Part 1: Your Home / by Stephen Riella

So, is there nothing an individual can do to help the environment? Is everything too far out of reach for one person to start making a difference? Certainly not! In our three part series we are going to give ways were everyone can help out, pitch in, lower consumption and help keep our country just a little cleaner.

Air leakage is a really big problem when trying to maintain energy efficiency. Loss of conditioned air and penetrations that allow outside air in keep your A/C or heating system running. This causes higher bills and increases our footprint. Here are some easy fixes that can help your energy efficiency in your home.

Caulking the windows on the interior and exterior of your home: Go outside and get up close and personal with your windows. Look at the seams where the window contacts the brick or siding on your house. First do you have any clear caulking visible? If you do are there any gaps? Even a small gap can lead to loss of conditioned air costing you more money. The solution is simple.

Go to your local hardware store and get a caulking gun and a few tubes of clear silicone caulking. Follow the instructions on how to apply it and make sure you keep a wet rag on you, because this project can get a little messy.

Next go inside and look at the areas where your windows meet up with your Sheetrock or plaster. Examine the windows exactly the same way you did on the outside of the home. If you have gaps follow the same steps as you did for the outside but instead of using a clean silicone caulking use a white latex. After drying the white latex caulking can be painted to match the rest of the room.

Next we move on to air loss from your ducts. Keeping things simple and easy is the key. Get a ladder and a screw driver and go to all of your vents and return air grills. Take them off and examine around the duct where it meets with your Sheetrock. Is there a gap around the duct where it meets with your drywall? If there is use the same white latex caulking you used for your windows and close up those gaps around your vents. 

Doors, doors, doors... Ever stand next to your front door on a cool, windy day and feel a draft coming through? If you have, you probably need to replace that weather stripping. First identify the problem. Close your door and check if you can see any light showing through around the reveal. Next examine your current weather stripping. Are there any tears, is it still soft and flexible? If not it's time to head over to the hardware store and pick up some new weatherstripping. It's easy to apply and will help keep those drafts out of your home.

Changing to energy efficient light bulbs. This is a no brainer. If you haven't already, you need to. This is one of the easiest fixes you can make and there are a lot of options on the market to fit your budget. Typically energy efficient bulbs use 25% less energy than traditional bulbs and last three times longer. 

Let's move on to our appliances and some ideas that can help you lower your bills.

Adjusting your thermostat. Your AC and heater probably use more power than anything else in your home. You shouldn't have to sacrifice comfort for savings but, if your not home for 8 hours a day why keep your home as cold as your fridge? Get a digital thermostat and set your times. If you know you are gone Monday through Friday for 8 hours set your thermostat to up the temperature in the summer five degrees at the time you leave and an hour before you come home have it set to return back to the normal temperature you enjoy. This will save you money every month and you will never know the difference.

Unplug those appliances that aren't being used. The typical American household has over 40 appliances that are plugged in and drawing power on a daily basis. Typically, we think since we aren't using them that they aren't drawing power. Unfortunately that is not the case. These unused appliances can account for as much as 10 percent of our overall bill according to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  So, let's unplug that toaster, remove those cell phone chargers, unplug that TV and pull the power out of the desktop when we aren't using them. Your power bill will thank you.

The main drain! Your hvac system. Heating and air is one of the biggest contributors to our monthly power costs, but there are ways to make sure that your units are running efficiently. First make sure to change that filter according to the manufacturers suggestions. If you have pets change them out a little more frequently and it will keep your hvac system running smoother.

Second if you have a suspicion that your unit is not running as smoothly as it should contact a reputable  hvac company and have them run a diagnostic and give the unit a tune up. A tune up can lower your monthly bill and make sure that the unit is in tip top shape. 

Lastly, if your unit is on it's last leg make sure that you look at energy efficient models that fit your needs. Make sure when you are installing a new unit that you have the proper insulation in your attic and that all of your exterior penetrations are sealed to get the most out of your new heating and air unit. 

Now it's time to head outside! Let's take a look at that yard of yours. While you may not save a whole lot of money on your landscaping you can have quite an impact on the environment by making some simple choices. From fertilizers to pesticides, from local plants to trees let's take a look at some changes you can make.

Trees are probably one of the few places outside were you can save on your power bill and help create a cleaner environment. If you have the area, planting a tree can provide some great shade and reduce your carbon foot print. Make sure you don't plant the tree to close to your home to avoid potential foundation issues.

Fertilizers and pesticides are an area that have a very large impact on the environment. Fertilizer runoff can damage local waterways by causing explosions in algae that can choke out plants and rob fish of precious oxygen. Pesticides from runoff destroy insects that are a valuable source of food for birds, small mammals and amphibians. If it can be avoided do not use pesticides in your yard. Sure major infestations need to be dealt with. See if you can find natural pesticides or traps to deal with minor issues. The same goes for fertilizers. If you fertilize at the beginning of spring and in the fall you should not need to do anymore. Plant new grass that survives well in your climate for dead areas.

Responsible landscaping is the key. If you have groups of native plants and flowers than your home will by default be beautiful and you will be supporting a clean natural environment for everything around you. Keep watering to a minimum. Invest in soaker hoses that will keep soil levels moist around your foundation and invest in a rain sensor for your sprinkler system. If it rained an inch two days ago you don't need to water today. 

I will include at the bottom some helpful links that can get you started on a number of these projects. If you have any questions feel free to email us and we will get back to you with any information that may help you. Remember your home is the first and most consistent way you can help make a positive change on our environment. Keep your energy costs low and conserve, conserve, conserve.


Consumer Reports On Energy Efficient Bulbs

Planting Trees

Fertilizer Ideas

Ideas About Native Landscaping

If all of these items are taken care of already here are some projects to take your home to the next level of energy efficiency:

Solar Panels:

Grey water systems:

Rain harvesting: