Some do-it-yourself tips to help cut down on heating costs

High energy bills are stimulating people to find ways to cut energy costs while maintaining some level of comfort. At this year’s Illiinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Living Fair Aug. 13-14 in Oregon, Jim Cavallo, Jim Lamb and Christine Hulet focused on energy efficiency in the home. This article incorporates some of their quick fix suggestions.

Jim Lamb believes lifestyle changes are the quickest, least costly way to save energy. Some people set the thermostat to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, wear warmer clothing and adjust to cooler house temperatures. Check that temperatures around water pipes do not drop so low that the pipes freeze and burst.

Heat can be shut off to some rooms, but leave about one-third of the heating ducts open. Select a few rooms for heat, and organize activities within them. Use an electric heater for an hour or two for additional warmth.

Install an automatic thermostat, and set it so the furnace cuts in an hour before getting up in the morning and returning home in the evening.

Low-cost repairs or installations can save energy. Locate and eliminate air leaks in the outside shell of the house. A crack 1/32 inches wide (less than the thickness of a dime) around a 36-inch by 80-inch door is equivalent to a 2 1/2-inch by 3-inch hole in the wall.

Cracks can be fixed by weather stripping and caulking. Openings in walls or foundations for gas, electrical and telephone lines and dryer vents can be caulked. Air leaks between the wood plate for the outside wall and the concrete foundation should be caulked.

The space between the top of the wall and the unheated space above the ceiling can allow warm air to escape. If wall studs are not capped by a 2-by-4, it may be necessary to stop air leaks by capping the existing wall insulation with cut-to-size drywall pieces caulked in place.

Caulk the space where toilet vents and chimneys penetrate insulated space. Use heat-tolerant caulk around chimney leaks.

It is important to remember that some fresh outside air is essential to prevent asphyxiation from combustion gases trapped in the house.

Most homes with 2-by-4 walls are already insulated, but only at rates half that of more energy-efficient homes. Some people add insulation to walls. An inch of insulation can cover an inside wall; drywall can then cover the insulation. An inch or more of insulation on outside walls covered with new siding also cuts heat loss.

Ceiling insulation is easier to add and can be done by the homeowner. Consider reaching an R40 level, which is equivalent to a foot of cellulose insulation. If space permits, some owners reach a level equivalent to 2 feet of cellulose insulation. It is important to ventilate the uninsulated space above a ceiling to prevent moisture from condensing in the insulation or causing wood to dry rot.

Basement walls can be insulated on the inside or outside. The exterior can be covered by plastic insulating board from the edge of the siding to a depth of 2 feet. A protective layer should cover the insulation. Closed cell plastic insulation, covered with gypsum board, can be installed over a smooth surface interior wall.

Windows are another source of heat loss. Plastic indoor window insulation kits can cut air leaks and heat loss. Homemade window quilts can cover the inside of windows. One-inch insulation boards cut to fit window openings can be pushed into place, although house moisture may condense on window sills and discolor the surface. Insulating boards can be covered with cloth to make them more attractive.

Visit your local building supply store, check out some of these ideas, and consider using them to help cut down on this winter’s heating bills.

From the Sept. 28-Oct. 4, 2005, issue

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