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Tracking Down Air Leaks

Air leaks are very common in the southeast and are one of the biggest saboteurs of your energy bill. They cause your heating and air conditioning units to work overtime. Here are a few ways you can increase the efficient use of energy by tracking down and eliminating sources of air leaks in your home.


How to Check for Indoor Air Leaks

Close your unit as tightly as possible—shut doors, windows flues and anything that vents to the outside (leave inside doors open). Turn on the exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms. This pulls air out of the house or unit and draws outside air in through the leaks. A common way to identify air movements is to hold a lighted incense stick near a suspect area. The smallest movement of air will cause the smoke to move. Another method is to simply hold your damp hand near potential leak sites. Air movement will feel cool.


Where to Check for Air Leaks

Any place one surface joins another (even if it appears closed) is a potential place for air to move in or out of your home—for example, where floor and walls come together, such as around baseboards or carpet edges.

Doors and windows are in a category of their own. If they rattle or if you can see daylight around them, they leak. Fortunately, they’re easy to fix with caulking or weather stripping.

Small spaces don’t allow much air leakage individually, but collectively they can eat up a significant amount of energy. Check all spaces where any type of opening exists such as electrical outlets and switch plates, fireplace dampers, around pipes, attic hatches, mounted air conditioners and mail slots.

Also, be sure to check caulked edges. Don’t assume they’re still air tight. Caulk dries over time and shrinks, calling for another application.


Making the Fix

Weather stripping is the simplest and least expensive means to eliminate air leaks around doors. Foam insulation is a variation on caulking that is available as an aerosol spray. It’s well suited for filling large gaps like the holes where pipes or wires enter your home. (Use with caution, however; it expands significantly and can be unsightly if overdone.

For just about everything else, standard caulking is all you need. Once the job is done, test again to make sure you stopped the leak completely.


Reduce Home Energy Bills

U.S. homeowners can lower home energy bills, lower federal income taxes and increase home comfort by making energy efficient home improvements that qualify for up to $1,500 in federal income tax credits.

Consumers who make energy-efficient upgrades can also reduce their personal carbon footprint because using less energy at home means emitting less pollution too.

The federal income tax credits for specific home improvements are available now through 2010, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.

While the tax credits are similar to those in effect a few years ago, consumers should be aware of some changes, according to Steve Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Consumers must install the specific products and equipment that qualify for the 2009-10 tax credits. Some important details on the home improvement tax credits include:

  • For each type of qualifying equipment, the credit is for 30 percent of the cost up to $1,500.
  • Installation costs are not covered for building envelope products.
  • Installation costs are covered for heating and cooling equipment.
  • Homeowners who claimed the $500 credit available in 2006-7 can claim the remaining $1,000 credit for additional products bought and installed in 2009 and/or 2010.
  • It is a one-time tax credit that can be claimed in part or in whole for tax year 2009 and/or tax year 2010. There are two basic categories of qualifying equipment—“building envelope” products and heating and cooling equipment.
  • Building envelope products are replacement windows (including storm windows, storm doors, and skylights), certain ENERGY STAR asphalt and metal roofs, insulation and other sealing products.
  • Heating and cooling equipment includes furnaces, boilers, ground source or geothermal heat pumps, gas or propane water heaters, central air conditioning systems (but not window air conditioner units) and biomass stoves.
  • For some products, the qualifying criteria are more stringent than they were in prior years. For example, all ENERGY STAR windows no longer qualify.

For detailed information on what qualifies, visit



Power Down, Save Money

Looking to cut back on spending due to a tight budget or ready to go green? Here are 10 quick and easy tips to accomplish both:

  • Use power strips. “Smart” power strips automatically turn off when electronics are off or when one main unit (like your personal computer) is powered down.
  • Unplug appliances and electronics. TVs, computers and kitchen appliances, as well as cell phone and laptop chargers, all use energy when they are plugged in—even if they are turned off.
  • Lower the thermostat. Wear a sweater around the house and put an extra blanket on the bed at night.
  • Wash your laundry with cold water. It’s just as effective.
  • Use fans instead of air conditioning when possible or combine their use to turn down the air temperature a bit.
  • In the warmer months, keep the shades and blinds down on southeast-and west-facing windows. In the colder months, open them up and let the sun in.
  • Activate “sleep” features on your computer and office equipment. When they go unused for a long period of time, they power down.
  • Turn off lights. When you’re not in the room or not in the house, there’s no need for all of the lights to be on.
  • Clean and replace furnace or air conditioner filters. Dirty filters block airflow, increase energy bills and shorten equipment life. Close vents and doors to unused rooms.

Check with the Alliance to Save Energy at for more energy and money saving tips, or subscribe to their free online newsletter.

Saving Energy to Stay Cool

Energy bills—like the temperature—always rise in the summer. But don’t fret: while there are big fixes you can incorporate to make your home more energy-efficient, there are also many inexpensive energy solutions, as well as some simple and free steps that you can take to cut down on costs and save money. *

Turn it up. Set your thermostat as high as possible. Start with 78 degrees when at home and 85 degrees when away. For each degree above 72 you set the thermostat, you save between 1-3 percent. Be sure to take into consideration your health and comfort and drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

Open nights. At night, if it’s cooler outside than in, open your windows! Not only will this bring some fresh air into your home, it will give you a chance to turn off the AC. Also, be sure to close your windows in the morning to keep the cooler air in longer.

Circulate air. Use fans to create cool breezes and keep the air moving in your home. Ceiling fans, in particular, can create enough air movement to make it cooler by at least four degrees. This could translate into a significantly lower monthly electric bill, as ceiling fans only use about as much energy as a 100-watt light bulb.

Unplug. Electronics—such as TVs, DVDs, chargers, computers, printers and other devices—use electricity even when they are turned off. By unplugging these devices when you’re not using them, you only save a few watts, but they quickly add up to bigger savings over time. Use a power strip for multiple devices, and switch it off before you go to bed. Also, turn off lights in unoccupied rooms.

Shut the shades. Windows allow a lot of heat into your home. Keep drapes and shades closed during the day to keep the temperature down.

Plan pool time. If you have a pool, shorten the operating time if possible. Switch the pool filter and sweeper operations to off-peak hours and during nighttime if the pool has automatic cleaning settings.

Wash and dry wisely. Run only full loads when using your dishwasher or washing machine. Whenever possible, run those appliances during off-peak hours or when your air conditioner is turned off or barely running, which typically is during the evening, to save energy. Use the clothes dryers’ moisture-sensing automatic drying setting if it has one, and clean your clothes dryers’ lint trap after each use.

*As always, be sure to consult with the homeowners association to get approval for any major renovations on your home.