It is getting cold out there, and you want to be warm and cozy inside. One of the best ways to stay cozy, save money on heating costs, and cut your carbon footprint (they often go together) is to make sure your home is well-insulated and not losing energy. So, how can you tell?
If your home is new, it was built to meet current codes and probably has adequate insulation. For our region, northern New Mexico and Bernalillo County, that means insulation with an R-value of 49 for your roof and an R-value of 20 for your walls. What exactly is R-value? The “R” stands for “resistance” and refers to the resistance a material has to heat flow, or temperature conduction. According to usainsulation.net, “when a product or home has a high R-Value, this means it is well insulated.”
So, if your home is not new, how do you know if you have enough insulation? You can check. If you have an attic, it is easy, but most of us don’t have attics. If you have sky lights you may be able to assess the depth of your roof insulation by measuring the space between the ceiling and the skylight. In our house, which was built about 20 years ago, it is about 12 inches. For the walls, assuming you have frame construction, the inside of the walls should be filled with insulation from floor to ceiling without gaps, and tightly wrap around ductwork and electrical boxes. And you probably already know what parts of your house tend to get drafty. But you may be losing energy throughout your home and not realize it. And insulation is only one way you may be losing energy.
But the best and safest way to evaluate your home’s insulation needs and energy loss is an energy audit. It makes sense to find out what upgrades will save you money and make your home more comfortable. Energy auditors often do a room-by-room assessment, and may uncover easy and inexpensive ways you can reduce your energy consumption. I decided to call PNM to schedule an audit.
Gerry Yugel is both affable and knowledgeable, and a man who loves his job. PNM has conducted some 13,600 energy audits of New Mexico homes. Gerry does several a day in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. As he explained, “DOE and EPA mandate that utilities nationwide help consumers reduce demand.”
He started with lighting.
“Electric lighting is about 20% of your bill and LEDs or CFCs (the ones that look like corkscrews) will reduce that by 70-75%. And turning off lights when you don’t need them is important,” he said.
Energy auditors routinely replace all inefficient incandescent bulbs with LEDs for free.
He also checked for drafts around doors and windows, stressing how important it is that your weather stripping is functional.
“It does wear out. You can check for drafts around outlets by placing your hand over the outlet on a cold day. If you feel a draft, you can install a readily available Styrofoam gasket under the outlet cover,” he explained.
Those drafts may also indicate you need more insulation. Gerry also recommended that if you have a fireplace, plug it up when you aren’t using it.
“They lose a lot of heat in winter and bring in heat in summer,” he said.
For windows, he suggested, “place rope caulk in the seams of windows you don’t open. It will stop drafts and keep out dust.”
Then he checked my furnace room and hot water heater. He put some insulation over the pipes coming from the boiler. He checked every room, changed light bulbs inside and outside with LEDs, and was a wealth of information. He left me with a pile of energy-efficient products, rebate forms for everything from insulation to efficient air conditioners and a list of 97 Energy-wise ideas.
If you have not yet had an energy audit, it is well worth it. As Gerry says, “What I like about this work is it helps people. It saves them money and it helps the planet.”
Most energy auditors charge a nominal fee for their audit, but leave you with a more energy-efficient home and products worth far more than the cost of the audit. For households that qualify, you can have your home audited and weatherized for free.
According to Energy Star, 90% of American homes are under-insulated, which means 90% of us are not only wasting money, but also we are unnecessarily adding to the climate crisis.
Judith Polich, a longtime New Mexico resident, is a retired attorney with a background in environmental studies and is a student of climate change. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cutting Your Carbon Footprint