The winter season can be a drag on your energy bill. Luckily, energy efficiency experts have compiled loads of useful measures to make heating your living space more efficient – whether you’re a homeowner or a renter. We chatted with Doug Anderson, a project manager from the EPA’s Energy Star program, for tips and tricks on how renters and owners can prep for the winter.
Home Weatherizing Tips for Renters
1. Leaving the house? Lower your thermostat to save cash
Is your energy bill a bit higher than you’d like? Don’t worry, thrifty renter. By following a few simple steps from Energy Star, you can save $180 per year on your heating and cooling bill.
For starters, set back your thermostat by 8 degrees Fahrenheit while you are away or asleep to prevent wasted energy. If you have a programmable thermostat in your apartment or rental unit, Anderson suggests pre-setting the thermostat to reduce temperature when you leave for work or school and programming it to reach your desired temperature about a half hour before you get home for a “warm welcome.”
Since you don’t need to heat your kitchen while you’re snuggled under the blankets at bedtime, program your thermostat to decrease the temperature while you’re sleeping as well, and pre-set it to power back on about a half hour before you wake up.
If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, Anderson assures us that you can achieve comparable results by changing your settings manually. Simply lower the temperature before you go to sleep or leave the house, and raise it when you wake up or arrive home to start realizing energy savings.
2. Don’t forget your storm windows
“In the fall, people like to leave their windows open and enjoy the nice weather. But often times they forget to close the glass panel to cover the screens on their storm windows,” Anderson says.
Storm windows are designed to maintain a layer of air between your home and the outdoors, improving heat retention. Leaving the exterior portion of your storm windows open allows warm air to easily escape your home — meaning you’re essentially paying loads of extra money to heat your front yard.
Save some cash and reduce energy use by making sure all of your storm windows are securely shut. If you notice that one of your storm windows does not fully close, notify your landlord immediately to prevent wasted energy.
3. Use temporary solutions to fix leaks
Sealing drafty windows or leaky duct-work is a common green tip, but many landlords prohibit tenants from making modifications to their apartment or rental unit. So, what’s a planet-friendly renter to do? Skip the caulk and permanent weather stripping in favor of temporary solutions that can help you achieve similar results without damaging your rental.
If you notice cold air coming in around your windows, Anderson suggests using shrink-to-fit insulating film – which reduces drafts and can be easily removed with no damage to your walls or windows. To ensure scuff-free results, be sure to leave at least an inch of space between the plastic and your window, and never apply the sheets to directly to window glass. Pick up insulating film, such as these kits from 3M and WJ Dennis, at your local hardware store.
Rather than using standard caulk, renters can easily seal up leaks by using temporary rope caulk, says Anderson. This simple alternative comes in pre-cut strands for easy application and is completely removable — meaning less wasted energy without sacrificing that $1,000 deposit. Pick up a pack of rope caulk, like this one from Duck Brand, at your local hardware store or home improvement retailer.
If you have a window air conditioning unit that cannot be removed, this can also contribute to uncomfortably cold drafts in your apartment, Anderson says. Solve the problem with an indoor or outdoor air conditioner cover, and you’ll notice a far less drafty living space.
4. Redecorate for energy savings
Take a moment to do a little energy-saving feng shui around your apartment. Make sure all air registers, radiators and baseboard heaters are completely free of obstruction, Anderson suggests.
If you have furniture or drapery positioned directly in front of an air register or heater, the heat will not circulate into your room as well — which could lead you to unnecessarily crank up the thermostat. Try to leave at least a foot of space around your air registers for maximum efficiency.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask your landlord
Whether your heating system is downstairs in the basement or you use a self-contained furnace inside your apartment or in a closet, you should never touch the system without your landlord present. But don’t be afraid to ask about heating system maintenance and other energy-related concerns.
Ask your landlord if he or she schedules pre-season check-ups of heating and cooling systems and how often air filters are changed. Air filters should be changed every three months to ensure maxiumum efficiency, Anderson says.
For personalized energy-saving information that is specific to your area, check out Energy Star’s Home Advisor. Just type in your ZIP code, answer a few quick questions about your apartment or rental unit, and you’ll get a list of tips created just for you.
Home Weatherizing Tips for Owners
1. Schedule a heating system check-up
Dirt and neglect are the top causes of heating system failure, according to the EPA. It’s best to call in a professional at the start of the cool-weather season to make sure everything is in working order. Regular check-ups are especially vital if your heating system is more than 10 years old, says the EPA’s Doug Anderson.
So, before you begin using your heating system daily, make an appointment with a certified contractor to ensure maximum efficiency. The contractor will check the thermostat settings to make sure your heating system turns on and off at the programmed temperature. He or she will also change your air filter, tighten any electrical connections, measure your voltage, lubricate moving parts and verify system control safety for a worry-free winter.
2. Maintain your equipment properly
A contractor will verify that your heating system is in working order for the season, but it’s up to you to maintain it during the winter months.
Make sure the exterior of your heating system is free of dirt and obstructions, and change your air filter often for maximum efficiency. Anderson recommends changing your air filter every three months for efficient heating and better indoor air quality.
If you have a fireplace, make sure the damper and front glass door are securely closed when not in use. If your damper doesn’t close very tightly, you can also use a chimney balloon to keep cool air out. As the name implies, you simply blow up the product and stick it in your chimney to prevent drafts. Just remember to remove it before using your fireplace!
3. Seal those leaks!
Sealing air leaks is the No. 1 way to increase energy efficiency in your home. Although fixing leaky windows and doors is important, the biggest energy-suckers could be hiding right above your head.
“The places where you’re really losing the most heat, especially in the wintertime, is usually up in the attic and on the attic floor,” Anderson says. “If you have insulation on your attic floor, then the big air leaks are usually hidden there.”
Since hot air rises, leaky sections of your attic can be extremely problematic. As you heat your rooms, all that toasty air will gradually creep upward and escape your home. This can also lead to negative pressure in your living space – meaning outdoor air is literally pulled inside your home through other cracks and leaks.
This handy do-it-yourself guide from Energy Star will help you locate leaks in your attic and seal them yourself on the cheap, all while navigating around pipes, electrical wires and other tricky obstacles. It also contains loads of helpful tips for sealing up leaks in other problem areas, such as windows, doors, ceilings and air registers.
If you’d rather not crawl around in your attic or seal leaks yourself, you can also call in a certified contractor to perform these tasks for you.
4. Use a programmable thermostat
Control your home’s temperature while you are away or asleep by using a programmable thermostat. Anderson suggests pre-setting the temperature to decrease by 8 degrees Fahrenheit during the work day and programming the thermostat to reach your desired temperature about a half hour before you get home for a “warm welcome.”
If used properly, programmable thermostats can save you up to $180 per year in energy costs, according to the EPA.
5. Ask about a free energy audit
Did you know you may have access to a free energy audit? Many local utility companies offer free or low-cost audits and will give you suggestions about efficiency modifications for your home. In many cases, there may even be a financial incentive from the utility or your state government to make improvements.
The Department of Energy-run Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) allows you to search by state for financial incentives related to energy efficiency – making it easy to offset the cost of your improvements.
“If you don’t know where to begin, an [energy audit] can give you a list of starting points and things to consider,” Anderson says. “Get somebody out to have a look. That’s a good palce to start.”
To help you get the most out of your energy audit, consult this simple heating and cooling efficiency guide from Energy Star, which is chock-full of helpful questions to ask your contractor as he or she is performing an audit.
For personalized energy-saving information that is specific to your area, check out Energy Star’s Home Advisor. Just type in your ZIP code, answer a few quick questions about your home and you’ll get a list of tips created just for you.