10 Things You Can Do To Save Energy This Winter

Consumer Reports’ has ten different things you can do to not sweat over your energy bills this coming winter.
Anyone who followed our IDT-Energy debacle will understand why number 10 has a special place in our heart.

10. Avoid Energy Scams. Beware of pitches from door-to-door salespeople, unsolicited letters, and phone callers that promise to save consumers big bucks on their heating bill. Alternative power suppliers are unlikely to save consumers much money unless they are using lots of energy.

They also talk about programming your thermostat, sealing cracks, and replacing old windows.

Ten Things Consumers Can Do Now to Save Hundreds on Energy Costs [Kansas City infoZine News]

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  1. NTidd says:

    Does anyone know if that window and door sealant stuff works (by Tuff Stuff)? Almost all of my external doors are drafty.

  2. FLConsumer says:

    I don’t know what Tuff Stuff is, but simple caulk & expanding foam will do the trick.

    Also, look into the double-cell celluar/honeycomb shades. The real ones have an insulation value of R-7 to R-9. Glass has an R value of 0. (higher is better). As a bonus, these will also knock down the sound levels from inside your home as well as block noise from outside.

  3. Christovir says:

    I would also add a very useful tip for anyone with radiators (very common in the UK): stick some aluminium foil flat against the wall behind the radiator (taping it to cardboard first helps). It will radiate the heat back into the room, instead of losing a large chunk of heat into the wall. For the cost of a few pence, you can save £10 to £20 per year, per radiator. I could tell a big temperature difference in my house the same day I did this.

    I’ve also heard that mounting a shelf a few feet above a radiator will prevent the hot air from shooting straight to the ceiling and will help distribute it through the room somewhat more evenly.

  4. Sudonum says:

    @NTidd:
    I’m not sure what product you’re talking about either, But the materials that FLConsumer is talking about works well depending on where the drafts are coming from.
    One of the most common causes of door drafts is from between the door itself and the frame and/or threshold. To seal that area you need a door gasket or seal [www.amazon.com] and door shoe or bottom [www.amazon.com]

    They make similar items for windows as well.
    .

  5. lockdog says:

    @NTidd: Tuff Stuff and other expanding foams are great for sealing the gaps between door and window casings and the studs in your wall, but get the right stuff. The regular expanding foam is too strong and will bow the frames of your doors and windows. Buy the stuff specifically rated for doors and windows, it doesn’t expand as much. I really like the new water based expanding foams since you can rinse out the nozzle and save a partially used can. The regular expanding foam is good for piper and vent penetrations, sealing around your band board and any other major gaps you want to close up, but aren’t likely to be warped by the pressure of the foam.

    On a side note, Big Lots stocks lots of $1 tubes of caulk that are great for windows and all those tiny cracks, as well as the shrinking plastic film for windows. That stuff is awesome, and the combination of the three items have left me with gas bill hundreds of dollars lower than people in neighboring apartments.

  6. JiminyChristmas says:

    @FLConsumer: That’s not exactly the right way to look at it. People don’t have glass in their walls; they have windows. The heat transmission of windows is represented by the U-value of the assembly. A decent new window has a U-value of maybe 0.35, which equals about R-3.

    Likewise, if you have a honeycomb shade rated at R-7, adding that to your R-3 window doesn’t necessarily give you an R-10. The R-7 represents the insulative properties of just the shade material itself. In practice, there are gaps around the shade where it fits in the window jamb which leave a path for heat loss. So, you would probably end up with about an R-5 or 6.

    A common misconception is that if you buy a package of insulation that says R-11 and put that in your wall, you then have an R-11 wall. If the insulation isn’t installed flawlessly you can easily lose 20-50% of that insulation’s performance through gaps in that layer.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Last winter I noticed a draft blowing in through the vent fan in the bathroom. First of all this surprised me because I thought if anything the heat would escape up through the vent, not the other way around. Does anyone have any ideas on how to correct this, other than plugging the vent entirely???

  8. NTidd says:

    Thanks all, and for all that are wondering, “Tuff Stuff” can be purchased at Lowe’s or Home Depot, they have crack sealant (red can) and door frame (blue can) sealant.

  9. Jeff_McAwesome says:

    What’s that about selling crack?

  10. thepounder says:

    When I was growing up in MA, my Dad would put up a single layer of thick transparent plastic – much like the really thick plastic dropcloths you find at Lowe’s – over the inside of the window to keep out drafts. It’s useful if you live in an older houe I suppose. Not pretty but it works.

  11. FLConsumer says:

    @JiminyChristmas: Chances are that most people don’t have brand new windows in their homes. Even at that, most existing & new construction has regular single pane windows. The R-value of a typical single pane window is 0.9.

    Is any insulation perfect? For 90% of it, nope. The only thing I’ve seen which even comes close is the use of sprayed expanding foam, but even most of those installations are done incorrectly. I prefer 100% UNvented roofs, a.k.a. conditioned attics, with insulating spray foam directly to the underside of the roof deck, along with light insulation on the attic floor. This makes the attic part of the sealed envelope, eliminating energy losses from ductwork & recessed lighting air leaks. It also dramatically reduces the amount of moisture infiltration.

    Maybe vented roofs work well up north, but they cause a ton of problems down here. Ductwork insulation is usually R6 or less. So much for the R38+ you’ve installed. Then add in gaps between walls & baseboards, around electrical switches & outlets, recessed lights, around air vents, pipes, tc. With the unvented roof, this doesn’t pose a problem, but with the traditional vented roof systems, these are areas of outdoor air infiltration.

    Does this stuff work? Absolutely. I installed double-cell honeycomb blinds at my other home (high-rise condo) and it made a huge difference in my electrical consumption. The late afternoon sun used to absolutely heat the place up. Probably doesn’t help that 2 entire walls of that place are retractable glass panels. At my primary home, I’ve been making incremental improvements as my remodel project goes forward. New heat pump w/all new re-engineered ductwork, all wall & ceiling penetrations are being sealed as work is being completed. Still left are blinds, plenty of holes in the drywall from remodelling, and converting the roof system to a 100% sealed roof, but even without that, the difference in energy consumption is impressive. I’m down to 10kWh/day ($1.04/day) for an all-electric home. $31/mo ain’t bad for Florida in the summertime. Still shooting to cut that by another 30-40% or so. Not bad considering this place used to use 75kWh/day just a year ago.

  12. Don Roberto says:

    Do what we do: Open the windows and enjoy the fall. On the one or two frosty nights we have, just shut the windows. It rarely gets below 65 indoors with no heat. Oh and move to the Texas Gulf Coast.. yap, forgot to mention that one.

  13. FLConsumer says:

    @Don Roberto: But that means living in SE Texas. :P

  14. aikoto says:

    Am I from an alternate universe? This topic is coming up everywhere recently, but no one mentions the clear window plastic you can buy at any store this time of year? When we sealed all our windows one year, we had to rip one open to get cool air. The only heat we had was from the neighboring apartments and we couldn’t keep cool!

  15. kimsama says:

    @jeremyduffy: Yeah, I use that stuff. thepounder mentioned it too. Good stuff, but it’s ugly. I have a crappy ancient apartment with single-pane windows, so it make a big difference.

  16. @FLConsumer: We have insulated curtains, which help a lot (winter and summer, actually; keeping heat in and keeping it out). I don’t know how they compare cost-wise to honeycomb blinds but they went up where the ugly existing curtains that came with the house were, so it worked nicely. :)

    @Sudonum: Lazy/easy version if the draft is at the foot of the door is one of those draftblocker snakes for $5.

    @littlejohnny: If it’s a metal vent, you can get a magnetic sheet to stick over it at any hardware store. I know a lot of things that are set into the ceiling (altho you don’t say if it’s in the ceiling, I’m just guessing), like can lights and vents, are often improperly insulated/sealed, and you can often feel the cold air coming off them in the winter, but I don’t have the vaguest idea how to fix that kind of thing. :)

    @thepounder: They make a version of this that you put on the windows and blow a blow-drier at, and the heat sort-of shrinks it to the window. Looks less-bad than plastic sheeting (if you do it perfectly, it’s hardly noticeable). My neighbors do it, but I’ve never done it myself.

  17. savvy9999 says:

    I used the shrink-with-a-blowdrier plastic stuff when we rented a 1880s Victorian in Madison, WI. That stuff rocks. It’s a little time consuming to put in right– about a 1/2 hr per window, esp if they’re big– but when it’s installed and shrunk properly you can barely notice it’s even there. Clear as glass and works very well. Before, used to wake up some mornings with ice on the inside of some old windows, afterwards everything was quite toasty.

  18. kellyhelene says:

    @thepounder: There’s various kits for those, too. I personally prefer the 3M one (although I hate that they sell a window kit and a glass door kit, even though they’re identical other than the picture on the box and the price tag. Their window plastic is one big sheet you cut to fit.)

    Winters in Buffalo can get a bit fierce, everyone I know uses this stuff. Even corner stores and nasty city lotto/smokes/40s marts carry the kits once November rolls around.

    I also know people who will go get that foam sheeting insulation, the kind with the silver shiny outer layer, and sandwich it between the window and the plastic. Yes, you’re stuck without sun all winter. But when you’re talking about 4 degree days and 120 year old windows it’s not too bad a tradeoff.

  19. Consumers can slash home heating costs by up to 20 percent per year by decreasing their home’s temperature by 5 to 10 degrees during the night or when no one is home.

    Don’t you just love that? “Save money on X by using/buying less of X.” Um, duh?

    Shouldn’t whether you lower at night depend on how long you sleep or does it cost more to do so at certain times of the day? Wasn’t there an article here about how the cost of electricity varies throughout the day?

  20. @Rectilinear Propagation: “Wasn’t there an article here about how the cost of electricity varies throughout the day?”

    Depends on your utility. In a lot of places, residential rates are fixed and only commercial rates vary during the day. (Residential rates are more likely to vary seasonally; and of course electricity may vary but natural gas may not, or vice versa.)

  21. RandomHookup says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation:

    True, but lots of people don’t turn down their thermostats at night, not realizing they really don’t need it and may be more comfortable with cooler temp. That’s why I installed electronic thermostats with timers in my house.

  22. kellyhelene says:

    @RandomHookup: Very true. We turn ours down to something like 55 when I leave for work, and my roommate cranks it back up when he gets home. Knocked like @20 a month off our bill when we started doing that.

    Although that doesn’t even begin to cover how much natural gas has gone up. Nice to see we used far less last year than the previous, and still paid significantly more.

  23. marsneedsrabbits says:

    “programming your thermostat”?
    To do what, exactly?
    It goes up, it goes down. We can make it go low at night (or whenever) automatically. We can make it shut off after a specific period of time.
    What else is there?

  24. FLConsumer says:

    @marsneedsrabbits: The better thermostats can predict how much heat will be needed to reach the desired temperatures, without excessively running. On these, you tell it to be 72F at 6pm and it WILL be 72F at 6pm. Many thermostats will just start at 6pm if it’s set that way. There’s also many thermostats which used a fixed # of degrees per hour for the “recovery” period, which tend to use more heat than necessary.

    @Rectilinear Propagation: Yep, ultimately, that’s the equation. It’s just a matter of figuring out how best to get there without it being a major inconvenience or freezing your ass off. I don’t know about other people here, but the majority of the US pays the same rate for electricity regardless of the time of day. The local power company offers a time-of-day plan here, but their off-peak time is so limited that it’ll cost just about anyone more money, even those who have unoccupied vacation homes here.