Get That Glazed Look

Windows are the weakest link in a well-insulated home, with a square yard of conventional single-pane glass exposed to direct sun on a hot day generating as much heat as an electric space heater.  On a cold day, the same glass will lose more heat than the same area of insulated wall.  Double-glazed windows, using two sheets of glass with air or gas sealed between them, are up to twice as expensive but also up to twice as efficient.  Use an outer pane that will block unwanted solar radiation and an inner pane that will reduce heat loss from inside.  Consider replacing your single-pane windows with low-e-coated or Energy Star windows.  If that is not feasible, simply using storm windows can reduce your winter heating costs by 25-50 percent.  Energy-efficient windows can lower your heating and cooling costs by up to 35 percent each year, and substantial tax credits are available.

Keeping heat in (or out): Understanding U & R Values

Windows lose and gain heat by conduction, convection, radiation and air leakage. This heat transfer is expressed with U-values, or U-factors. U-values are the mathematical inverse of R-values. So an R-value of 2 equals a U-value of 1/2, or 0.5. Unlike R-values, lower U-value indicates higher insulating value.

Conduction is the movement of heat through a solid material. Touch a hot skillet, and you feel heat conducted from the stove through the pan. Heat flows through a window much the same way. With a less conductive material, you impede heat flow. Multiple-glazed windows trap low-conductance gas such as argon between panes of glass. Thermally resistant edge spacers and window frames reduce conduction, too.

Use Bright Ideas

The ordinary incandescent light bulb remains the most popular form of home lighting because it is so affordable.  But it is also very inefficient, with 95 percent of the electric current  being converted into heat, not light.  

A 20-watt compact fluorescent light (CFL) provides as much light as a 100-watt incandescent bulb and lasts about 8 times longer.  Though a CFL will cost approximately 10 times more to buy than an incandescent bulb, over its average life of about 5 years it will use roughly a quarter of the power and save more than 1,400 pounds in greenhouse gases. 

Lighting in the average American home consumes 20 percent of the average household’s electricity bill.  A lighting store can generally advise on the best product for your needs, with a better-quality CFL lasting up to five times longer than an inexpensive one.  Using new lighting technologies can save between half to three quarters of your home lighting energy use – and if every home in America changed just one incandescent bulb to a CFL, we’d save enough energy to light seven million homes and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to that of one million cars.

House Maintenance Must-dos

Many home owners may not know much about home repairs or maintenance, but a regular maintenance schedule can prevent small problems from turning into big headaches. Following is an easy check list to keep handy and regularly check up on your house’s systems.    

Inside Tasks

  • Change your furnace filters monthly.  It’s so easy to do but so critical.  Clogged filters decrease furnace efficiency and can cause breakdowns.
  • Drain your water heater at least once a year.  Sediment will drain out along with the water from the water tank.  Removing sediment can prolong the heater’s useful life.
  • Check your circuits.  Test the performance of the circuit breakers in your electrical circuit box twice a year by flipping them off and back on.  If you have a circuit that keeps shutting off with normal daily electrical use, call an electrician.  A faulty circuit breaker could indicate a short in the wiring inside your walls.
  • Watch for drips.  Check under sinks periodically to look for leaks or water stains that might indicate leaks.  Catching a small problem early can prevent water damage.  Use a plunger to clean out sinks and tubs whenever water doesn’t drain normally.
  • Replace regularly.  Water heaters, furnaces, roofs, and other key components of your home should be replaced before they fail, based on their average useful lives.

Outside Tasks

  • Keep the wet out.  Water is a major enemy of your house.  Check each season for signs of water damage to  your home.  Flashing, the metal pieces used to seal the areas between roofs and chimneys and around doors and windows, are especially vulnerable to damage by wind or age.  Loose flashing can let water seep under a roof or inside walls, which in turn can cause mold.
  • Get to the bottom of things.  Check your home’s foundation for cracks or gaps that could let in water or varmints.  Also look at the ground around your house.  As homes age, they often sink slightly below the surrounding ground.  This settling lets water puddle against the foundation and possibly damage it. Doing major landscaping work also can cause changes to the ground’s pitch that let water flow toward the house.
  • Look up.  Chimneys take a great deal of weather abuse.  Visually inspect them each year for signs of loose mortar or loose or missing bricks.  Have the insides of chimneys cleaned every two to three years.  Also check your roof for loose shingles or dangling gutters.