Small Steps Toward Energy Efficiency (and Away from Moving Anxiety)
By Simran Sethi
January 05, 2010
This is my internal refrain: "I don't know how to do this."
This is my beloved friend Eric's response: "Yet. You do not know how to do this yet. You are the alpha and the omega."
What he means is there is no right or wrong way to do this move. Yet, for me, there has been. I've been hesitant to do anything that might reveal I am an amateur or in any way mar my 84-year-old house. Paint a wall? Better leave that to the experts. Hang a painting on plaster and lathe walls? Seriously? I just learned what plaster and lathe are—how am I possibly equipped to drill into the wall? What are all those different drill bits for? And why is every color in my house some variance of red or brown?
For some strange reason, I feel like I should know how to drill, hammer and select perfect colors—and I feel mighty ashamed that I don't. Fortunately, I have Eric in my life to cut that refrain and remind me learning is incremental and I am progressing just fine. However, there is reason for my anxiety. Moving is one of the top 10 stressors in our lives, apparently ranking third after death and divorce. Add that to the host of emotions that accompany the postholiday letdown, and you have the perfect storm of anxiety.
Yesterday, Eric accompanied me/made me go to my town's giant home improvement store to get the supplies that were just beyond the scope of my family-owned, local hardware shop Cottin's. I try to frequent locally owned, independent businesses because buying localis a key part of being a responsible consumer. It keeps money in our local economies and supports our friends and neighbors. The prices are sometimes (not always) a little higher because a small business doesn't have the aggregate purchasing power of a big box store (that's buying items for hundreds or thousands of retail outlets), but that small investment goes well beyond the few extra cents we might pay for a bolt or screw.
Okay, back to the big box excursion. We entered the store somewhere in the lumber section. I felt overwhelmed by the dizzying number of planks, fixtures and gadgets I had no comprehension of and desperately wanted to leave. But, of course, Eric was doing all this incredible work to help me so I had to at least pretend I was into it. He looked for fasteners for the plaster and lathe and some of the energy-efficiency products on my to-buy list while I veered off and did the same. Somewhere during hour two of our big box field trip, I started to settle in and—dare I say—get excited about what I was doing. I picked up items I knew I would eventually need (ahem, snow shovel) and almost kind of started to believe I could pull this whole homeowner thing off.
A recent acquaintance, Charlotte, described this uncomfortable transition into a new home as the "getting to know you" phase, analogous to what happens when starting a new job or meeting a new community of people. It takes a while to settle in. So while I am settling, I have decided to slow down a bit and scale back to micro-movements.
In that spirit, here are five ways to make your home more energy efficient. All of them can be completed in less than 15 minutes. These tasks are strategic and touch upon the most effective things you can do to reduce your energy consumption and limit carbon dioxide emissions (I'll talk more about this in my next post). The timing doesn't include buying the items—all of which should be readily available at your local hardware store (I challenge you to best me: Skip the megastore and seek out your local, independent hardware shop).
Stuff to Buy:
Draft doorstop. Mine was overpriced at $15. If you are crafty, chuck my timing and make your own draft stop.
Tape measure (about $4) and scissors (about $2).
Hot water insulation blanket (and a knife with which to trim the blanket). Mine cost $20. Look for the blanket with the highest R-value.
Duct tape (about $6).
LED or compact florescent lightbulbs (a six-pack of CFLs cost me $10 on sale). LEDs are pricey but can last up to a decade and provide the greatest energy efficiency. If you are going with CFLs (which can fit into most standard outlets), opt for the soft white hue, that is, unless you like the high school cafeteria cast of bright white fluorescents.
Stuff to Do:
1) Start the clock.
2) Make sealing all air leaks a priority. Doors and windows are two big areas to tackle. In the interest of time, I started with a draft stop for my front door. It took two minutes to measure the width of my door, trim the foam and slide the stopper underneath the door. I spent an extra 30 seconds reveling in the newfound warmth around the door.
3) Locate your hot water heater and then find the temperature dial on your unit. For each 10° reduction in water temperature, you can save between 3 and 5 percent in energy costs, so turn that sucker down to 120°.
4) Unfurl your hot water heater insulation blanket. If it's lined with fiberglass, be careful and avoid skin contact. (I hate fiberglass. That is why I put people-friendly and eco-friendly cellulose insulation in my attic.) If you have a friend nearby, ask her to help you position and tape the blanket around the heater. Make sure the blanket is nice and snug and cut around any faucets, controls, vents and pipes. Adding insulation won't win your hot water heater any beauty contests but it can reduce heat loss by 25 to 45 percent and will save you around 4 to 9 percent in water heating costs. That's pretty.
5) The clock is ticking! Grab a chair or stepladder and change any incandescent light bulbs for CFLs or LEDs. I know you have heard it (and I have said it) a million times, so do it already. Lighting accounts for close to 20 percent of an average home's electricity bill. This will save you money and time changing bulbs.
6) In the remaining seconds you have left, turn down your thermostat. You will save roughly 1 percent on your heating bill for each degree your thermostat is lowered. Your best bet is to install a programmable thermostat that will do the work for you, but that doesn't fit in our 15-minute challenge.
Congrats! These small changes are the first steps to a cleaner, greener life. Amid whatever life stuff you have going on, know that strategic small acts can reap great results, whether it's changing a lightbulb or, like Eric, being there for a friend in a time of need.
Embracing the micro-movements—and feeling gratitude for shelter and support in this new year,
P.S. I am not the world's greatest tweeter, but I do drop whatever house gems I find on Twitter @simransethi.