We’re actually doing reasonably well in terms of electrical usage and heat. According to Vectren, we’re using about 77% of the natural gas that other similar houses in the area are using. Since only about 5% of that is for cooking, our primary difference has to be heating. During the day, we keep the thermostat at 66. If I didn’t work from home, we could go cooler, but that’s about as low as I can be comfortable for long periods of time. We used to go down to 59 at night, but Maggie read that a difference of more than 4-5 degrees overtaxes the furnace, so we changed it to 61. I think that you could warm the house in stages to avoid that problem as well, but it turns out that with a gas furnace it’s not as large an issue.
Even though we’re doing pretty well heating-wise, we wanted to make sure that the house doesn’t have any major issues. There have been a lot of improvements since the late 1960s! The local Duke Energy provides a free service called Home Energy House Call, where a technician comes through and examines your house for energy problems. Maggie’s parents had to wait months for their appointment, so we signed up last week and got ready to wait. Luckily, a slot opened up yesterday, so Maggie and I got our energy audit remarkably quickly!
The beginning of the audit consisted of a series of basic questions. How big is the house? How old is it? How many people live here? After that came energy-specific ones. Do you use CFLs? Do you wash your clothes in cold water? I’d guess that most people who get an energy audit answer yes to these, since they’re aware and interested in energy conservation.
Once we had those out of the way, the auditor inspected the house, including the crawl space. He felt along the windows and external outlets for drafts. The bedroom windows were really drafty, which we knew, so he suggested using “great stuff” insulating foam. He also checked the windows themselves, but most of ours are double-paned, which was fine. He looked around external doors for gaps around the edges for weatherstripping, but only found a little piece on one of the back doors.
More importantly, he said that around here, our attic should be insulated to R38, which is about 10 inches of blown insulation. We only have about 6, so that’s a big issue. Heat rises, so a poorly insulated attic is killer in the winter. The auditor suggested that we use cellulose rather than fiberglass. It insulates about 50% better, which means we wouldn’t have to add as much. For either, we can rent a blower and buy bags of insulation and do the job ourselves, so it’s a relatively cheap project. We also need to insulate the panel that leads to the attic, since right now it’s not insulated at all.
After doing the inside, we headed outside to get into the crawlspace. Unfortunately, I sustained a back injury in the line of duty from slipping down our icy steps. My sore back is a reminder that we need to de-ice our steps as well as insulate our attic.
Perilous as it was, the trip to the crawlspace as worthwhile, since it was the worst offender on the tour. Although our ducts are insulated, nothing else in the crawlspace is. Even worse, our vents are still open so we’re basically sitting on an ice box. The crawlspace under the addition, which is where my office is, is properly insulated although the vents are still open.
Our home inspector had told us to insulate the crawlspace when we could, but we’ve heard conflicting things about how exactly to do it. According to our auditor, we should put down plastic sheeting and insulate the walls, but not bother to insulate the floors. During the summer, we can keep the vents open to prevent moisture problems but in the winter, that’s not an issue. When the weather gets cold, we should close the vents and put insulation behind them and reverse the process when it gets warm.
In addition to these tips, our auditor left us with some weatherstripping, a low-flow showerhead, a faucet aerator, some light switch and outlet insulating pads, and some CFLs. Over all, not a bad return for half an hour of our time!