Household heat efficiency

embeesMay 12, 2008

I've been inspired after reading some of the responses to "What kind of utility costs are you paying?", posted by ellenj. I thought I'd see if anyone else calculates - and works to improve - their household heat efficiency as a money saving method.

A few years ago, I ran across a post explaining how to calculate your home's heat efficiency. It particularly caught my attention because the author lived in an old home in New England, and I'm in an old home in Northeastern Ohio (similar climates, in many ways). The short version is that you do a calculation that takes into account your local climate (via degree days) and the size of your house. That means it can give you an apples-to-apples comparison against other houses.

From the original:

A super efficient home uses less than 3

12% of homes are less than 5

39% of homes are between 5 and 10

24% of homes are between 10 and 15

15% of homes are between 15 and 25

10% will be over 25

Anyway, it's been a tradition of sorts to calculate my home's efficiency after each heating season to see if we've made steps in the right direction. It's a little early to do final numbers for this year (we've had another streak of 40* days, so the heat came back on), but I thought I'd share how we've done so far.

Winter / Usage (in BTUs/degree days/sqft)

05-06 / 11.8

06-07 / 10.8

07-08 / 9.4

We honestly haven't taken any huge (read: expensive) steps, just some little ones that are making a surprising impact. After the first winter, we did some weatherstripping of windows and doors, and started being conscientious about closing curtains at night, etc. Between the second and third winters, more weatherstripping, continued closing curtains/etc at night. I'd say we spent under $20, and definitely got that back in reduced usage.

The only "big" investment was in December 2007 - we installed a programmable thermostat. It was under $50, and took less than an hour to install/program, and we easily made that back within a month or two. The attic definitely needs more insulation, but that's another year or two off due to other projects/priorities.

To put this into money terms - since this is the finance forum! - if we were using gas at the same rate we did in 05-06, and given the degree days we had in 07-08, we would have used an additional 22 MCF this past winter... At March 2008 gas prices, that would have cost us an extra $291.48 this winter alone.

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Sometime when it's realy windy outside, probably more effective if it's cold, wet your hand and run it around in the air near area of windows, including the perimeter, also around electric fixtures, wall plugs, plus any other places in various rooms where there are cracks or breaks in walls. Do the same around doors. Also around hatches into attic.

You will find places where wind is entering and then must figure a way to stop it, weatherstripping, caulking, sweeps on the bottom of doors, etc.

After you've done that, the next time that there's a substantial wind blowing, light a candle and run it around all areas where there may be a possibility of wind entering, as you did with your wet hand, earlier.

Quite likely it'll be helpful to add more insulation in the attic, in our area north of Lake Erie they talk in terns of R40, which is a slight bit more than 12" of fibreglass, as it runs about 3.something per inch. If you have a basement, likely a good idea to run some styrofoam down to a few feet under ground level. Some jurisdictions require that it be covered.

Congratulations on the results that you've achieved thus far.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 4:41PM
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Mom lives in an old, drafty, oil-heated Victorian in central Pennsylvania.

I've spent the last several years tightening up windows and doors, weather stripping, caulking, etc.

One good thing is that the house is divided into 3 vertical heating zones. This winter we closed down the front portion of the house.

The big problem at that point was cold drafts coming from the front portion of the house (entry hall/parlor) into the central portion of the house (living room).

Given that it's a Victorian with a huge sliding door, we got some heavy, velvet Victorian drapes and hung across the sliding pocket door.

That alone made the living room FAR more inhabitable, and it still allows the dogs free access to the upstairs via the stairs in the entry hall.

Another thing I did was make interior storm windows for a number of the old, inefficient, drafty as all get out windows. These windows are BIG, some 30" wide and 72" high.]

The three windows in the long hall from the living room to the kitchen were particularly bad. VERY VERY drafty, which contributed to the living room being cold.

I made frames out of 1x3 furring strips, half lapped, glued, and screwed them at the corners, covered them in clear plastic, and stapled weatherstripping felt to the back sides.

Then I simply pressed them into the window openings. The felt sealed against the inside frames (ornate windows), and I simply used several small screws to hold them into place.

They don't look particular great, but I'm working on plans to do something about that.

The good thing is, though, that those relatively simple changes have made the house a LOT less draft, a LOT more energy efficient, and a lot more comfortable for Mom.

I've not talked with her about her oil consumption for this past winter, but I know it was down significantly simply because those cold drafts from the front hall and the kitchen hall weren't triggering the thermostat every 5 minutes.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2008 at 2:23PM
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