Wintertime Tips for Energy Efficiency

winter house

Following our first serious blast of winter weather, now is as good a time as any to go over some tips for keeping our homes as energy-efficient as possible and saving money on monthly utility bills. Especially for those of us who live in older houses, constructed long before the advent of the “green building” revolution, it’s important to know what we can do to improve efficiency at minimal cost.

The Building Envelope


Many of you, especially those in the construction world, are already familiar with the concept of a building envelope. The idea is pretty simple: to maintain the greatest efficiency, we want our homes to remain sealed up as tightly as possible. According to data from the US Department of Energy, taking steps to reduce air leaks could help us save as much as 30% on our heating bills. Although we may have little control over those pesky family members who like to stand in the doorway – with the door wide open – to chat with the neighbors, there are certain steps we can take to address persistent air leaks in our homes:

  • Install Weather Stripping Around Doors & Windows
    • Any home-improvement store should have a wide variety to choose from, and most kinds are really easy to install.
    • Even a rolled-up towel stuffed against a drafty door is better than nothing. Or, if you’re feeling especially crafty, you can make your own draft snake.
  • Use Caulk or Insulating Foam to Seal Cracks
  • Put Plastic on the Windows

window plasticind_qa_windowfilm_0814_web1window plastic hairdryer


  • Add Insulation in Attics & Basements
    • Don’t want to deal with the mess? Hire a contractor (or an unemployed family member).
  • Install Storm Windows & Storm Doors

HVAC System & Water Heater

Addressing issues with the building envelope will go a long way towards improving efficiency, but some minor adjustments to the way you heat air & water in your home can make a big difference as well:

  • Turn Down the Thermostat
    • Or, for added convenience, consider investing in a programmable thermostat. This can really help you reduce heating costs during times when you’re away from home or asleep.
    • Some scientists even say that sleeping in cooler temperatures is better for your health.
  • Clean or Replace Air Filtersclean-vs-dirty-air-filters
    • Whether your air filters are located in the heating unit itself or in a return air vent inside your home, it’s extremely important to clean or replace these filters regularly.
    • Consult the owner’s manual that came with your HVAC system if you have any questions, or consult a licensed professional.
  • Inspect Ductwork
  • Insulate Hot Water Pipesinsulate pipes
    • Not only will this save you money on heating water, but you’ll reduce the risk of pipes freezing as well.
    • Visit your local home improvement store and ask for the best product to fit your particular situation.
  • Adjust Water Heater
    • Similar to the suggestion above about HVAC, there’s no reason to keep a tank full of water unnecessarily hot around the clock. If you have a water heater that uses a tank, try turning the thermostat down incrementally to see how low you can keep the temp without it negatively impacting your household needs.
    • If you need to replace an old water heater, consider switching to a tankless model, which is often much more efficient.

Thinking Big Picture

  • Get a Home Energy Audit
    • If you’re unsure how efficient your home may (or may not) be, you can have a licensed professional perform a home energy audit. This can provide you with valuable information about where your home may be losing efficiency and suggest the appropriate remedies.
  • Take Advantage of Tax Credits
    • If you need to replace older appliances or if you have a little extra money to spend on other home improvements, there may be valuable tax incentives you could take advantage of. There are quite a few federal tax credits as well as some that are specific to North Carolina.

Other Suggestions

  • Consider Upgrading Lightbulbs to High-Efficiency LEDs
    • LED lighting technology is getting better and better all the time. LED bulbs tend to be an expensive purchase on the front end, but the energy savings over the long haul will more than make up for the initial expense.
    • According to a number of reports, though, not all LEDs are created equal. So consider buying high-quality bulbs if you’re going to make the investment. Here’s one example of a site reviewing different products.
  • Think Smart About Ways to Save
    • If you’ve got several loads of laundry to do, try to keep the dryer running until you’re done with it. Once that thing has gotten hot, it’s a lot more efficient to keep it running than to let it cool down between loads.
    • Keep south-facing windows uncovered during the day to take advantage of passive solar heat.
    • Come up with your own creative techniques (and share them).

Alan Wray is a broker at Hi-Alta Real Estate and lives with his family in West Asheville.

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