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PAGE LINKS: Tip of the Month Archive 

Fall 2004

Relief from Rising Energy Bills

Across the nation the leaves have fallen, days are shorter and nights are distinctly chilly. The heating season has begun and consumers are starting to see the impacts of escalating energy costs. Heating oil prices are projected to jump nearly 40% compared with last year, propane is forecast to rise by 26% and natural gas by 23%. Since heating costs comprise nearly half of the energy consumed in a single family home, this economic punch will hit consumers at all income levels.

[IMAGE: Chart of home energy use.]Consumers: Before you consider a second or third job to pay your utility bills, consider the following PATH tips and technologies as protection against soaring energy costs.

Builders and Remodelers: Improve the value of your services by incorporating energy efficiency into your projects. A great tool to help improve efficiency during a remodeling project is HUD's Energy Efficient Rehab Advisor.

Choosing to incorporate energy efficiency measures in homes provides insurance against rising costs. Energy efficient technologies require less energy to operate, which reduces the home's consumption and, ultimately, the energy bill. Incorporating efficient technologies and practices will help reduce the nation's dependence on fossil fuels and avoid harmful environmental impacts. With all these benefits, why choose anything else?

Start with the Basics: Weatherization

First: Stop the Leaks

Air infiltration through small holes and cracks may contribute to as much as 30% of your home's heating and cooling costs. Infiltration not only wastes energy and money, it contributes to moisture, noise and dust problems.

Check for signs of air leakage. One telltale sign of air leaking into your house is finding dirty spots in your insulation. Drafts are also a clear sign of leakage. Hold an incense stick near suspect areas and watch the smoke for the source of the draft. Areas that may have significant leaks are near the attic, crawlspace or basement, and around windows, doors and chimneys. Plumbing chases, electrical outlets, attic accesses and dropped ceilings are other likely suspects.

Caulk and seal any exterior penetrations and weatherstrip doors and windows that are leaky. Holes in the envelope of the house should be repaired from largest to smallest.

Air sealing should be performed before insulation is added as gaps and cracks in the wall will allow air passage, decreasing the effectiveness of the insulation.

Although you may want to hire a professional to perform a thorough inspection of the house, air sealing is something you can do yourself. There are several materials that may be used for air sealing, depending on the purpose.

For larger areas:

Learn about ENERGY STAR home sealing

Also consider adding interior storm windows, which can reduce window air leakage by improving the overall window assembly's insulation value.

Second: Keep the Heat In - Insulate

[IMAGE: Insulating ducts and floors saves energy and improves comfort.]Insulation is a cost-effective way to save energy and improve comfort. Insulation provides additional benefits including noise reduction, fire resistance and safety. It's not just your walls that need insulation - attics and floors over unheated areas are particularly important areas to insulate. And don't forget your ducts!

There are four basic types of insulation: loose fill, batts and blankets, rigid board and spray foam. Insulation levels will depend on your location. The most appropriate type of insulation to use will vary based on the type of construction, the extent of the project planned and applicable code requirements.

More on insulation from ToolBase

Department of Energy's map of recommended insulation levels

Third: Stay in Tune

A simple, annual tune-up can have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of your heating and cooling system. Installing a programmable thermostat can also produce big savings for a small investment. Also consider:

Select energy-efficient equipment when you buy new heating and cooling equipment. Look for the ENERGY STAR and EnergyGuide labels.

Leaky ducts are also a big source of loss. Your heating system may be working hard to heat and distribute air that never reaches its intended destination. Check your ducts for air leaks. You can conduct a visual check of your ducts to look for holes or separated joints. You may want to call a professional to identify hidden leaks. Seal duct leaks with fiberglass mesh and mastic, mechanical fasteners, or foil tape -- just don't use duct tape!

Consider PATH HVAC technologies for your home.

Learn about Home Performance with ENERGY STAR

Building New?

There is no better time to incorporate energy efficient technologies in your project than during construction. Technologies to consider for new construction include:

Composite Window Frames have high insulation properties and can help save energy. The frames conserve natural resources and are recyclable.

[IMAGE: Frost protected shallow foundations save money on excavation costs.]Frost Protected Shallow Foundations provide protection against frost while eliminating the need to excavate below the frost line.

HVAC Sytem within Conditioned Space improves energy efficiency, comfort, and health.

HVAC Proper Sizing Practice can mean savings in initial and operating cost of mechanical equipment and increased comfort to occupants.

HVAC "Smart" Zoning technology consists of dampers and electronic controls that attach to standard central air systems. By providing controlled damping at the base of each branch duct, multiple zones can save energy and increase occupant comfort and convenience.

Low-E Glass and Spectrally Selective Glazing allow more natural light into homes or other buildings, while controlling radiated heat, providing maximum energy efficiency and reducing heat loads in areas where cooling costs are high.

Optimum Value Engineering (OVE) refers to framing techniques that reduce the amount of lumber used to build a home while maintaining the structural integrity of the building. Using OVE techniques results in lower material and labor costs and improved energy performance for the building.

Radiant Barriers reflect radiant heat back towards its source, reflecting as much as 97%.

Additional Technologies to Consider

Aerosol Duct Sealing when used in conjunction with traditional methods of tape and mastic, makes heating and cooling ducts 5 to 8 times more airtight than tape and mastic alone.

Electrochromic Windows can be darkened or lightened electronically. These smart windows can control the amount of light and heat allowed to pass through windows and block the glare of the sun or provide instant privacy with the flip of a switch.

Geothermal Heat Pumps use the natural heat storage capacity of the earth or ground water to provide energy efficient heating and cooling.

Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) can help make mechanical ventilation more cost effective by reclaiming energy from exhaust airflows. HRVs use heat exchangers to heat or cool incoming fresh air, recapturing 60 to 80 percent of the conditioned temperatures that would otherwise be lost.

[IMAGE: Insulating concrete forms provide efficiency and strength.]Insulating Concrete Forms are rigid plastic foam forms that hold concrete in place during curing and remain in place afterwards to serve as thermal insulation for concrete walls. The foam blocks, or planks are lightweight and result in energy-efficient, durable construction.

Insulative Vinyl Siding gives vinyl siding a competitive edge by increasing its energy efficiency and enhancing its impact resistance.

Passive Solar Ventilation Air Pre-heater This durable exterior wall cladding system is designed to passively draw in fresh air, solar heat it, and circulate to the house interior. This creates an energy-efficient, well-ventilated indoor environment.

Photovoltaic Roofing is integrated right onto your house, taking the place of your existing roofing materials such as asphalt shingles or concrete tiles. PV roofing proves the same energy and environmental benefits as regular solar technologies, reducing the need for fossil fuels.

Radiant Floor Heating - Dry System Hydronic allows even heating throughout the entire floor. The heat radiates from the floor and warms objects near the floor as opposed to forced hot air that tends to rise to the ceiling.

Structural Insulated Panels allow builders to quickly construct an exterior building envelope that is strong, airtight, and energy efficient.

SIP Modular Housing By combining the time-saving advantage of SIP exterior walls with modular construction, a manufacturer achieves a durable, low-cost, energy-efficient product.

Additional Sources of Information:

Alliance to Save Energy's PowerSmart

Department of Energy's Building Technologies Program

Energy Efficient Rehab Advisor

Energy Savers - Consumer Tips


Field Test of Advanced Duct-Sealing Technologies within the Weatherization Assistance Program

Content updated on 9/13/2005

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