Home Energy Projects So Simple Even I Did Them

Posted on January 13, 2015
Posted By: Wayne M. Kovach

Owning a home is no easy task. Sure, you build equity, make it your own, and have some really memorable parties, but the investment of time and money can drain you both physically and mentally. If you couple that with raising a family and working full time, the last thing on your mind will be reducing your home’s energy consumption. Until now…

With over ten years of owning multiple homes, I’ve realized that most projects are easier than I originally thought. Projects that I paid someone to do ten years ago now shame me and make me think, “I should have chosen a different vocation!” You just need a “can do” attitude.
Below are five projects that I’ve done at home with surprising ease.

I – Installed a Programmable Thermostat:

There is a decent chance that if you have recently bought an older home, the original thermostat is still stuck to the wall. These older models are extremely inefficient; they do not give off accurate readings, and they do not have the option to heat or cool your home at temperatures and times that are optimal for you. Programmable thermostats allow you to coordinate temperatures to coincide with when you’ll be home and when you’ll be at work. Needlessly running your air conditioning for nine hours when no one is home is a gigantic waste of energy and money. All it takes is a screwdriver, new batteries, and about 30 minutes.

II – Upgraded Light Fixtures, Bulbs, and Ceiling Fans:

The phasing out of incandescent bulbs is in full-swing with CFL, LED, and halogen bulbs jumping in as replacements. Of the electricity needed for incandescent bulbs, about 10% is used to actually generate light, with the other 90% wasted as heat. CFLs are inexpensive, last about eight times longer, and use about one quarter of the wattage of incandescent bulbs. These are best used in areas where the lights will be left on for longer periods of time, since frequently switching CFLs on and off will shorten their lifespan. LED lights have a wide array of color temperatures, do not require a full warm-up time like CFLs do, and have dramatically come down in price in recent years.

III – Installed a New Toilet:

Older toilets are not nearly as efficient as newer models, and they end up using much more water per flush than needed. New models use approximately one and a half gallons per flush compared to upwards of seven gallons for older models. Using wider flapper valves, trapways, gravity, and air pressure, these toilets allow less water to flow more efficiently and leave a tidier bowl. I’ve installed the Champion 4 from American Standard in four houses. It’s powerful enough to flush a bucket of golf balls, comes with its own installation tools and a wax ring, and takes no more than an hour or so to install.

IV – Insulated Money-Wasting Gaps:

While there are certified energy auditors around any given town, there are many tactics the average homeowner can use to keep high utility costs at bay. They include insulating the outer walls and attic, weather stripping entry doors, and putting plastic on older windows that are prone to drafts. What I can truly vouch for is Great Stuff. This stuff is great. Its rapidly expanding foam seals cracks in foundations and any other air-leaking gaps, and bonds to virtually any material in your house. Practice caution during use and wear gloves, as this product is extremely sticky and bonds to skin instantly. And while you’re at it, have your utility bills audited. Overcharges from utility companies can cost you extra money, especially if you’re not paying attention or using automatic account withdrawals.

V – Installed an Efficient Showerhead:

Some showerheads tend to be high volume, single option devices that either blast you with hot water, or flow so slowly that they leave you with suds flowing from every part of you. Try installing a low-flow showerhead. They will cost you more upfront, but they will save you money in the long run. Using approximately two and a half gallons of water per minute instead of the usual five, they help conserve the world’s most precious commodity.

Give these home improvements a try! You might not be the next Bob Vila, but you’ll be surprised by what you can do and how it’ll benefit your home and family. Know your limits, however. Just because something can be made more energy efficient, doesn’t mean the average homeowner has all the tools in his arsenal to do it alone.

Authored By:
Wayne has worked as the SEO Specialist for NRG Business – Demand Response since 2012. Holding degrees in Printing and Graphic Design, he spent the previous 14 years at a yellow page publishing company. Wayne's writing interests include coal, natural gas, oil, and new products. In his free time, he enjoys hockey, Canadian music, Scotch, and spending every second he can get with his 4 year old son.

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January, 13 2015

Malcolm Rawlingson says

Making our homes more comfortable and cheaper to operate is one of the best ways to help both your bank balance, the environment and to use less energy. I have a bit of OCD when it comes to waste of any sort as I was brought up not having much in the post war years of England. I was taught to switch lights off in unoccupied rooms. Turn off appliances when not in use. Wear another cardigan (sweater) rather than stoke up the fireplace (heated with coial in those days). Now I just shudder at people who stand at the front door chatting while my furnace is trying to raise the temperature of Canada.

While I am sure you know that I am a strong advocate of nuclear power I am also completely against the waste of resources (energy) that we appear to tolerate in North America.

In England the hot water tank (electric immersion heater) was only turned on when it was bath time (once a week) it was never on all the time like nowadays. The bathroom heaters were turned on only when someone was having a bath. Towels were warmed and dried by the fire place.

I am not suggesting we go back to those old days but the mentality of not wasting anything has stayed with me my entire life.

Doing things myself rather than paying someone else to do it has always a number one priority and all those jobs and more can be done by anyone....they really are not that difficult.

What you need to do though is apply cost benefit analysis to each task you do. All of them need materials, time, money and know how. With the internet it is so easy to find out how to do things that really it boils down todetermining which projects will give you the best return on your investment. Adding extra insulation in your attic if you live in a cold country like Canada is the number one priority. Sealing up the draughts and gaps around your windows - simple to do but pays off big in terms of energy saving and comfort.

So wholeheartedly agree with you Wayne. That is the way tio minimize the number of power plants we need and the amount of natural gas and other fuels we consume.

I recall one old lady - a neighbour of my in-laws who never put out any garbage at all. We went to visit her one day and expected her house to be a bit of a dump but it was clean as a whistle. She never ever bought packaged groceries...always fresh vegetables and meat. Food scraps she used to feed her cat. Other waste she used as compost for her small but prolific vegetable garden. She had never eaten a canned vegetable in her life. She made all her own wine, grew all her own grapes...everything she needed with zero (and I DO mean ZERO) waste. She did not even own a plastic garbage bag.

Her house was comfortable but modest. When she died she left several tens of millions of pounds to her son and even more to her charities. Her one indulgence was to take herself on an exotic excursion for one month every year.

By combining good financial management with not wsating anything she was able to save all her income for years and let compound interest do the rest. She was 101 when she died.

There is much to be said for doing things oneself Wayne...and good for you for doing that. Just expand on the things you can do.



January, 14 2015

Wayne M. Kovach says

Malcolm, thanks for commenting and sharing your experiences.

It can be difficult to be energy efficient at home with a young child (lights on, games and TVs going, humidifiers and space heaters for comfort, etc.), but we really do try our best. I am constantly turning off lights from room to room as I go and lining up weekend projects that will make a huge difference in the long run. We live in Buffalo NY, where it is well-known for cold and snow. This morning on my drive to work it was -6F, with a -23F wind chill. The house we bought a year ago was found at a good price, with the trade-off being an outdated hot water tank and furnace (amongst other things), both which were 20-25 years old and which I replaced in the last 4 weeks. Additionally, I've been sealing up gaps along our brick fireplace, the front door, and so on.

We also have a wood burning stove and have used that a lot this winter to keep the thermostat down. The previous owner left around 5+ cords of firewood, so that should last us a few years, at least.

I agree with you about the cost benefit analysis in terms of what's feasible and what can be put on hold. In terms of attic insulation, that is one thing I want to tackle sooner than later. I actually was looking at the unfaced rolls at Lowe's last night, and doing the pricing for the square footage I will need. I still think it's worth it for me do it (time and effort aside), rather than pay more for some company to do it. We had estimates done a few years ago at our previous house, and the cost (about $2300 for 8 inches of blown-in insulation, baffles, and venting - for 1100 square feet) was too exorbitant simply for the fact that we knew we'd be looking for a new house within a year. We knew we'd never see a return on our investment, and thankfully the whopping 4 inches of insulation we did have was never red-flagged by the home inspector for the person who bought our house. I'll let him deal with it. :) However, since we know we'll be in this house until retirement (20 years, then off to Phoenix!), it's a project I look forward to doing.

That's an interesting story about the lady you knew. Our town recently distributed 95-gallon garbage totes and 65-gallon recycling totes. While we don't fill them on a weekly basis, I'm proud to say the recycling tote is always more full than the garbage tote. We throw all papers/cardboard, glass, aluminum, and plastic in there that we can. I realize some of it may not be accepted by the recycling company when they process it, but I'd rather they take out those few items than let myself throw more out. I may never accrue the wealth that woman did, but I know we're on the right track.

One more thing... I noticed a few weeks back that the vent for our range hood fan (on the outside of the house) was broken and had the damper partially stuck in the open position. Seeing as it's directly behind the wall our stove/range hood is on, the amount of cold air coming in and dropping through the mesh screen/intake under the hood (and directly into the house) last night was horrendous. It's supposed to be warmer this weekend, so other than building a snowman with my son, I know what I'll be doing!

Take care.

January, 14 2015

Richard Vesel says


I'll bet that the woman you referred to in your anecdote was a delight to converse with. She could have made a name for herself on today's internet just by making little videos demonstrating how to be thrifty! It's nice to know she lived a long life...


Malcolm lives farther north than you - he's a Canadian. Plenty of experience with North American winter deep freezes. I live in Northeast Ohio, and we pretty much get the same climate as you do in Buffalo, including lake effect snow. My son's marching band used to be the halftime entertainment at the Bill's home opener games, and then most recently about four years ago when they played a "home" game in the guest stadium in Toronto (2010 I think).

I digress...

Just had a home energy efficiency audit performed as a requirement for getting a rebate from Dominion, mainly for a new gas furnace I needed to install. The old one, a Rheem 90%+ efficient model, was biting the dust due to unrepairable condensate leakages. But when the EE auditor measured it, it STILL came in at 94.8% efficiency. Remarkable. The new furnace, just in this past Monday, is rated as 95%+ efficiency.

As part of the EE audit, they handed out free low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators (even though I already have them in place), did a detailed thermographic inspection of walls and ceilings, visual inspection of the attic insulation, carbon monoxide testing of furnace, water heater and gas oven, and a whole-house air-leakage test. My 25 year old home did very well on all tests, but they suggested bumping up the attic insulation from R29 to R45. That effort will garner yet another rebate from the gas company.

Cost of this comprehensive four-hour audit was $50, and it all comes back with a rebate on the re-inspection after the EE projects are completed. I love the word "free"!

2/3 of my trash is recycling such as plastics, glass, metal and paper, amounting to about a bushel per week. I am amazed at how many communities still do not support recycling - that is an enormous waste stream that needs to be reduced, and put back into the production cycle, saving primary resources and energy in the process.

That leaking outdoor vent in my case was from the dryer. I had forgotten the routine lint-clot removal before the winter began. Did that on Monday as well, and the difference was amazing. Three minutes of work, and probably saved at least a thousand CF of gas over the course of the whole winter, possibly more.


January, 14 2015

Richard Vesel says

Oh, and being that I am a warm-blooded type, I keep the thermostat at 66 in the winter and can still go about my business in a T-shirt

January, 14 2015

Malcolm Rawlingson says

While we may have our disagreements on some topics here I will never disagree with either of you on the need to reduce our waste of energy and materials.While home is now Canada my youthful years were spent growing up after WW2 in the UK and being thrifty was simply a matter of survival...not the fashionable thing to do.

Yes the old lady I mentioned was quite a character and was not averse to a bit of finger wagging at the wastefulness of others.She would have made the most of the internet but knowing her she would have gone to the local library to use it for free.

I could not agree with you more Richard that it is incredible that some Municipalities still do not see the need to recycle. Just recycling aluminium cans alone would save enourmous amounts of electrical energy yet we prefer to refine Bauxite rather than use what we have already refined which is sitting in some depression in the ground somewhere (garbage dump). Even today less than 50% of aluminiun cans are recycled meaning that over half the tons of aluminium we refined and processed for the purpose of packaging our fizzy drinks is re-used. That is a criminal waste or energy and materials.All you need to do to fix it is impose a 20c refundable deposit on each can. Every fundraising group in the country would be out collecting and recycling them.

In Ontario we have the idiotic situation where aluminium beer cans have a 10c deposit applied and are almost 100% recycled yet the pop cans (much the same can) have no deposit and many are simply discarded despite recycling programs. The political stupidity behind that makes me wince.

Coming to North Amerca was a big adjustment for me - not so much culturally but getting used to the waste that this society accepts as normal. I cannot accept that this is the path to long term suvival of the human race.

Whether you are concerned about climate change or not the single most effective thing to reduce the damage we do to this earth is not to waste what we have. The lowest emission power plant is the one we do not have to build.

Good articles gentlemen. At least there are three of us that beleive that not wasting energy is a very good concept.


January, 15 2015

Richard Vesel says

Cheers, Malcolm!

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