Home is where the heat should stay

By now I hope you’ve buttoned up your home and dealt w/ your fuel supply for this winter. Don’t be angry if you pre-bought your oil, the drop in oil prices surprised most of the experts too. But don’t get too used to oil under $80/barrel; it’s been above $90 for years w/ the exception of the brief dip during the great recession. While the world’s economies are not growing very much which weakens demand; there’s a glut of oil on the market largely due to the shale boom here and the aggressive pumping in the Middle East.

If your home is typical you’ve got plenty of opportunities to save energy, make your home more comfortable and stop heating the neighborhood. Before you consider buying new heating equipment, consider that by reducing your heat load you may be able to buy equipment that is smaller which will save you money up front and every year by being more efficient. By one estimate US homes loose $13 billion worth of heating and cooling energy through cracks and air leaks.

Houses loose heat largely through the stack effect where warm air escapes through the attic which is replaced by cold air sucked in through cracks in the basement and first floor. Yes, those nasty drafts that make you uncomfortable can be reduced. If you start at the top and replace the baseball cap w/ a good winter hat you’ll be amazed at how much more comfortable you’ll be.

Two years ago when we needed to replace our roof we decided to upgrade the insulation from the 12” fiberglass batts to blown in foam and cellulose. The foam layer is essential to seal the air leaks it needs to be continuous, then the lower cost cellulose can be layered to add R value. We went from nominal R19 w/ no air sealing to R 40 to R 60 that was tight. Last winter we found the upstairs was much warmer while we used less heat and tests confirmed that the temperature differential between the floors was reduced since warm air wasn’t escaping through the roof. It was also much cooler upstairs on hot days than it used to be since the heat wasn’t getting in from above.

You can stop the worst leaks in your home’s envelope such as those around doors, windows, plumbing and electrical penetrations and cracks in the foundation. Use weather strip, caulk or spray foam to seal these holes. But if you have moisture problems such as a wet basement, you should hire an expert such as an energy auditor with experience with moisture issues to address this before you tighten up to avoid air quality concerns.

If you’re not sure what your priorities should be an energy audit includes an assessment of your house as a system and a list of options to improve your efficiency and comfort. Keep in mind that efficiency improvements are wise investments, you get to recoup the costs from energy savings then you get a dividend for years after in savings not to mention a more comfortable home.

For more insights and ideas check out “Cooler Smarter, Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living” by The Union of Concerned Scientists.

John Kondos is a founder of Home-Efficiency Resources, Solar Source, a division of the Melanson Co. and the Monadnock Sustainability Network, whose mission is to promote credible, sustainable practices in the region.