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You can do it!

During Iowa’s hot, humid summers, about half the heat that accumulates in your home comes from solar gain; the other half comes from air leaks and heat-producing activities inside the home. You may think a new and larger air conditioner is the answer, but it makes sense to first tackle the the heat producers affecting your home before investing in a new air conditioner. In fact, if you can reduce the heat entering or being generated in your home – plus gain better control of your existing air conditioner with a smart thermostat – you should see a pretty significant reduction in your monthly power bill.

Cut your power bill, one gallon at a time

According to government statistics, the average American family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day at home – and water heating accounts for about 18 percent of the typical family’s power bill every month. Put those two statistics together, and it’s easy to see how decreasing your water consumption could have a significant impact on reducing your power bill.

Old and worn faucet washers and gaskets frequently cause leaks. A leaky hot water faucet that drips at the rate of one drop per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year. That’s enough water to fill your water heater 50-75 times; by any measure, that’s a lot of wasted heated water!

So, you should fix visible leaks right away. However, sometimes leaks aren’t so obvious. To locate a hidden leak, find the two water pipes coming out of the top of your water heater. One supplies cold water to the tank, and the other is the hot water outlet. When you haven’t used any hot water for a few hours, feel both pipes; their temperatures should be about the same.

If their temperatures are notably different, repeat the test in a few more hours, making sure not to use any hot water in the meantime. If both pipes remain equal in temperature, you don’t have a hot water leak. However, if only the hot water pipe is still warm, you do have a leak – and the pipe will be warm all the way from the tank to the location of the leak.

Seal drafty switches and outlets

Fortunately, one of the easiest projects for eliminating air leaks also is one of the least expensive: installing foam sealers around the electrical switches and outlets inside your home. You can buy a six-pack of foam insulating gaskets for less than $2, and the only tool you’ll need is a straight-blade screwdriver – one with a 3/16-inch blade works best.

After you’ve purchased the correct number of foam gaskets for all the switches and outlets located on the exterior walls, turn off the power to the rooms where you’ll be working. Then remove the screw(s) securing the switch or outlet plate and remove the plate. After removing the cutouts in the foam gasket, position it around the switch or outlet and reinstall the cover plate. Turn the power on, and you’re done!

By the way, if you feel air leaks around switches and outlets located on interior walls, install foam gaskets in those spots too. The leaks probably are starting at the holes drilled for wires at the top or bottom of the wall framing.

Locate a lot of air leaks for a buck

Take a walk around the outside of your home to check for air leaks in weather stripping around exterior doors. Close each door on a dollar bill in several locations around the door’s perimeter. If you easily can remove the bill (or it falls out), the weather stripping needs to be repaired or replaced.

Also perform a visual check of every weather strip, looking for cracked, deformed or missing sections. Most types of weather stripping are fairly inexpensive, so if you find a damaged area, replace the entire side instead of trying to splice in a short section.

The manufacturers of most insulated and high-quality wood exterior doors offer replacement weather stripping kits that are precut to fit the door frame. If you need to buy bulk weather stripping, calculate the amount you’ll need by measuring the top and both sides – and then add 5 to 10 percent for waste.

Look for spots to caulk from inside

Even though caulk around wires and pipes going into your home may look good from the outside, take a look at the same spots from the inside too. A little daylight can show you that it’s time to remove and replace the old caulk.

Turn off the power before you start checking wires that go through the foundation or an exterior wall. From the basement, look for sunlight coming through holes drilled in the foundation. Also pull back the insulation from the band joist at the top of the foundation walls to look for leaks. (Wear gloves, a dust mask and safety glasses when you’re removing and replacing insulation!)

To make sure the air leaks are totally sealed, caulk from both the inside and the outside.

Help your refrigerator keep its cool

One of the simplest things you can do to keep your refrigerator-freezer running at peak efficiency (and as a result, producing less residual heat) is clean the condenser coils and other parts underneath or on the back of the unit twice a year. But don’t just attack the coils, wiring and condenser fan with a crevice tool or brush on your vacuum – you could damage the fridge’s hardworking but somewhat delicate parts.

Instead, buy a refrigerator brush for about $10 at the hardware or grocery store, and – after turning off the power to the refrigerator at the breaker box – use the brush to gently loosen dust and dirt before vacuuming up the mess from the floor.

Install a smart thermostat

A smart thermostat is a Wi-Fi enabled device that automatically sets cooling and heating temperature settings for optimal performance.

For example, a smart thermostat can learn the temperature you like and establish a schedule that  adjusts to energy-saving temperatures when you’re asleep or away. The device also can provide home energy use data and allow you to control home cooling and heating remotely from your smart phone.

Smart thermostats with the Energy Star® label have been independently certified, based on actual field data, to deliver energy savings. In addition, many smart thermostats have been evaluated through independently funded, designed and evaluated studies. For example, the Nest Learning Thermostat shown here was found to save about 10 to 12 percent on heating bills and 15 percent on cooling bills. This translates to an estimated average energy savings of $131 to $145 a year, which means the device can pay for itself within a couple of years.

Many smart thermostats – from the simplest, most inexpensive ones to the fanciest, detachable and remote units – are designed for do-it-yourself installation. Just turn off the power to your heating and cooling system, remove the old thermostat and attach the existing system wires to the correct terminals on the new thermostat. However, if the wires aren’t color-coded or the new thermostat requires additional wires, call a professional installer for help.


NOTE: A reasonably competent home do-it-yourselfer should be able to complete any of these projects in a relatively short amount of time. Be sure to turn off the power to any circuits you’re working on before you start. If you’re uncomfortable with the techniques shown here or a product manufacturer’s installation or maintenance instructions, please contact a professional technician or qualified contractor for assistance.

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