9 Energy-Saving Projects You Can Tackle in a Weekend
DIYers always have a long list of things to do, so we mean no disrespect when we suggest adding to it. We think these projects are good candidates for the top of those lists, though, especially since they can keep some extra cash in your pockets in the form of energy savings.
1. Weatherstrip Windows and Doors
If there's a way to get in, there's a way to get out, and since every home has a number of windows and doors, there are bound to be leaks somewhere. You don't need to have a full energy evaluation of your home (though it's probably a good idea) to find where the leaks are.
A simple test using a lighter around a closed aperture will let you know when a draft causes the flame to flicker.
Make those leaky spots go away with just a bit of effort and not too much money. The different weather-stripping have varying lifespans and costs. The most common ones you'll run across are:
V-Strip-Plastic or Metal
These are folded into a 'v' shape, creating a durable tension seal along the sides of double-hung windows or across the tops and bottoms of doors. They are easily cut to size and installed via peel-and-stick adhesive or by nailing them in.
Tubular Rubber or Vinyl
These come attached to wood or metal strips for convenient application via peel-and-stick adhesive or with screws through pre-drilled holes.
Looks pretty much like it sounds. It's a flat strip of plastic, steel, or aluminum that is mounted to the bottom of a door with screws. It keeps drafts out when the door is fully closed.
2. Seal Ductwork
Windows and doors aren't the only sources of air leaks. Leaky ductwork also causes energy loss, leading to inefficiencies that can significantly increase your energy bill. Unfortunately, you may not discover those seals need attention until you get an abnormally high energy bill, or the system becomes noisy during operation.
Check out our article to discover other indicators when your ductwork needs sealing so you can get those leaks under control. A little maintenance will help decrease your bills and improve the air quality in your home. And the reduced strain will help increase the overall life of your system—until you're ready to convert to a newer, more efficient model.
3. Install an Energy Efficient Water Heater
There are several options when shopping for a water heater. Tankless, solar, heat pump, storage/electric resistant—doesn't matter, they all do the same thing. Regardless of which one you choose, there are two numbers to keep in mind.
The Energy Factor (EF) refers to the overall efficiency of the water heater. The EF is found by comparing how much hot water is produced per unit of fuel on an average day. Choose a water heater with a high EF for the best efficiency.
Also, check the First Hour Rating (FHR) on each water heater you're considering. This tells you how well it performs under the stresses of typical morning and evening use, and is even more important than the size of the tank.
4. Air Seal Around Windows and Doors
But don't stop there. Install it around walls and floors, too. Not only will it produce energy savings, but it will also make your home more comfortable by keeping out insects, dust, and allergens. Small cracks and gaps of 1/4" and less can be sealed with regular caulking designed for outdoor use.
Gaps between 1/4" and 1 1/2" should be sealed with spray foam that expands to fill in the negative space. Anything greater than 1 1/2" will require a backer to properly seal out the weather.
5. Upgrade Your Fridge
We're all about being frugal and using things until they've exhausted their useful life, but when it comes to refrigerators, the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" doesn't make sense.
Simply put, that 10-year-old fridge you got as a wedding present now uses about twice as much energy as a new Energy Star certified one. We know, it's hard saying goodbye, so take a moment to reminisce the good times while you're emptying it out, and awaiting delivery of the new fridge.
To get the most savings possible, look for the highest Energy Star rating in your price range, preferably with a top mounted freezer that uses 10%-25% less energy than those with a bottom freezer or side-by-side doors.
6. Install a Smart Thermostat
Smart products have become a common thing in homes today, and not just because of the convenience of controlling the apps on your phone. Products like smart thermostats collect data to better provide info for added cost savings.
With sensors that detect when people are up and about, you can heat/cool areas when they are occupied, and automatically adjust temps to save energy when those rooms are not in use.
7. Check Insulation
It's not the most glamorous of upgrades. Not like a full kitchen or bathroom remodel that everyone can enjoy on a daily basis. But properly insulating your attic, crawlspace, and exterior walls will make your home a much cozier place to be, while saving you some serious cash during extreme weather months.
When shopping for insulation, search for a high R-Value, at least R-13 for exterior walls. R-Value measures how well the insulation keeps heat from leaving the house in winter, and entering the home in summer.
At the very least, if you discover your insulation doesn't need to be replaced, this task has at least given you the opportunity to check the attic and crawlspace.
A quick look-see gives you the chance to see if there are any other items to address, such as any leaks that have sprung up, mold or dry rot, or even vermin finding housing in the far corners.
Any of these issues could potentially make your house unlivable. Thankfully, this little exploration allowed you to nip any potential issues in the bud.
8. Change Your Light Bulbs
It's a simple switch, and one with serious savings in the long run. Compact Fluorescent Lighting (CFL) or Light-Emitting Diodes (LED) last nearly 25 times longer and use about 75% less energy than regular incandescent bulbs. They typically cost more, but that initial cost is recouped with long-term savings.
9. Evaluate Your Heating and Cooling Needs
What we mean is, is it time for a new system? And do you need an HVAC or can you install an energy efficient heat pump? If your HVAC is more than ten years old, if it's often in need of repair, or if it can't seem to keep the temperature consistent, it's time to consider a new unit.
Your decision to install an HVAC vs. heat pump boils down to your climate. In moderate climates, heat pumps are a good decision. They are able to use the air outside to heat and cool the home. In areas of extreme climate shifts, a heat pump can't pull enough heat from the outside air, making it an inefficient choice.
If you've opted for an HVAC, while you're shopping, think about whether or not you can get away with a smaller, more efficient unit. And don't let price be the only number you look at. A higher Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) will give you more comfort during the season.
The Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) will indicate the efficiency of the unit during the heating season.
Small Ways to Save Energy
These include things you can do on a daily basis as part of your improved energy-saving lifestyle. They might not seem significant, but together as a whole will make a difference.
Turn up the Thermostat
Air conditioning is absolutely necessary in some areas. In others, not so much. For those of us who work from home, there's absolutely no way we'd be able to function without this creature comfort.
Unfortunately, the energy savings don't kick in until the thermostat is set at 78 degrees in summer, and 68 degrees during the winter. Both are at the edges of discomfort when it comes to indoor settings, but there are some things you can do to keep from overheating/freezing:
You still have to eat when the temps rise, so instead of turning on the stove/oven, stick with cooking outdoors. Or commit to a salad or something similar that doesn't require a heat source. Find a spot on your deck that gets a cool breeze and enjoy dinner al fresco.
Cooking won't be an issue in the winter. Bake some tasty treats. Experiment with new recipes. Enjoy the delicious smells, your culinary successes, and the emanating warmth from the kitchen when you're cozied up under a blankie on the sofa.
Close/Open Curtains and Blinds during the Day
With the thermostat set at 78, it might begin to feel a bit toasty. Even more so if you leave the windows wide open with the hot summer sunshine pouring into the house.
We all need that vitamin D, but get yourself outside and soak in the sun (responsibly of course, with plenty of SPF) rather than let it heat up the interior of your home. Instead, close the curtains and blinds to keep the heat at bay.
Even better if you've already installed thermal curtains and shades to act as a barrier to keep heat from getting through.
The winter is a different story. You'll do the opposite to take full advantage of any heat generated by the sun. Throw those curtains wide and bask in the presence of mother nature, all from the comfort of your window seat.
Pull the Fridge Away from the Wall
Seems like such a trivial thing, but proper clearance is necessary for the proper functioning of this kitchen workhorse. Without adequate circulation to help dissipate the heat, the fridge has to work harder to keep things cool. The harder it works, the more energy you consume, and the more money you spend.
And besides that, a fridge that works harder is more likely to encounter failures or breakdowns due to wear and tear, potentially leading to an expensive repair bill—or maybe even a whole new fridge, which as we've mentioned previously, may not be a bad thing. Just another reason to keep an eye out for energy saving models.
Lower Water Heater Temp
Water heaters are commonly set to 140 degrees as a default, but for better savings and safety from burns or scaldings, 120 is the standard accepted by the Department of Energy. But it's important to evaluate the needs of your own household before deciding.
Stick with 120 degrees if you've got young children who may get burned by the higher heat, or if there are fewer residents whose constant use can put a strain on the capacity of hot water.
Unfortunately, the decrease in temperature may create an environment where legionella, the bacterial responsible for Legionnaire's disease, can thrive. For this reason, homes with immunocompromised residents should leave the temp at 140 degrees for increased safety.
This increased temperature is also better able to handle the increased water demand of a household with multiple residents.
Install a Smart Power Strip
With so many devices used as part of our daily lives, unless you've committed to wireless charging stations, cords are kind of a thing in our homes. If you've got a slew of cords, you've probably got a power strip.
Make sure it's a smart power strip. These little electrical octopuses allow us to plug in multiple devices, and can sense when a device has gone into standby mode. Why does this matter?
Because that device, even though it's off, is still sucking energy from the grid, kind of like energy vampires. If you're not using a smart power strip yet, no need to fret. Just add it to your ongoing list of things to do.
Your to-do list just keeps getting longer and longer, but a lot of savings is worth a little weekend work, don't you think?