Rather not sport an Olympic-size heating bill this winter? Put a few of these energy-saving tricks in play (and look for our Guide to Getting Cozy in October), and you’ll cut costs while staying as warm as that runner with the torch.
1. Have HER Do It Most of these jobs are dummy-proof, but if your idea of a screwdriver comes in a glass, hook up with a pro. Find a home energy rater (HER), about $250-$600 per visit, or call your local utility company (sometimes free) to pinpoint where your home’s wasting energy and how to fix it (or who can fix it). You’ll likely make your money back in savings during the first year, postrepairs. Find a HER here.
2. Switches of Eastwick Cheap and easy: Use AM Foam Outlet and Switch Gaskets (just $0.10 each) to block drafts around your outlets and light switches. Just take off the cover plates using a flathead screwdriver (or our version of one: a butter knife), place the precut foam seal over the outlet or switch, then put the cover plates back on and done. Get ‘em here. 3. Look Who’s Caulking Again, no hard hat needed. Close up small cracks (half-inch wide or less) around windows, doors, vents, anywhere air can filter through (esp. where two different building materials meet) with caulk like nontoxic Chemlink Mean Green Universal Constructive Adhesive ($5/10 ounces). To find a draft, slowly move an incense stick along floors, walls, and windows and notice where the flame flutters or smoke drifts. To seal: First, make sure the area’s clean and dry, then squeeze the tube of caulk along the crack (kinda like decorating a cake). Smooth it with a wet finger or just let it dry. Seal as many as you can to boost your home’s heat efficiency by 5%-30% a year. Get it here.
4. Weather Striptease Even if you’re already lining the bottom of your doors with a homey draft snake (see SF’s DIY version here ), you can take things up a notch by lining the top and sides of your entry door with weather stripping. The strips come in different sizes and styles, depending on your door size and climate. For cold climates, nail-in strips such as the ones in ACE Weatherstrip Spring Metal-Kit ($12/one 1/8-inch-by-17-inch strip) work best, since they don’t expand and last longer than self-adhesive rubber ones. Just measure the edge of your door (where it meets the frame) to find the right size strip and nail the strip along the edge. Find Ace’s here or talk to your hardware person about what’ll work for you.
5. Regularly Scheduled Programming Forget to turn off your heater before heading to work? Let a programmable thermostat remember for you – just install one like the Hunter Set and Save ($22), and program it around your schedule so it turns off when you’re out and turns on when you’re in. It can save you up to $150 and chip away at about 1,800 pounds of CO2 each year. It’s pretty easy to install too (30 minutes tops) – if you’re up for DIY, grab a hammer, screwdriver, and drill (or someone who knows how to use ‘em better), and follow the instructions here (PDF) after you get one here.
6. Blanket Statement Try wrapping your gas, oil, or electric water heater in a giant tea cozy, like the Water Heater Blanket R5 ($19). It’ll keep your water hot longer so your heater doesn’t need to work as hard (hot water accounts for 12% of your utility bill so every bit helps). Fits up to a 60-gallon tank (most are about 40-50 gallons), and will usually pay for itself in energy savings within a year. Get it here.
7. Dr. Fil-ter Dirty or blocked furnace filters prevent airflow and force your furnace to use more energy – they also trap in air pollutants like bacteria, mold, and pollen. Better: Instead of replacing yours every 1-2 months, go for a permanent filter, like the Permatron DustEater Electrostatic Furnace Filter ($62), and just rinse it every month or so. It’ll trap about 91% of pollutants and reduce waste because it never needs replacing. Get it here. 8. Pipe Dream Another easy one for the handy-handicapped: Insulate your water pipes with pipe foam, such as MD Tube Pipe Insulation ($4/12 feet). It sort of looks like a foam straw with a slit on the side – just wrap it around pipes attached to your water heater, under your sink, in crawl spaces, anywhere they’re exposed and feel warmish (that means heat’s escaping). If you live in an area where pipes can freeze and burst (early Christmas for your plumber, not so great for you), wrap all pipes, including outdoor ones. Get some here.
9. Win-Win(dow) Situation If you’ve got single-pane windows in single-digit temps, install EnergySavr Window Inserts ($45-$99/insert) – clear, lightweight window insulators. They’re way cheaper than replacing windows with new Energy Star windows (tho’ if you can swing it, that’s a better long-term option and you can score a tax credit ), plus they can lower your heating costs by 50% and require no tools to install in most cases. Just pop ‘em inside the window frame (they’re custom made) and the foam strip around it expands to seal it in place. You’ll need to push in and out to open windows, but you’ll get better coverage than just caulking. Get ‘em here. 10. Better Insulate Than Never If you really wanna go all out (way out), install eco-friendly insulation, like Bonded Logic UltraTouch Recycled Cotton Insulation (prices vary), to unfinished attics and basements and crawl spaces (grab a bug catcher first, or better: hand it over to your installer). You can DIY tho’ (here’s a demo ). The stuff’s made with 85% recycled textiles like jeans instead of itchy, cough-inducing fiberglass and you can save $245 a year. Get it here.