Heat on the cheap

It’s cold up in them there hills, and the Sierra Green Building Association is here to help

Buying a Fahrenheit thermometer rather than a Celsius warms up things up considerably.

Buying a Fahrenheit thermometer rather than a Celsius warms up things up considerably.

So you want to make your home more energy efficient this winter, or what’s left of it. Even if you haven’t winterized your home yet, it’s never too late to save money, especially if you live in the foothills or an even higher elevation in the Sierras, where the temperature frequently dips below freezing well into April.

But exactly what improvement do you have in mind? A little solar thermal, or maybe some radiant floor heating? If you’re like many of the folks who’ve been affected by the downturn, your response might very well be an indignant, “Yeah, right. In my more economically advantaged dreams.”

The Sierra Green Building Association begs to differ. Recognizing that many people are financially stressed, they’ve prepared a list of energy-efficient measures that can be implemented for well under $100 each.

“People are struggling, and we feel it’s important to give people tools for green building that can apply to the common person and not just people looking to build new homes,” says SiGBA president Eli Meyer. He’s also program manager for a project with SiGBA and the Truckee Donner Public Utility District that helps low-income households become more energy efficient. He offers the following winterizing tips:

1. Get rid of air infiltration. A can of spray foam and a caulking gun are simple tools for less than $10 that can help reduce air leaks around electrical outlets, plumbing, under cabinets and in your crawlspace. Paying someone else to crawl under the house through dirt and cobwebs may be enticing, but doing it yourself will save money.

2. Replace the seals around doors. Place your hand by the bottom of your door and feel how cold it is. This is a common area for air to enter the house. Meyer discourages replacing all your door seals at once, as it can be a daunting process. However, if you have a few rudimentary carpentering skills, sealing a door should cost between $10 and $30.

3. For drafty windows, spend about $10to $20 for a clear plastic film that you apply over the windows with a hair dryer. “The bummer about those is they’re not really reusable,” says Meyer. “A more green alternative would be getting nice, heavy drapes for window covering.”

4. Replace recessed can lighting. This style of lighting is basically creating a hole in your ceiling. These can be replaced with a hallway light fixture, which can be found in a range of prices under $100.

5. Seal ducts. Leaky ducts represent 30 percent of the heat loss in a typical home. Meyer suggests using mastic tape, not duct tape, to do this. “The professionals do not carry rolls of duct tape,” he says. “Duct tape is great for other things—anything but ducts.”

Meyer mentions that you’re not likely to risk getting your home too tightly sealed with just a caulking gun, but if you do seal it well, make sure you have proper ventilation. Saving energy and being warm is nice, but mold and carbon-monoxide poisoning are not.