Weekend Project: Make your home more energy efficient during Energy Awareness Month

Consumer Reports News: October 16, 2009 12:24 PM

The poster for the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Awareness Month campaign for 2009 (shown) declares, "We're putting all the pieces together" and shows a jigsaw puzzle of the United States. That's an apt representation of how puzzling the energy issue can be for many consumers. But as you'll read in our energy-saving special in the October 2009 issue of Consumer Reports, saving big bucks on your utility bills doesn't have to be that complicated.

If you've already made your home as efficient as possible but need appliances, read our FAQ on the $300 million cash for clunkers for appliances program.

Install a programmable thermostat. Lowering your thermostat by 5° to 10°F at night and when no one is at home will reduce your winter heating bills by up to 20 percent, and a programmable thermostat makes heat management a snap. Refer to our thermostat ratings (available to subscribers) to find a model that's easy to operate and maintains consistent temperatures. After you choose a new model, learn how to install a programmable thermostat.

Check attic insulation. Many homes lack adequate attic insulation, especially those built before 1980. You need at least 11 inches of fiberglass or 8 inches of cellulose to keep your house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Use the DOE's ZIP-code insulation program to get specific insulation recommendations for your home and Energy Star's page with insulation information. And take advantage of federal tax credits on the purchase of new insulation.

Plug air leaks. While you're checking for insulation, inspect the attic floor for cracks and gaps around canister lights, ductwork, and other electrical and plumbing penetrations. Recessed-light fixtures are another air-leakage source because many designs require some airflow to prevent them from overheating.  Consider replacing these with models designed for airtight construction. Even the smallest leaks contribute to the stack effect, whereby heated air escapes through the attic and is replaced with cool air from lower levels.

Get your heating system inspected. An annual checkup by a licensed heating contractor will eliminate inefficiencies in your heating system. Though not included in the typical annual checkup, have the duct-distribution system inspected to find and seal leaks. Additionally, sections of the duct system that pass through unheated parts of the home should be insulated properly. An annual inspection can also reduce the risk of carbon-monoxide poisoning from furnaces. Even with an inspection, it's critical to install CO and smoke alarms on every level of your home; read our report on both types of alarms in the November 2009 issue of Consumer Reports.

Consider an energy audit. If you suspect your home is severely inefficient, it may be worth hiring a home-performance contractor to perform a whole-house energy audit. Some pros will waive the cost of the audit if you hire them for the work. If you're lucky, your contractor will be up on the latest incentives as well as PACE, or Property Assessed Clean Energy, bonds.—Daniel DiClerico | | Twitter | Forums | Facebook

Essential information: Visit our Energy Saving & Green Living guide for information on more ways to save energy.

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