Money, Energy and Asthma Saving Tips from David Green
David Green is the author of the books Zero Carbon® Home and Zero Carbon® Pool. Almost all the things I list below I have done on our own home. They helped us to get our home to a zero-carbon footprint, cut our heating and electric bills to zero and improved our indoor-air quality by reducing pollutants and particulates like PM2.5 better known as soot.
|1. Close the flue on the fireplace to stop your nice warm air and dollars from, literally, going up the chimney. You would probably be shocked at the number of people who leave the flue open, I should know, I was one of them.
|2. Lower your thermostat setting at night. Set it to come back up about an hour before you get up so the house is nice and warm by breakfast time. No one will notice, except you when you see the lower heating bills.
|3. Set the fan setting on the thermostat to “auto” from “on”. “On” means the fan is running all the time. “Auto” means the fan comes on only when the system is heating or cooling. A half-inch movement of the index finger can save you hundreds of dollars a year.
|4. Insulate the hot-water pipes in the basement. Buy the foam tubes from a hardware store (about $2 for a hollow six-foot tube of foam that is often black) and slip them on the copper pipes in the basement. Simple, cheap and very effective. Don’t use the foam tubes within 10’ of the furnace, instead use the tubes made from fiberglass which are a bit thicker and often white. Other than the ½” movement of the index finger above, this is probably the highest return on investment action you will ever take. It will probably pay for itself in a matter of weeks.
5. Contact Mass Save at https://www.masssave.com/contact/ and get a free energy assessment on your house. They give you free LED light bulbs, free or reduced-price thermostats, draft sealing and more. This is a necessary first step to getting 75% off the cost of insulation. You have already paid for this via a surcharge on your electric bill, so if you don’t use it you are just paying for everyone else to do it.
6. Replace incandescent light bulbs (the ones that get so hot you can burn your fingers on them) with LEDs. The first generation of LED light bulbs had rather harsh light, but current generation “warm white” LED light bulbs are indistinguishable from incandescent light bulbs with their warm glow. Mass Save will give you LED light bulbs for free.
7. Seal leaks in the ductwork in the basement. DO NOT USE DUCT TAPE FOR THIS! Use the shiny aluminum tape that is usually in the bin next to the duct tape at the hardware store. The glue on duct tape dries out over time and the tape then peels off leaving brittle tape and dried glue everywhere. It is a mystery why it is called duct tape. This aluminum tape is cheap and highly effective, so be generous and seal every leaking joint and hole in the ductwork.
|8. Insulate the ducts in the basement. This is harder than insulating the hot-water pipes but well worth it. The temperature difference between the air in the ducts and the air in the basement is about the same as the temperature difference between the inside of your house and the outdoors in the middle of winter. You would never build your home out of 1/16” thick steel sheets (what ductwork is make out of) would you? Keep the heat in the ducts and it will magically show up in the rooms. You can buy insulation made especially for this or you can wrap fiberglass around the ducts. Wear gloves, eye protection and a face mask (a surgical mask or N95 mask is fine) when doing this because fiberglass fibers can irritate. Do this after you have sealed up all the leaks using aluminum tape (see above) or you will have to take the insulation off to get to the gaps.
|9. Insulate the ceiling of the basement except over the furnace. Fiberglass batts push fit in between the floor joists on the ceiling of the basement. Wear gloves, eye protection and a face mask (a surgical mask or N95 mask is fine) when doing this because fiberglass fibers can irritate. I did this on our basement ceiling and it saved us almost $3,000 a year. Insulating our basement ceiling cut about 7 tons of carbon-dioxide emissions. That is roughly equivalent to taking three gasoline-powered cars off the road. Only its far cheaper.
|10. Insulate and add weather strips to the basement bulkhead doors. Un-sealed bulkhead doors retain heat about as well as a sieve holds water.
|11. Seal drafts where the wood framing of the house rests on the concrete of the basement walls with a few cans of spray foam from the hardware store. Be careful, this is fun enough to be addictive. You can easily detect drafts by watching the smoke from a jos stick. This makes the whole house smell nice too. The drafts will be strongest in winter when it is cold out and the heating is on. These drafts are not caused by wind, so you do not need to look for them on a windy day. These drafts are caused by the stack effect, which is where warm air rises to the top of the house sucking cold air into the basement.
|12. Install WiFi thermostats. It is much easier to set the temperature from your smartphone than having to get up and walk over to the thermostat. I know this sounds pathetic, but it is really true! If you are not comfortable installing thermostats yourself ask an electrician to do it for you.
|13. Put weatherstrips around the frames of your external doors. Very cheap, very easy, very effective. I particularly like the ones that are just a thin strip of white plastic that is creased along its length so that it is V shaped in cross-section. One side is sticky so you attach that side to the door frame and the V springs open a little to seal the gap.
14. If you have windows that face south and get a lot of sun in summer, installing blinds that you don’t mind having drawn in daytime will cut your bills. Shading these windows in summer will dramatically cut the solar heat gain from the window and so your AC system will use less electricity.
|15. Change your heating oil to BioHeat® 30 (which is 30% made from renewable sources of oil such as plant oils). It costs a few cents more per gallon than regular heating oil.
|16. If your roof is too shady for solar panels use NextAmp® (or another community source solar panel provider) to get your electricity at a 12.5% discount from the Eversource® rate. This electricity is 100% from solar panels installed in large arrays in Massachusetts. No mysterious Texas wind RECs here.
|17. If your fridge is more than about 10 years old, consider buying a new one. Old fridges are very inefficient and buying a new one can pay for itself in under two years with the savings on the electricity bill. The new one I bought, that replaced a 20-year old fridge, paid for itself in 18 months.
18. If your AC unit is more than about 15 years old, consider buying a heat pump rather than a new AC unit to replace it. New heat pumps are far more efficient at cooling than old AC units and heat pumps add heating (at 2.5x the efficiency of a furnace or boiler) at the same time. A heat pumps costs about 30-40% more than an AC unit but costs the same to install. If you buy it with the 0% interest 7-year Heat Loan then the additional cost of a heat pump over the cost of an AC unit is only about $3,000. Heat pumps play nicely with solar panels because solar panels can generate electricity from your roof at about 8c per kilowatt-hour. If you use this solar electricity to power your heat pump you will be heating your house at less than half what it costs to heat it with natural gas.
19. Add window inserts to the inside of your windows. These add an extra panel of glass or clear plastic making a single-glazed window into a double-glazed window and a double-glazed window into a triple-glazed window. They also seal out drafts. They are great option of you get drafts through your single-hung or double-hung sash windows. Sash windows are almost impossible to seal with draft-proofing strips and these window inserts pay for themselves in about 5 years with the savings on the energy bills, and faster if you have drafty windows today. They cost about $75 – $200 for a 10 square foot window.
20. Compost with Black Earth (or another local composter). They will pick up your compostable waste every week. You can also buy their finished compost and use it to grow juicy sweet tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and fruit all summer long. Trash to fruit, now that’s upcycling!
21. Add thick, pleated, lined curtains, or honeycomb shades to your windows. These can add R3-R5 to any windows. If your windows are drafty (as almost all sash windows are) then window inserts are probably better but if your windows are not drafty, then adding curtains or honeycomb blinds are cheap, easy and effective.
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