November 18, 2013

Weekend Basics: Winterizing Energy Saving Tips

This weekend was a little dreary here in RVA, and with the Richmond Marathon surrounding the streets of our city home (land-locking us in from driving), it was the perfect time to take care of some seasonal home updates for saving energy we've been meaning to get to. As you know, our house is over 100 years old and while energy-saving updates aren't always the most exciting, they sure gave us some added peace of mind — and who doesn't like saving a little moolah each month?

We'd gotten on the energy-update kick after a recent home visit from our friend Susan with Richmond Region Energy Alliance, who contracts for Dominion VA power in their home energy check-up program. During her visit we learned lots of new ways we could be saving energy throughout the house without having to drastically change our lifestyle. Great, right?

We try to be conscious of saving energy where we can and some of the tips Susan gave us weren't new to us. For instance, we already do things like cut the AC/Heat down or completely turn off and unplug major appliances and the TV when out of town for any extended periods. As many of you know, we also regularly change out our home's air filters with each new season.

Susan also gave us a lot of great tips we weren't already aware of. Some we were able to tackle immediately during the home visit and other ideas we took on over the weekend or are saving to update in the long term.

Right away we were able to:
  • Replace a few key incandescent lightbulbs with CFL bulbs. CFL's help cut down drastically on the amount of energy used to provide light and the bulbs last much longer than a typical incandescent.
  • We have 2 refrigerators and had them set within the cooler of the recommended ranges listed on the sticker inside each fridge. We learned that a perfectly safe zone for fridge temps is between 35 and 38 degrees, and most people have theirs set lower than needed (like we did), so we bumped ours up a few degrees. We were given some simple fridge thermometers to make sure the needle stays in the safe zone moving forward.
  • Same with the temperature gauge on our hot water heater. We learned turning it down just a few degrees would make no difference in the way the hot water feels while significantly saving us the running energy it took to keep it hotter in the heater. Our water heater was set at 126 degrees, so we adjusted it down 5 degrees to 121 and our showers have been just as pleasant as before and we did not even notice difference. The ideal setting for most water heaters is 120 degrees.
  • Our water heater is also located in our 1/2 basement that is not climate controlled. So the hot water pipes are exposed to the elements and were not protected. Before Susan left, we insulated the hot water pipes with foam tube insulators up to the point where the pipes go up into the house. This is just one more way to keep the water heater working at maximum efficiency.
  • Susan provided us with a neat smart power strip to plug our TV and related electronics into. Even when you think your TV is off it is really not. This device will completely cut the TV, cable boxes, and DVD players off after a certain amount of time. We only really have the TV on for a few hours on some nights, so this was perfect for us.
  • Use a sticky back weather strip to seal a few of the exterior doors around the molding!
By taking off a few of the switch and receptacle plates I noticed there were gaps (some substantial) between the box and the wall so I bought a small bag of multi-purpose insulation and tore pieces off to push into these small cracks. It came in handy for other cracks and crevices hiding around the house — like the holes around the radiator pipes:

One of the bigger things she did was de-pressurize our house. Basically by zipping a cover over our open back door and attaching a large fan she basically sucked all of the air out of the house (well not all of the air, we could still breath). Once we got as close as we could get to total de-pressurizing, we were able to walk around the house and find out where most of the air was leaking in from the outside.

This part of the process was a little high tech and weird — we all had a good laugh:

Despite the weirdness, doing this really opened my eyes to several things. First, I was well aware our front door is basically a huge culprit of air loss, something we're still saving to replace down the pike. As an intermediate step to replacing the door, Mary stitched together a couple door snakes (technically referred to as "draft guards") that help block the drafts sucking hot air from the house from our front and cellar doors:

We'll detail out a DIY post for the door snakes as soon as we can get the pics loaded.

There were a few additional leaky places that I could immediately fix, one of the biggest being the gaps between the floor and the duct for the vents of the heat/AC. By lifting off the decorative vent caps, you can see the gaps between the duct and wood floor:

Susan suggested applying caulk around these gaps to seal them — something I would have never thought to do but was so simple to tackle.

Outside of all these smaller and quick updates, there were recommendations for bigger things we could do that we're keeping in the back of our mind for down the pike:
  • Insulate under the house. Susan actually crawled underneath the house and discovered we're not insulated down there. This is a bigger project that will pay off energy-wise down the road.
  • Being an older house, there are much bigger cracks and holes that we'll need to get sealed with more than a little insulation.
  • Updating older windows with energy efficient ones will cut down on drafts in those areas.
  • As mentioned previously, replacing our front doors could go a long way.
All in all, it was certainly an educational visit that we're really glad we took advantage of. Susan let us know that with the simple tips we knocked out while she was there (lowering the fridge and hot water heater temps a few degrees, insulating the pipes, TV power strips & CFL bulbs) that we'd be saving an estimate of $107 per year. That was pretty surprising to us. It was also motivation to cross off the other easier updates she listed out like the insulation and caulking around the house, so we're technically saving even more now.

We wanted to share our experience with the visit and how easy it was to take care of a few things, because it's free to have done. You can also get it done — check out this link to our local power company's program, we are certain your power company should have something similar. There's also a great list of ways you can be conserving energy for winter and summer right here.

What did you knock off your list this weekend? Have you been making energy saving updates to your home?


  1. Great post, I like the way you have given all the information. Thanks for posting, no doubt I’ll follow them.

  2. Great post, just a word about your draft excluders, if you attach an elastic strap that goes around the bottom of the door (or create 2 for internal doors) it makes it much more convenient as it makes the draft excluder (British term!) stay with the door. I also stuff mine with the same insulation you use on your pipes, it makes them far more effective, easy to sew (or not sew) and stay on the door. Here is a link for a commercial one, but I am sure Mary could work it out.


© 17 Apart. Design by FCD. Privacy Policy.