improvements you can make to your existing windows.

When assessing the condition of your windows, look first at how tightly the windows close. Any drafts you feel when standing next to a window are likely due to air infiltration around the window frame or sash perimeter. Address drafts by installing sash locks and weatherstripping around the perimeter of the window. For double-hung windows, consider side-mounted sash locks that pull the window tight to the sides of the frame, not just where the sash rails meet. If you remove the inside trim surrounding the window, you will see how it was installed into the framing cavity. There is probably an air space between the house shell and the window frame. This gap can cause significant air leakage and should be sealed. If the gap is not too wide, then it can be sealed with caulk, backer rod or non-expanding spray foam (expanding foam can cause the frame to bulge). If you have windows with ropes and pulleys, install pulley seals to stop air infiltration there. You can also greatly reduce heat loss through windows by covering them at night with window quilts, heavy drapes, or insulation. Make simple window quilts by sandwiching a piece of bubble-wrap insulation between two pieces of cloth material, which can be rolled up and down as needed, or you can buy window quilts and quilt kits from The Warm Company.

You can also feel cold next to a single pane window because the window sucks heat away from your body. The solution is to install a storm window that is well air-sealed to the building, adding an extra layer of insulating air between you and the outdoors.


A typical heating system will last about 20 years. If yours is 20 years old or more, then it is a good candidate for replacement: Efficiency can range from about 60 percent in older equipment, to 95 percent or higher in modern systems. The Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) is a standardized test of a heating appliance's overall efficiency and is listed on the yellow Energy Guide tags on all new heating equipment. A boiler AFUE rating of 85 percent or better qualifies it for the Energy Star label, while a furnace requires a rating of at least 90 percent to receive an Energy Star label.But before you buy a new heating system, consider low-cost maintenance and relatively inexpensive upgrades, which can bring you significant energy savings whether you have a furnace, a boiler or a combination system.

Preventive maintenance is the best way to maximize the efficiency and life of your heating system. It is a good idea to have your heating system professionally cleaned and tuned each year, but there are some things you can do yourself:

  • Use your fireplace only in the spring and fall. If you need to run your furnace or boiler to stay warm, be sure your fireplace damper is tightly closed to prevent heated air from escaping up the chimney.
  • Keep any air registers, grills, radiators and baseboards clean and clear. Furniture, drapes, dirt or other obstructions will only block heat.
  • If you have a steam boiler and there is noise coming from one of the radiators, or it isn't producing heat, then you need to bleed trapped air from the line.
  • If you have a furnace, regularly clean or replace the air filter. This needs to be done whenever you can see dust building up, which may be once a month or more during the heating season. If the air handler (the blower fan) is used for air conditioning as well, then service the filter throughout the year.
  • Clean the furnace blower motor and fan blades when you change the air filter. Only do this yourself if you're completely sure you have shut off the electricity to the furnace. The fan is usually behind the air filter, but check your owner's manual.
  • Seal gaps and connections in ductwork with foil tape or mastic, and insulate ducts. Keep the heat where you want it!
  • Check for soot, rust and corrosion in, on and around the furnace and on the floor surrounding it. Such signs indicate that the system requires immediate service.


Think of air-sealing efforts as a windbreaker on a cold day, and insulation as a sweater -- your home needs both. Air leaks in a building are often the biggest source of heat loss and generally not costly to repair. How do you find the leaks? Sometimes you can feel the drafts, or you can find them by walking around the perimeter of each room with a smoking incense stick on a windy day and watching the direction of the smoke. Most air leaks are hidden and the best way to find them is to hire an energy auditor with specialized equipment to measure and pinpoint air leakage. Some local utilities and state energy programs offer free energy audits, so check to see what services are available in your area. Once you have identified air leaks, there are many inexpensive options for air-sealing improvements. These can include using caulk to fill gaps no wider than half an inch, expanding spray foam or rigid foam boards for larger gaps, adding weatherstripping around windows, doors and attic hatches, and putting foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates. Some of the larger air leaks are probably around chimney and plumbing chases between the house and attic. Spending what may seem like a large amount of money to upgrade insulation in a new or existing home can offer significant savings during the long-term ownership of your home, as well as offer the immediate gratification of increased comfort. If your budget is limited, then attics are an easy place to put more insulation at a minimal cost. Many attics can be insulated to recommended levels for only $200 to $500, but seal the air leaks between house and attic first. And while you're at it, don't forget to lower your water heater temperature and install low flow shower heads.

Adapted from The Home Energy Diet: How to Save Money by Making Your House Energy Smart by Paul Scheckel (New Society Publishers, 2005). For more information about this book, contact Stephen Morris .

Buy this book TODAY!

"Iíll start tomorrow." How many times have you or someone you know said that about a diet? We know we should do it, we know itís good for us, but we simply donít like change, especially when we think it will hurt. Donít lose another opportunity to save today by waiting until tomorrow!

buy from Amazon.comcover: Home Energy Diet by Paul Scheckel paperback - 304 pages
Width: 6" x Height: 9"
Weight: 490 Grams
House & Home / Design & Construction
Publisher: New Society Publishers
ISBN: 0865715300
published 1 May 2005

$CAD 25.95
$USD 18.95

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