Energy adviser: Winter’s coming; is house ready?

It’s transition time, with summer heat and air conditioning soon behind us and a wet, cold winter ahead. Still, many good weather days likely remain, so it’s a good time to take steps to keep your home cozier this winter.

Certainly more expensive, long-term upgrades to your heating and cooling system will return savings throughout its life. But there are several less costly steps you can take that can add up and make a real difference.

A month of below-freezing temps like we experienced last year can take a big bite out of your heating budget. Houses lose nearly 30 percent of their heat through surfaces — walls, ceilings, and floors. Weatherization measures like insulation, weather stripping and sealing holes in the home can go a long way toward keeping heating bills manageable.

“People often worry about windows,” said DuWayne Dunham, energy services supervisor for Clark Public Utilities. “But only about 10 percent of a home’s air leaks out windows. Other areas yield a better return and are less expensive to fix so we encourage tackling smaller projects first, unless windows are damaged.”

Your home’s outside is a good place to start. First, plug any gaps, cracks, and holes in your home’s siding. “We suggest customers take care of exterior cracks in their siding, around windows, and pipes,” said Dunham. “Usually a couple of tubes of caulking is all it takes to seal up areas where heat may escape.” At big-box stores, a tube runs about $6.

Plugging any exterior cracks also prevents moisture from seeping between the siding and the vapor barrier. While you’re filling the cracks in your siding and around the windows, also look at where water pipes and electrical wiring come into your house and caulk around them. “It’s easy for customers to miss the gaps surrounding electrical wiring and water pipes,” Dunham said.

Check the attic and the crawl space to see if you have adequate insulation. “In crawl spaces, the insulation can sag,” said Dunham. “So, you might need to tuck it back in or secure it in place.”

Check that you have insulation attached to the bottom of your floor. If you don’t, Clark Public Utilities has rebates available for adding insulation if you live in an electrically heated home. In the attic, you want to make sure the existing insulation is covering the top of the wood joists. If that isn’t the case, we would suggest adding approximately 15 inches of blown-in insulation. You can put in crawl space insulation yourself. Rolled insulation for the floor runs about $30 for a 25-foot roll. However, blown-in insulation requires a machine so you should consult with an insulation expert. (Check the utility’s contractor network list to find one.) The improvement you see on your heating bill will depend on how much insulation you started with, however.

As long as you’re in the crawl space, consider insulation to cover your pipes. Pipe insulation runs about $1.50 for each 6-foot length and will prevent your pipes from freezing. It also keeps hot water from cooling as it travels from the water heater to the faucet. The slit along the side of the tubing makes it easy to put over your pipes and secure with duct tape.

But wait. You still have air leaks to fill around the outside doors. Weather stripping runs under $5 for a 10-foot roll and you may need two or three depending on the size of your external doors. On the bottom of the doors, use a threshold and/or door sweep to stop air from escaping under the door.

Installing a new thermostat can also help cut energy costs. At big-box stores, one solution, programmable thermostats, can run up to $100. Or step up to a smart thermostat. Currently, Clark Public Utilities offers a $50 rebate on the Nest Generation 3, NestE, Carrier Cor, Ecobee-3, and Ecobee-4 smart thermostats. According to energy services project manager Matthew Babbitts, “Smart thermostats ease the programming problem by learning how a family uses the space, including their comings and goings, and adjusts the temperature accordingly to save you money and keep the home comfortable.”

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.

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