Living Frugally – Lowering Costs

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Creative Ways to Lower the Cost of Managing Your Home

Energy efficiency

According to the Department of Labor, the average American spends 34.1% of its household income on housing. This includes shelter, utilities, household operations, housekeeping supplies and household furnishings and equipment.

Those looking for a new home have a few more options than those of us who are not. They can look for homes with less square footage, which requires less to maintain and operate, not to mention less to purchase. Having less square footage to fill can also help some homeowners manage the amount of “stuff” they bring into their home; less closet and cabinet space means less room to store things; making your home feel full. Larger homes have the illusion of being empty when storage areas are not brimming to over flowing, which entices people to shop just to fill the space.

Other housing options include building you own home (if you have the land) to your specifications. This allows you to incorporate many non-traditional building methods like log cabins, straw bale, adobe or cob construction. Non standard upgrades can also save you tons of money in the long run. Extra insulation will help with heating and cooling of the home, while solar, installed at construction means renewable electricity. It may even make you some money if you’re in an area where the power company pays you for electricity going into the grid. Gray water and rain water collection systems can also be installed during construction allowing you to easily pipe it to landscaped areas.

Building your own home enables you to use a variety of recycled materials. Salvaged doors, windows, sinks, faucets and cabinets can all reduce the cost of building as well as reducing the amount of useable materials going into landfills.

Heating and Cooling Your Home
The temperature of your home can vary widely depending on where you live. People living in the southern states have more temperate winters than our northern neighbors, which means we use our furnaces less, but we can also experience triple digit temps in the warmer months which means we use our air conditioners more. So what are some ways to save on both heating and cooling our homes?

Make your house more energy efficient.

First off – check with your utility company to see if they perform “FREE” energy evaluations. This will help you understand where your home is losing energy.

Heating your home with a more efficient furnace will save you money in the long run. But, the initial outlay can be prohibitive, as in my case. My furnace is original to the house, and although it works fine I know it is not as efficient as the newer models. The $3,500 replacement cost though is not in my budget right now so I’ve had to use other energy saving measures to help lower my heating costs.

Simple strategies that work well and save big:
Fortunately, our southern California winters are relatively short compared to other areas of the country. I am able to leave my furnace off until Thanksgiving and turn it back on in March, which I now do out of habit.

I also set my thermostat at 67 during the winter. When I leave the house I turn the thermostat down 10 degrees and before I go to bed I lower it to 65 because the hot air can be drying to skin, nose and throat. This can also be done by installing a programmable thermostat. If I do feel like I need a little something extra I simply put on my favorite sweats and slippers.

Furnace filters should be replaced once a month during the heating season so your furnace works well. Make sure floor or wall registers are not blocked by rugs, drapes or furniture. This will help your furnace work its best too.

Check doors and windows for energy leakage, then install or replace weather stripping as needed.

During the heating season, keep the drapes and shades on your south-facing windows open during the day to allow the sunlight to enter your home, then close them at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.

Ever heard of a window quilt? It’s simply a quilt hung over a window to help keep cold air from entering the house.

For even greater savings on your heating bill try using a space heater that can be moved from room to room as needed. For an up front outlay of less than $100 you could be saving over $1,000 a year on your heating costs.

When it’s time to cool your house many of these strategies can be used in reverse, like setting your air conditioner higher or turning it off all together. For every degree you turn up your thermostat in summer, you cut 7% to 10% from your cooling costs.

My house actually doesn’t have air conditioning. I rely on the huge shade trees on the east and west sides of my home to keep it cool when the morning and afternoon sun beats in.

Throw open the windows and let a breeze blow through! Opening windows or doors in the cooler morning hours will help keep your house cool for most of the day. Using a fan will help circulate the cool air throughout.

Speaking of fans, here’s an old timer’s trick to cooling your house – close all the windows in your house except for one in a shaded area on a side that gets an afternoon breeze. On the opposite side of the house open a window or door and place a fan in the opening facing toward the outside. Turn it on high. In a short time the fan will pull the warm air out and create a draw from the open window on the other side of the house. As the shaded cooler air is pulled through the house is cooled down. Voila! Cheap air conditioning.

Close blinds or drapes on windows that get direct sun to keep rooms from warming up during the day.

Planting trees on the east and west sides of your home will help shade it during the hottest part of the day. Plant fast growing trees with wide canopies to give you the most shade. But, also remember to factor in the trees water needs as well.

If you do use an air conditioner or have an evaporative cooling system make sure the units have a cover.

Creative Commons License photo credit: jeancliclac

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