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Making Your Home house
More Energy Efficient
by Gerry Ellsbury, Jr.

When it comes to energy efficiency, the expression, not paying to heat the neighborhood, may be more relevant than you realize. The money many of us spend on energy is warming the air outside our homes. If you really want to know whether this applies to your home, you could benefit from the assistance of a certified home energy auditor.

The cost of a home-energy audit ranges from $250 to $600. The U. S. Department of Energy's Energy Star Program, www.energystar.gov, provides a list of such persons. Trained to identify the greatest energy leakage in homes, these energy auditors suggest solutions that can save big dollars.

There are also free ways to begin examining your home's energy efficiency and to become an informed consumer at the same time. The Energy Star web site provides a home-energy yardstick. By plugging in your zip code, your utility history (found on the back of your bill) and the rough square footage of your living space, the web site will tell you how your energy use compares with your neighbors. This site also has a free online audit that points you in the direction of more targeted information and advice on saving energy.

In my 30 years of experience in building homes and designing renovations, I apply the following general principle to all houses: Keep the outside air and inside air separated as much as possible at all times. In other words, don't waste conditioned air that costs you money. The diagram above illustrates the typical locations of air loss.

Inexpensive Remedies
For Air Loss

Many locations of air loss can be inexpensively remedied by handy homeowners. Here are some suggestions:
1. Weather strip leaky exterior doors.
2. Foam caulk or use regular caulking around electric outlet boxes (behind the cover plates) and along drafty baseboard trim.
3. If your basement is unfinished, caulk at the top of the masonry foundation where it meets the wood plate.
4. Be sure the flaps of the exterior vent caps of the clothes dryer, bath fans and kitchen exhaust fan operate smoothly: opening when the fans are on and closing as completely as possible when fans are off.
5. Close your fireplace flue vent when you are not using it. Glass doors on the fireplace greatly reduce winter heat that travels up the flue when the fireplace is not in use.

Slightly More Expensive
Energy Efficiencies

Other energy efficiencies can be implemented for modestly more money:
1. Have an insulation company increase the insulation throughout your house, if your audit indicates a need. A good company will provide labor and material for the costs of what a retail customer has to spend for just the materials. Professionals also have the know-how and materials to insulate around recessed lighting without trapping too much heat when the lights are on, which can cause the lights to malfunction.
2. Install a thermostatically controlled attic fan that effectively removes summer heat buildup, reducing your air-conditioning costs.
3. Replace the attic access door if it doesn't seal well.
4. Install storm windows and doors or consider replacing inefficient windows and doors.
5. Patio doors are often cold in the winter months. Thermal drapes can be a useful option.

External Optionsporch
For Energy Efficiency

There are a number of external options homeowners can invest in to increase energy efficiency:
1. Porches with roofs on the south side of a home shade the house and its windows.
2. Evergreen cedars, or other trees, can be planted to act as a windbreak on the windward side of your house.
3. If you are planning on any renovation, consider reducing the number of windows on the windward side of your home.
4. Another example of incorporating energy efficiency in any planned renovation could include the use of Mexican Salteo or other thick ceramic tiles for flooring in a sunroom. Such a heavy mass would absorb passive solar heat during the day and keep the room warmer than it would be otherwise.

Comparing the amount of time and/or money spent to the amount of money saved is always the value lens through which these strategies should be evaluated. Start with the Energy Star Web site and be reassured that it is easier to save money on home heating and cooling than you probably realized.

Gerry Ellsbury Jr. is the owner of Plumb Square Builders LLC in Chevy Chase
gejm@mindspring.com
, 301-585-2782.


This article was posted in the January 2009, mc InSight magazine

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