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How to Reduce Heating Bills and Save Energy on Your HomeBy: Danny Lipford
As homeowners Greg and Jennifer Quimby of Maine found out after winning the Scariest Utility Bill in America contest, sponsored by JELD-WEN Windows & Doors, there are a number of steps you can take to save energy on heating and cooling bills.
Watch this video to find out how to reduce your utility bills by:
- Conducting an energy audit on your home.
- Replacing single pane windows with insulated glass windows.
- Replacing or weather stripping old, leaky exterior doors.
- Insulating the basement ceiling.
- Installing insulating seals on electrical outlets and switches.
- Covering hot water pipes with foam insulation.
Read episode article to find out more.
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This week Today’s Homeowner is on the road in Winthrop, Maine, to help a young family tackle the scariest thing, in their hundred year old house, their utility bill. We’ve got tons of tips large and small to make a home more comfortable and efficient so stick around.
High utility bills are a big concern for homeowners everywhere, and making homes more energy efficient is a top priority for a lot of folks. Now this house is Winthrop, Maine, and you can just imagine how harsh the winters are here. And keeping a home like this nice and comfortable can be quite a challenge.
Well, the owners of this home, Greg and Jennifer Quimby, entered a contest a few months ago called the Scariest Utility Bill in America sponsored by JELD-WEN Windows and Doors. Now JELD-WEN received entries from all over the country from houses that are small, large, warm climates, cold climates; and the Quimby’s won.
Their prize, they’re getting installed brand new energy efficient windows and doors and that should certainly help on that utility bill, and you can imagine having a family living in a house that’s over 100 years old and those out of control utility bills, that was some welcome news.
I was sitting, you know on the computer online at night, and I saw the contest on the JELD-WEN windows website. And it asked for, it was called the Scariest Utility Bill, and I decided, well, I’ll enter this. You know our bills were really bad and I thought might as well take a chance.
And, yeah, you told me about it after the fact.
I told him about it after I entered us. I said by the way I entered this contest, and so when they called me months later and that we won, I just was amazed. I was shocked. We were just really excited. I think it’s just bringing us to where we should be with the house.
When we first moved here we made the huge mistake of focusing on cosmetics, and then we got the utility bill. I realized we needed to start focusing on something else, making the house more energy efficient.
Our utility bills have been very high. We’ve been doing everything we can to bring them down. For the heating we really needed something to bring down the heating bill. One month we hit over $1400 dollars in heating.
Because our doors were drafty, our windows are drafting, you know the cold air is coming right through. And you can feel that when you’re sitting down on the couch watching TV, you can actually feel the cold air coming in. So all the energy that we were you know spending is just going out the window.
A few months ago I had a chance to visit with the Quimbys to see just how harsh the winters are here. And, boy, with all the snow and ice we had everywhere, it was pretty impressive. I have to admire anyone who can endure winters like they’re having to endure. It also made me realize what a difference the new energy efficient windows and doors will make to their utility bill and their overall comfort. Well we’re back now, and the windows and doors are about to go in. But, also, we’re going to look around the rest of the house, and identify some of the problems that they have in their house that they can correct very easily and make it more energy efficient.
Now, if you live in a cold climate like this, you can certainly benefit by doing a few of these tips around the house. It will make a difference in your utility bill. But no matter where you live in the country, these are things that will really save you money. Now, in order to identify the problems on this house we brought in an infrared specialist to do a little investigating.
This is John Cannamela, he uses infrared technology to basically perform an energy audit of the house. So John, tell me how this works.
Well, infrared is a certain wavelength, and the wavelength we’re looking at is only the transfer of heat waves in infrared, which is part of a spectrum. The infrared camera that you see here only sees heat or lack of it. In this case we’re looking at a wall that has some insulation problems.
So you tell all the blue that I’m seeing?
So all the blue you are seeing right there is, are closer to the outside temperature because my R-value in those areas are really low, and there may be a little or zero insulation in those zones. And the issue that comes across is that those are small areas but they add up.
Right. Now, let’s pan over here to the window then, because that’s where we really – single pane glass – so we’re getting a lot of blue.
Right. The glass itself is hard to get a real accurate read, because of the nature of the material. But around the areas where the glass meets, or where the wood meets the glass, where the windows open and close, there’s virtually no insulation value whatsoever. It’s off my scale, it’s completely black. And that is one of the reason the older homes are energy hogs, is because the windows lose lots of energy all around the edges. From what I’m seeing, we’re on the right track to help solve the problem at this house.
We’re well on our way to making this house a lot more energy efficient. Well, here’s another energy saving tip from our buddy Joe Truini who lives just down the road in Connecticut on this week’s Simple Solution.
Fold-down attic staircases, like the one I’m standing on here, are really convenient because they allow easy access into the attic. But they are also great energy wasters. That’s because the floor of the attic is always insulated really well. But when you close the attic, all you have is a quarter-inch plywood panel preventing air from coming up into the attic.
So to solve that problem, I built a box out of three-quarter-inch insulation board, this is polystyrene insulation board. Now, what you need to do first is get up into the attic and have someone close the staircase. Then measure all around the staircase and the height of the staircase. Then just cut the styrene with a razor knife to fit.
Now, to hold the pieces of styrene together what I use is metallic duct tape, not regular cloth duct tape, but the metallic duct tape works great. Then just tape it right down to the deck. Now, you can buy ready made units that go over the attic but they cost about 200 buck. Now this one, for less than $20, works just as well.
Hey coming up next the windows start going in, so don’t miss it.
This week we’re in Winthrop, Maine, and the owners of this house are the winners of the Scariest utility Bill contest. Now I’ve seen some real scary utility bills but these folks were paying over 1,200 dollars a month to keep this house that was built back in the 1890s, nice and comfortable on the inside.
Now, when you have an older home, especially one with very drafty windows and doors, one of the best things you can do to make it more energy efficient is to replace those doors and windows. And that’s exactly what we’re doing right now. First the old storm windows have to come out, the Norm removes the interior window stops from the old wooden windows, so that each sash can be taken out. He leaves the outer most stop in place, and covers it with a bead of caulk before setting the new custom model window into the opening. When it’s level and plumb, screws are driven through the sides of the new window to secure it into the jambs before the perimeter is insulated. Then the interior stops are replaced and sealed with caulk, so the new window is air tight.
Now, these guys work for the local JELD-WEN distributor, but in many cases your local home center will also sell and install replacement windows. For example, if you ordered you windows from The Home Depot, Home Depot home services could deliver them, install them, and dispose of your old windows. But what do you look for in a replacement window?
Always select a window that is duel-paned and not just duel-paned but make sure it has low-E glass and argon gas filling. Low-E is a reflective coating that reflects heat back to its source. There’s two layers of silver that are microscopically thin. And when the heat sees that silver, it reflects back away from the window.
So in the summertime the heat from the sun hits that coating, reflects back and helps keep you home cooler. In the winter the heat that you’re producing inside your house hits that reflective barrier and comes back into the home, helping make your home feel more comfortable and warmer. Argon gas is a light material that has a lower molecular density than air. And the way that energy is transferred is by molecules bumping into to each other and transferring energy one from the other. So by replacing the air in between the two panes of glass with argon gas, we reduce the amount of that conductivity and it makes the window more energy efficient.
So they’re efficient but how are the owners holding up in this process?
It’s been fun. Its actually been fun.
Well, what do you think?
I’m actually really surprised, I was expecting more of just getting an energy efficient makeover, our oil bills were too high. My husband and I were shocked to see, new windows look so much better than the old windows.
Yeah, it sounds though when you say that like you think energy efficient means ugly.
No, I just think that we’re focused more on replacing them for energy savings but the difference is just amazing. I mean we thought little concern about replacing the old windows and maybe losing some of the architectural details of having an old home, but actually I think it makes it look a lot better, it matches.
It really enhances the inside. The color is different, too, right?
Yeah, it used to be black, I actually think the white matches better. Plus, they let us pick out the same woodwork as what the original windows had.
Right the tow and two. That was actually odd I had never seen that before. Even the style of the window, with the double hung, it really matches, really the historic value of the house. It looks great.
It does it looks a lot better.
Norm and Charlie have completed all of the replacement windows here in the back of the house and you know not only are the homeowners going to save a little money on that utility bill, they are also going to save on their maintenance chores because you know a house like this requires a lot of maintenance but at least they won’t have to paint any of the windows. Just a little bit of washing from time to time on the vinyl windows, all they need in order to maintain them.
Now if you didn’t win a window and door contest you might be faced with the fair investment in replacing all of your doors and windows on your house but here are some other things that you can do, very simple inexpensive things that can have a big impact on your utility bill, and we’ll look at a few of those next, right after our Best New Product of the week.
Sometimes when a home needs to be updated, it’s about more than just changing the surface that you can see. Behind the scenes heating, cooling, and electrical systems have changed over the years as new more efficient methods were invented. And now the same is true for water heaters. This is a tankless water heater from Paloma, and it’s different from the traditional tank style unit in several ways.
Now first of all, it heats the water quickly as soon as it’s needed, instead of storing it in a tank. This means you’ll never run out of hot water since it’s heated on demand. Second, these devices are powered by natural gas or propane and they can be located either inside or outside your home. In either case there’s this remote control here so you can monitor and control temperature settings from anywhere in your house. Finally and most importantly because you’re not keeping gallons of water heated every hour of every day a tankless unit uses much less energy. In fact it’s about 98 percent efficient.
Now, you’ll have to pay more for these units up front, but you can get that money back quickly with savings as much as 20 percent on your water heating bill. So if you want to save energy and money the Paloma tankless water heater is for you.
After the break we’re going to get the whole family into the act, so don’t go anywhere.
Hey, we’re in the small town of Winthrop, Maine, and this is the winner’s house of the Scariest Utility Bill contest. Now for winning the contest the prize is having brand new energy efficient windows and doors installed all the way around the house. Now homeowner Greg Quimby wanted to do a little something extra to try to drive this very high utility bill down a little bit and let’s catch up with him down in the basement.
Most everyone knows adding insulation to your house will increase its energy efficiency but most people think of adding that insulation to the attic not under the house. Greg, are you ready to tackle this one?
I think so. I brought everything you said to get – the tape measure, the razor knife. I also picked up the work gloves, the respirator and the safety glasses. But I’m wondering why no staple gun?
Well, a lot of people think about a staple gun when they’re installing insulation, and you need it when you’re putting in walls and other applications. But when you’re dealing with insulation overhead like this, this is what you want. This is an insulation support wire. And basically it’s just a fairly stiff wire that you force between the joists, and it will hold all the insulation in place, not a staple needed at all. Hey, you’ll also be glad I brought along a little bit of this.
Baby powder. What this will allow us to do is put a little on any of our bare skin, anything that is not covered by the gloves and our long sleeve shirts. And it’ll keep the insulation from irritating, the fiberglass can irritate a lot of people. So it’ll make it a little more pleasant and it kind of smells sort of good.
Once we’re set up with our safety gear we’re ready to roll out the insulation. You’ll want to measure the length of the cavity you’re filling and cut the insulation to fit it snuggly. But here we’re also measuring the width because the floor joists in this old home are not spaced consistently so we’re using insulation designed for 24-inch spacing and cutting it down to fit each individual space.
Because of the random joist spacing, we also have to cut down our wire hangers so that they fit properly. Now the craft paper backing on this insulation acts as a vapor barrier so you’ll want to make sure that you face it up towards the living area of the home so that it doesn’t trap moisture in the floor cavity. People often get this backwards in basements, because they prefer to leave the Kraft paper showing.
Now, while we’re down here, we’re also adding some pipe insulation to the hot water lines coming from Greg’s water heater and boiler. Now, even these small improvements can make a big difference and Allen’s getting some help on one upstairs from Greg’s two sons Tom and Jordan.
OK. So you remember that funny picture I showed you? It had a lot of funny color on it? It was this plug right here and it was blue just a little spot of blue. You know what that meant?
The cold air coming into the house.
Cold air! That’s right. Cold air was coming in. That’s a bad thing especially in the winter. Now just for this spot you wouldn’t think that’s too much but if you start counting the ones that you have around your house on the outside, that’s a lot and when you put them all together you could have hole this big in your house in the middle of winter. We didn’t quite get it out. Do what we’re going to do with those little pieces that you’re pulling out for me, did you get yours Jordan? All right.
We are going to block it with this gasket. We’ve got to get that little metal thing out, remember this? Got to push that through. Here’s how simple it is. Put that gasket over the plug, put the plate over, and you are done! Now, the two of you have to make me a promise. I don’t want to see ya’ll playing with these electrical plugs ever all right?
But you’re going to have to help me. We have to do that to all of the outside plugs and switches in the house. Are you ready?
While Allen’s crew is doing that, I’m going to address a worn threshold on one of the doors that isn’t being replaced. This gasket is in such bad shape that it wasn’t doing a thing to seal the doorway. The old style thresholds can really be a pain to replace because you have to cut the metal to fit the opening, it really can make a difference when we have the kind of cold weather they do here. This new threshold should stop that constant draft of cold air that was leaking under the door.
Now, if you live in a warmer climate and replacing all of your windows isn’t in the budget, you might consider adding window film to the ones you already have. This stuff is applied over the inside of the existing glass and blocks up to 60 percent of the sun’s heat from entering your home. That means your home is more comfortable and your air conditioner doesn’t have to work as hard, which in turn lowers those utility bills.
Well, Allen, I see you’re still playing with your little infrared camera here.
I love this thing and it really OK, you might say I’m playing with it; but really it’s because I’m skeptical. That might be a bad thing. But seriously when you’re doing this type of work, you tend to ask yourself does it really make a difference?
Yeah, I know you guys. You and the kids were working on these outlet covers and everything. And you know a lot of people ask me does that really make a difference, because it is a very simple thing. And you know you go around the outside of your house, it’s bound to help some but does that actually show you the results.
It does, now let me show you the before picture. Right here.
OK. So I see the flaring around all the blue. That looks cool.
Now, let me take it off of that. And when you get it back on, here it’s actually holding the heat in. Isn’t that cool?
How about that. Yeah, it is pretty cool and what a 25 cents a cover.
The least expensive improvement we made and what a difference.
Yeah, that’s great. Good idea.
All right, now I’m actually going to go around the rest of the house, and check that out. And actually why don’t you check out this week’s Ask Danny.
What’s a simple inexpensive way to cut down on my air conditioning costs?
Homeowners are always looking for easy economical ways to reduce their monthly heating and cooling cost. If your home really heats up in the summertime the solution may be as simple as a little shade. Installing a tinted film on your windows can block a significant amount of the suns heat while also protecting your furnishings from all that fading that can occur.
Now, pay particular attention to any window that you may have that is not covered with draperies or shades. Installing awnings over them will block the suns rays, and this can reduce a room’s temperature by up to 15 degrees, saving you 25 percent on your air conditioning needs for that particular room. Now, if you’re not real crazy about the look of an awning, you might consider strategically planting a shade tree to get similar results.
You know you’ll miss the after shots if you leave now so stay put.
This week we’ve shown you some energy efficiency improvements to Greg and Jennifer Quimby’s home in Maine. We’ve made changes large and small to help them bring their utility bills under control. Something that’s very important during those long cold winters here. The whole family’s gotten involved in this process to make a difference in the bottom line of that utility bill.
Plus, we’ve managed to make it more comfortable and preserve the historic character and charm of this home. The house is a lot more attractive and we know it’s a lot more energy efficient, we have made a lot of friends here in Maine this week. You know I can’t wait to hear from the Quimbys in the months ahead on how much they’re able to save every month on their utility bills.
And you know involving kids in energy saving efforts like this, it’s really important. It makes them aware of how easy it is to make a home more energy efficient and they’re helping to control the family budget. Now, we have more energy saving tips on our website at todayshomeowner.com. Hey, thanks for being with us, we’ll see you next week.
Once sure way to change a room is to change the ceiling. Next week we’ll show what a difference it will make.