Many homes require additional attic insulation.
By Fran J. Donegan (Special to Freddie Mac)
There are dozens of ways a homeowner can reduce their heating bills. The five presented here provide a good return on investment, are fairly easy to accomplish and are relatively inexpensive when compared with other energy improvements. The actual energy savings will depend on where the house is located and how energy–efficient the house is to begin with.
- Seal Heat's Escape Routes
The goal here is to keep the air you paid to heat inside the house. But warm air rises and looks for escape routes to the outside or an unheated attic. This is not something that insulation can stop. While important (see below), most insulations are not effective against moving air. The only way to stop the moving air is to plug the leaks.
Start in the attic. Look for anything that comes through the floor, such as a masonry chimney, a metal flue, pipe and wire penetrations, open soffits from below or the attic hatch itself. Use caulk, expanding foam that comes in a can, metal flashing, even rigid pieces of insulation to seal the openings around these items. Exercise caution when working in the attic, and be sure to use a sealing material that is designed for the specific application, such as high–temperature caulk to seal around a furnace flue, for example.
- Add More Insulation
Most homes have some attic insulation, but if you can see the tops of the ceiling joists, you probably need more. While insulation is not effective against moving air, it is effective against conductive heat loss, which is the transfer of heat from one molecule to the next. In fact, insulation and air sealing work together to reduce heat loss by as much as 15 percent. If you’re using fiberglass batts to increase the insulation levels, install unfaced batts to help prevent water damage from condensation. If you are not sure how much to add, here's the latest insulation recommendations based on geographic location.
If you're looking to finance energy improvements for your home, make sure you understand the terms and risks of each option.
- Service Heating Equipment
Heating equipment that does not receive regular maintenance loses efficiency, so you pay more to keep your house at a comfortable temperature. Have the equipment inspected and serviced before starting your heating system by a professional HVAC (heating, ventilating and air–conditioning) contractor.
A pro will cover a lot during a service call, but depending on the type of system you have, he will check fuel connections, change the required filters and inspect the system's combustion and heat exchangers. They also check for leaks and make sure the low–water cutoff and pressure relief valves on boilers are working properly. For your part, you can change the filters on forced–air systems regularly and make sure that furniture is not blocking heating vents and radiators.
- Install a Programmable Thermostat
Rather than keep the thermostat that controls your heating system at a set temperature all of the time, these devices let you program your heating system to deliver heat only when you need it. For example, if the house is empty all day, program the thermostat to automatically dial back the temperature when people leave for work and school. Then, increase the temperature when everyone returns.
Simple programs can save seven to 10 percent in heating costs. Newer versions learn your heating patterns, make adjustments based on outside conditions and can be controlled from your smartphone.
- Seal Heating Ducts
Forced air heating ducts that leak can make the system up to 20 percent less efficient. Check for leaks along your duct run, especially where sections join together, with an incense stick or even a piece of toilet paper. If the paper blows away from the duct or is sucked toward the duct, you have a leak. Seal leaks using duct mastic or foil–backed tape designed to ductwork. Don't use fabric-backed "duct" tape—it won't hold. Insulate any ducts that run through unheated spaces, such as attics, basements, garages and crawl spaces.
Taking these steps will help you prepare your home for all seasons, as well as save money on your energy bill.
Fran Donegan writes home– and garden–related content for numerous digital and print publications. He is the author of the books Pools and Spas and Paint Your Home. Fran also writes for The Home Depot, which carries a wide selection of insulation options.