Get the heat out of your house

April 23, 2010|By DWIGHT BARNETT / Scripps Howard News Service

There is still time to prepare your home for the hot summer months ahead. You can lower your energy consumption, and possibly your energy bills, by simply maintaining the furnace and air-conditioning filter on a regular basis.

A dirty filter restricts airflow through the ducts, which means the fan has to work harder and longer to satisfy the demands of the thermostat. The harder and longer the fan works, the more energy will be wasted. Set a schedule for changing the filter, and place a reminder where you can see it.

I use the "free filter change reminder" provided by to remind me by e-mail when it's time. Most filters need to be changed every two months, depending on the air quality where you live. Homes in farming areas or near industrial buildings may require a monthly filter replacement, whereas homes in established neighborhoods might be expected to have less particulates and dust in the air. It is important to use the properly sized filter and that the filter opening has a cover to seal out non-conditioned air.


Have the air conditioner or heat-pump cooling system inspected and serviced by a qualified technician. Proper maintenance can extend the useful life expectancy of the system. The outside unit has a fan that pulls air past the coils that make up the main body of the unit. The coils and fins also collect dirt, grass clippings, leaves and animal dander that block the flow of air through the system. Again, poor airflow increases the workload of the unit, which increases the energy usage. Energy dollars can be saved by simply cutting off the power to the unit and washing the coils with a garden hose.

Check the insulation in the attic for even distribution. Strong winter winds that blow through the attic can leave loose fill insulation in piles with bare areas near the outside walls. If the attic is accessible, use an extendible painter's pole with a rake or broom attached to even out the piles of insulation. Also check for voids in open wall cavities at chimney spaces and dropped ceilings above bathroom and kitchen cabinets. If you can see the backside of the wall coverings from the attic, then the exposed areas need to be insulated against the attic's environment.

Openings between the home's environment and the attic space should be air-sealed as tightly as possible. Canned light fixtures, bath fans, chimney and fireplace openings, and attic-access openings all need to be sealed. Most openings can be sealed with caulking or by adding insulation, but the canned light fixtures need to radiate heat from the light bulbs, so care must be taken to prevent heat buildup at the fixtures.

One solution is to use a Styrofoam cooler turned upside down over the fixture and sealed to the attic floor with a foam sealant. Insulation is then piled around and on the upside-down cooler. The cooler should not touch the canned light fixture on any side. The Styrofoam cooler can also be cut to fit the bath fan motors. Make sure that the hose from the bath fan extends under the attic's insulation and all the way out to the soffits beyond the exterior walls.

If accessible, use silicone caulking to seal around plumbing vent pipes where they exit the tops on interior walls and where electrical wiring enters the tops of interior walls. Air-sealing will reduce the loss of energy through openings to the attic.

Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home-improvement questions at C. Dwight Barnett, Evansville Courier & Press, P.O. Box 286, Evansville, IN 47702, or e-mail him at"> Please include a SASE with your questions.

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