Tis an ill wind that blows

“Tis an ill wind that blows…”

With all due respect to William Shakespeare, and those who welcome wind for harnessing power or ushering in change, our winter winds are rapidly approaching. We have heard it under many names or catchphrases that inspire and capture our imagination: ‘Old Man Winter,’ the Montreal Express, and countless other good ones to describe what is to come. If you have not been heaving the firewood up onto the porch, or putting the storm windows in place or even calling the service person to do one last inspection of your heating system, well, the warning bell has been sounded! We have come to the time to get it done and brace for the next few months of cold weather.

I wanted to take this opportunity to revisit what else can be done to make it through the cold, white winter, but still keep a little of the warm ‘green’ in our pockets. You will have to spend a little to save a lot. Even though we are putting these practices and improvements into place now, they will actually benefit you and your household throughout the year.

1)     The least expensive thing you can do, simply put, is to conserve energy. Space heating accounts for almost 50% of your energy needs. This is ‘low hanging fruit’ to work towards saving. If you have not done so already, install a programmable thermostat in your home. They cost less than $50 and will pay for themselves in months! Just being able to do a 4 degree ‘set back’ at night when you are sleeping or during the day when everyone is off at school or work, you can save 3 – 5% or more of your heating costs. When you have the option of more accurately planning as well as controlling how you use your fuel, you will be amazed by what it causes you to do.

2)     You could take it a step further by not making your home environment as toasty. The amount of added energy needed to keep your whole home from 70 to 72 degrees instead of just 4 degrees lower, at a range of 66 to 68 degrees can really add up over the course of just one season. Yes, just use less energy by keeping your thermostat set a couple of degrees lower in the winter. Use those sweaters and slippers to keep warmer during the temperature reduction instead of oil, gas or electricity to heat all of the air (and furniture) in your home. The opposite is true if you need to cool your home in the summer, set your temperature a couple of degrees higher at that time of year to reduce energy needs.

3)     Fix or repair air leaks around doors, windows, foundation sill, basement, attic, electrical fixtures, fireplaces, as they account for about 35% of the energy lost. Imagine leaving a hole large enough for a medium sized dog to get through. This is how much surface typically is in need of being found and filled. Replacement window seals and door gaskets are easily found and replaced. Caulk is cheap, but leaks are costly. You may wish to leave the leak reduction around electricity to a professional or tradesman. However, all other leaks can be solved by anyone with proper motivation and inexpensive tools or supplies.

4)     Insulation is the next place to go, as it fits right into the whole heating theme (and cooling for next summer too!). Attic spaces are now recommended in the New England states to have R-44 (or greater), when just 10 years ago, this was R-30. If your home has forced air heating (and cooling), this duct work should be insulated with at least R-20 as well. Again, if you are not confident of how to do this safely, consult or hire a professional. Payback period of insulation is typically 3 to 5 years. Check www.dsireusa.org to see if your state offers any sort of rebate.

5)     Replacing old windows and doors may or may not make sense. Even though there is a tremendous loss of energy through older windows and doors, the payback period of these types of improvements can be well over 10 years. So, go to the next idea before hiring a contractor to just do it.

6)     Hire a certified Energy Auditor to conduct an audit of your home. In some states, this energy audit might be free or subsidized. If not, the cost of this is in the range of $300 to $500 for the consultation and a written report of recommendations. It will more than pay for itself, tax incentives and rebates or not. Areas that should be covered in the actual audit report include, home safety, durability, comfort, action plan for attaining greater efficiency and payback periods for different actions to be taken.

These biting cold breezes will test our spirit this winter, almost as no other time we can remember from our lifetime. As our forefathers prepared to fend off this seeming wrath of Mother Nature and came through it just fine, so shall we.