The Green Home

Don't fall for energy wasters

Posted October 19, 2012

As the days start to get shorter and the thermometer begins making its annual trip south, residents across the area are kicking their furnaces into action and using more lighting. The result is a steady increase in energy consumption that will be hitting most homeowner’s pocketbooks next month.

This month, make it your family’s mission to search out the energy wasters in your home and take the necessary steps to improve your home’s efficiency before the truly cold weather arrives, and you can reap the savings for the rest of the season.

Improving your home’s efficiency starts with knowing where your home stands on the scale of energy efficiency, one excellent reason to get a thorough home energy audit or assessment. Many home performance contractors offer this service for a minimal cost, saving you money in the long run because you can fix the most pressing problems with your home first. 

A home energy audit includes a homeowner interview on the history and comfort of the home, and then diagnostic procedures such as a blower door test, a pressure pan test of duct work, infrared exploration of hot and cold spots, and a detailed assessment of insulation and thermal barriers in all areas of the house.

Many homeowners are surprised to find out that the biggest energy wasters in their homes are not what they thought they were going to be and recommended improvements are often easier and less expensive than anticipated.

There are many easy steps that homeowners can take themselves to improve their home’s energy efficiency in the fall. 

  • Use a programmable thermostat. Just setting the thermostat to lower the temperature 5-10 degrees during the daytime when the family isn’t home can save up to 10 percent a year.
  • Keep shades and curtains on south-facing windows open during the day, when the sun can warm the house, and closed at night, to prevent heat loss.
  • Have your heating system serviced. Most furnace companies recommend at least an annual tuneup to ensure that the system is at peak performance.
  • Close the fireplace damper when not in use. Leaving the damper open is the equivalent of having a 6” hole in the wall of the room the fireplace is in.
  • Turn your water heater down to 120 degrees to save money. Anything higher is generally wasteful and a lower setting is also recommended as a safety precaution for homes with children.
  • Look for energy-efficient lighting for Halloween and Christmas decorations. New LED outdoor lights are not only 80 percent more efficient than older lights, they’re also more durable and don’t need to be replaced as often. For a double dose of good energy-sense, use a timer to turn lights on and off at night.

Know when to seek professional help

Some home performance improvements are best left to professionals, including adding/replacing insulation, sealing crawl spaces and replacing windows and doors. These tasks generally fall outside the skills of most DIY homeowners and it’s often more expensive in the long run to have poor improvements corrected.

If your home energy audit suggested professional-level improvements were necessary, be sure to collect quotes and referrals from at least three different energy improvement contractors who have credentials with Energy Star, The Building Performance Institute, LEED or similar professional organizations.

1 Comment

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  • cushioncritter Oct 20, 2012

    Setting a water heater to a low temperature (120 or below) as recommended is a bad idea unless you have a dishwasher that can heat the water up to a proper temperature to produce clean dishes. No amount of soap and lukewarm water and scrubbing can remove some things from dishes, as the ants on my freshly washed dishes (in the summer) in the drying rack can attest to, and unclean dishes will create health issues as well. A low setting also promotes bacterial growth and a "sulfur smell" in your water. Batter to buy a more efficient hot water heater in the $500+ range and have scalding hot water than the bottom end $300 poorly insulated models run on lukewarm settings. A problem for renters is the landlord may have the water heater on a low setting for liability issues (scalded children) and you may not be able to increase it to a proper setting.

About this Blog:

Bobby Ferrel, founder of Green Horizon oversees The Green Home blog. Ferrel is co-founder of Green Horizon, with offices in the Triangle and Charlotte, offering home owners and builders a one-stop shop for energy efficiency and green building. Services include home performance assessments, weatherization, closed crawl spaces, all types of insulation, HVAC and geothermal installation and maintenance. Reach Bobby directly at or visit him online at