Making Your Home Energy Efficient

for the Winter - Part II

(In light of the fact that natural gas prices could rise up to 44 percent this winter, in Part I we told you where to check for leaks around your home. here, we’ll tell you how to fix them.)

Heating water, as we said last week, is a big energy consumer no matter the season. In the winter your water heater is just as susceptible to the cold as you are, so do for it what you do for yourself.

Bundle up
Mike Frentz says water heaters can be wrapped in a fiberglass blanket that can actually double the R factor (R is the value of resistance to heat flow, or escaping). "The heater already has a built in R value, usually around 6, and this blanket has an R value of 6.7. So you can more than double the efficiency (decrease the number of times the pilot ignites the burner) with this," he says.

Just as important to him from a comfort level is a foam pipe strip, which is 6 feet long and made to curl around a pipe as an insulator. Mike says this may not keep a lot of heat from escaping from the pipes, but it will give you hotter water, faster, on the second floor and other places where you typically have to run the water for a while, especially in cold weather, before it gets warm.

Simply put, the insulation keeps the pipe, and the water in it, from getting as cold as it normally would.

Around the edges
Doors, windows and cracks in the mortar were three other things we identified last week as potential problem areas for heat loss. You might have found a problem by looking for a crack where the brick meets the frame of a door or window.

If that crack is less than a quarter-inch wide, Mike recommends filling it with Acrylic Latex Caulk. If the crack is larger, you should use caulk backer. It’s a flexible rope-like substance that you push into the crack and then caulk over it. That way, you don’t end up pouring a lot of caulk into what could be a deep crack. Caulk backer comes in sizes from three-eighths of an inch wide to an inch and a quarter.

That should take care of most cracks caused by doors or windows contracting and expanding and pulling away from the mortar. If it doesn’t, though, then you’ve got a larger problem, such as the kind you can encounter beneath a window sill that has rotted out. This is the time to consider foam insulation.

"Just make sure you wear disposable gloves, or gloves you don’t want any more," Mike says. "The last time I used it I got some on my hand. It didn’t hurt, but there is no chemical on this earth that will remove it. It took about a month to wear off."

The stuff he’s talking about is Great Stuff® Foam Insulation, which comes in an aerosol can in three strengths –– there's one that will expand slightly for around doors and windows where you don't want the the frame to warp. One that expands twice its original size, or one that will expand to three times its original size.

"I recommend twice the size, which is usually more than adequate. I’d use the triple expansion if I had just a flat out large hole to fill, like a brick missing in a wall," he adds. Foam Insulation dries to a smooth, hard, golden-yellow Styrofoam-like finish.

Check filters
Inside the house, the furnace is probably your largest concern. If you have one of the newer furnaces, then you might have one of the new high tech filters such as General, Space-Gard, Honeywell or Trion Air Bear –– that remove almost 100 percent of contaminants from air. These filters are similar to the HEPA brand used in hospitals. There easy to spot because most are 4" to 5" thick.

Most of these furnaces are found in new home construction. In your home, if you have a regular furnace, you can buy a similar product made by 3M (called Filtrete) or by Dirt Demon. These filters last a long time (three months) and remove up to 92% of airborne dust, pollen, and mold. Traps other airborne particles that can cause allergy flare-ups, including pet dander and smoke.

Maintaining the humidifier
Mike’s main concern about furnaces centers on the humidifiers that are attached to them, which often are not properly cleaned. A furnace humidifier basically is a pad (called the media pad) about the size of a paperback book, sitting in a pool of water and releasing that moisture into the air when the furnace heats up. Mike recommends starting the season with a fresh new media pad –– the most popular brands are Lobb, Skuttle, AutoFlow and April Aire. "Even with a new media pad (foam drum type), I still recommend a monthly cleaning of the pad and water reservoir using a mild detergent and thoroughly rinsing," Mike says. This is not recommended for the wash down humidifier pads used on a lot of the new furnaces today. i.e. April Aire.

Keeping your humidifier in peak working order is important in that the higher humidity in your home will raise your comfort level. You will feel warm and comfortable at a lower thermostat setting than in dry air.

"Remember," Mike says, "don’t overdo it when it’s really cold outside. The colder it gets outside, the setting on the humidifier’s humidistat should be set lower."

When the temperature outside falls below 30 degrees, follow these guidelines:

temp Humidity setting
over 20 40%
+20 35%
+10 30%
0 25%
-10 20%
-20 15%
You don’t want the moisture condensing on the cold walls of your rooms. This sometimes happens during long cold spells during the winter months. Following the guidelines above will likely prevent this.

Check your temperature
Finally, there’s the thermostat. Manual thermostats (the kind you adjust yourself) are fine but not 100 percent accurate. That lack of accuracy could, and probably does, cause your furnace to run when it’s not necessary. "That’s just a buck or two here and there, but it can add up over real quickly over a cold winter," Mike says.

Mike recommends a digital type that they use in the store, and he uses at home. "You set it at a specific time of day for a particular temperature, such as a 5 to 10° set back when you leave for work, and the same at night. "Most of the digital thermostats are so accurate there’s no fluctuation at all in the set temperature."

"As a matter of fact, some of these units have what is called a Smart Response. It automatically analyzes weather conditions to meet the temperatures you’ve asked for," Mike says. For example: If you’ve set the thermostat to have the house at 70 degrees when you awaken, say 7:00 a.m., the thermostat probably will turn the furnace on at 6:30 a.m. But if it was an especially cold evening, the thermostat is set to sense that, and will activate the furnace earlier, say at 6 a.m., to hit the 70-degree, 7:00 a.m. target.

Frentz and Sons also carries many parts for furnaces, including humidifiers parts, that are hard to find because of the age of some units.