Energy Efficiency Savings Tips for the New Year: Part 2 of 4 – Ductwork, Mudsills, and Hot Water Heaters

By Vernon Trollinger, January 17, 2013, Energy Efficiency, News, Save Money

Typical US Home water usage. —courtesy Energystar.govAs we step into the new year, one of the biggest resolutions people set with any fresh calendar is to save money in as many ways as possible. At Bounce Energy, we want to help you meet these goals with our new 4-part series that details a dozen different ways that you can save money by implementing energy efficiency strategies in your home. In our second installment, we’ll discuss how to increase the ways you can heat, cool, and insulate your home more efficiently.

Part 2 of 4: Ductwork, Mudsills, and Hot Water Heaters

Ductwork

Keeping your home warm during the cold and damp winter months can increase the size of your winter Texas electric or Pennsylvania power bills. By making your home more energy efficient, however, you can cut those winter heating costs AND reduce your summer cooling bills while making your home more comfortable.

In the previous installment, we covered how to seal the air in your house properly. Air sealing also improves the energy efficiency of your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system (HVAC). While it sounds and looks like a huge bear of a machine system, there are a few things you can do to air seal your HVAC ductwork. The reason for sealing your ductwork is pretty simple: you want the heated air to go to the rooms you want heated and not sprayed all over your attic or basement or in the middle of your walls.

First, look for disconnected ductwork. Sometimes, ductwork pulls itself apart due to expansion and contraction over the years. Join the sections together and secure in place with sheet metal screws. Seal with aluminum duct work tape only. Do not use the traditional vinyl duct tape – even though it is “the Handyman’s secret weapon,” this tape will dry out and fall apart on hot ductwork. Next, look for small holes and gaps at bends and elbow joints, and seal them with silicon caulk or aluminum duct tape. While one little hole might not matter, fifty little holes will cut into your system’s heating efficiency and add to your winter Texas electric or Pennsylvania power bills. So any time you see a hole, plug it up. Also, be sure to do the same with with the return air ductwork. After all, you want the cold air to be pulled from the rooms you are living in.

Mudsills

Let’s look next at one of the most common places that lets in outside air. This is the joint between the house foundation and the flooring joists known as the mudsill (or sillplate). Typically, this is just a wood board bolted on top of the concrete foundation. The space between the board and the concrete is seldom sealed flush, so a foam or fiberglass gasket is set between the board and the concrete to seal out cold air and moisture. Over time, as the house expands and contracts, this gasket can shift and gaps can open.

For example, I once lived in a home built in the 1920s. The front of the house was 24 feet wide. Over the course of expanding and contracting for decades, a half-inch gap had opened up between the mudsill and the foundation wall the entire length. It was like having a 12″ x 12″ window open all the time letting in cold air. Black mold grew and mice got into the house. Closing this gap with foundation gasket foam and expandable foam was cramped and dirty work —but it made a HUGE difference in making my home more comfortable and bringing down that heating bill.

Take a few minutes some sunny afternoon to check the mudsill joint all the way around your home. Fill any gap with expandable foam or caulk. If possible, do the same thing from the inside. Remember: it’s not the size of the holes stealing your home’s heating, but rather how many holes there are.

Hot Water Heaters

The average American home spends 15% of heating costs on heating water in a tank. So, for about 14 to 16 hours everyday this tank water heater is working to be ready for use (called stand-by heat) even when no one is home. Tank water heater systems are the most commonly used because they are inexpensive for consumers. The down-sides are that they waste energy and typically must be replaced every 8 years on average. Also, many homes lack foam pipe insulation on all of their hot water lines. That said, there are a two easy things you can do to increase the energy efficiency of your home water heater.

First, add a water heater insulation jacket. These are usually 1″ thick fiberglass blankets you wrap around your water heater and secure in place with “the Handyman’s secret weapon,” old-school vinyl duct tape. You can also put foam pipe insulation on all the hot water pipes in your home to keep that water warmer longer. A hot water jacket shouldn’t cost more than $10 at your local home center. And by adding foam pipe insulation to all of your hot water pipes, the water heater will be even more energy efficient. Afterwards, you’ll have a shorter wait for hot water and save a few dollars off your winter Texas electric or Pennsylvania power bills.

Second, you can help your tank water heater last longer by draining and flushing it once a year. Flushing and draining your water heater washes sediments out of it that reduces its energy efficiency by absorbing heat. Just connect a garden hose to the drain spigot at the bottom of the heater tank and run it to a floor drain or outside.

Stay tuned for Part Three: Weather Stripping, Furnace Filter, and Smart Power strips

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About 

A native of Wyomissing Hills, PA, Vernon Trollinger studied writing and film at the University of Iowa, later earning his MA in writing there as well. Following a decade of digging in CRM archaeology, he now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, DIY projects, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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