By guest writer, Lauren Pezzullo
So you’re improving your insulation—congrats! You’ve just made a big step to boost your home’s overall energy efficiency. But a home is really only as good as the sum of its parts, so if you want to make your home improvement pay off, you’ll need to think about combining it with some other energy-saving projects that will contribute to reducing your overall utility bills. The five listed below will complement your newly installed spray foam insulation to further eliminate drafts, HVAC inefficiencies, and other problem areas in your home. Ready to get started? Take a look below.
Consider Upgrading Your Attic Insulation
While you may have upgraded the insulation in your walls, sealing dropped soffits, gaps around recessed lights, between attic floor joists, or behind attic knee walls with spray foam insulation can also have a significant impact on reducing your heating and cooling bills. If you’re concerned about your energy consumption at all—not to mention your heating or cooling bills—you’ll want to make sure you have adequate insulation between the joists of your attic floor. In fact, if you can even see the floor joists poking through your existing insulation, it’s probably not good enough. These gaps can allow warm, conditioned air to escape through the attic and out via the roof, costing you money each month.
For the best energy performance, the U.S. Department of Energy suggests insulating to an R-value of 38. Adding spray foam insulation in your attic is a great solution to ensure you’re not letting air escape out of your home from your roof and costing you money each month.
Weatherproof Your Windows
You probably wouldn’t want a home without windows, but you’re definitely paying for the privilege—specifically through your energy expenses. Here’s how bad the problem is: your average wall could be insulated as high as an R-60 in colder climates, whereas even the highest performing windows top out at around R-4 or so. Still, sealing off cracks around the glass and frame will make a big difference, particularly if you notice that it’s drastically colder around the windows than it is in other parts of your home. Use silicone sealant between the glass and frame—it’s waterproof and it won’t crack over time like acrylic caulking. Apply foam to the moving parts, especially where the frame meets the sill. Those wintry drafts can be a thing of the past!
Invest in an HVAC Upgrade
It’s pretty shocking when you learn how much energy is lost to heating and cooling inefficiencies. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates that around 25 percent of your annual bill can be directly contributed to problems with HVAC systems. That means you may be paying an extra $400 a year for nothing. In the last ten years or so, improvements in heating and air conditioning technologies have allowed manufacturers to produce equipment that is much more efficient. For instance, an AC unit from the 90s might have gobbled down as many as 6,000 watts per hour, whereas today that figure is more like 1,710 watts. An air conditioning installation is a pretty cost-heavy project, but if your existing unit is approaching the 10-to-15 year mark, it’s time to start planning for a new one. You’ll pay more for a higher SEER unit, but in some cases, homeowners can make back what they spent in a year or two from the savings on their energy bills. No more sweaty days and sky-high utility payments!
Check Your Ducts
Of course, your HVAC is really only as efficient as the systems that support it. If you have leaking, inefficient ducts, you could be losing somewhere between 20 to 30 percent of your home’s conditioned air—no wonder you’re always shivering! The good news is, you can usually seal these leaks yourself. First, check for leaks by running your hands over the ductwork or using a smoke pen or incense stick near the ducts. Pay particular attention to the joints and seals, since this is where most leaks occur. When you find one, seal it off with metallic tape. mastic sealant or even better, spray foam insulation like Icynene, and enjoy spending winter in your cozier home.
Replacing an Inefficient Bathroom Exhaust Fan
The bathroom is one place you can truly have some privacy—but not when your exhaust fan sounds like a chainsaw. And an inefficient fan isn’t just distracting, it can also lead to mold growth and warp the wood in your bathroom, if you’re not careful. Managing humidity in your home is a priority, so swap yours out for a more efficient model if you notice yours is too loud or doesn’t seem to work as well as it used to (i.e., there is condensation on your mirrors and shower even when the fan is turned on). A really efficient model should move at least 50 cubic feet per minute of air for every toilet and shower in your home—but you can also look for the ENERGY STAR rating on the package, as well. Now you can enjoy your shower in peace! With these five green upgrades, you can finally put your mind at ease—at least when it comes to your utility costs.
Lauren Pezzullo is a writer, editor, and musicophile who's passionate about vegetarianism and sustainable eating. As an editor for Modernize, she writes about energy-efficient living in the home. She's currently writing her debut novel.