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Aside from the cost to homeowners, heating is the second highest source of greenhouse gases from the average household. Insulation and heating are therefore extremely important concerns. In most cases it is not the type of heating that matters, but how well the home retains its heat.
By following a few simple guidelines, you will not only protect the structural integrity of your home but may save up to several hundreds of dollars a year in energy costs. These are savings that can be repeated year after year without additional material costs. It takes just a few hours' work and some inexpensive materials to create an energy-efficient home.
A programmable thermostat helps reduce home heating costs by allowing the user to set the temperature depending on family needs or the time of day. For example, the thermostat can be set to lower the temperature automatically during the day while everyone is out and raise again it in the evening, and/or to lower the temperature at night and raise it to a comfortable level in the morning. Air-conditioning systems can also be pre-programmed in the same way.
Most attics are insulated, but adding more insulation will dramatically reduce energy costs. This is because heat rises, and so if the ceiling is cold due to insufficient insulation, the furnace will have to work harder. An R-value (a material's ability to resist heat flow) of R40 to R50 (13 ½" to 16 ¾" of fibreglass blanket insulation) is recommended for attic insulation in colder areas of the country. This additional insulation will also help reduce air conditioning costs in the summer.
Trees not only provide welcome shade outdoors during the summer but they can also keep the inside of the home cool by blocking the sun's hot rays. In the winter, they provide a barrier against cold winds. Planting the recommended tree species for a given area can therefore help save energy costs.
Heated air in a home rises, and accumulates at ceiling level. A room therefore tends to be heated from the ceiling downwards, which takes time and wastes precious energy. Installing a ceiling fan can help resolve this problem. The fan pushes the warm air down from the ceiling and spreads it evenly through the home. As a result, the central heating system does not have to work as hard to maintain the same temperature.
All hot water tanks are lined with special insulating foam, but heat can still escape from other parts of the tank's body. An insulation blanket is inexpensive and keeps the tank warmer, so that the heating element inside the tank will consume less energy for heating the same amount of water, thus reducing the energy bill. The pipes leading out of the tank can also be covered with pipe insulating foam.
Most home improvement stores sell special wicks that give off a small amount of smoke when lit. When positioned beside doors, windows or electrical outlets, the smoke from the wick shows if there is air escaping at that location: if the smoke blows horizontally, there is a draft. Seal all such gaps with a durable acrylic caulking product.
Seal heating ducts with metallic duct tape to prevent heat (or, in the case of air conditioning, cool air) from escaping through cracks and joints.
The air in the home can contain dust particles that may cause discomfort to occupants and cause the furnace or air conditioner to work harder to maintain the desired temperature. These particles can decrease the life of fan motors by getting into the moving parts. It is advisable to change disposable filters or clean permanent filters twice a year.
Even the best double-paned windows with a low-emissivity coating and argon gas-filled spaces will only increase a window’s energy efficiency to R3 or R4. Window film is inexpensive and significantly improves thermal insulation.
In many homes built prior to 2000, electrical receptacles on outside walls were installed without a barrier to the inside wall. Since the insulation in the walls is not a wind-proof barrier, cold air can get past wood or vinyl siding, form channels in the fibreglass batts and then find its way into the home through interior light switches and outlet boxes. These drafts can be prevented by installing foam shields over the receptacles. Plastic covers can also be inserted into plugs when not in use.
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