Home improvement projects for energy efficiency provide both immediate and long-term benefits to the homeowner. Not surprisingly, most people are more interested in the immediate advantages, especially the savings.
If you’re living in a home built in the 20th century, you’re probably experiencing the lower efficiency typical of that era. Unfortunately, you’re not receiving 20th century utility bills, however. Rates have steadily climbed over the past decade and there’s no indication of a downturn any time soon. Today, energy for heating and cooling alone accounts for more than half of your household operating costs. Home improvement projects for energy efficiency that target HVAC-related energy consumption offer the best prospects for the most immediate savings and benefits.
Some of those include:
- Lower utility costs. Instead of a payback sometime in the remote future, you’ll probably start seeing the savings on your first monthly bill. The average home will benefit from at least a 20 percent reduction in operating costs and some will cut expenses by fully one-half. The more inefficient your house is now, the greater the improvement you’ll probably realize from home improvement projects for energy efficiency.
- Improved comfort. Occupants of energy-wasting homes often learn to live with drafts, rooms that don’t consistently heat or cool and even bad indoor air quality. The same proactive steps that lower energy consumption also plug air leaks to the outdoors, improve heating and cooling retention and stop infiltration of unfiltered air from unhealthy sources.
- Longer HVAC equipment life. In an energy-efficient home, furnaces and air conditioners carry a lighter load and run shorter “on” cycles. This reduces wear and tear and extends the expected service life of these expensive components.
You don’t have to do everything at once and you certainly don’t have to start with the most expensive home improvement projects for energy efficiency. In fact, some of the simple DIY projects at modest cost will produce the most immediate payoff in both improved living conditions and lower expenses. Starting from the beginning, here are some home improvement projects for energy efficiency arranged in order from the most doable yourself to the more labor-intensive work that generally requires the services of a professional.
Older houses were built to less stringent air infiltration standards than today. In many homes, structural gaps present when the home was new are joined by cracks and shrinkage that naturally occur with age. It all adds up to substantial air leakage with the outdoors. Heat seeps in during summer and leaks out during the winter. Here’s are some simple steps to locate leaks.
- Take note of drafts inside the home. You can also use smoke from a stick of lit incense held up to doors, windows and other likely sources of air leakage. If the smoke stream deflects, you’ve found an invisible air leak.
- Other less obvious leakage may occur at the ceiling around recessed ceiling lights or where ventilation pipes or plumbing vents pass into the attic. Similar openings may occur in exterior walls.
- The most subtle air leakage occurs at small cracks that develop in the intersection between walls and the ceiling, or along the long joint between the baseboard and the floor. Outdoors, the joint between the exterior wall and the concrete foundation is another suspect.
For indoor cracks less than 1/4-inch wide, use silicone caulking to fill the gap. Larger or irregularly shaped openings like those around pipes can be sealed with polyurethane spray foam in a can.
Replace worn or missing weatherstripping to seal around doors and windows. Adhesive foam weatherstripping tape available in a variety of widths and thicknesses provides the easiest and least expensive alternative. Vinyl or rubber bulb-style weatherstripping is more labor-intensive to install but seals better and lasts longer. Close that big gap beneath exterior doors with an aluminum or rubber door sweep and don’t forget to weatherstrip around attic hatches or pull-down stairs.
Heat energy wants to flow into your cooler home during summer, but you want to keep it out. During winter, the battle reverses. Heat you need to keep the home comfortable is trying to escape into cooler air outdoors. In addition to air leaks, heat enters and leaves the premises by conduction and radiation through solid surfaces like walls and the ceiling. Insulation is what helps slow it down.
Because heat naturally rises, attic insulation represents the front line of the battle against heat gain and loss. Fortunately, it’s also among the home improvement projects for energy efficiency that can be accomplished without a major renovation. New insulation can be added atop existing layers and different types can be mixed.
Attic insulation is conventionally installed in one of two forms:
- Fiberglass batts are blankets of fluffy cotton candy-like insulation pre-cut to roll out in the spaces between joists in the attic. Many homeowners choose to take on the job themselves. Be sure to wear a proper breathing mask and eye protection. The heat resistance property of fiberglass, expressed by its R-factor, is 3.2 per inch of installed depth. Here in western Florida, the Department Of Energy (DOE) recommends fiberglass insulation in the attic ranging for 12 to 18 inches deep.
- Cellulose loose-fill is the other major attic insulator. Composed of tiny bits of paper and fabric treated with fire retardant, cellulose is blown into the attic space through hoses under air pressure. Once installed, it looks like mounds of new-fallen snow and offers superior coverage and a higher R-factor of 3.8. However, because of the specialized equipment required, installing cellulose isn’t a DIY project. The recommended depth of cellulose for our climate is 8 to 16 inches.
But what about walls? An HVAC technician can perform a home energy audit that includes utilizing a thermographic camera to image heat transfer through walls. This is the only non-invasive way to estimate the amount and quality of insulation inside wall spaces. Generally it’s best to wait until a home renovation or remodel requires opening up the walls to install new insulation. However, in much older homes without any existing wall insulation, you may elect to have loose-fill or foam insulation injected through small holes. Either way, upgrading wall insulation is a job for professionals.
You’ll not be pleased to learn that you may be paying big bills to heat or cool the attic or the voids inside walls. Residential ductwork inevitably leaks an average of at least 20 percent of the heating or cooling it conveys, and that’s where most of it ends up. Usually not fabricated to the same high standards as commercial ductwork, home ducts generally begin deteriorating after about a decade of use.
The total span of ductwork in a house isn’t accessible or even visible to the average homeowner. Therefore, it’s hard to determine how much it’s leaking and exactly where. Any place you can visually inspect the ducts, look for obviously loose connections between segments as well as collapsed spans or any areas that have rusted or corroded.
Now, call in a qualified HVAC contractor and get a duct inspection and pressure test to quantify the exact extent of leakage and pinpoint the location of leaks. If action is required, he’ll discuss a professional duct sealing procedure including:
- Sealing all joints between spans with inner coating of mastic and foil-backed tape externally, then permanently securing joints with sheet metal screws.
- Removing and replacing deteriorated spans that can’t be repaired or crushed, collapsed sections of flexible duct.
- Insulating spans of ductwork that pass through hot or cold areas like the attic to a a level of R8.
- To seal tiny pinhole leaks, aerosol sealant may be injected to coat interior surfaces of the ductwork.
For help with the home improvement projects for energy efficiency that require qualified professional expertise, or just some experienced advice, contact Aqua Plumbing & Air.