Combining no- and low-cost weatherizing tactics with government and utility incentives can help raise or at least maintain the value of your home and slash your energy bills. You'll also help protect the environment.
Several energy-saving projects can reduce your heating bills this winter, according to our calculations. For instance, insulating the attic or basement is typically inexpensive and easy to do yourself. Adding attic insulation can lower your heating costs from 5 to 30 percent, according to a U.S. Department of Energy study.
Another simple measure you can implement right now is to drop the temperature setting on your household thermostat(s). For every degree you lower the temperature, you can save about 3 percent on your heating costs. Also consider lowering the setting 5° to 10°F when no one is home and at night.
Weatherizing you home can save you up to 30 percent on heating. And tests performed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the DOE showed that an aggressive weatherization program at your house can provide a 33.5 percent decrease in natural-gas consumption for space heating.
What's more, every dollar you shave off your energy bills with such home improvements can add more than $20 to the resale value of your home, according to a study by the Appraisal Institute. And a recent study by Seattle-based GreenWorks Realty showed that energy-efficient homes spend 18 percent less time on the market and sell for up to 37 percent more per square foot than conventional homes. (Consumer Reports has been leading the way on home-energy savings for decades, as detailed in "How to Cut Your Fuel Bill," from our August 1941 issue. As you'll see in this free PDF download—How to cut your fuel bill 1941.pdf—what's old is new.)
"We call efficiency the 'first fuel' that a homeowner consumes," says Suzanne Watson, policy director for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "Once you get that flowing, it cuts down your use of expensive secondary fossil fuels."
Cracks and crevices at all levels of your home allow expensive heated air to escape from your home; in an older house, those nooks and crannies can be the equivalent of a 2-square-foot hole in the side of the house. (Picture that.) But, estimates the DOE, proper weatherization alone can cut energy bills by at least 30 percent. Some utility companies provide free energy audits to pinpoint problem areas at your home; you can also find certified professionals in your area through the Residential Energy Services Network.
If you want to do the work yourself, look for dirty insulation, a sign of air movement that reveals other gaps you must fill. Also install precut foam pads to insulate electrical outlets, an often-overlooked source of cold-air infiltration and make sure you insulate holes in floors where heating and water pipes emerge. If you have steam radiators, place foil-faced insulation behind them to reflect heat back into the room. If your doors and windows are structurally sound there is no need to replace them. But you should replace any worn weather-stripping around doors and windows to cut drafts, which can make you feel colder and cause you to raise your thermostat setting.
Insulating your attic and/or basement with fiberglass or loose-fill insulation can save you another 10 percent on annual energy costs. Adding attic insulation can lower your costs from 5 to 30 percent, according to a DOE study.
"You can hire a contractor who installs insulation or buy it at a home center—R-38 as a minimum you want for an attic—and do the job yourself," says Jim Nanni, manager of the Consumer Reports appliances, recreation, and home-improvement department. (You'll spend about 20 to 50 cents per square foot to buy insulation.)
You'll also want to conserve the water and air you've already heated. Insulating water pipes with slip-on pipe insulation and your water heater with a special blanket reduces energy lost in storage and transport respectively. Ductwork is also a prime candidate for sealing leaks and adding insulation. The DOE estimates that 20 to 40 percent of the heating energy that leaves the furnace of a typical forced-air heating system is lost in the duct system.
Consumers in some states are benefiting from inviting incentives. National Grid is offering Massachusetts residents a 75 percent rebate on home-insulation upgrades done by approved contractors. And Washington State's Cowlitz County PUD will provide a 40-cents-per-square-foot rebate to electric-heat customers who install approved attic or floor insulation, pushing it to $1 per square foot for low-income residents. Visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency Web site for more details on federal and state and utility rebates for insulation and weatherization.
Install new windows
Installing new windows can save you 10 to 25 percent per year on heating if you have single-paned windows. But the high cost of replacing windows means their payback period might be too long to make then a viable financial choice. However, if you're planning improvements to your home or your windows are beyond repair, then efficient replacement windows are an important option. Windows cost $7,000 to $20,000 installed, for an average house, but again, numerous state and utility incentives are available—and there are lower-cost options:
* If the frame on an old single-pane window is structurally sound, level, and plumb, consider installing a storm window or upgrading just the sash to save money.
* Shrink-wrap plastic sheeting on windows you rarely open throughout the winter.
In our next installment of ways to save during heating season, we'll provide information on products that will help you save energy this winter, installation instructions for programmable thermostats, and much more.—Gian Trotta
Essential information: Use the Home Energy Saver calculator from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to determine the payback for your energy-saving investments.
1. The study by Seattle-based GreenWorks Realty concerns only homes in Seattle. It is a leap of faith to assume that because this is valid for Seattle homes it would be also valid for other parts of the country. As such, using this study to extrapolate for home sales for all parts of the country is not valid.
2. The study also concerns home built 2007 or later and does not taken into account homes built earlier. As such, it would not be valid to use this as a comparison for all homes, regardless of when they were built.
3. The consumer Reports article states, "sell for up to 37 percent more per square foot than conventional homes". "Up to" is the same as equal to or less" or "not greater than". The Consumers Union appears to be adapting a strategy of corporation figuring that readers will focus on the 37 percent and not on the "up to".
I would suggest that Consumer Reports enter this article in its magazine's Selling It page.
Infrared heaters are the rage. Have you had time to test them? I looked for them on this web site but didn't find anything.
I've found cutting my heating bill to be very beneficial to my homes value. I even did the full list of things at www.HowToHeatForLessMoney.com It was a great list of simple and easy-to-do things to make my heating bill drop by a few hundred dollars.
Also, www.SaveMoneyOnHomeHeating.com was a good site. I purchased 2 of the Magnon Fuel Conditioners after my neighbor installed his and told me how well they worked. Saved me about 175$ a year, and they're guaranteed to work for a lifetime.
-- Ben V.
I've been contemplating purchasing a Sunheat infrared heater?
Do you recommend? Do they work like they say?
We live in Arizona where heat is more of a problem, but attic insulation works the same way to keep heat out. I wanted to know if anyone has tried or heard about the insulated foil that goes on top of the insulation you already have. Does it work and is it worth spending the money on? - Linda in Tempe AZ
I purchased Eden Pure unit last Dec.08. Hype says it will cut heat bill by "up to" 40 or 50 %. My anual propane costs are approx 2200.00 in the past high cost years. Normal electric bill runs approx 60.00 month.
With use of mentioned Eden Pure, my propane use changed so little I was not able to note more than 100.oo saving for the winter. However my electric bill for January went to $180. The balance of winter it was in excess of $100. per month.
Any saving in propane were stripped away by electric bills.
The hype also says the unit will service an area of 1500 sq ft. That statement is also false. The area we kept heated with it was only approx 800 sq ft. We shut off other rooms except during sleep hours.
The reason I am posting today is the new add running on TV this evening. Claiming that "heat and electric" bills were reduced. By some unpaid consumer.
Oh, forgot to mention that I had spent $450. to have my attic insulation raised to approx R40 just before I bought the unit.
I also realize that winter or 08 was colder than some, and that the price of propane was higher than ever. And my test is not scientific by any stretch.
I do not make any claim other than my experience. And do not intend to encourage nor discourage anyone from purchase of this or any other product.
I too am an unpaid consumer.
I have a ranch home with a 14' x 16' family room. also it has a 8' ceiling.
Which is less expensive to operate to heat this room? A quartz heater or a ceramic heater??
The Electric company was NO help, I have NOT found any info in the consumer Book which I am a member.