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Energy savings at Home

You know your father was right. You shouldn't just stand there with the refrigerator door open. It is a waste of energy. And if you had paid attention to "turn out the lights", you would have developed good energy conservation habits.

It's funny how you think more about conserving energy when YOU pay the hydro bill. If you are like most people, you probably shake your head every time you get the bill and wonder how you might reduce it. Well, you'd be surprised at how much you can do to save energy - and not all of it involves weekend-long projects.

Before you can improve your home's energy efficiency you need to do an energy audit - this involves a walk about your house (exterior and interior) noting where energy is being consumed and where it is being lost.

The Exterior

There are a number of things to look for on the exterior. Check for holes (e.g., where wiring, ductwork, tubes and hoses enter the building) and cracks through which heat may be escaping. Particular attention should be paid to areas where different kinds of building materials meet to see if there are gaps, e.g., where windows fit into walls, where concrete foundations join wood, etc. And don't forget to consider the landscaping and how your house is situated. Is one side of your home particularly wind-beaten?

The most common problems discovered on the exterior inspection involve places where air comes into the house. Caulking will do the trick on holes, cracks and small gaps. Weather-stripping around doors and windows will create a tighter seal between jams and casings. Fireplace chimneys should have snug-fitting dampers that can be closed when the fireplace isn't in use. Windows are a significant source of heat loss on most homes.

Windows should be double pane. If yours aren't, and you can't afford to replace them just yet, consider installing storm windows. Shutters will also provide insulation. Obviously, the better the shutters fit, the better the insulation. And awnings on south-facing windows can be used to minimize the summer sun, helping reduce the inside temperature without using energy to do so.

Closely planted shrubs or a sturdy fence can protect the house from the wind and can help reduce your winter heating load. Shade trees planted on the south side of the house block the summer sun. Also, vines help keep a house cool in summer and warm in winter.

The Interior

When auditing the interior consider the following: appliances, lighting, the heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) system and energy consumption patterns. List all the appliances, noting whether they are fairly new or rather old. Older appliances will tend to be less energy-efficient. If you can, replace older appliances with energy-efficient models (or at least consider the energy efficiency level when it's time to replace them).

Regardless of the age of an appliance, there are ways of optimizing its energy efficiency. For example, by keeping the condenser coils of your refrigerator clean and by turning the thermostat setting from 37°F to 40°F, you will save energy. Also, cooling hot foods before you refrigerate them saves energy. Don't preheat the oven too early and resist the temptation to peek while food is baking - each peek drops the temperature by 25°F to 50°F. Only run the dishwasher with full loads and (of course) use energy saving features if available. Heating water consumes the second largest amount of energy in most houses. Reduce the hot-water tank's thermostat to about 120°F - this is plenty warm enough for most household uses. Keeping waterbeds covered retains heat and saves energy.

To save energy on lighting, replace traditional bulbs with fluorescent bulbs. Use lampshades with white liners because they provide better reflection. And arrange lamps so that light reflects off two walls rather than just one.

Regarding your HVAC system, keep filters, grills, and coils on furnaces and air conditioning units clean to help them run efficiently and save energy. Also, be sure the heating/air conditioning ducts are clean. Do not block hot or cold registers with furniture. Close drapes and blinds to keep the sun out of rooms. Also, glass doors surrounding a fireplace reduce the radiant heat from the fire but they allow you to enjoy the fire while saving heat your furnace is producing.

Analyze your home's energy consumption looking for patterns - not just by month or season, but also consider daily patterns. In winter, conserve energy during the day by reducing the thermostat while you're away. Also, find out if your electric company offers billing options with reduced rates during non-peak hours (e.g., 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.). Under such a program you can save money simply by running appliances (e.g., washers, dryers, dishwashers), only during off-peak hours.

If you're interested in more information on energy saving, your electric company is a good starting point - most have brochures and literature on the subject. Also, for a small fee some hydro companies will send out an "energy advisor" who will do an on-site energy audit, pointing out specific ways you can save energy.

Quick Tips

Improving the energy efficiency of your home can lower your monthly heating and electrical expenses, as well as help slow the effects of "global warming." To do your part for the environment, follow these six easy steps:

* Turn down the thermostat, especially before going to bed. Programmable thermostats are available to do the job for you.
* Seal and insulate. Up to 40 percent of a home's heat is lost through air leaks. By putting weather-stripping around doors, caulking windows and adding more insulation, you can limit the loss to a minimum.
* Wrap heat ducts and hot water pipes with insulation. Protection against energy loss is especially important in unheated areas such as the attic or basement.
* Blanket the water heater. Specially designed insulating blankets are available for your water heater.
* Use energy-efficient lights. Compact fluorescent or other energy-efficient bulbs are more expensive than commonplace light bulbs, but they last much longer and cost considerable less to operate.
* Buy and use appliances wisely. Read the accompanying EnergyGuide rating labels to determine what difference each appliance will make to your energy bill. Operate high-energy appliances, like washers and dryers, with full loads during off-peak hours for maximum energy economy.

Trademarks owned or controlled by the Canadian Real Estate Association used under license.