I am an Energy Auditor. Each day, I assess people’s homes and advise residents as to what they can do to improve their home's efficiency - through small maintenance tips to low hanging fruit upgrades. A large part of my job focuses on demystifying the workings of a home and eliminating misconceptions regarding how energy is lost or consumed. My goal: to make people’s homes run smoothly, efficiently, and comfortably, while hopefully reducing their energy consumptions and lowering their utility bills. There are dozens of ways to help a home/apartment/condo etc., but I have attempted to condense the highlights into parts which will hopefully not only lower your next utility bill but also make your home more comfortable and reduce energy use.
Windows: This is by far the most common problem I deal with. Windows have a reputation for being large sources of energy loss. However, this is only partly true. If you stand near a window whether it’s hot or cold outside you will feel a difference in temperature. This occurs because the window is essentially a big hole in your wall that has just a few elements separating you from the outside. Most of those materials aren’t capable of insulating your home like standard wall insulation is. The convection and radiant heat that occurs near windows gives the impression that huge amounts of energy are being lost or that heat/cold is penetrating the home.
Solutions Big and Small
1. First, if you have visible cracks in your framing and it is quite evident air is coming in, caulking is your primary option - cost: $5 for a tube and a caulking gun cost: $1-5. Check caulking about once a year as it tends to crack over the seasons and thus may need to be replaced yearly.
2. Warped framing or framing that just doesn’t close properly can benefit from weatherstip tape - cost: $4.
3. During the winter months when you know you are not going to open certain windows at all, you can buy window insulation kits. Window insulation kits, basically plastic wrap for your windows, are is not aesthetically pleasing and require a bit more time and effort to install than the other two options. That being said, these kits can can greatly reduce draft - cost: $8-13.
4. Take advantage of the light and radiant heat that windows naturally provide along with the fresh air exchange. There are old-style techniques of running a home with little to no heating or cooling systems while still maintaining a comfortable temperature. Many homes can still take advantage of some of the following techniques:
a. For the summer months: the highlight of summer is the extended natural lighting that can greatly reduce your need for artificial lighting. However you must balance the extended natural lighting with the radiant heat that comes in along with the light. You can benefit the most during the early hours of the morning because the radiant heat has not yet built up on windows and walls at this time. Until about 11:00, am exposed windows can be useful but after after 11:00 am, the radiant heat may outweigh the lighting benefits. Light sheer shades can help dilute the radiant heat from coming into the home but can still give you proper lighting to do everyday tasks. During the peak hours of the day, completely drawing shades or drapes prevents radiant heat from entering. Depending on your location and the average temperature, the peak hours can vary - a safe estimate is between 12:00-6:00 pm. If you have venetian blinds you can angle them upwards. That way, light is reflected up and into the room while direct rays from the sun are not. If you work during the day, keeping the blinds closed all day will keep the rooms cool and reduce AC running time.
b.For the winter months: radiant heat gain is your friend, as opening the drapes/shade not only brings light in but also creates that heat the can increase your comfort. That being said, heavy drapes are a must during the winter for any type of window. Once dusk hits it’s best to close all drapes.
The natural light and radiant heat that windows provide can be great if used properly. There will always be a trade-off with even the newest windows.The best you can do is maintain caulking, weatherize, add heavy drapes in the winter, and use shading and other old-style techniques.
When it comes to deciding whether or not to get new windows keep in mind it may take decades to get your money back if you are just basing the upgrade on energy efficiency.
If the tips mentioned above do not create a satisfactory upgrade for your windows then replacement may be in the best interest. But for the sake of your wallet, giving them a shot beforehand may be worth the DIY effort.
Doors: Much of what was said for windows is the same for doors - weatherstripping and caulking is the first line of action the only addition is adding door sweeps- cost $7-15.
I have attached youtube links that give additional information and tutorials that can give a better idea of how to apply these suggestions.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXb2api6ZqM Weatherstripping and Caulking
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ft33T82ud8o Plastic Film weatherization