Fall is coming, and with it higher energy bills. You’re on the right track if you’re already thinking of ways you can save money this winter.
Not all measures you can take to have an energy-efficient home are equal, however.
Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you get the most from your energy-saving efforts:
Don’t: Replace computer monitors, newer refrigerators, and similar items hoping to save electricity
Do: Replace refrigerators made before 1993. Turn off refrigerators you don’t really need
New appliances are more efficient than the ones our parents and grandparents bought years ago – a fact widely touted on advertisements for the new ones.
However, most appliances made in the last 20 years or so are already fairly efficient. If you lay out the cash for a new model, you’ll never break even on just the energy savings.
Computer monitors use very little energy per day. If you’re worried about energy, turn them off when you’re not using them.
Don’t: Insulate the walls, in most cases
Do: Insulate the attic
It can cost you a small fortune to add more insulation to the walls, mostly because the inside of your walls are hard to get to.
If your house has no insulation in the walls and you live in a cold climate, or if you’re planning to put new siding on anyways (and thus cover the holes from adding insulation), go ahead and insulate the walls.
Otherwise, you’ll spend less and save more by adding insulation to the attic.
Not only is it easier to get to the attic to add insulation, but because heat rises, that’s probably where you’re losing more heat to begin with.
Don’t: Let your heat go up the chimney flue
Do: Block chimney drafts
Does it feel a little drafty around the fireplace? Your heat could be going straight up the chimney.
Even if you use the fireplace to warm things up a little now and then, it will never make up for a constant draft in the room.
You can get a fireplace urethane pillow made just for the purpose of blocking drafts. An even cheaper solution is to repurpose an old cushion to keep your heat from being sucked up the chimney.
Check for drafts. A small draft is like having a door cracked open.
Get out the caulking gun, weather stripping, or other draft stopping tools. Block your unused fireplace so it doesn’t suck heat up your chimney.
Don’t: Neglect boring maintenance chores
Do: Change your furnace filter
Depending on the pet hair, dust, and other things floating in your home air, your filters could clog up as often as once a month.
When that happens, your energy efficiency goes down dramatically.
Furnace filters are relatively cheap, and by keeping them changed regularly, you’ll breathe more easily, too.
Don’t: Get new windows unless yours are very, very old
Do: Get out the caulking gun
Feel the air around your windows and doors. If you feel any drafts, block them with new caulking or weather stripping. The cost is nominal, and it should save you a lot of money this winter.
Small drafts around your house are like having the door open. It’s amazing how much heat gets away!
The only time you should replace windows for energy saving purposes is if you have old, single-pane windows. If that’s the case, perhaps it’s time for a change.
Don’t: Make energy-saving improvements in 2014 just for the tax benefits
Do: Take energy-saving measures that really save you money
If you made energy-saving improvements to your home before December 31, 2013, you may have qualified for energy tax credits on your return.
So far, unfortunately, those credits have not been extended to 2014 and beyond.
For 2013, if you had paid for insulation, windows, doors, and roofs that come with a manufacturer’s credit certification statement, you could get 10% of your cost back as a tax credit.
This credit has a lifetime limit of $500, of which only $200 can be for windows.
Alternative energy equipment installed in 2013 was an even better deal.
If you installed solar energy systems, fuel cells, small wind energy systems, or geothermal heat pumps before the credit expired, you could take a tax credit for 30% of the cost.
These energy credits may be reinstated retroactively, or they may not. If you only make improvements that actually pay you back in energy savings, however, you’ll still be ahead either way.