More $$ Savings in Your Home

In our previous post we brought from InterNACHI, our Home Inspector association, some great ideas for being more energy-efficient while saving money in our homes. Here round out the ten ideas:

  1. Use appliances and electronics responsibly. Appliances and electronics account for about 20% of household energy bills in a typical U.S. home. The following are tips that will reduce the required energy of electronics and appliances:
    • Refrigerators and freezers should not be located near the stove, dishwasher or heat vents, or exposed to direct sunlight. Exposure to warm areas will force them to use more energy to remain cool.
    • Computers should be shut off when not in use. If unattended computers must be left on, their monitors should be shut off. According to some studies, computers account for approximately 3% of all energy consumption in the United States.
    • Use efficient ENERGY STAR-rated appliances and electronics. These devices, approved by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Program, include TVs, home theater systems, DVD players, CD players, receivers, speakers, and more. According to the EPA, if just 10% of homes used energy-efficient appliances, it would reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of 1.7 million acres of trees.
    • Chargers, such as those used for laptops and cell phones, consume energy when they are plugged in. When they are not connected to electronics, chargers should be unplugged.
    • Laptop computers consume considerably less electricity than desktop computers.
  2. Install daylighting as an alternative to electrical lighting. Daylighting is the practice of using natural light to illuminate the home’s interior. It can be achieved using the following approaches:
    • skylights. It’s important that they be double-pane or they may not be cost-effective. Flashing skylights correctly is key to avoiding leaks;
    • light shelves. Light shelves are passive devices designed to bounce light deep into a building. They may be interior or exterior. Light shelves can introduce light into a space up to 2½ times the distance from the floor to the top of the window, and advanced light shelves may introduce four times that amount;
    • clerestory windows. Clerestory windows are short, wide windows set high on the wall. Protected from the summer sun by the roof overhang, they allow winter sun to shine through for natural lighting and warmth; and
    • light tubes. Light tubes use a special lens designed to amplify low-level light and reduce light intensity from the midday sun. Sunlight is channeled through a tube coated with a highly reflective material, and then enters the living space through a diffuser designed to distribute light evenly.
  3. Insulate windows and doors. About one-third of the home’s total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors. The following are ways to reduce energy lost through windows and doors:
    • Seal all window edges and cracks with rope caulk. This is the cheapest and simplest option.
    • Windows can be weatherstripped with a special lining that is inserted between the window and the frame. For doors, apply weatherstripping around the whole perimeter to ensure a tight seal when they’re closed. Install quality door sweeps on the bottom of the doors, if they aren’t already in place.
    • Install storm windows at windows with only single panes. A removable glass frame can be installed over an existing window.
    • If existing windows have rotted or damaged wood, cracked glass, missing putty, poorly fitting sashes, or locks that don’t work, they should be repaired or replaced.
  4. Cook smart. An enormous amount of energy is wasted while cooking. The following recommendations and statistics illustrate less wasteful ways of cooking:
    • Convection ovens are more efficient that conventional ovens. They use fans to force hot air to circulate more evenly, thereby allowing food to be cooked at a lower temperature. Convection ovens use approximately 20% less electricity than conventional ovens.
    • Microwave ovens consume approximately 80% less energy than conventional ovens.
    • Pans should be placed on the matching size heating element or flame.
    • Using lids on pots and pans will heat food more quickly than cooking in uncovered pots and pans.
    • Pressure cookers reduce cooking time dramatically.
    • When using conventional ovens, food should be placed on the top rack. The top rack is hotter and will cook food faster.
  5. Change the way you do laundry.
    • Wait until you have a full load of clothes, as the medium setting saves less than half of the water and energy used for a full load.
    • Avoid using high-temperature settings when clothes are not very soiled. Water that is 140° F uses far more energy than 103° F for the warm-water setting, but 140° F isn’t that much more effective for getting clothes clean.
    • Clean the lint trap every time before you use the dryer. Not only is excess lint a fire hazard, but it will prolong the amount of time required for your clothes to dry.
    • If possible, air-dry your clothes on lines and racks.
    • Spin-dry or wring clothes out before putting them into a dryer.

Homeowners who take the initiative to make these changes usually discover that the energy savings are more than worth the effort. We, as InterNACHI home inspectors, can make this process much easier because we can perform a more comprehensive assessment of energy-savings potential than the average homeowner can. We hope you have gotten some good and worthwhile ideas from this series. This information was provided by InterNACHI, our professional home inspectors association.

Energy (and $$) Savings in Your Home

Our friends at InterNACHI provide us with research and know-how to advise our customers on a range of best practices for retaining and improving the value of your home investment. I’d like to pass along some great ideas for energy cost savings in your home. Here’s five ways:

  1. Use more energy-efficient ways to heat and cool your house. As much as half of the energy used in homes goes toward heating and cooling. The following are a few ways that energy bills can be reduced through adjustments to the heating and cooling systems:
    • Install a ceiling fan. Ceiling fans can be used in place of air conditioners, which require a large amount of energy.
    • Periodically replace air filters in air conditioners / heaters.
    • Set thermostats to an appropriate temperature. Specifically, they should be adjusted at night and when no one is home.
    • Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat saves money by allowing heating and cooling appliances to be automatically turned down during times that no one is home and at night. Programmable thermostats contain no mercury and, in some climate zones, can save up to $150 per year in energy costs.
    • At night, curtains drawn over windows will better insulate the room.
  2. Install a tankless water heater. Demand-type water heaters (tankless or instantaneous) provide hot water only as it is needed. They don’t produce the standby energy losses associated with traditional storage water heaters, which will save on energy costs. Tankless water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. A gas burner or an electric element heats the water. As a result, demand water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. You don’t need to wait for a storage tank to fill up with enough hot water.
  3. Replace incandescent lights. The average household dedicates 11% of its energy budget to lighting. Traditional incandescent lights convert approximately only 10% of the energy they consume into light, while the rest becomes heat. The use of new lighting technologies, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), can reduce the energy use required by lighting by 50% to 75%. Advances in lighting controls offer further energy savings by reducing the amount of time that lights are on but not being used. Here are some facts about CFLs and LEDs:
    • CFLs use 75% less energy and last about 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
    • LEDs last even longer than CFLs and consume less energy.
    • LEDs have no moving parts and, unlike CFLs, they contain no mercury.
  4. Seal and insulate your home. Sealing and insulating your home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more comfortable and energy-efficient, and you can do it yourself. A tightly sealed home can improve comfort and indoor air quality while reducing utility bills. An InterNACHI energy auditor can assess leakage in the building envelope and recommend fixes that will dramatically increase comfort and energy savings. The following are some common places where leakage may occur:
    • electrical receptacles/outlets;
    • mail slots;
    • around pipes and wires;
    • wall- or window-mounted air conditioners;
    • attic hatches;
    • fireplace dampers;
    • inadequate weatherstripping around doors;
    • baseboards;
    • window frames; and
    • switch plates. Because hot air rises, air leaks are most likely to occur in the attic. Homeowners can perform a variety of repairs and maintenance to their attics that save them money on cooling and heating, such as:
    • Plug the large holes. Locations in the attic where leakage is most likely to be the greatest are where walls meet the attic floor, behind and under attic knee walls, and in dropped-ceiling areas.
    • Seal the small holes. You can easily do this by looking for areas where the insulation is darkened. Darkened insulation is a result of dusty interior air being filtered by insulation before leaking through small holes in the building envelope. In cold weather, you may see frosty areas in the insulation caused by warm, moist air condensing and then freezing as it hits the cold attic air. In warmer weather, you’ll find water staining in these same areas. Use expanding foam or caulk to seal the openings around plumbing vent pipes and electrical wires. Cover the areas with insulation after the caulk is dry.
    • Seal up the attic access panel with weatherstripping. You can cut a piece of fiberglass or rigid foamboard insulation in the same size as the attic hatch and glue it to the back of the attic access panel. If you have pull-down attic stairs or an attic door, these should be sealed in a similar manner.
  5. Install efficient showerheads and toilets. The following systems can be installed to conserve water usage in homes:
    • low-flow showerheads. They are available in different flow rates, and some have a pause button which shuts off the water while the bather lathers up;
    • low-flow toilets. Toilets consume 30% to 40% of the total water used in homes, making them the biggest water users. Replacing an older 3.5-gallon toilet with a modern, low-flow 1.6-gallon toilet can reduce usage an average of 2 gallons-per-flush (GPF), saving 12,000 gallons of water per year. Low-flow toilets usually have “1.6 GPF” marked on the bowl behind the seat or inside the tank;
    • vacuum-assist toilets. This type of toilet has a vacuum chamber that uses a siphon action to suck air from the trap beneath the bowl, allowing it to quickly fill with water to clear waste. Vacuum-assist toilets are relatively quiet; and
    • dual-flush toilets. Dual-flush toilets have been used in Europe and Australia for years and are now gaining in popularity in the U.S. Dual-flush toilets let you choose between a 1-gallon (or less) flush for liquid waste, and a 1.6-gallon flush for solid waste. Dual-flush 1.6-GPF toilets reduce water consumption by an additional 30%.

We hope you get some good ideas from this list, and watch for a few more pointers in our next posting. This information was provided by InterNACHI, our professional home inspectors association.

Attic Pull-Down Ladders

Attic pull-down ladders, also called attic pull-down stairways, are collapsible ladders that are permanently attached to the attic floor. Occupants can use these ladders to access their attics without being required to carry a portable ladder.

Common Defects

Homeowners, not professional carpenters, usually install attic pull-down ladders. Evidence of this distinction can be observed in consistently shoddy and dangerous work that rarely meets safety standards. Some of the more common defective conditions observed by inspectors include:

  • cut bottom cord of structural truss. Often, homeowners will cut through a structural member in the field while installing a pull-down ladder, unknowingly weakening the structure. Structural members should not be modified in the field without an engineer’s approval;
  • fastened with improper nails or screws. Homeowners often use drywall or deck screws rather than the standard 16d penny nails or ¼” x 3” lag screws. Nails and screws that are intended for other purposes may have reduced shear strength and they may not support pull-down ladders;
  • fastened with an insufficient number of nails or screws. Manufacturers provide a certain number of nails with instructions that they all be used, and they probably do this for a good reason. Inspectors should be wary of “place nail here” notices that are nowhere near any nails;
  • lack of insulation. Hatches in many houses (especially older ones) are not likely to be weather-stripped and/or insulated. An uninsulated attic hatch allows air from the attic to flow freely into the home, which may cause the heating or cooling system to run overtime. An attic hatch cover box can be installed to increase energy savings;
  • loose mounting bolts. This condition is more often caused by age rather than installation, although improper installation will hasten the loosening process;
  • attic pull-down ladders are cut too short. Stairs should reach the floor;
  • attic pull-down ladders are cut too long. This causes pressure at the folding hinge, which can cause breakage;
  • improper or missing fasteners;
  • compromised fire barrier when installed in the garage;
  • attic ladder frame is not properly secured to the ceiling opening;
  • closed ladder is covered with debris, such as blown insulation or roofing material shed during roof work. Inspectors can place a sheet on the floor beneath the ladder to catch whatever debris may fall onto the floor;
  • and cracked steps. This defect is a problem with wooden ladders.

In sliding pull-down ladders, there is a potential for the ladder to slide down quickly without notice. Always pull the ladder down slowly and cautiously.

Tips for homeowners

  • Do not allow children to enter the attic through an attic access. The lanyard attached to the attic stairs should be short enough that children cannot reach it. Parents can also lock the attic ladder so that a key or combination is required to access it.
  • If possible, avoid carrying large loads into the attic. While properly installed stairways may safely support an adult man, they might fail if he is carrying, for instance, a bag full of bowling balls. Such trips can be split up to reduce the weight load.
  • Replace an old, rickety wooden ladder with a new one. Newer aluminum models are often lightweight, sturdy and easy to install.

In summary, attic pull-down ladders are prone to a number of defects, most of which are due to improper installation. Source: InterNACHI.

Chinese Drywall

During Florida’s housing boom of the mid-2000s and after Hurricane Katrina created a shortage of building supplies, contaminated drywall imported from China was commonly used in new homes and in hurricane restoration. Builders were unaware of the potential problems that would arise from the use of this drywall that had been manufactured overseas without quality control.

coilsOver time, inspectors noticed a blackening of copper electrical writing and AC evaporator coils (see photo) due to the release of sulfur gases that have the potential to sicken the people who live in homes with Chinese drywall. Health issues may include headaches, nose bleeds, eye irritation, or breathing problems (though there are many other possible causes of these health issues).

According to the experts, “Chinese companies use unrefined “fly ash,” a coal residue found in smokestacks in coal-fired power plants in their manufacturing process. Fly ash contains strontium sulfide, a toxic substance commonly found in fireworks. In hot and wet environments, this substance can off-gas into hydrogen sulfide, carbon disulfide, and carbonyl sulfide and contaminate a home’s air supply.” Source: InterNACHI

On every inspection, we look for tell-tell signs of metal corrosion and can advise the homeowner of their options. There is no remediation other than replacement, which can be expensive. The value of the home, potential health problems, and the cost of replacement are all “must know” concerns. If you suspect your home may be contaminated, it’s important to have the residence undergo a Chinese Drywall Inspection by a licensed home inspector as soon as possible.

More information can be found at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website.