This past week I called to get our power hooked up, and learned that the previous owners of our house paid an average of $165/month for electricity over the past year. While this sounds like a lot, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds… It’s a 3, 000 square foot house located in the southeast, and entirely electric (heat, air, hot water, clothes dryer, etc.). Still, now that I have a firm number in mind, I have a goal — i.e., to beat $165/month by as much as we can over the next year (without inconveniencing ourselves too badly).
The biggest problem so far seems to be the bonus room, which we’ll be using as the kids’ playroom. As it turns out, you have to keep the thermostat set pretty low in order to maintain a comfortable temperature up there. But a bit of investigation revealed a few problems right off the bat.
First of all, the attic access door didn’t close very tight, and was completely uninsulated. Second, the garage (which is directly below) has a couple of windows that are totally exposed to morning sun, and the garage door has a row of windows and no insulation. Third, all of the vents in the house were wide open.
My first move was to begin closing some of the vents on the lower level to drive more cool air upstairs. My second move was to replace the doorknob on the attic access door to make it close more securely, weatherstrip it, and then cover the backside with insulation. My third move was to hang blinds over the garage windows to help keep the garage temperature down. Those simple steps, combined with asking the kids to keep the bonus room door closed to stop the cool air from tumbling down the steps, have allowed us to raise the thermostat by four degress while still maintaining a comfortable temperature in the bonus room.
Next I have to figure out a good way of insulating the garage door. As was the case in our previous house, it’s a crappy metal door with no insulation. While I’ve insulated a garage door previously with great success, I’ve never had to deal with a door that has windows. We don’t want the house to look trashy, so simply insulating over the windows won’t work. While we could swap those panels out for a windowless equivalent, doing so isn’t cheap.
Instead of replacing the garage door (or at least parts of it), I was thinking of painting over the backside of those windows with a nice even coat of black or (preferably) white spray paint. The former would retain the look of a garage door with windows, but would allow me to insulate over the backside however I please, and would also block out visual access to the garage. The latter would make the door appear windowless (at least from a distance), and would similarly block out visual access to the garage. The main differences here would be: (1) appearance (windowed vs. windowless), (2) heat transfer (black windows would heat up more than white), and (3) durability (black might fade to a sickly grey over time). With these things in mind, I’d appreciate any suggestions as to how best to tackle this problem.
Regardless of how I go after the garage door problem, there are a number of other things that I’ll be doing to improve energy efficiency. Here’s a quick rundown off the top of my head:
(1) Replace incandescent lights with compact fluorescent (we did this at our old house with good results).
(2) Insulate the water heater (it’s in the crawl space — this will mainly help in the winter, if at all).
(3) Insulate the water pipes — they’re largely exposed in the crawl space (this is mainly a winter fix, and will have the added benefit of preventing frozen pipes).
(4) Check for missing/inadequate insulation in accessible locations (i.e., crawl space and attic). I already know that I have to insulate and weatherstrip the other attic access door.
(5) Replace the front door — it’s a double door that doesn’t seal particularly well. While we could redo the weather stripping, double doors are not at all energy efficient (they have >50% more in the way of edges, so there’s a lot more opportunity for air infiltration as compared to a single door). The problem here is that new doors are surprisingly expensive, especially if you need sidelights to fill in a double opening — more on this in a future post.
I’ll do my best to post updates as to how we’re progressing vs. the previous owners’ average monthly bill. Of course, another thing that we’re up against is family size — we have six and they had four. Given the impact that this has on hot water usage in particular (laundry, bathing, dishes, etc.) we’re fighting an uphill battle.
For more information on moving, check out my Roadmap for a Successful Relocation.