Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=183395
Story Retrieval Date: 5/25/2013 11:02:10 AM CST
EASY FIXES HOMEOWNERS CAN DO THEMSELVES:
--CLOSE WINDOWS ALL THE WAY. Homeowners commonly overlook the tops of double-sash windows, which may sag over time. Double-check that the latch is fully engaged.
--PUT UP HEAVY CURTAINS. While plastic wrap does stop air infiltration, it is not a permanent solution and it looks bad, says construction manager Matt Reckamp. It's better to hang curtains made of a thick material, which blocks energy transfer and still allows the windows to be opened if desired.
PROJECTS FOR THE HANDY HOMEOWNER OR PROFESSIONAL:
--CAULK AND WEATHER-STRIP. Sealing window frames and doorjambs is a no-brainer, but don't forget floorboards and room corners, Reckamp says. Energy transfers through the wood frame much more easily than the rest of a wall.
--SEAL AND INSULATE PIPES AND DUCTS. When construction workers install pipes and ducts, they often just insert one section into the other at the seam and leave it, creating small gaps where heating and air conditioning escape. Taping the seams can help a lot, as can wrapping them in insulation.
LEAVE IT TO THE PROFESSIONALS:
--SEAL AND INSULATE THE ATTIC AND HATCH. Doing this will save you the most on your energy bill, but installing it yourself could create a fire or mold risk. Many companies also offer new green options, like recycled newsprint pulp. The same treatment on your basement or crawlspace will also save energy.
--RE-FRAME AND INSULATE WALLS. Experts can inject foam or pulp insulation through holes they drill into the wall, or add thermal bridges across wall studs to diffuse energy transfer through the wood. This is the most invasive energy-saving project, so customers often save it for last.
Once you have weatherized your home, you will be ready to install "the bling," as Peter Matuszewski calls it--the solar panels. And when a solar-powered house is airtight the return on investment can improve dramatically.
Source: Green Envelope LLC
When Maria Onesto Moran and her husband moved into their Forest Park home in the spring of 2007, they were excited to use their new sunroom, a porch that a previous owner had enclosed with walls, windows and ventilation. But as the summer heated up, the room became so hot it was unusable. In the winter, they used it to cool beer.
“It got so cold, it exploded,” she says.
When Moran became pregnant last year, they decided to modernize their 1910s home to bring it in line with their desire to conserve energy and live “green.”
“With what’s going on in the Middle East, and now [nuclear] concerns in Japan, everyone’s talking about decreasing dependence on oil, but somebody has to go do it,” she says.
They turned to Peter Matuszewski, owner of Chicago-based Green Envelope LLC, originally a solar-panels installer and now one of a growing number of firms that have moved into energy audits, weatherization and energy use reduction projects. In a struggling economy where discretionary spending has shrunk dramatically, there is plenty of government money sloshing around for weatherization. The stimulus bill set aside about $6 billion to weatherize homes owned by low-income residents.
Closer to home, cities such as Chicago and non-profit groups see reducing home energy use as an important way to meet federal energy efficiency goals.
“Weatherization is moving into the mainstream and is an important development,” says Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America. “It means that the cost will come down and the range of choices will go up.”
Consumers looking to cut their energy bills and feel good about helping the country become more energy independent have lots of services to choose from. On its website Chicago-based DNR Construction Inc. lists global energy independence as a selling point for weatherization.
“Americans see security issues in the Middle East and environmental issues coming to bear, and they feel like they can’t do much about it [on a global scale],” Matuszewski says. “It makes people feel really good if they know they saved two tons of carbon.”
After starting his business in 2008 to do solar installations, Matuszewski soon realized that customers needed to reduce their energy waste before investing in expensive renewable systems. Since he began offering energy saving services last summer, his firm’s revenues have more than tripled.
Energy audits cost $350 and yield a comprehensive list of options to increase efficiency, ranging from free do-it-yourself repairs, to green attic insulation, to solar panel installation. Customers can then choose what projects to take on.
“It’s very easy to pick the low-hanging fruit,” says Matt Reckamp, construction manager at Green Envelope. “When you have someone give you a specific list, it chops your house up into little pieces, and gives you a structure in the way you want to do things, so it’s not overwhelming.”
Among the easy fixes, Green Envelope recommends checking windows to make sure they are closed all the way. “It’s such a common thing,” Reckamp says. On a typical double sash window, people generally open and close only the bottom section, but the top section moves slightly, too, creating a leak at the top of the window. Another tactic is to put up heavy curtains.
Handy homeowners may want to tackle caulking and weather-stripping. “Air-sealing is the No. 1 bang for your buck,” Reckamp says. Strips of rubber attached to window- and door-jambs will decrease airflow. Caulking window frames and floorboards can help, too.
Some projects usually require a professional, including sealing and insulating an attic. “Your attic is going to be your No. 1 greatest source of energy loss,” Reckamp says.
The attic can act as an oven in the summer and a freezer in the winter, but putting down insulation and an airtight hatch can reduce your energy bills 10 to 30 percent. It’s not as easy as just laying down foam on the floor. “There’s significant risk of fire and a significant risk of mold” if put in incorrectly, so Reckamp stresses the need for professional installation.
Many companies, including Green Envelope, now offer environmentally friendly insulation: EcoBatt, made from sand and recycled glass, and cellulose fiber made from recycled paper pulp and boric acid, a natural flame retardant that also discourages animal- and insect-nesting.
Other places to insulate include crawlspaces, basements and walls.
When the list was presented to the Morans last summer, they opted for “all of the above.” Now the sunroom is so comfortable that they knocked down the wall separating it from the kitchen. And although she hasn’t run the numbers yet, Moran estimates that her energy bills have gone down by about one-third. The couple is busy with their newborn son now but hope to add a solar attic fan soon.
“[The house] wasn’t built to be efficient,” she says. “But my husband and I have an environmentally conscious household and we want this house to reflect the rest of our lifestyle.”