Save energy right now

An efficient, tankless water heater, like the one shown here can be installed in your old house and save you money now.

Photo Credit: Michael Wellman 

Like many of you, I live in a drafty old Cleveland Heights house. But, I dream of shiny, true divided-lite, Argon filled, insulated windows eight-inch thick, super-insulated walls bursting with R-30 recycled cotton and sealed tight with a spray-applied air/water barrier.

I have come to accept that I will probably never live in the super-efficient house of my dreams. I do, however, spend lots of time trying to make my charming old energy hog a little more efficient and environmentally friendly without destroying its historic character.

Below are eight things you can do right now that will reduce energy use. Most of them require a trip to your locally-owned hardware store and some elbow grease (or a handy-man). All of them will save you money well beyond your initial investment and will prevent some carbon from entering the atmosphere.

Install a programmable thermostat.

If you have an old, dial-type thermostat or even a digital that is not programmable, you're simply wasting money. You can easily save 15-30 percent on your heating bill by installing a $60-80 programmable thermostat. Each degree below 68°F during colder weather saves 3-5 percent more heating energy. A programmable thermostat will make changes automatically, letting the temperature fall at night or while you’re at work, and raising it when you require. If you do nothing else, do this right now!

Three changes to your hot water system:

Lower the temperature on your water heater to 120°F. This costs nothing, but will save you money. And you probably won’t notice the difference.

Insulate your water heater. Americans spend $15 billion a year to heat water. Some simple measures could save about two-thirds of that cost. You can cut the amount of fuel you use to heat water (and save $30 a year) by insulating your water heater with a simple jacket (about $20).

Better yet, replace your old tank with an efficient, on-demand, tankless water heater. Models vary from direct to indirect vented, electric or gas fired. They can be mounted on a wall or sit on a floor and are much smaller than tank heaters. They ignite on demand; no constant heating or pilot light is needed. And, they can be connected to one sink or the whole house.

Two changes to your drafty old windows:

Caulk windows and gaps with seal-and-strip caulk. The gap between a window and its frame can be large. Seal it for winter; peel it off in the spring.

Apply a window film. Apply foam two-sided tape around the window. Stretch the window film across, keeping it relatively flat and even. Use a hair dryer to shrink the plastic. It goes completely flat and you won't even know it's there.

Change your incandescent light bulbs:

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) use 66% less energy than a standard incandescent and last up to 10 times longer. Replacing a 100-watt incandescent with a 32-watt CFL can save $30 in energy costs over the life of the bulb. Replacing just six incandescent bulbs will trim your electric bill by as much as $35 each year.

Use power strips:

Many appliances and electronics use power even when turned off (LED’s are lit, power adapters are warm). By using power strips, and turning them off when not in use, you can save money on your electric bill.

Here are several websites for additional tips:

Environmental Building News

Rocky Mountain Institute’s Cool Citizen Guide

The Green Building Initiative

Michael Wellman, an architect and FutureHeights board member, lives in Cleveland Heights.
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Volume 2, Issue 1, Posted 11:33 PM, 11.18.2008