Find out how to save energy and reduce your utility bills by:

  • Reducing heating and cooling costs.
  • Adding insulation and improving ventilation in your attic.
  • Improving energy efficiency on your hot water heater.
  • Replacing incandescent lights with CFL or LED lighting.
  • Making your windows and doors more energy efficient.

Further Information

Danny Lipford: This week on Today’s Homeowner, we’re out to find some immediate energy savings for you and your family. We’re looking to grab every dollar we can from that utility bill and put it back in your pocket where it belongs.

This week we’re looking at five different areas of your home, that if you’ll spend just a little bit of time and money on these areas, you will realize some immediate energy savings. Now, we’ll be looking at the heating and cooling systems, windows and doors, insulation, water heaters, and a few tips on saving money on lighting.

Now, there are a few things that you can do that don’t cost any money at all, that can help you keep your home a little more comfortable as far as the temperature. One idea, close your curtains during those real sunny days to prevent any heat buildup inside your house. But, during the winter, open those curtains up and use that sun. Also, on your ceiling fan, make sure, during the summer, it’s counterclockwise. During the winter, it’s running just like the clock.

Now, another thing you hear about all the time, changing your furnace filter. And so many people just neglect doing that. Actually, if you’re not sure when you changed yours last, I guarantee it needs to be changed, and this is a good example. When you look at this existing filter compared to the new filter. Obviously, it has not been changed in a while. All you have to do is make sure you’re getting the same size and you want the direction arrow pointing in, because your air is pulling through the filter. And this will keep the air going through your air furnace a lot cleaner, it’ll make it more efficient and make it last a lot longer.

Another idea that’s very important is to make sure that all of your duct work is sealed properly. To do this, run your hands around the ducts in the attic or basement when the system is running and feel for any leaking air. Seams and joints are the most likely locations.

Seal the leaks you find with a foil-backed duct tape, the metallic type, not the cloth stuff. Then you’ll want to coat the area with some duct sealant mastic. It brushes on like a really thick paint. And once it dries it forms an airtight seal, so that you can benefit from all the comfortable air you’re paying for.

Allen Lyle: When it comes to managing your heating and air conditioning, the device that controls it is right here. It’s the thermostat. Want to start saving money immediately? If you’ve got one of these, change it out for a programmable thermostat. Think about it. Your house may be empty during large blocks of time during the day. You’re at work, kids are at school. Why have that HVAC system continuing to work when no one’s there?

Installing it, very easy. This cost me about 30 bucks. You can spend about $300 dollars or more for this, but 30 bucks for a basic one. I’m going to save just by putting this in here. I’m going to save up to 25% of my annual cost. I’ll pay for this within three months. And it’s as easy as just locating some wires.

Danny Lipford: Underneath the cover of the old unit, you’ll find the control wires attached to lugs. As you remove each of these, they need to be identified, so that they can be attached to the corresponding lug on the new unit. This model includes labels to help with that. Next the old base plate is removed and the new one is installed. A size difference here may require a little touch-up painting.

Now, you can connect the wires to the new unit, install the cover and begin programming it to help you save energy every month.

The heating and cooling system in this home is called a split forced air system. Which means one part of the unit is inside, where you have your air handler. Then you have the second part of it, which is your air conditioner condenser. Now, if you have this type of system, which a lot of people do, it’s the most common type of heating and cooling system out there. You’re looking at a life expectancy between 12 and 15 years. So, if you’re faced with replacing your unit, here’s some very important stuff you need to know.

First of all, you want to get the highest SEER rating that you can afford, that’s Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, ranges from 13 to 23. The higher the number, the more efficient the system will be. Also, the higher the number the more expensive it’ll be, so whatever the budget will allow. But the higher the number, the more money you’ll save on your energy bill. But in order to make your system last as long as possible, make sure you have it serviced at least once a year by a professional heating and cooling contractor.

And another thing you can do that won’t cost you anything, is keep everything clear around the outside unit. Don’t let it grow up like these homeowners have done. Make sure you trim all of that back. Get any vines that are growing up around it. Trim those back, and occasionally, turn the system off, use your water hose to blast away any of the debris that may settle against the unit. That’ll keep it from rusting and make it last a long time. And you can put that big expense off as long as possible.

Hey, let’s check in with Joe Truini, who has a very energy efficient, simple solution for you this week.

Joe Truini: When it comes to saving energy around the house, the dishwasher might not be the first thing you think of; but you’d be surprised how much water and electricity you can save with a few simple tips. For example, if you scrape the dishes clean instead of rinsing them, you can save up to 20 gallons of water. Also, be sure to turn off the electric dryer because that’s just a waste of energy.

Also, read the instruction manual carefully. In this particular model, for example, I discovered that this hole in the lower rack allows the wash tower to extend up during the rinse and wash cycles, so the dishes come out nice and clean. They also recommended not putting a bowl or a large platter in this front right corner, because it’ll block the circulation of the detergent. Now, I never would have known either of those, if I didn’t read the instruction manual.

So you follow those simple tips, the dishes will come out nice and clean. And you don’t have to wash them in the sink a second time and waste water and electricity.

Danny Lipford: This week we’re checking out ways to see immediate energy savings. And next on our list, insulation. Making sure you have the right amount of insulation in your attic is some of the best money that you can spend to drive those energy bills down. But one of the areas of the attic that is so often neglected is this space right here. Whether you have attic stairs like we have here or just a little scuttle hole, this is an area that can lose a lot of energy because you only have about a quarter-inch piece of plywood that’s separating the hot attic from the nice, conditioned space you have downstairs. It certainly makes a little sense to try to insulate this a little bit.

Pretty easy, this is an attic tent. There’s a lot of different kinds of attic tents that are available. This one’s only about $40. You can see it’s insulated, has a little foil on the outside. And basically, like the name implies, it just tents itself over the space creating a little air barrier there to protect you from the elements of the attic. Now, there are some more expensive versions that have a zipper, that allow you access in and out of the attic. And also you can build a very inexpensive one by using a piece of three-quarter-inch foam board. You can cut it out to create a little box. Use a foil tape to close up the corners and to create a little hinge. Works perfectly, and that’ll only cost you about $25.

Now, another area around the attic that is also neglected a lot is the attic ventilation.

Allen Lyle: Now, what Danny means by ventilation is how your attic breathes. And that air exchange is so important. Attic ventilation in the summertime is going to keep the home cooler. That means your air conditioner is going to work less. You’re automatically saving money right there. In the wintertime, it’s going to help move out the moisture, which eliminates the buildup of mold and mildew. Now, you accomplish this two ways.

First of all is intake. Look at this, this is so common in millions of homes across the U.S., you have a solid soffit. It looks really nice – one little vent is just not enough, it won’t do it. So we’re gonna cut holes in the soffit, cover those holes with a vent. If you think that’s too big, that’s okay, I’ve got one like this. How about, this is simple, little three-inch hole. Pop it right in place.

Now the second half of the equation is the exhaust. You’ve got to let that air out. Right up top here, this is the ridge. A ridge vent is basically cutting a hole across here, and then covering it with a component that’s going to let that air out of the attic, but keep the rain and critters out. If you can’t do a ridge vent, certainly, I do recommend a power roof vent as close to the ridge as possible.

Danny Lipford: Before you go out and buy any insulation for your attic, get an idea of how much you have in the attic now. First of all if you go into the attic, and you can see your ceiling joists, I can already tell you, you don’t have enough. Just measure what you have. Here I have about four inches, which is probably only going to relate to around an R-5, not enough by any means. And I want to shoot for about an R-35. So, I have some R-30 which is about nine inches of insulation. And I’m going to roll this out over the existing.

Now, a few things you need to know when you’re buying insulation to add to an existing attic. Make sure you don’t have the paper backing on it – that can create a moisture trap – so this is what we call unfaced. Then you need all the right equipment. You know, the goggles like this, kind of goofy looking, but they are pretty good to keep the fibers out of your eyes. And, of course, the dust mask, your gloves, you need a good sharp knife.

And what’s the baby powder doing here? Well, you need to wear long-sleeved shirt, long pants and everything, but you still may have a little bit of skin that’s still exposed. Put a little of this on your wrist maybe on the back of your neck and around a little bit. You know, you’re gonna smell kind of nice, but also it’ll keep the fiberglass from irritating your skin. After that, all you do is cut it out, roll it out perpendicular to your joist, and you start saving money on your energy bill.

You might be surprised to know that simply heating water represents 12 to 13% of your total utility bill. So, a few adjustments here can go a long way. The first adjustment you should do, whether you have a gas or an electric water heater, turn the thermostat down to at least 120 degrees. Some people can get by with even less than that and you still have plenty of hot water.

Another thing, whether it’s gas or electric make sure you drain all of the water out of it at least once a year to get rid of all that sediment that can cause it to be very inefficient.

Now, if you have an electric one, consider installing an electrical timer that’ll turn the water heater off when you don’t need hot water. Turn it back on when you do. Very similar to the programmable thermostat that you should be using on your heating and cooling system.

Another thing, if you have exposed pipes like this, pick up some pipe wrap, wrap all of these pipes. Very easy to do. You wrap it around, a little bit of duct tape. And that’ll prevent you from losing any BTUs as it goes from the water heater to the sink or the shower.

Traditional water heaters last about 10 to 15 years. So if you’re in the market for a new one you might consider something more efficient. For all electric homes, the hybrid or heat pump water heater is a good choice because it uses less than half the energy of normal electric units. If you have a gas-fueled unit a tankless model might be a good replacement because it only heats water as you need it. Or you might consider a gas condensing water heater, which is super efficient, because it uses both the burner and the captured exhaust gases to heat the water tank.

Jodi Marks: One of the ways to make your home energy efficient is to have good insulation in your attic and in your crawl space and in your basement. And if it’s not, you need to replace it.

Now, I’m over here in the insulation aisle. And I’m standing in front of the Owens Corning display, because I want to talk to you about their EcoTouch fiberglass insulation. Well, why do they call it this?

Well, the “eco” part stands for it’s environmentally friendly. Why? Well, first of all there’s no formaldehyde. Secondly, it comes with the GREENGUARD Certification. Which means it’s got good in-house air quality. Another thing, it comes from 50% recycled material, 30% of which is made of post-consumer material.

Now, what does the “touch” mean? The “touch” means that it’s soft and the fiberglass is refined so nicely that it’s less of a skin irritant when you put it in place. It’s very easy to install, and again if you want to reduce your power bills year after year just make sure you got good insulation.

Danny Lipford: Finally, let’s talk about lighting in the home. And how you can get some immediate savings from that area of your home. Some of the concepts are so simple, like turning off a light when you don’t really need it. Also, you can harness natural light by strategically placing a mirror opposite a window, so that you can reflect a lot of that light into other areas of the room. But if you really want some immediate energy savings, it’s time to go shopping.

Allen Lyle: Now that may sound like a contradiction, to go shopping to save money but if you’re replacing your incandescent bulbs, it’s money in your pocket. If you were just to compare the price of the bulbs, that doesn’t make sense. Thirty-seven cents, $4.50 for your compact fluorescent, $24 for a light-emitting diode, LED. This is a ridiculous price, by the way. Watch, it’ll come down though.

But let’s look at the overall cost. How much does it cost to operate those bulbs? Average home in the U.S., 60-watt bulbs, 30 bulbs in each house.

For an incandescent, you’re looking at about 3,200 kilowatt-hours every year. That represents $325 of your annual power bill. With the CFLs, same amount of bulbs, it’s only going to be about 760 kilowatt-hours, that’s about 75 bucks a year. That’s not bad. For those LEDs, are you ready for this, only 330 kilowatt-hours for all 30 of those bulbs. That’s about 32 bucks for the entire year.

Listen, you want a really good idea? Ditch those incandescents, go for the CFL or the LED.

Danny Lipford: Earlier we looked at how expensive it is to heat and cool your home. So it only makes sense to prevent the outside temperature from influencing that expensive controlled environment you have inside your home. Of course, a big part of that is having good windows and doors. But don’t underestimate what a significant impact you can make by simply sealing up all of the gaps and cracks.

Allen Lyle: You know, if you were to take all of those gaps and cracks and combine them, on the average house, you’d have a hole about one square yard. Yeah, three feet by three feet. That’s why it pays to seek out and seal those cracks. But easier said than done, right? Have you been down the caulking aisle lately? Options are confusing, so let’s look at just a few of them.

A lot of people go straight for that 100% silicone. Great idea. If you apply it correctly, practically guarantees a waterproof seal. Here’s the drawback, look over here. When you look at a crack like this, silicone is clear. You put it on, you’ll still see the crack. You cannot paint this, silicone will not accept paint.

So, you may want to go with a siliconized latex. Either one is great. When you’re talking about outside make sure it says “exterior” on it. Or in this case, you’ve got flashing, windows, doors. That tells you this is for the outside.

When you are using it. A 45-degree cut on the tip. I don’t like to go down any further than a quarter of an inch. Gives you more control over it. One other thing, when you’re looking at the caulk, look for something that has something in it for mildew.

Also, you might want to think about picking up a can of this, because not all of those cracks are going to be sealed with caulk. Expandable foam is great for filling in those larger voids that caulk simply can’t seal. So, seal it up. Save that energy.

Danny Lipford: Another way to make old windows like this more efficient is to install storm windows like this homeowner’s done. Now, there’s several different advantages here. First of all, they’re fairly inexpensive. They also create that air cushion between the inside and the outside to protect you from the elements. And also, it reduces the amount of maintenance that you have to do on wood windows, because again, it protects the window and the surface of the window from the elements. So, that’s a big advantage, but, if the budget will allow, there’s nothing better than replacing the windows.

Good replacement windows like these won’t allow as much heat or cold to transfer through them, because they use insulated glass and they’re tightly built so there are no air leaks. These sash pack replacement units from JELD-WEN make installation very easy because you don’t have to remove the original frame of the double-hung window.

The old, inefficient sashes are cut in two, so that they can be removed without breaking the glass. And then, the old window tracks or balances are removed. A new balance will lock into these metal clips before the new sash is snapped in place. These insulated glass sashes are custom-made for this opening so the fit is exact and airtight. These homeowners should definitely realize some energy savings with these new, more efficient units. And also, they’ll love the maintenance free aspect of it because they’re all covered with cladding.

Hey, we’re looking at all kinds of ways to get some immediate energy savings, and that’s something homeowners always have questions about.

Lynn asks: My family room is full of south facing windows, so it turns into an oven on summer days. How can I keep the view and loose the heat?

Danny Lipford: Ideally, what you’d like to have in a situation like that is a window that is manufactured with a Low-E coating. The Low-E coating will reflect the heat back to its source, allowing you to keep the inside of your house a lot cooler. Now, a little more budget minded way of doing basically the same thing is to install a window film on the inside of your windows. But, you only want to do this if you have single paned windows. Double pane windows, you don’t want to use any window film.

But when you’re selecting your window film, make sure you select one that’ll block out a significant percentage of the UV rays, or the ultraviolet rays. This will prevent a glare, also a heat gain. And, as a little added bonus, it’ll also slow down the fading of your furniture, your window coverings, as well as your floors.

Danny Lipford: When you want to shave down your utility bills it pays to look at the big five of home energy efficiency. Your heating and cooling system, insulation and ventilation, water heaters, household lighting and windows and doors.

This week we looked at a lot of different ways that you can save right away on your energy bill. Some cost little or nothing others cost a little bit more. But you put a few of these ideas together and I guarantee you, you’ll feel pretty good at the end of the month.

I’m Danny Lipford, we’ll see you next week. Here on Today’s Homeowner.

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Danny Lipford


Danny Lipford is a home improvement expert and television personality who started his remodeling business, Lipford Construction, at the age of 21 in Mobile, Alabama. He gained national recognition as the host of the nationally syndicated television show, Today's Homeowner with Danny Lipford, which started as a small cable show in Mobile. Danny's expertise in home improvement has also led him to be a contributor to popular magazines and websites and the go-to source for advice on everything related to the home. He has made over 200 national television appearances and served as the home improvement expert for CBS's The Early Show and The Weather Channel for over a decade. Danny is also the founder of 3 Echoes Content Studio,, and Checking In With Chelsea, a décor and lifestyle blog.

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