Increasing energy efficiency in your home: benefit for the environment, your wallet, and your health

Making your home more energy efficient is not only good for the earth, it’s also good for your wallet and health. Here are some simple methods, recommended by the U.S. Department of Energy, for decreasing your carbon footprint, your monthly electricity bill, and serious health risks all at the same time.

Check your insulation

By far the largest single chunk of the average electricity bill goes toward heating and cooling your home, and proper insulation can make a sizeable difference.  The DoE estimates that only 20% of homes built before 1980 are sufficiently insulated, so it’s worth examining your insulation. However, be aware that many homes built before 1980 also contain asbestos, as it added heat resistance to the construction materials it was combined with.  Inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to lung diseases or cancer.  Symptoms of mesothelioma can remain latent until the disease is past the point of treatment.  If you suspect you may have fraying or damaged insulation in your home, call a licensed asbestos abatement team to remove it.  Insulation and fireproofing materials in the U.S. now contain no more than 1% asbestos, but it is still best to check the packaging to make sure – mesothelioma symptoms are serious.

Test for air leaks

Cracks and gaps in or around doors, windows, electrical boxes and outlets, plumbing, ceiling fixtures and attic hatches can leak cooled or heated air into the surrounding environment, draining money and energy.  A simple way to check for leaks on a windy day is to hold a lit stick of incense or other smoke-producing item near the suspected crack.  If the smoke is blow horizontally, there is a leak.  Dirty spots on insulation, ceilings, and carpeting can also indicate air leaks.

Consider your windows

Double-paned windows with high-performance glass and an Energy Star label can go a long way toward improving energy efficiency.  However, the cost of replacing all the windows in the house is often prohibitive, so you may consider other methods of minimizing energy loss.  Those in cold climates can install tight-fitting window shades or storm windows, or tape heavy-duty clear plastic to the interior of windows.  Those in warm climates can install light-reflective white window shades or sun-controlling films, as well as remember to close curtains on south and west-facing windows while the sun is up.

Remember your chimney

If you have a chimney, keep the flue damper shut when there is no fire in the fireplace.  Otherwise, it’s essentially just a large hole where air can escape.  If the flue is old, consider investing in an inflatable chimney balloon to seal the gaps during long periods of non-use. A chimney is another location where asbestos has been found in your home. Due to the durable and heat resistant nature of this fiber, it has been used to line chimneys for many decades. Mesothelioma life expectancy is extremely poor and not an issue you want to take chances with.

Replace (or Reduce Your Use of) Appliances

Refrigerators, clothes washers, and clothes dryers top the list of electricity-draining appliances.  When shopping for new appliances, look for the Energy Star label that denotes energy efficiency.  If your budget does not allow for new appliances, find ways to use the ones you have a little less often.  Let clothes air dry, wash dishes by hand, cook with the microwave instead of the oven.  Turn all appliances – even the computer – off when not in use.

Adding a few simple green habits to your day-to-day routine can make a big difference in your energy consumption, quality of life, and finances.

Thanks to Krista Peterson for guest blogging this article!

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