Being in and out of 250-300 homes a years, we are asked a lot of different questions.
Some questions are commonly asked, and are listed below. Maybe one or two may be of assitance to you.
What can I do that is cheap to make my house more easier to heat?
The most important thing on your checklist is to check the amount of insulation is in your attic. Maine's Energy Code recommends a R-38 in attics'
What's the most common mistake people make in trying to save energy around the house?
Common mistakes people make include:
We have an older house. Which should we do first: insulate or replace the furnace?
Whether you should insulate or replace your furnace first depends on the situation in your house. Factors that influence this decision are the age and efficiency of your furnace, and the amount of insulation currently present in the house.
In general it is more cost-effective to upgrade insulation than it is to upgrade your furnace. However, if your furnace is old, and you are planning on replacing it anyway, you might want to upgrade the furnace if you have to choose between the two options. The average lifetime for a furnace is between 15 and 20 years. The efficiency of furnaces has increased over the years, so the older a furnace is, the more likely that furnace is to be inefficient. The average efficiency of new furnaces has increased from 63% in 1972 to 83% in 1995. Older furnaces, and furnaces which are used a lot are more cost-effective to replace than newer or infrequently used furnaces. Also, if you insulate your house at the time of furnace replacement, you might be able to buy a smaller capacity furnace and save money on the price. The same holds true for A/C and other heating and cooling equipment.
Typically older houses were built with poor levels of insulation. As insulation ages, it compresses, becoming less effective at preventing heat transfer. Dust and moisture also contribute to the aging process in insulation. In temperate areas, if the insulation level in your house is less than 6 inches, the most cost-effective action is to increase the insulation up to R-30. For areas with extreme hot or cold temperatures, it is cost-effective to increase the insulation up to R-42.
My neighbor's bills are much lower than mine, even though they have children, and are home more than we are. Why are my bills so high?
There are a number of factors that cause differences in energy bills, so comparing your bill to someone else's is like comparing apples to oranges. The ages of major appliances, especially refrigerators and air conditioners, can make a dramatic difference in your bill. In addition, if your house leaks air like a sieve while your neighbor's house was just weatherized and insulated, you will have much higher heating and cooling bills. Other factors that can result in significant differences in bills are the number and kinds of lighting fixtures, thermostat settings for heating and cooling, the number of loads of laundry, old refrigerators out in the garage, and hobbies which result in electricity use.
On windy days I can feel drafts coming from the baseboards in my house. How can I stop these drafts?
The best way to prevent drafts in your house is to stop the air from penetrating the outside shell. Typically, air comes in through cracks along the foundation, near the exterior of the chimney, water faucets and electrical outlets, and along doors and windows. A good quality outdoor caulk will prevent air flow through these areas. For cracks larger than 1/4 inch, fill the gap with insulation or some other filler material, then caulk over the area.
Some parts of my house are never comfortable, no matter what I do. The rest of the house is fine, but one room is always too hot or too cold. Why is that, and what can I do to fix it?
Your problem is probably caused by bad air ducts and/or poor insulation and windows in that area. Air ducts can be functioning poorly due to bad design, inadequate insulation, or air leaks. These problems reduce the amount of conditioned air reaching a room. Leaking and disconnected ducts waste the energy intended for heating or cooling by losing energy to your attic, basement or crawlspace, and contribute to indoor air pollution by increasing dust in the house or by drawing exhaust fumes from gas appliances back into the house.
Ducts can become disconnected or develop leaks in many different ways. One is accidental bumping, which happens when someone moves around the ductwork. In addition, over time duct tape can degrade and ducts, especially those under the flooring of houses, can simply fall apart. Disconnected ducts are not only a problem in old housing-the ducts in new houses are often accidentally disconnected during construction. Have your ductwork inspected and make sure any connections are airtight, and held together with zip ties, or sheet metal screws and mastic to create a good seal.
Also, if the uncomfortable room is at the end of a long duct run with lots of turns and connections, it may not get adequate air flow. A qualified heating and cooling contractor should be able to check out your duct system and make sure it is functioning properly. If you've checked out the ducts and determined they are not the problem, then the problem can probably be solved by insulating the ceiling, walls, or floor, or by replacing the windows with energy-efficient models.
I keep getting ads in the mail for companies offering to replace our windows with "energy-efficient" windows. How much can these save me?
For a typical house, windows can account for 10% to 30% of the heating and cooling bill. Upgrading from single-pane windows to energy-efficient windows can cut this in half or better, so savings of up to 15% of your current bill are reasonable. Depending on where you live, this can amount to $50 to $100 per year. Spread over 20 years, this means $1,000 to $2,000. You can get a better estimate by running our Home Energy Adviser.
But the big thing to keep in mind is that many of these window replacement firms use simple double-pane windows; for just a little more money up front, you can save a lot of energy over the long haul by asking for windows with special low-e coatings and inert gases, such as argon or krypton, which fill the space between the panes of glass. Some manufacturers even offer 'superwindows' with one or two thin plastic films sandwiched between the panes of glass. These windows can reduce energy loss to one-half as much energy as standard double-pane glass, and one-fourth as much as single-pane glass. In cooling-dominated climates, use windows that reduce solar gains. For the most appropriate window in your climate, purchase windows with the Energy Star label.
Ask the salesperson to tell you the "U-value" of the windows they offer. This is sort of like the miles-per-gallon rating for new cars; an independent agency performs these ratings. In this case, lower is better: the best you can buy today have U-values of around 0.2, while a typical double-pane window is around 0.5.
Note: One thing to keep in mind is that replacing windows is often not justified solely on the basis of energy savings. The cost of replacing windows in existing housing is quite expensive the cost is typically not paid back for 20 to 30 years or more. However, replacing windows will make a substantial difference in the comfort of your home, which could well be worth the cost. Also, double-paned windows typically add to the value and saleability of your home if you put it on the market. In new construction, the labor costs are equivalent regardless of the quality of window installed, so buy the best you can afford.
Over the winter, fog appeared between the panes of my double pane windows, but during the summer it went away. Why did this occur?
Fog, or condensate, on multiple pane windows is caused by moisture between the glass layers. When it is cold, the moisture condenses on the outer glass pane, very much like water beading up on the outside of a cold glass of water.
There are several reasons why the condensate might have disappeared. One is that your windows might be double-paned, but not sealed. These windows generally have a small air tube connecting the air space between the glazings to the outside. If this tube becomes completely or partially blocked, perhaps by snow or mud, condensation would build up during the colder months. In this case, the blockage could have cleared during the warmer weather. Check for the presence of an airtube in your windows and make sure it is unobstructed. If your double pane windows have been installed for a long time, it is very likely that this is the problem.
If you have sealed windows, like most modern double-pane windows, it is possible that the amount of moisture that leaked into the airspace is very small, small enough to remain in the air as water vapor when the air is warmer. If this is so, you can probably expect it to return next winter.
Another possibility is that the leakage is very large. Once the weather warmed up, the moisture equalized with the outside air, clearing up the fog. Generally, once the seal on a window has leaked, there isn't much you can do to repair it, and you will probably have to replace the window. In either case, check the warranty on your windows. Most sealed double-paned windows have some form of warranty against leakage. A lot of warranties have a limited life, but some are lifetime.