Attempting to Slash Your Home Energy Bills

The squeeze on today’s homeowners shows no signs of easing. Heating-oil prices will rise 12 percent this winter, and your electric bill will likely jump again by the next year. There were a lot of rate freezes in the past 5 to 10 years, and many have now ended because utility companies are playing catch-up. That leaves homeowners wondering whether to invest in energy-saving improvements, even though federal tax credits have ended for upgrading insulation, windows, and heating and cooling equipment. Just one home in five built before 1980 started out with adequate insulation, reports the U.S. Department of Energy.

Adding fresh insulation to walls, ceilings, attics, and basements would bring immediate energy savings of 10 to 20 percent according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, which works with state and federal officials on energy-saving programs for low-income families. But your house probably doesn’t need a complete overhaul. Cheap and simple tweaks can quickly pay for themselves. To start with, the best bang for your buck is to seal up and insulate your house.

Plug wall openings

Save up to $150 a year.

About 15 percent of air leakage in the average home occurs through wall openings. Spray insulating foam sealant ($4 a can) around holes for outdoor faucets and wiring, and install foam gaskets ($3 for a package of 10) around indoor electric outlets and light switches.

Weatherize windows and doors

Save up to $200 a year.

A few $5 tubes of water-based acrylic caulk can seal tiny leaks around windows and doors. For another $40 to $70, apply weather stripping to door frames. Another $15 will buy you enough plastic shrink film to cover 10 older, single-pane windows.

Update your thermostat

Save up to $200 a year.

Do you like your house to stay nippy at night but feel toasty when you wake up? A programmable thermostat such as one that you set to adjust temperatures automatically can cut 20 percent from heating and cooling bills.

Blanket your water heater

Save up to $200 a year.

Your water heater eats about 20 percent of your energy. Insulating exposed hot-water pipes with foam or fiberglass sleeves can raise water temps at the tap 2 to 4 degrees, allowing you to lower your water heater’s thermostat and shave roughly 1 percent off your total energy costs. An insulating blanket around the heater tank can chop another 9 percent. Pipe sleeves start at $2 for 12 feet; blankets run about $20.

Seal and wrap ductwork

Save up to $400 a year.

As much as 30 percent of the air from the furnace or air-conditioner escapes through ductwork, which expands and shrinks as temperatures change. If ducts are accessible, seal joints with brush-on mastic waterproof flexible sealant and wrap ductwork with HVAC insulation. A gallon of mastic costs about $30 and will close up to 40 joints. HVAC insulation wrap, a self-adhesive foam with foil backing, costs about $1 per foot.