Heading off higher energy bills

HOMEWORK

January 09, 2000|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

FINALLY, IF YOU weren't sufficiently alarmed by threats of all sorts of home-related Y2K disasters (no electricity, no gas, gun-toting neighbors crazy for Spam, etc.), now comes Owens-Corning pushing home insulation by quoting U.S. Department of Energy estimates that energy bills could rise 30 percent this year.

That's based on higher energy prices and colder temperatures; if you're in the part of the country that has been enjoying weirdly warm temperatures you may think the premise outlandish.

But winter isn't over, and it always makes sense to add energy-saving materials and devices. Owens-Corning says you can trim winter energy bills by 10 percent to 30 percent by doing some or all of the following:

Add one more layer of insulation to the attic. If you have 12 inches of attic insulation or less, you could use more.

Keep the relative humidity in your home between 30 percent and 50 percent; at those levels, the moisture can make 68 degrees feel like 76. If your furnace doesn't have a humidifier, use portable units in frequently used rooms.

Since each degree you raise the heat on your thermostat raises your fuel bill by 3 percent, it makes sense to warm yourself before you try to warm the entire house. Invest in thermal underwear, or dress in multiple layers. There are new fleece products that are lightweight and toasty, not to mention trendy, including vests, shirt-jackets and sports pants.

Install a programmable thermostat to lower the heat when no one's home and turn it up only when you need it. If you turn back your thermostat from 72 degrees to 65 degrees for eight hours a day, you can save as much as 10 percent on energy costs. (It works in the summer, too: raise the temperature when no one's home and cool only when you need it.)

Use passive solar power: Open the windows on the south side of the house (or the sunniest side) during the day to let the sun heat the interior air. Close them at night.

If you have old-fashioned single-pane windows, consider replacing them with new energy-efficient types.

If you can't fit new windows into your budget, be sure to use storm windows or even plastic film to help seal out cold air.

Keep your furnace's filter fresh; clean registers, baseboard heaters and radiators as needed to maximize heating capability.

Use that duct tape -- check ducts for leaks and separations and seal them so you're not needlessly heating uninhabited areas such as basements or attics.

Use caulks and seals to plug drafts around doors and windows -- and don't forget to seal around electrical boxes and plumbing fixtures.

Close off heat to rooms you don't use regularly, such as guest rooms. Closing one vent to one spare bedroom in a five-room house can cut heating costs by as much as 20 percent.

For more tips on saving energy, call for the Department of Energy's free, 36-page booklet, "Energy Savers," at 800-DOE-3732, or visit the Web site at www.eren.doe.gov/ consumerinfo.

Fix-it help

Got a leaky roof? Need to hang wallpaper, or replace a lock or deadbolt, but you don't want to invest in a 500-page home-repair compendium to figure out how?

Try Sunset's new "Fix-it" guides, which unfold like maps and deal with a single home-improvement topic. The laminated charts are lavishly illustrated and simple to follow, with tips on materials and tools.

There are 14 maps available at hardware stores and home-and-garden centers. Suggested retail price is $4.95 each.

Victorian look

If you have, or are contemplating buying, a Victorian home, you can learn how to restore it "authentically, stylishly and affordably" with the new book, "Victorian: American Restoration Style," by Joan M. Brierton (Gibbs Smith, 1999, $21.95 in paperback).

Five projects are featured, with styles including Eastlake, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Second Empire and Queen Anne. Brierton is a historian with the U.S. General Services Administration's Historic Buildings and Arts Center of Expertise and is a trustee of the D.C. Preservation League.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and former president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at hw@renovator.net. Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore MD 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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