Simple improvements help conserve energy, cut costs
With the recent hike in energy costs, people are looking for ways to conserve energy and cut costs. There are many ways to reduce energy waste, often at no cost or discomfort. In fact, some simple improvements in older homes can yield large savings-savings in energy and money. Whether you keep your home for years or sell it next month, you have a golden opportunity to invest in your property at a high return and little risk. You can get your money back with interest.
Start saving energy by stopping leaks. Chances are your older home has some. Not water leaks in the basement but leaks of air. You may be heating or cooling all the air in your house over again every hour, or less. Leaks are more common in the older home; it often was built less tightly. Time has caused wear or warping, and dried out putty and caulking. These leaks can be worse in wasting energy than having no insulation, but they cost a lot less to fix. Leaks can account for up to one-third of your energy losses.
Where do you look for leaks? Windows and doors are a starting point. Most windows and doors do not fit tightly in their frames; they need some tolerance to operate. Weathe-stripping can seal these cracks without binding. Look for existing weather-stripping; is it missing or worn and ineffective? Check the putty or caulking around glass, and around the outside of frames. Is it old and dry, cracked or falling out? If so, the frame needs resealing. Poke around at the bottom of the siding, where it laps over the foundation. Is there a big opening there? Stuff it with foam rubber or insulation, or even old newspapers. Look at intersections of exterior walls or where a wall butts against a chimney. Do these points need recaulking? How about pipes, conduits or vents through outside walls? Any leaks around them? If bath ventilators go on with lights, they waste heat. Install separate switches.
Don't overlook hatches or doorways into your attic or crawl space. Use weather-stripping around all edges, the same as with windows and doors.
Caulking cracks and stuffing holes requires little skill. Caulking can be neatly done with a tube or gun applicator. Weather-stripping merits a second look. There are many varieties; they vary slightly in use and some are more durable than others. Follow the package directions.
This summer, you will want to exclude solar heat, and take full advantage of your windows as ventilators. If you have air-conditioning, keeping the sun out costs less than pumping it out. Many homes have roof overhangs, designed to exclude the high summer sun by shading south windows. A covered porch can do this too, as can tall shade trees. If you are blessed with none of these, there are some useful devices you can use. Exterior shades are most effective; all shades absorb some heat, so it is better if the shades are outside than inside the home. Louvered projections above the windows can be attractive and economical; you might do-it-yourself. These can be designed to block the high summer sun, but to admit solar heat in winter. Awnings are an alternative. Operable shutters are an old device; if louvered, they permit air circulation; if solid they reduce conducted heat. Louver-type insect screens are also obtainable, and can stop about 80 percent of sunlight in the south side. Interior venetian blinds or light drapes can reflect most solar heat, but heat they absorb warms the house.
East and west windows are more difficult to shade effectively since sun is lower, so they admit far more solar heat in summer months than a similar south window, old-time shutters will work, but they block both light and view. Most effective for east and west windows is a combination of tall deciduous trees, and lower protective shubbery. A vertical sunshade like a louvered fence can help. Interior venetian blinds or light drapes, again, reflect some heat but also absorb heat.
Both windows and doors are poor thermal insulators, and both lose a lot of heat by conduction. A single-pane window may lose 20 times as much heat as an equal area of well insulated wall. Double glass can cut this high loss drastically. In an older house, the least costly solution is to put on storm windows. They will cut conduction losses and reduce air leakage, too.
A solid wood door has about the same conduction loss as a wiadow with storm sash, but air leakage will be higher. In the colder regions, glass storm doors will save heat, but take longer than windows to pay for themselves. Combination storm doors (with screens) are a convenience and allow ventilation. If climate factors are extreme, hot or cold, consider replacing your doors with specially insulated ones, or adding solid wood storm doors.
A little investment of time and attention now, can produce big rewards this summer in beating rising energy costs.