Come in from the cold

Energy-saving tips for chilly homes

Neal VanCitters of Pro Energy Consultants takes air infiltration measurements from a blower door as part of an energy audit.

Neal VanCitters of Pro Energy Consultants takes air infiltration measurements from a blower door as part of an energy audit.

Find more energy-saving tips at the Department of Energy website.
Learn more about NV Energy’s free home energy audit.

If you’re waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of money trickling away—otherwise known as the heater kicking on—it may be time to take a good look at how to make your home more energy efficient.

“The stuff you can see is easy to fix—caulking around windows and doors, doing the programmable thermostat,” says Neal VanCitters, energy auditor and Reno branch owner of Pro Energy Consultants. “But a lot of the air infiltration is in areas you can’t see. So we use a blower door and depressurize the home, which lets us see where the air leakage is coming in and out of the home. We find a lot of structural defects in the home—things you wouldn’t think would be there.”

Those can include poor insulation behind walls, air escaping through recessed lighting in the ceiling, and a leaky or disconnected duct system.

VanCitters may be a little biased, but he thinks the first step to energy efficiency is an energy audit. There are several local energy auditors, and they can offer thermographic imaging—VanCitters describes it as a thermal X-ray of the home—that shows where air is escaping, in addition to a physical inspection and blower door test. Depending on the size and complexity of the home, an energy audit can cost around $300-$800, and in the case of Pro Energy, can take two to three hours. Alternatively, NV Energy provides free, though less thorough, energy audits to customers.

Homeowners who made energy efficiency retrofits during the past couple of years enjoyed a tax credit of 30 percent of their cost up to $1,500. However, that ends on Dec. 31, and it’s unclear whether Congress will extend that incentive program for next year.

Whether your energy-sucking ailments are self-diagnosed or professionally examined, there are ideas for a range of budgets to save energy in your home or business.

Cheap fixes: Caulk, caulk, caulk. There, we said it. Also, shut doors and vents to rooms you’re not using, and turn the heater down significantly—sorry, but the recommended 68 degrees still sounds pretty toasty—when you leave the house and at night while loading up on blankets. Open curtains and shades on south-facing windows to let in the heat, while closing shades on windows that receive no direct sunlight. Replace and clean filters monthly to save about 5 percent on your heating costs. Close the damper to your fireplace when it’s not in use.

Loosen the wallet: When you buy new appliances, buy those with the Energy Star label, indicating higher energy efficiency than other models. Install a programmable thermostat.

Shell out the big bucks: You’ll likely need to call in the professionals for these ideas, but you may need to insulate your walls, ceiling and/or attic. High-efficiency windows have been known to reduce heating and cooling costs by about 15 percent. Residential wind turbines and solar arrays may also be an option to reduce your overall home’s energy. And beginning in January, NV Energy will offer rebates on solar hot water systems for up to 50 percent of the installation cost.