3 DIY Ways to Save Energy Dollars in the New Year

January 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog, DIY, Energy, Front Page, Slideshow, Tips, Weatherizing


Caulk windows and doors to save energy and dollars.

Caulking around windows and doors can prevent warm air from leaking out of your home and cold air coming in. Photo: © gmcgill – Fotolia.com

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.

Joe Provey

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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.

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 Get Ready, Winter’s Comin’

“We Don’t Have the Time to Wait”

November 22, 2008 by  
Filed under Activists, Blog, Front Page, Iowa, Weatherizing

Student volunteers used grant funds to winterize homes. Photo: Julia Wasson

Nothing about last Saturday invited me to be outside. The wind blew with a bitter chill. My fingertips froze inside my gloves, and my left foot cramped from the cold. But I was just there to talk and observe; I could leave at any time. The university students, on the other hand, had committed to weatherizing an older couple’s home, and they stayed until it was finished.

What would bring 41 young adults outside for three hours on a bitingly cold weekend, when they had midterm exams to take and papers to write? For that matter, they had football to watch on TV, video games to play, or any number of other activities that wouldn’t require them to shiver in the wind. Yet, these volunteers were attaching weather stripping, putting plastic on the windows, and adding a door sweep in the front entrance of Ben Ploof’s home in Coralville, Iowa.

Across Iowa City and Coralville, 38 other students were donating a few hours of their weekend to winterize the homes of residents who needed their assistance. By Sunday evening, the group had helped 16 families to lower their utility bills, stay more comfortable in the coming winter, and reduce their carbon footprints.

Minor Weatherstripping, Major Effect

Stephanie Enloe, junior co-president of the University of Iowa’s Environmental Coalition (UIEC), is the pint-sized dynamo who organized the project. When her counterpart, senior co-president Eric Holthaus, told Stephanie about a grant from the Iowa Utilities Board, she said, “Hey, I’ll spearhead that!”

After the project was awarded one of ten $500 grants, Craig Just, professor of engineering and faculty adviser for the local chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World, offered to match the amount. The combined donation allowed students to purchase caulk, door sweeps, window film, CFL bulbs, and insulation pads to install behind outlets and switch plates.

Jill Staudt, Sam Boland and Stephanie Enloe winterized Ben Ploof's home. Photo: Julia Wasson

Jill Staudt, Sam Boland and Stephanie Enloe winterized Ben Ploof's home. Photo: Julia Wasson

To make sure students knew how to install the materials, Enloe put together a slide show and held training sessions at her home. Then she followed up by emailing a PowerPoint presentation to fellow volunteers. The students were eager to help make a difference in people’s lives and to improve the environment, even a window or door at a time, and Enloe wanted to help them do it correctly.

To find people needing weatherizing assistance, members of the UIEC notified religious groups, school counselors, and the Senior Center. The grant funds were intended to be used for elderly, disabled, or needy families. Ploof heard of the project through his church. “I think it’s a great help,” he said. “It may seem like minor weatherstripping, but it’s major for preventing infiltration from the wind.”

Ploof, whose wife requires continuous care due to a stroke, added, “I really appreciate the service. It probably would not have gotten done [except for the students’ efforts]. It’s needed, and it’s going to help.” He returned the favor by serving the students a warm pan of homemade apple crisp.

Campus Activism

The UIEC has a tradition of community activism, including starting a campus recycling program last spring. Working with Dave Jackson at Facilities Management, students conducted a waste characterization study at selected buildings. What they found spurred them to continue: more than 50 percent of the trash was comprised of recyclable materials. And that didn’t include the food waste that could be composted. The group wrote a grant that yielded $14,000 from Coca Cola and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. With the award, they purchased recycling bins to place both inside and outside of campus buildings.

Junior Stephanie Enloe organized UIEC's winterizing project. Photo: Julia Wasson

Junior Stephanie Enloe organized UIEC. Photo: Julia Wasson

Student volunteer groups — and classes — are making their green mark both on and off campus. Groups offer green consulting in dorms and Greek houses, volunteers tend a community garden, and classroom projects that take young engineers as far away as Ghana to implement projects that improve sustainability.

When I asked Enloe why she and fellow students are taking such an aggressive approach to dealing with the environment, she didn’t hesitate. “My generation doesn’t have the time to wait for those in power to take care of the urgent problems facing us,” she said. “Climate change won’t wait for us to graduate or get settled. We have to do as much as we can to ensure that the world our children inherit is a safe one.”

With that kind of passion burning within, “those in power” (and the rest of us) could learn a lot by following the students’ lead.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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