3 DIY Ways to Save Energy Dollars in the New Year
While the products you read about below will save energy and money, some contain highly toxic materials. Be sure to look for the most environmentally friendly brands you can find. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Want to make some room in your budget for next year’s holiday shopping? Here are three steps to earning up to $300 dollars in energy savings in one year.
Even better, these do-it-yourself improvements will continue to pay dividends for as long as you live in your house. That means extra dollars in your pocket every year. It also means that when you’re sitting in your living room enjoying next winter’s holiday cheer with family and friends, you’re going to feel a lot more comfortable — no cold drafts, warmer floors, and less furnace run-time
1. Buy 3 or 4 cans of insulating foam sealant
Insulating foam sealant is a high-R, closed-cell insulating foam that gradually expands as it cures. Applied in a bead, foam can be used to seal joints in much the same way as caulk. It can also be used to fill bigger gaps. There are several formulations available, including one for gaps up to 1 in. and one for gaps larger than 1 in.
Don’t simply begin squirting foam wherever you suspect an air leak. There is a learning curve to using the stuff, and it can be messy even after you get the hang of applying it. In addition, you’re going to have to use the entire can all in one session — or else the foam will harden and clog the spout before you can use the rest.
My recommendation is to make a list of where you can use this product. It should include the gaps around recessed light fixtures, ceiling fans, vent and heat register openings, wire and pipe penetrations, and voids behind window and door jambs. Then make sure you have access to where you will apply foam by lowering lighting trim rings, fan canopies, and anything else that’s in your way.
Spread a drop cloth — the disposable paper ones are ideal — and don safety goggles, latex or vinyl gloves, an old hat, and a long-sleeve work short. Have a rag and a can of acetone handy to wipe up spills.
When applying insulating foam sealant, shake the can vigorously for 30 seconds prior to use, and hold the can upside down while applying the foam. For joints with narrow gaps, gently pull the trigger until foam begins to emerge from the straw-tube applicator. Drag the tube along the joint, leaving as narrow a bead as you can.
When tackling bigger gaps, fill only about 50 percent of the void and keep moving. Expect some foam to fall when you’re working overhead, so stay clear of it! It’s tough to remove. You can avoid much drippings and droppings by always applying the foam to one edge of the gap, not simply aiming into a void.
Remember that the foam is going to expand several fold, so be conservative with your application. You can always add more later. When you’ve emptied the first can, pause the job for an hour or so while the foam expands and cures. Based upon the results, adjust the amount of foam you apply with the next can.
2. Add 3 cartridges of caulk to your cart
For air sealing, latex caulk (sometimes called acrylic latex) is usually the best choice because it is easy to apply, adheres to any clean surface, can be painted, and is easy to clean up. Use a silicone caulk when flexibility and temperature extremes are an issue, such as in the gap around a duct where it passes through plaster or drywall.
Caulk is easier to control than foam, and a lot less messy. It is better suited to sealing joints with very narrow gaps, such as baseboard moldings and window and door casings – especially when they will be visible. Use a caulking gun and buy your caulk in cartridges rather than tubes. Cut the nozzle at an angle, break the cartridge seal, and apply the caulk by pulling the nozzle along the joint as you squeeze the trigger. Use your fingers to wipe away any excess.
Caulk can be used to fill bigger gaps, too, but you may need to use backer rod to fill the space first. Backer rod, available at most home centers and hardware stores, is available in various diameters. With the backer rod stuffed in place, you can apply your caulk in an economical manner.
3. Pick up a gallon of duct sealant
Duct sealant, also called mastic, is the right stuff for sealing ducts that carry heated and cooled air. Ducts typically lose up to 20 percent of the heated or cooled air that passes through them — air that you’ve already paid to heat or cool!
To seal duct leaks, brush the mastic directly over duct joints, holes, and seams with a disposable bristle brush. For gaps that are 1/16 in. or wider, apply a bed of mastic and lay fiberglass tape over it. Then apply a second coat of mastic to cover the tape. Don’t rely on duct tape for air sealing. It won’t stay put for long. Pay special attention to high-pressure leaks near the blower.
If you don’t have ducts because your heat distribution system is hydronic (water carries the heat to radiators or to pipes under the floor), buy pipe insulation instead of mastic. Made of insulating foam and split along one side, it can be slipped over pipes. Install it around supply and return pipes to radiators as well as to the first 6 feet of hot and cold water pipes coming from your water heater.
You can buy everything you need to perform the above energy-saving tasks for less than $40 and complete them in a weekend. In addition to preventing heat loss in winter, air sealing will keep cool air inside your home and hot air outside during the summer.
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About the Author
Joe Provey writes for Basement Systems, Dr. Energy Saver, and is the author of several books on green living, including Convert Your Home to Solar Energy.