Much has changed in a decade; fuel costs more and energy saving light bulbs cost less. Few of the numbers would be accurate now but the order of things won’t have changed much.
Yes, the stuff that all the companies are selling, like solar photovoltaics and replacement windows, are right up there at the top of the pyramid, the most complex and expensive.
The RMI Cool Citizens Guide lists a number of things you can do that are absolutely free, yet could save you hundreds of dollars in a season.
1. Lower water heater temperature to 120°F
2. Increase AC thermostat by 3°F
3. Wash clothes in cold water
4. Air dry clothes during summer
5. Turn off unneeded lights
I should note that turning your water heater down to 120 is a controversial bit of advice, particularly north of the border. Both the Canada Safety Council and the US Department of Labor recommend that the water heater be set at 140 degrees to eliminate the risk of Legionnaires’ Disease. Read about it in TreeHugger: Is it Safe To Turn Down Your Water Heater Temperature?
Get a Programmable Thermostat
We have noted before that programmable thermostats can be a serious pain in the ass; Katie Fehrenbacher at GigaOm wrote about a study that showed that 90% of people who had them never set a program. (see Good Design Saves Energy; Bad Thermostat Design Is Throwing It Away) But now we have the Nest, which Jaymi called The Perfect Thermostat That Learns Your Habits. So now is the time to make the switch.
Just be careful if you are replacing an old round Honeywell like mine in the previous slide; it has the biggest single glob of mercury in your house, with three thousand times as much as a compact fluorescent bulb.
From Planet Green:
The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) Citizens Guide finds that a setback, or programmable thermostat has the biggest bang for the buck of any single thing you can do; it costs only $9.34 per ton of carbon saved, and is getting better all the time as the price of the electronics drop. A setback thermostat can save up to 15 percent on your heating bill.
But doesn’t the furnace have to work harder to reheat the space after it has cooled? Not according to the U.S. Department of Energy, which says “This misconception has been dispelled by years of research and numerous studies. The fuel required to reheat a building to a comfortable temperature is roughly equal to the fuel saved as the building drops to the lower temperature. You save fuel between the time that the temperature stabilizes at the lower level and the next time heat is needed. So, the longer your house remains at the lower temperature, the more energy you save.”
For houses with radiant floors or old hot water radiator systems, there is a really slow response time because of the thermal inertia in the systems. I used to say that setbacks wouldn’t work for these, but new thermostats track the performance of your heating system, figure out when to turn it on, and basically plan ahead. After all, nothing makes you want to jump under the covers than a cool house before you go to bed!
Stop the Air Leaks
credit: Emma Alter
One thing that never changes is the benefit of stopping leaks. I do this every winter with a strippable caulk, which peels off in spring when I want to open the windows.
From Planet Green:
Next up on the RMI Guide is to seal large air leaks, cheap to do (mostly labor, minimal materials), costing a mere $ 10.77 per ton of carbon saved. In an old, pre-1945 house, the air leaks can add up to the equivalent of a hole in your wall 21 inches in diameter! Natural Resources Canada (NRC) says that in a house vintage 1946-80 the hole is 16 inches, and in a modern conventional home, 14 inches. When you think about it that way it becomes obvious that there is a lot of heat loss, it is like leaving a window open all winter.
NRC suggests that a simple way to find leaks is to inspect your house on a very cold day using a “draft detector”- a stick of incense, a thin piece of tissue, or a feather glued to a toothpick. (what they really want to say is a cigarette, but can’t any more and neither can we) Go through your house, holding the draft detector near window and door frames, electrical outlets, baseboards and other possible leakage areas. (If you are doing a major retrofit, hire someone to do a blower door test where they pressurize the house and use an infrared camera to see where the warm air comes out)
Tips to fix leaks:
1. Weatherstrip and caulk windows and doors.
2. Apply plastic film over windows. (Kits are available at hardware stores, it shrinks to fit from the heat of a hair dryer. Cats destroy it in a matter of days)
3. Seal hidden openings into the attic, and caulk or foam electrical wiring openings, exhaust fan housing and where walls meet the ceiling.
4. Make the attic hatch airtight with weatherstripping.
5. Seal baseboards, electrical outlets and ducts.
6.Close up seldom-used fireplaces.
Insulate Your Water Heater And Pipes
credit: Marc Falardeau
Our Planet Green post on this was pretty lightweight, , but Pablo looked at the subject in detail in his post Ask Pablo: Is It Really Worth Insulating My Pipes? He concluded:
Insulating your pipes does make economic sense, if you do it yourself. Using a contractor rarely makes economic sense in most homes, unless the fuel used for heating water is very expensive, the distance traveled by the pipes is far, the pipes are exposed to very cold air (in which case they should be insulated anyway to prevent freezing), and if the household uses a lot of water.
If you have an attic, it is one of the easiest places to upgrade, as long as you don’t stick your foot through the ceiling.
From Planet Green:
Many houses have attics that are accessible via a hatch in the hall or a cupboard; if you have this, insulating your attic is not that hard, and delivers a good bang for the buck; RMI estimates it will save you 2,142 pounds of CO2 per year, at a cost of $15.56 per ton. We think R-50, or about 16″ of glass fiber insulation is a good target. Glass fibre is cheap, relatively easy to install, and noncombustible, so we will look at that first but it is not your only option.
Glass-fiber-insulation maker Owens Corning has set up a Web site at Insulate Your Attic Now that effectively lays out all of the steps needed to do this job, so we won’t repeat them here. They make it look like a walk in the park; it isn’t, and these are the things you should watch out for.
1. Watch your step: Your ceiling is only 1/2- or 5/8-inch drywall, and the ceiling joists are designed to hold it, not you. Take up a board or plywood to distribute your weight among a number of joists.
2. Watch the vents: There are usually soffit vents that bring outside air into your attic; they are needed in the summer to keep the attic cool. be careful not to bury them.
3. Watch the weather: On a warm sunny day it can get very hot in an attic, dangerously hot. You might also be tempted into shorts and a T-shirt, when you really should
4. Watch what you wear: Glass fibers are itchy. Wear long pants and long sleeve shirt. While Planet Green does not usually recommend disposable stuff, a Tyvek suit is not a bad idea when working with glass fiber.
5. Wear a respirator: A 1994 study found that fiberglass can be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen;” a 2001 study revised that. Read more at the American Lung Association. [note- they have toned down their section since this post was originally written]
7. Check the hatch: If the box around it is not higher than the fiberglass, then it will fall down every time you open it.
8. Check the lights: Any recessed lights should be approved for attic insulation use; otherwise you will have to build a box out of drywall around them.
9. Take a shower: You don’t want any itchy, scratchy fiberglass inside your house when you are finished.
- So if there are all these problems with fiberglass, why not use alternatives? Mainly because glass is cheap, effective, fireproof, doesn’t rot, and you can do it yourself. To see some of the alternatives visit TreeHugger here.
- Owens Corning insulation, which we link to above, has a Greenguard certificate for being a low emission product with formaldehyde levels less than 0.5 particles per million. However other manufacturers like Johns Manville have no formaldehyde at all.
- If you do not have an accessible attic and have to bring in the pros, it may not be cost effective to add insulation. Don’t listen to the salesman; in many cases you have to maintain ventilation spaces to let moisture get out. Hire an independent expert to tell you what you can do first.
Dodge the Draft
credit: spin spin
Another cheap and effective idea that isn’t on the RMI list is a draft stopper.. Jasmin wrote on Planet Green:
Dodge the draft, without having to hotfoot it all the way to Canada, by stuffing fabric snakes into crevices where the chill can nip in and sneakily drive up heating costs. You can whip up your own by sewing an 8×42-inch piece of tightly woven fabric into a tube, and then stuffing it with cotton or wool batting, insulation foam, fabric scraps, kitty litter, sand, buckwheat kernels, or dried pine needles.
Check out Not Martha’s Flickr page for step-by-step directions on making a twin draft guard that fits snugly on both sides of a door. And, if you’ve been looking for a way to reuse a couple of castoff neckties, eHow has the goods on making a draft-dodging snake of your very own.
But I Live In An Apartment!
credit: Northwestern University
Finally, we note that it has always been tough for renters, who don’t have as many options as owners, and are not going to sink a lot of money into a property where they are transient. Josh Peterson worked up a great list for Planet Green; It is a few years old so I have annotated it a bit in italics.
Remove your old showerhead and replace it with a low-flow model. When you move, pack up the low-flow showerhead and put the original showerhead back on. [most landlords will have done this already]
Displace Water in Your Toilet Tank
Find a plastic bottle. Fill it with gravel. Place it in your toilet tank. You can leave this for the next tenant or take it with you. [don't do this with new efficient toilets that are pretty much standard now]
Insulated Drapes/Blackout Curtains/Cellular Blinds
Covering your windows with insulated dressings such as blackout curtains or cellular blinds will significantly reduce your heating bills. These can be moved with you.
Foam Insulating Gaskets
Putting foam insulating gaskets behind your outlets is a cheap way of reducing heat loss. You probably could remove these when you leave your apartment, but they are so cheap it may not be worth it.
You can build a compost box inside. Keep it under your sink. Take it with you when you move. This saves garbage disposal energy and landfill space.
Grow Food Indoors
If you’re looking for something to do with that compost, why not grow some food inside your house? This will ensure that some of your fruits and veggies are grown super-locally, saving transportation energy. You can move your interior garden when you move.
Place delightfully mobile draft stoppers in front of drafty doors and windows. They cost about ten bucks, or you can make them yourself.
Plastic Window Insulation/Bubble Wrap
Insulate your windows by covering them with plastic. You can remove the plastic when you leave the apartment. Bubble wrap is another great way to insulate your windows.
CFL bulbs: They save a lot of energy. I’m waiting for the day when they are just called light bulbs and old pear-shaped light bulbs are a thing of the past. Also, turn off lights when you are not in the room. [LEDs have come way down in price and are a better choice now]
Shade Your Air Conditioner
If you have a window-mounted air conditioner, you can save energy and money by shading it from the sun. The cooler the air conditioner, the more efficient it runs.
Pay Attention to Your Fridge
In an apartment building, 25% of your electric bill may go towards the fridge. Keep its compressor coils clean to ensure your energy bill stays low. Cover Your Food. Check the fridge’s seal. Fill your fridge with water jugs to keep it full and colder.
Tinfoil + Radiator = Win
By lining the walls behind your radiators with tinfoil, you can increase the heat in your apartment with no extra electricity usage.
Surge Protectors/Power Bars
Phantom power is a problem, and it can be hard to remember to unplug every single appliance from the walls. With surge protectors and power bars, you only have to unplug one plug. Some power bars can stop phantom power with the flick of a switch.
Hot Water Bottle/Electric Blanket
Instead of turning up the thermostat, you can invest in an electric blanketor a hot water bottle. Each of these uses less energy than a central heating system.
One of the benefits of having a landlord is that they will fix things. Don’t let a slightly leaky faucet go unrepaired. Leaks account for 13% of home water usage. You can fix it yourself or get your landlord to do it.
Arrange Furniture Properly
Make sure your furniture isn’t blocking vents or baseboards.
Interior Storm Windows
You can put storm windows on in the interior of your apartment. This will reduce heat loss by up to 50%.
Exhaust Fan Cover
Cover your kitchen and bathroom exhausts in the winter. Removable covers can be purchased for these exhaust fans. [Bad idea. Apartment ventilation systems are designed to use this exhaust to make room for fresh air]
Air Conditioner Cover
If you can’t remove a window-mounted air conditioner. Put a cover on it to stop heat loss. These are removable, reusable and cheap.
Put aerators on your faucets to save water. Remove them when you remove yourself from the apartment.
Your landlord may have been cutting corners when he or she installed your door. If it’s drafty, you can nix that draft by putting a door sweep on your door. [In older buildings the gap under the door is the air intake from the pressurized corridor. Don't block it or your exhaust fans won't work properly.]
Raise the Humidity in the Winter
Humidity makes your apartment feel warmer. Set pans of gray water near the radiator to increase humidity. Green plants are also good humidifiers, another good reason to grow food indoors.