Every year at this time you, (and we!) start thinking about what we can do to lower our energy output, and therefore our utility bills. If you live in a place where summer heat is an issue, you could be looking at substantially higher costs during the summer. The harsh summer sun and west-facing windows in our Texas house means our electric bill soars to around $350 during the season after topping out at just around $60 for the month in winter.
This year, we’re concentrating on the DIY aspect of summer energy savings, so not only can you save a few bucks on an ongoing basis, but keep your cost low initially, as well. Here are 5 low-cost, high-impact changes you can make now.
Practice good window covering management
Seems easy enough, right? You can make a big difference in the amount of hot air getting into your home and the cool air escaping, just by choosing the right window coverings.
Cost: Depends on the product chosen, but could be as little as a Starbucks order if you buy on sale
Energy savings: “Appropriately hung draperies can decrease the discomfort associated with drafty windows,” said Energy.gov. And those drafty windows can account for as much as 25% of a home’s energy loss.
DIY level: With a ladder, a level, and an electric screwdriver, you should be good to go.
Clean your window sills
A few seasons’ worth of dirt and soot can interrupt the seal and make it so your windows aren’t closing all the way. Even a little air getting in can make your AC less efficient and raise your electric bill.
Cost: Nothing if you already have cleaning spray and paper towels. A few bucks for a toothbrush if you need more help with caked-on dirt.
Energy savings: File this one under drafty windows as well. “Your windows are the top energy leak in a typical home,” said Panther Heating and Cooling. “When you are trying to cool your house, they are letting in heat.”
DIY level: Easy-peasy. You can even make this a chore for the kids!
Get a door sweep
More of that cooled air is likely leaking out from underneath your doors. A couple of door sweeps can easily fix that problem, and all it will take is a quick trip to Home Depot.
“A common place where air leaks occur is under the door leading from the house to the garage because they are often not as well sealed as doors leading directly to the outside,” said Energy Star. “Install a door sweep to seal the gap between the bottom of your door and the threshold to prevent cold air from coming in and warm air from escaping from your home. Stopping this air flow will keep heated indoor living space more comfortable and prevent increased energy bills.”
Cost: $10 and up
Energy savings: Don’t be surprised to see a difference in your electric bill when you’re keeping more of your cooled air in, and keeping the hot air out.
DIY level: If you can use a drill to make holes in the door and screen the sweep in, you can install a door sweep.
Check your ducts
“Ducts are used to distribute conditioned air throughout houses with forced-air heating and cooling systems,” said Energy Star. You can check the ducts yourself, looking for
“holes, tears, and other signs of leaking ducts and seal them using mastic or metal (foil) tape (never use 'duct tape,' as it is not long-lasting). Insulate all the ducts you can access (such as those in the attic, crawlspace, unfinished basement, or garage).”
Cost: As little as $7.82 for a roll of tape
Energy savings: “In typical houses, about 20% of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks, holes and poorly connected ducts,” they said. “The result is an inefficient HVAC system, high utility bills, and difficulty keeping the house comfortable, no matter how the thermostat is set.”
DIY level: You’ll likely be dealing with high places and tight spaces, and may also have to fend off a few creepy-crawlies.
Caulk and weatherstrip
“Window air leakage can be reduced by applying a continuous bead of caulk around the window trim where it meets the wall, at the mitred joints of the trim, and between the trim and the frame,” Natural Resources Canada. “Make sure the caulk is intended for indoor use (do not use exterior caulking indoors), can be painted and is of good quality.”
Cost: Caulking, under $2, just over $2 for weatherstripping
Energy savings: Using Charlotte, NC as an example, the Department of Energy estimated that the average homeowner could “save 14% on heating and cooling costs each year with proper air sealing and insulation,” said Panther Heating and Cooling.
DIY level: A rookie can master this one.