When it comes to home energy efficiency, the reasons to ensure your home is performing up to par are compelling. The terms sustainability and green have become everyday words and marketing slogans because there has never been a more crucial time to conserve. And even if you are a less-than-enthusiastic participant in the eco-boom, you’ll still relish the fact that your utility bill could take a significant nosedive with a little investment and a few well-installed adjustments. Chronogram spoke to some of the Hudson Valley’s leaders in home energy efficiency and got their recommendations for what you can do to help make a difference for the environment and your own bank account.
The most mommon ways to waste energy
According to all of our experts, the first thing a homeowner must address is the air that enters and exits the home. “Many homes have enough cracks and openings to add up to the same effect as a large, constantly open window,” says John Franklin, the merchandising manager for Williams Lumber. “You just don’t notice the window being open.”
There are two types of heat loss that happen: convected and conducted. Convected heat loss occurs when drafts are caused by open or loose fitting windows and doors, different types of vents, or through actual holes or openings to the outside of the building. Heated air will commonly be lost through the ceiling or top of the wall, and drafts of cold air often make their way in through the bottom of the structure. According to Franklin, this combination of airflow creates a gravity siphon that moves a huge amount of heat outside of the home. Homes that have active chimneys for fireplaces, wood stoves, gas or oil appliances, or active vents in the bathroom or kitchen often cause cold air outside to enter in almost every possible location due to the slightly negative pressure created inside.
Joseph Malcarne, owner of Energy Star-rated builder Malcarne Contracting, says that building codes mandate that the air in your house be exchanged every two hours and 52 minutes to guarantee good air quality and freshness. However, he adds that most houses he goes into have an air exchange rate of every one to two hours instead. “Imagine all that air that you have to heat up,” Malcarne says. “The results of that are that you have high heating bills, rooms that are uncomfortable, and temperature differentials between rooms.”
On the other hand, conducted heat loss is more subtle. It occurs through the shell of the home, with energy escaping through the actual window, door, wall, or ceiling. “Conduction doesn’t need a hole,” Franklin says. “It just goes through the material. If the window pane feels cold, you have a loss. If the wall or floor feels cold, you have a loss.”
Homeowners will also feel the pinch of running outdated or energy-guzzling appliances. “Old oil and gas heating units may be less than 60 percent efficient or even worse,” Franklin says.
Luckily, with rising oil prices and a widespread interest in going green, homeowners have a number of options to combat rising energy costs and make their home more environmentally mindful.
Quick Fixes and Larger Investments
Malcarne says that insulation and air sealing are the best weapons against convected and conducted losses. Start by getting a blower test, which will indicate which areas are leaking air.
Since a large amount of heat escapes through the top of the home, homeowners should look at the condition of the insulation in their attics, which often becomes torn and ravaged by electrical work and other wear. Then head to the basement, and assess its condition.
“If they’re older farmhouses, basements are typically loose, stone walls and typically very leaky,” Malcarne says. For a faster, do-it-yourself approach, an easy way to fix an old, permeable basement wall is to buy a can of Great Stuff, an insulating foam sealant that will allow you to spot-treat as needed. For professionally done work, Malcarne suggests a closed-cell foam insulation for basements, which won’t absorb moisture. It’s the only kind, he says, that is usually effective for that area.
After the top and bottom of the home are covered, the walls, which are often the most expensive to insulate, should be considered. Malcarne recommends a blow-in cellulose insulation, which has a variety of benefits: its eco-friendly composition is recycled newspapers; it’s one of the most cost-effective solutions on the market; it carries a degree of flame-retardency; is nontoxic; and is not a suitable material for animals, such as mice, to make homes in. Malcarne uses National Fiber’s cellulose insulation for his projects.