Landscape in fall for warmer winters and cooler summers
Fall is one of the best times of year to do landscaping. And if it has an energy-efficient component, even better.
To get started, look for these energy-efficient essentials to identify possible fixes:
Air conditioner shaded - If your air conditioner is on the south, west or east and not shaded, put up a screen or plant some shrubs that will shield it from the hot summer sun.
Deciduous trees on the south, southwest and west - Mature trees in these locations will shade your house and allow the winter sun to reach your windows. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, an energy-saving landscape design could cut heating bills by about one-third during cold weather and reduce air conditioning costs by 15 to 50 percent in warm weather.
No trees? Plant some. Depending on the type of tree you plant, it can begin shading your roof in as little as five years.
Driveway and patio shaded - Hot summer sun beaming down on an asphalt, concrete, stone or tiled surface that are near to the house can pump up the heat radiating into your house. Develop a plan for shading these surfaces during the hottest part of the summer day. Tall shrubs or evergreens can be planted now for benefits later.
Allow solar gain - Trim back overgrown trees and shrubs that may block winter sunlight and solar gain from south-, east- or west-facing windows.
Trees to break winter winds - If you live in town, you may get a windbreak from the houses surrounding yours. But in more open areas, a tree and shrub windbreak can be effective in breaking the wind and slowing snow drifting. According to the Iowa Energy Center, a windbreak can reduce wind speed for as far as 30 times the height of the windbreak. For maximum effect, plant your windbreak a distance from your home that's two to five times the mature height of the trees you're using.
Get ready for winter: efficiency projects for the fall
Early fall is a good time to take stock of what energy-efficiency needs you have and get ready for winter. Here's where to start:
Fix leaks – If you don’t first fix air leaks, then money spent on insulating over the leaks will be wasted. Leaks in ceilings, walls, foundations, etc. are typically the greatest source of heating and cooling losses, according to the Iowa Energy Center. The U.S. Department of Energy says up to 30 percent of conditioned air can be wasted through leaks. So caulk and seal leaks around windows, doors and ducts and plumbing vents that penetrate walls, ceilings and floors. Add gaskets behind electrical outlets on exterior walls. In the attic, seal open wall tops, chimneys, furnace flues and duct, plumbing and electrical runs with spray foam or rigid foam board.
Insulation – If your house was built before 1980, it probably needs insulation. The North American Insulation Manufacturers Association has developed the following recommended levels of insulation for attics, ceilings, walls and floors, based on DOE and the International Energy Conservation Code data. Southern Iowa and northern Missouri are in Zone 5, mid-and southern Missouri is in Zone 4, and eastern Oklahoma is in Zone 3.
Repair leaky ducts - Use mastic sealant or metal tape, not duct tape, to stop conditioned air from leaking into unconditioned spaces. Also make sure connections at vents and registers are well-sealed where they meet floors, walls and ceilings. These improvements may prevent some of the 20 percent of conditioned air that is typically lost from ducts due to leaks.
Check your furnace - Do a maintenance checkup of your heating system; if your furnace is decades old, it’s probably time to replace it with a system that may be 50 to 60 percent more efficient.
Install a programmable thermostat – When you are asleep or away, turn the thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours and save about 10 percent a year on heating and cooling costs. Typically, you’ll get your money back in a year.
Insulate water heater and pipes – Heating water in an average home accounts for 16 percent of total energy costs, according to DOE. Insulating a conventional water heater tank to at least R-24 can reduce standby heat losses by up to 45 percent. Be sure to check the warranty information on your water heater as some manufacturers void the warranty if a homeowner installs a tank wrap. Wrapping pipes can reduce heat loss and raise water temperatures 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit more than uninsulated pipes. This allows you to lower the setting on the heater to at least 120 degrees. For every 10-degree drop in water temperature, you can save between 3 and 5 percent in energy costs.
Install storm doors and windows – According to DOE, installing storm doors and windows over single-pane glass can save up to 50 percent in energy use. If you can’t afford new doors and windows, plastic sheeting will do the trick for only a few dollars.
Plant for shade - Do you lack shade on the south, east and west sides of your house? Plant a tree! Trees can reduce surrounding air temperatures as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit, and the air under a shade tree can be as much as 25 degrees cooler than on a nearby blacktop, according to DOE. Mature trees, when properly positioned on the south, west and east, can save up to 25 percent on heating and cooling combined. A 6 to 8-foot tree will begin shading the first year and can shade a roof in 5 to 10 years.
Cover drafty windows - Use a heavy-duty, clear plastic sheet on a frame or tape clear plastic film to the inside of your window frames during the cold winter months. After winterizing your windows, install tight-fitting, insulating drapes or shades on windows that still feel drafty.
Locate leaks before cold sets in
The best way to measure air leaks in your home is through a blower door test that depressurizes the house. This test is typically part of an energy audit conducted by a qualified technician – see if your cooperative offers this service.
But even without a blower door test, here’s how to find some air leaks, according to the U.S. Department of Energy:
Outside inspection - On the outside of your house, inspect:
- All areas where two different building materials meet, including all exterior corners, outdoor water faucets, where siding and chimneys meet and areas where the foundation and the bottom of exterior brick or siding meet
- Exterior storm windows and doors to make sure they are securely fastened
- Regular windows and doors – if you can rattle them or see daylight around them, you’ve got leaks
Inside inspection - Inside your home, look for any cracks and gaps in the following areas:
- Electrical outlets
- Switch plates
- Door and window frames
- Electrical and gas service entrances
- Weather stripping around doors
- Fireplace dampers
- Attic hatches
- Wall- or window-mounted air conditioners.
- Cable TV and phone lines
- Where dryer vents pass through walls
- Vents and fans
- Pipes and wires, foundation seals, even mail slots
You also can do your own blower-door, pressurization test to find leaks. DOE says to:
- Turn off all combustion appliances, such as gas-burning furnaces and water heaters, on a cool, very windy day; if you don’t want to turn off the furnace, turn on all exhaust fans
- Shut all windows, exterior doors and fireplace flues
- Turn on all exhaust fans that blow air outside, such as your clothes dryer, bathroom fans, or stove vents, or use a large window fan to suck the air out of the rooms
- Light an incense stick and pass it around the edges of common leak sites; wherever the smoke wavers or is sucked out of or blown into the room, there's a draft; you also can also use a damp hand to locate leaks – drafts will feel cool to your hand
Save energy this fall at no cost
Here are a few changes you can make as the temperatures fall to save energy dollars without any financial investment:
Turn off the AC – Even if heat lingers into the fall months, it won’t be as intense as in the summer. So shut off the air conditioner, open up the windows on opposite sides of your house for cross-ventilation and cool down with a fan.
Reflect radiator heat – If you have radiators in your house, place a sheet of aluminum foil between the radiator and the wall to push heat into the room.
Bleed radiator – Before turning on the heat, bleed the radiator of air trapped in the coils to improve efficiency.
Rebalance heat registers – If you have a forced-air system, redirect the air flow from summertime (higher in the house) to wintertime (lower in the house).
Change furnace filter – At least once a month during the heating season, change the filter. Dirty filters can overwork your furnace.
Clean out registers, radiators and heating vents – Remove dust and dirt before cold weather hits.
Readjust thermostat – For the heating mode, set it no higher than 68 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 55 degrees at night or when you’re away for an extended period. For heat pumps, adjust downward by no more than five degrees to avoid activating the backup strip heating unnecessarily.
Check your fireplace – Clean it to remove built-up creosote. Make sure the seal on the flue damper is as snug as possible. Caulk around the hearth. And if you’re not going to use the fireplace at all, plug and seal the flue. Fireplaces are highly inefficient if they don’t have an insert.
Check your supply of...
Stock up on these efficiency supplies, noted by Popular Science:
Draft snakes – Buy or make your own draft dodgers for doorways. Drafts can waste 5 to 30 percent of energy use, says the U.S. Department of Energy.
Furnace filters – Buy a box of filters, enough to change them once a month during heating season. Or switch to a permanent, electrostatic filter that can catch about 88 percent of debris, far more than regular filters.
Plastic sheeting – Buy a window insulation kit at your local hardware or discount store. Nearly invisible window plastic will help your home hold in heat.
Caulking and weather stripping – Buy a supply to seal gaps that can leak as much as 30 percent of your annual energy use, according to DOE. Before you buy, make sure you don’t qualify for weatherization improvements through government programs such as community action corporations. Low-income households may get these supplies free.
Pipe insulation – If your water pipes aren’t insulated, buy pre-slit pipe foam from your local hardware store.
Get your fireplace and chimney ready for prime time
Now's the time to have your fireplace and chimney ready for cold weather. Here are tips from the U.S. Department of Energy for maximizing efficiency:
- Keep the fireplace damper closed unless you have a fire burning. It can be easy to forget to close it when the fire has burned out, but keeping the damper open can cause drafts and heat loss in the rest of the house.
- Install tempered glass doors and a heat-air exchange system that blows warm air back into the room.
- Check the seals around your fireplace flue damper — if not tight, you could be losing home heating through the chimney.
- Insulate your chimney. Exiting exhaust from chimneys can create creosote build-up and can decrease the efficiency of your fireplace. Liners provide maximum efficiency for your chimney and protect masonry from corrosive byproducts of the flue gases.
- Get your chimney properly inspected by a certified chimney sweep before it gets too cold. A certified chimney sweep can offer advice to help make sure all the components of your fireplace and chimney are functioning efficiently and safely.
- And if you don't plan to use the fireplace, have it plugged and sealed properly.