Solutions for Self-Reliance

Winter Energy Conservation Tips – Passive Solar Energy

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With the official start of winter behind us, it’s important to consider some of the simple things we can do to reduce energy consumption during the colder months of the year.

Many of us have already encountered a significant amount of winter weather this season, but it’s never too late to save money and make your home more energy-efficient.

Maintain Your Heating Equipment

This may seem like common sense but surprisingly, EPA studies have shown that dirt and neglect are the top causes for heating system failure in the home. If you have a forced-air system, make sure the air filters is clean and schedule an appointment with an HVAC contractor at least once every 5 years for a health check of your furnace.

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If you use a wood stove or fireplace, clean the chimney at least once each year to remove creosote deposits. Chimney fires are almost always a result of a dirty chimney and remain one of the leading causes of residential fires in rural America.

Even propane stoves should be checked to ensure maximum efficiency. Inspect all propane lines from the tank and contact your local fuel provider to have your propane tank pressure tested at least once every 10 years.

Sealing Air Leaks

Even new homes have air leaks or drafty areas within the home. Fortunately, it’s easy to seal these leaks using caulk, spray foam or weather stripping. Areas where wires enter the home (such as in the basement) should be sealed using readily-available spray foam to keep your warm air in and the cold air out.

Windows and doors are another area prone to leaks. Weather stripping is a semi-permanent solution that looks good and can save you considerable amounts of money in home heating costs.

If sealing some of your windows isn’t practical, use heavy curtains or quilted drapes to help insulate the area. Believe it or not, it can take decades to reach ROI when investing in new windows. Curtains, caulking and weather stripping are more affordable options that are nearly as effective.

Passive Solar Heating

This is probably the most effective, yet overlooked, tip of them all. Especially with some nice southern-facing windows, you can drastically warm your house during the day using the energy of the sun.

I have some large windows that get good sun exposure throughout the day (especially with the low winter sun). These windows probably raise the temperature in the house at least 10°F on a sunny day. I am burning less fuel because the heat stays around long after the sun sets.

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Some well-insulated homes are able to use passive solar heating almost exclusively. The earthships we talk about in this month’s newsletter are a perfect example of how effective solar heating can be with a little bit of effort and good engineering.

Solar heating can save you up to 12% in monthly heating costs; possibly even more in areas with lots of sunlight throughout the day.

Turn Down the Thermostat

It seems like common sense to turn down the thermostat to save money, but not many people actually do it. Did you know that turning down the thermostat only one degree can save you 3% per month in energy costs?

Imagine turning down the heat 5 degrees? That represents a significant cost savings month after month – money better spent on cool resiliency projects.

This tip is even more effective if you have followed some of the other tips presented here as well. Getting rid of drafts makes the house feel much warmer and passive solar heating could allow you to turn your thermostat down even further during the day.

Change Your Light Bulbs

For those who haven’t made the switch to compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs, you are missing out on some serious savings. The average CFL bulb is 75% more efficient than a standard incandescent bulb and lasts much longer.

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The slightly higher cost of CFL bulbs is quickly recouped by the increased efficiency of the design. With shorter days come longer nights and light bulbs can consume a lot more power than you think when they are on twice as often as they are during the summer.

Although none of these tips are ground-breaking ideas, it only takes a little preparation to save a lot of money this winter. Collectively, these four tips are a good step toward self-sufficiency and a great way to save some much needed cash for the holidays and perhaps more importantly, for new projects in the planting season that will be on us before we know it.

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