These are some of the highest bills in a household. If you are living off the grid, it is even more important to make sure you are not losing any heat!

Natural Home Cooling

Blocking the Heat
The most effective ways to block heat from entering your home are insulation, reflective barriers and shading.
Insulation: Insulating, caulking and weatherstripping are essential to keeping your home warm in cold climates, but they also help keep your home cool in hot weather. The attics of most homes absorb heat through the roof, and insulating the attic floor will keep this heat from radiating down into the house. Fiberglass insulation, at least R-30, is easy to install. The cost will be recouped quickly in lower energy bills throughout the year.

Caulking and weatherstripping doors and windows will also prevent warmer outside air from seeping into your home. The cost of these materials is very low and application is simple.

Reflective Barriers: An important consideration in passive cooling is house color. Dark-colored home exteriors absorb 70% to 90% of the radiant energy from the sun that strikes the home’s surfaces. Some of this absorbed energy is transferred into your home by way of conduction, resulting in heat gain. In contrast, light-colored surfaces effectively reflect most of the heat away from your home.
Another method for reflecting incoming heat is to install a radiant barrier. This foil-faced paper can be stapled to the roof rafters on the underside of your roof. To install, start by placing a few planks over the ceiling joists, which are the ‘floor’ of the attic; these serve as foot-boards to stand on while stapling the foil to the rafters above. You’ll have to move the foot-boards as you progress. Be careful not to step between the ceiling joists or you may fall through the ceiling; also be careful to not step near the ends of the foot boards or they’ll flip up. When stapling the foil to the rafters, space the staples about 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) apart to prevent air circulation from loosening or detaching the radiant barrier.
Shading: Shading is the simplest, most effective way to cool your home and reduce energy consumption. Up to 40% of the costs of cooling can be saved by shading techniques such as landscaping, and working the drapes and blinds.
Landscaping: Trees, vines and shrubs can be used to shade your home and reduce your energy bills. Trees or shrubs can also be planted to shade air conditioning units, but they should not block the airflow.
Trees: The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that just three trees, properly placed around the house, can save an average household between $100 and $250 in energy costs annually. To be most effective, trees should be strategically located on the south and west sides of your home. Deciduous trees are best, because they shade in summer and allow light and radiant heat to pass through in the winter. When choosing deciduous trees, ask your local nursery to recommend varieties which are native to your environment, fast growing and tall enough to be effective.
Vines provide shading and cooling, and are quick to grow. Trellises should be placed on the hottest side of the house, and blocked out at least 6″ from the wall to protect the wall and provide a buffer of cool air.
Certain vines, such as deciduous clematis and wisteria, grow well in containers where open ground is unavailable. Ask your local nursery which vines are best suited to your climate and needs.

Shrubs protect the lower portions of walls from heat gain by blocking sunlight. They also act as a windbreak in winter to help protect the house from cold air. Choose shrubs which are low maintenance and grow to a fixed height. Local varieties will do best.
Take care to locate trees or large bushes where their roots will be clear of underground wires, sewer lines or septic tanks, or the house foundation.

Rock walls, paved areas and rock features should be kept to a minimum on south and west sides of the home, because they increase temperatures by radiating heat.
Drapes and Blinds: Drapes and curtains made of light-colored fabrics reflect much of the sun’s rays and help reduce heat gain. The tighter the curtain is to the wall, the better it will reduce heat gain. Two-layered drapes are most effective for both summer cooling and winter heating. Blinds, although not as effective as drapes, can be adjusted to let in some light while reflecting the bulk of the sun’s heat. The more reflective side of the blinds should face outward.

Close south and west-facing curtains during the day for any window that gets direct sunlight.

Shade Screens: Exterior shade screens, also called “sun screens” “shade cloths” or “solar shields”, prevent sun from entering a window. These can be installed on windows exposed to direct sunlight. Shade screens are lightweight, durable and easy to install. Bamboo blinds can also be used as shade screens.

Unlike insect screens, shade screens are specially made to block between 50 and 90 percent of the energy striking the outside of the window. The term “shading coefficient” describes the amount of heat that penetrates the screen: lower numbers mean less energy gets through. While you can see through a shade screen, the view is obscured.

Removing Interior Heat
Thermal Chimney: Open the lowest windows on the side from where the breeze is coming. Leave interior doors open, and open the upstairs windows on the opposite side of the house.

The warm air in your house will draw upwards and out the upper window, an effect called ‘thermal siphoning’. This is most effective when the inside temperature is higher than the outside temperature.

Roof Vents: Ventilating your attic greatly reduces the amount of accumulated heat which otherwise radiates down into your house. Roof vents are inexpensive ($5 to $10 each) and easy to install. They should be located at each end of the roof and every 12′ between ends. Installing roof vents will not make your house cooler in winter; they will help remove moisture from the attic.
Ridge Vent: For even more effective attic ventilation, a continuous ventilation system, Coolvent, can be installed along the ridge, beneath the ridge shingles.

Coolvent is lightweight and durable, and it eliminates the need for turbines or louvered vents. It’s also designed to keep out bugs and wind-driven rain.
Coolvent comes in 20′ rolls, in several different widths, and can be installed by the homeowner on new roofs or as an easy re-fit to existing shingle-style roofs. With re-fits, you can lift the ridge shingles without damaging them by working in cool weather or early in the day.
Coolvent is available in building supply stores throughout the US and Canada. Cost is approximately $30 (US) per roll.

Ceiling Fans: Ceiling fans are efficient and use little electricity, less than 1/10th the wattage of air conditioners. Cost to run is approximately $1.50 per month vs. $20 per month for air conditioners. Ceiling fans can also be used with the air conditioner. The thermostat can be set 9 degrees F higher, for the same resulting temperature. This represents a savings of 30% of air conditioning costs and energy consumption.
Make sure your ceiling fan is turned for ‘summer’ — you should feel the air blown downward.
Ceiling fans are becoming popular as people become aware of the cost-savings benefits they offer. Available in lighting, hardware and home supply stores, many

Models are available with reverse rotation which can be used in winter to pull warm air down from the ceiling. Installation is fairly easy, within the skill level of the average home handyman.

Programmable Thermostats: You can save as much as 10% a year on your heating and cooling bills by turning your thermostat back 10% to 15% for 8 hours per day. You can do this automatically without sacrificing comfort by installing a programmable thermostat.
A programmable thermostat lets you adjust the times you turn on heating and air-conditioning. As a result, you don’t operate the equipment as much when you are sleeping or out of the house. Prices range from $30 to $50 depending on the features, compared to $10 to $20 for a standard thermostat. Installation is easy, especially if you’re replacing an existing thermostat.

Reducing Heat Sources
Heat generated from within the house can contribute significantly to the costs of cooling. Here are a few suggestions to help reduce or contain heat from within:

Turn off incandescent lights. Only 5% of the energy that goes into a typical incandescent bulb comes out as light. The remaining 95% comes out as heat! Switch to energy-efficient LED bulbs – they give off 90% less heat, as well as using 75% less energy. Initially more expensive, they are actually less expensive than incandescent bulbs in the long run because they use less energy and last so much longer.
Don’t place lamps or TVs near your air conditioning thermostat. The heat from these appliances will cause the air conditioner to run longer.

Cook with microwave, barbeque or pressure cooker. The microwave generates almost no heat, and is much more energy-efficient than the stove or oven. The pressure cooker generates less interior heat with relatively low energy consumption. The barbeque, of course, keeps the heat outside.

Reduce sources of humidity

Reducing humidity in your home results in less condensation on your air conditioner coils, saving electricity and lowering this hidden source of heat. To reduce humidity:
– vent clothes dryer to the outside
– use exhaust fans in kitchen and bathroom
– cover pots when cooking
– If you have a crawl space, cover any bare dirt with a plastic ground-moisture barrier

Seal off laundry room; line-dry clothes. Washers and dryers generate large amounts of heat and humidity. When possible, use them in the morning or late evening when you can better tolerate the extra heat. Seal off the laundry room when in use, and duct or vent the air to the outside of the house.
Use a clothes line to dry clothes. Dryers release a substantial amount of heat during operation; they also consume a lot of electricity. Toss your clothes in the dryer on fluff for a few minutes if line-dried clothes are too stiff.

Air dry dishes. This will reduce the heat generated by the drying cycle of your dishwasher. Wash only full loads to reduce machine use.

Insulate water heater. Water heaters radiate heat which can be easily contained by insulation. You can purchase a water heater ‘blanket’, or insulate the water heater yourself using faced fiberglass insulation and tuck tape. Be sure not to cover any vents. This simple technique will also greatly increase the efficiency of your water heater, resulting in lower energy bills.

Turn off hot water circulating pump in summer. If you have a hot water circulating pump for instant hot water at all faucets consider turning off for the summer. Most homes don’t have insulated water lines and you pay both heating the water and removing the heat from your home with your air conditioning, the small inconvenience is worth it for energy conservation.

Seal ducts and close basement doors. Many homes with central heating have ducts which run through the attic and crawl space. If the seams in these ducts are leaky, especially in the attic, they can draw in hot summer air which flows into the house, creating more of a load for air conditioners. Minor duct repairs are easy to accomplish, and usually involve folding or crimping the tin edges with a pliers. Ducts in unconditioned spaces, however, should be sealed and insulated by qualified professionals using the appropriate sealing materials.
Air ducts which lead to your basement should also be shut off, as this part of your house usually cools itself naturally. Keep the door to the basement closed, as cool air will settle down to the basement where it isn’t needed.

Ventilate with a window fan. If outside temperature is below 77°, a window fan can be used to replace hot indoor air. Locate fan on the downwind side with fan blades directing the air outwards. To enhance air flow, open a window in each room and be sure all interior doors are open.

Shut gas supply to fireplace and heaters. The pilot light generates a considerable amount of heat, and should be off during warm months. Re-lighting the pilot light in the fall is as easy as pushing a button on most units. Fireplace dampers should also be closed during the hot months of the year; this minimizes the loss of cooler air from inside the home.

 

Help With Heating

Draft Check
The one home improvement which saves the most energy with the least investment is draftproofing.

A simple way to locate outside air coming into your home is with a stick of incense. (Some hardware stores sell “smoke pencils” for this purpose.) Light the incense and inspect your home, from the inside, for air leaks. Choose a breezy day, and go around windows, areas where plumbing and wiring go through walls, attic doors, entry doors and fireplace dampers.

How much the smoke drifts horizontally from the incense will reveal how serious the leak is. Most leaks can be quickly plugged with exterior silicone caulk – be sure to caulk the leaks from the outside of the house, or moisture will build up inside the walls. Weatherstripping and door sweeps will fix the door leaks quickly and easily. For larger voids use easy to apply insulating foam.

Door Sweeps and Draft Guards
The warm air in a heated home escapes wherever it can. Under the door is the common site for heat loss or cold air entry.

Door sweeps are available at home supply stores for about $10. They can be installed without having to take the door off its hinges. Simply slide the sweep under the door and cut off excess length with a hacksaw. A few screws, provided with the sweep, hold it in place. Draft guards are also available to stop drafts coming from under interior doors.

Block drafts from electric outlets
Rooms in many homes may have cool air seeping in through the electic outlets on walls which face outdoors. A simple draft check (see above) will let you know if this is the case in your home. Simply plug the outlet with inexpensive outlet safety caps to prevent drafts. This is also a safety measure if there are young children who might otherwise poke things into the outlet slots.

Work the drapes
Most heat loss in the average home is through and around the windows. Drawing the drapes at night is an effective block, making it harder for your warm air to escape. Lined drapes are best. Drapes will also help reduce window condensation because the space between the drapes and the window is cooler than the room air. Drapes can be lined with less expensive material or re-used bed sheets. The cost of the material is recouped by the savings in energy.

Plastic Window Kits
Plastic window kits are affordable alternatives to double glazing for doors and windows. They contain sheets of plastic film, which looks like cling-film, but slightly thicker. Double-sided tape is applied to the window frame, then the plastic is cut to size and fixed to the tape. Finally, a hair dryer is used to shrink the plastic sheeting tight.
The fitted plastic creates an air-tight gap which prevents drafts and condensation. They cannot be used on most aluminum-framed windows and doors, as there is not enough of a gap between the window frame and the glass to work effectively.

Plastic window kits are available at Eartheasy’s online store. Most hardware stores also have special mounting tracks or frames for making your own plastic film storm windows.

Heater Fan
These heat-powered circulating fans are designed to set directly on top of woodstoves or gas room heaters. They send the heat out horizontally, instead of letting it rise upwards, which results in much faster and more efficient room heating.

Another feature of the heater fan is the operating cost – nothing! No batteries or electricity are required. The thermoelectric module runs by the heat of the stove. The fans are nearly silent, and designed to last a lifetime.
One concern with these fans, however, is that they can ‘burn out’ if the diode is overheated. With wood heaters, care must be taken if there’s a large, hot fire. Set the fan on a brick, or remove it temporarily from the heater surface until the fire settles down.

Although these fans cost from $50 to $150, the savings in energy costs, year after year, is greater. Available online and at home supply and hardware stores.
Ceiling Fan
Although ceiling fans are most often associated with home cooling, they can also help with home heating. Most of the heat generated by your heating systems rises to the ceiling where it slowly dissipates or radiates into the upper walls and ceiling.

If you have ceiling fans in your home, check to see if they are reversible. In winter, the blades should rotate clockwise. This reverse rotation will collect warm air from the ceiling and pull it downwards. Set the fan at its slowest speed so as not to create a breeze. The energy savings will only be realized if you lower your thermostat correspondingly. For each degree you lower the thermostat, heating costs will be reduced by 3 – 5%.

Programmable Thermostat
You can save as much as 10% a year on your heating bills by turning your thermostat down 10 – 15% for 8 hours each day. You can do this automatically without sacrificing comfort by installing a programmable thermostat.

A programmable thermostat lets you preset the times your home is heated, so heat can be lowered while you are asleep or out of the house. The cost, between $30 – $50, is offset by the long-term energy savings. Installation is easy for the average home handyman – you don’t need to hire a serviceman.

Tankless Water Heaters

Space saving, highly energy efficient “tankless” water heaters can deliver as much as 200 gallons of hot water per hour and since there is no tank to run out, they supply hot water endlessly. Because there is no storage tank to keep heated all day, and no pilot light, these water heaters only burn gas when you need hot water. This eliminates standby heat loss which can be as high as 3 – 4 % every hour for storage tank type water heaters.

Different models offer varying water-delivery capacities. The units are easy to install, and available in gas or electric models.

Tankless water heaters can save as much as fifty percent of the cost of heating water.

Insulate the Water Heater (storage tank styles)

Although water heaters are insulated, they can lose heat and waste energy if located in an unheated space, or designed with minimal insulation. If your water heater feels warm to the touch, you will save money and have more hot water by adding more insulation.

Water heater blanket kits are available for gas or electric water heaters which are non-allergenic (no fiberglass), and provide up to 97% radiant heat loss.

You can also make your own water heater blanket which can be thicker and cost even less to install. Here’s how:
Use ‘faced’ fiberglass insulation (one side is papered over) to keep the fiberglass particles out of the air. Cut strips of insulation 3″ longer than the circumference of the heater. Wrap them horizontally around the heater and seal with vinyl duct tape.
Using a razor knife, cut away around thermostat controls, drain faucets and vents.
If your heater is gas powered, do not cover the burner access. Leave three inches of exposed area around the flue collar.
If you have an electric heater, cut a circle of insulation and fit it over the top, cutting slits for the pipes to go through. Seal any exposed fiberglass with duct tape.
Covering up labels on water heaters may, in some cases, void warranties. Be sure to read labels to see if this condition applies.

Lower Settings on Water Heater
Most water heaters are factory pre-set at 140 degrees. This may be more than you need, especially in a one or two person household. If your hot water supply is adequate, try lowering the thermostat to 120 degrees. Experiment within the 120-140 range to find the lowest setting which supplies you with enough hot water. Every degree you reduce will save energy costs and reduce pollution.
Insulate Water Pipes
Most water pipes in homes are uninsulated, which results in lost heat and causes the water heater to work harder, thereby increasing energy costs. If you have pipes which are warm to the touch, which ‘sweat’, or go through unheated areas, the fix is simple and very inexpensive.
Pre-slit, foam pipe insulation is available at most hardware stores, and usually comes in 3′ (1m) lengths.

Simply snap the insulation over the pipe and run a strip of duct tape over the seam where pieces butt together. Join the split so it is facing downwards on horizontal runs, and tape the long seam as well. Cut short lengths of the foam insulation with a razor knife and bend around elbows and joints.

Do not wrap too tightly as it will lose some of its insulation value. Any part of the insulation that is outside should be painted.

While you’re at it, insulate the cold water pipes too – this will help keep them from freezing in unheated areas or during cold weather if you’re away from home. (In areas of sustained freezing temperatures, the pipes will ultimately freeze; the insulation will only slow the process. The only way to prevent freezing is to drain the water or add heat (e.g. heat tape).
Replace Furnace Filters
If your home is heated by a central furnace, check the filters every month during winter. Clogged filters reduce air flow and cause the furnace to work harder, using more energy. Severely clogged filters can even lead to premature compressor damage.
To check the filter, hold it up to a light and see if the light shines through. New filters cost about 50 cents each, and are simple to replace. Measure your old air filter before shopping – they range in size from 12″ x 12″ to 30″ x 30″. Turn off electric power to furnace while inspecting filter.

It’s recommended that filters be replaced at least every three months of furnace use.
Increase Furnace Efficiency

Shut off the pilot light during the summer months.
If furnace has a fan belt, inspect for cracks or wear, and replace if necessary. Be sure to shut off electricity at switch and at circuit breaker before inspecting fan belt.
Keep vents and air returns clear of obstructions.
Check chimney and furnace vent system once a year. Pipe should be securely connected, with no signs of corrosion or damage. Chimney and flue should be clear of obstructions.
Keep the area around the furnace clear. Nothing should be leaning against it.
Have furnace serviced regularly to be sure it’s working at peak efficiency.
Vent Fireplace
When the wood fireplace isn’t in use, close the damper to prevent warm air from escaping out the chimney, and ensure the damper fits tightly. Most importantly, provide outside combustion air directly to the fireplace by installing a small vent to the outside wall. This vent can also be installed through the floor, if fireplace is on the ground floor with an unheated crawlspace below. The vent can be screened to keep out bugs, but should be checked annually to clear any cobwebs or other obstruction building against the screen and reducing its air flow.

Remember that natural gas fireplaces are more economical, and provide more heat and less pollution, than wood burning units.
Burn wood efficiently
If you heat your home with wood it is important to be as efficient as possible, both for the energy savings as well as the health benefits.

The heater should be cleaned at the start of the heating season and periodically therafter. The air intake duct should be clear of webs or debris, the chimney inspected and excess ash removed from the firebox. Wood should be seasoned.

 

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