The Power of Insulation: Keep Energy (and Money) from Escaping Your Home

When we think of cutting our utility bills, we typically look for ways to use less and cut back on the little extras. That certainly works, but how about taking a closer look at the energy we waste, often unnoticed.

A number of areas in your home can allow heated or cooled air to easily escape outdoors if you’re not careful. Our parents may have said, “Close the door! I am not heating the outside!” and we laughed, but let’s face it: paying to heat or cool the air, then letting it leave the house is a huge waste of money. The best and most cost-efficient way to stop the leaks is to first find the source. So, where are the leaks and what do we do about them once they’re found?

Ask the Experts

The first step is to call in a professional to perform an energy assessment on your home (your local power company may even offer this inspection free of charge, so check there first). This assessment provides information on the biggest offenders in your home’s energy system and will suggest ways to remedy each situation.

Professionals performing the assessment will use some pretty interesting equipment – including infrared cameras, surface thermometers, blower doors and furnace efficiency meters. The goal is to detect the sources of energy loss in your home, and fix them to save money on your heating and cooling bills over time. When the professional finds the sources that are leaking, the first defense recommended is usually added insulation.

Target the Insulation

Areas of your home where insulation is usually lacking include:

  • The attic
  • The door leading to the attic and the knee walls
  • The ducts running through any non-insulated spaces
  • Plug and light switches on exterior walls
  • Ineffective windows
  • Cathedral ceilings
  • Floors over garages
  • The basement

This list may seem overwhelming, but a professional energy assessment will help you narrow down the areas you need to target to get the greatest results.

Some insulation jobs are great for the do-it-yourselfer interested in saving money. Explore YouTube, HGTV and the DIY channels to get some ideas of what you can and should not do.

Additionally, be sure to take into consideration your own region and the requirements for insulation. Each area of the country has different suggested R-values for walls and ceilings; specifically in the [insert, suggested R-values are set at [Insert your own region’s requirements here].

Installing insulation can be one of the easier jobs for the home improvement newbie, and the rewards are huge. An afternoon spent crawling around the rafters of your attic can net you some big savings on your next utility bill. With a little know-how and some help, the ambitious homeowner can tackle these insulating jobs with success.

The Smallest Improvements Help

Even the least talented homeowner can do a few home improvements that will add up to considerable savings over time. For instance, an often-missed area for air leaks is around electrical outlets. Buy ready-cut foam insulating gaskets and, with just a screwdriver, you can stop the air leak that occurs around the outlets.

Easy-to-use spray foam is also perfect for the do-it-yourselfer who wants to tackle the air loss around dryer vents, plumbing and other places the outdoors meets the indoors. Follow simple instructions, and within minutes you will have a trouble spot sealed tight. And don’t forget that simple caulking around the windows can stop some serious leaks and save some serious money. This process is easy to learn, and with just a few practice runs, you’ll be caulking like a pro in no time.

Not every home insulation project has to be a huge renovation. Yes, replacing old windows and doors may be desirable at some point, but once you know where the house is leaking air, you can start with the simplest things – and then hire a contractor to tackle the more difficult jobs – and the results of your efforts will save energy and pay off nicely toward your bottom line.

Summer Home Care Tips

Summer Home Care Tips

When summer rays are shining, it is tempting to grab your book and relax in the hammock. But before you do, take some time during a cooler summer morning to walk around your home and inspect it with a keen eye – to ensure that there isn’t anything that needs your attention.

Inspect Your Dryer Vent

According to a 2007 report by the U.S. Fire Administration, approximately 12,700 clothes dryer fires occur annually in residential buildings – resulting in 15 deaths and 300 injuries. To avoid being another statistic, use a vent-cleaning brush to regularly clean your vent, the lint trap and the hose leading outside. Also remember to inspect the vent from the outside to ensure both ends are free from any blockages. Birds and other insects often will make this hole in your house their home.

Keep Your Gutters Free from Debris

Inspect your gutters and remove any debris. In many parts of the country, flash thunderstorms are common, and your house can suffer from water damage as a result of debris and water accumulating in your gutters. If you happen to live in a dry part of the country or an area experiencing drought-like conditions, dry leaves in your gutter can also create an additional fire hazard to your home. Sparks from brush fires (or even neighborhood camp fires) can become airborne and cause the dry debris to catch fire.

Clean Your Garage

During summer, temperatures can rise to new highs every day. Heat-sensitive materials such as paints and solvents should be stored in a cool, dry place or, if no longer needed, disposed of properly. Summer is a great time to organize your garage and get rid of the clutter. You can also store winter tools – such as the snow blower and shovels – to make room for your summer tools and toys.

Examine for Pests and Insects

With the summer months come the insects and other pests. Inspect your deck and other wooden areas for termites. If you live in a humid climate, watch for puddles around your yard and other standing water – which is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes (and the West Nile virus). Check your lawn for holes created by moles, gophers, chipmunks or other furry creatures. Finally, examine the eaves around your home for hornets’ nests. Depending on the type of insect or pest, you may want to consult a professional for extermination.

By pinpointing problems early, you can usually avoid larger repair headaches (and bills) down the road – and have more time to relax in the summer sun.

Why Choose a Sustainable Lifestyle

You may be wondering why someone would choose a sustainable lifestyle. It may seem like you have to go out of your way to live this lifestyle, but many reasons exist why it makes sense to choose sustainability.

b2ap3_thumbnail_green-150x150Industry and Technology

Over the past 100 years or so, the world has undergone major changes that have been significant to the health of the planet. Technology has allowed us to do more at a faster pace. The industrial revolution and technology have led to many changes in the way we do things.

Most farms today have moved away from the local family farm to a large corporate model. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are in high use, and fossil fuels are used in large quantities to power the equipment that plants and harvests crops. Even crops are monitored with GPS technology.

Additionally, many foods have been genetically modified to produce a higher yield or make them resistant to herbicides that control weeds. While some experts argue that this is not a problem for health or the environment, others disagree.

We have gotten so used to getting our food from supermarkets that we take for granted how it gets there. When you think about sustainability, you consider the planet’s resources; you pay attention to how products are made and transported.

Chemistry and Cleaning

While you may not remember a world where you didn’t use chemicals to clean your home, it did once exist. Many of the everyday chemicals that are used to “clean” are actually harmful to the body and the planet.

For starters, they leave behind toxins that can be unsafe for people who suffer from asthma, allergies and other respiratory problems. Chemicals can also cause problems with skin. If you have sensitive skin, you may find that many commercially available soaps and detergents can be irritating. Using products free of dyes and perfumes can help to alleviate the problem.

In addition, many chemicals can actually contribute to pollution of the environment. Sustainable living practices can reduce the amount of chemicals that end up in the water supply and in the ground. They can also help to alleviate any symptoms individuals suffer with that are caused by chemical use.

Financial Relief

You may find that sustainable living can actually save you a lot of money. Practices such as growing your own food and limiting waste can actually relieve your budget. If you’re looking for a way to pinch pennies, many of the sustainable living solutions for cleaning, managing energy waste and repurposing objects could be the answer.

Peace of Mind

Many people choose sustainability because it brings peace of mind. You may be worried about the future of the planet for your children. You may be concerned about the ethical treatment of people and animals. The sustainability movement concerns itself with all these matters.

Leaving Excess Behind

Many people in society have the philosophy that more is more. It’s difficult to live in our world and not constantly see things that you want or feel you have to have. Many feel that we’ve become a planet where people are more concerned with what they have than what they can give.

If you’re longing to live a simpler life, you may be ready to move toward a sustainable lifestyle. This doesn’t mean moving into a shack or living on a commune. What it does mean is, you’ll learn to focus more on making sure your needs are met while treasuring the fewer possessions you will have.

Breathe Easier

When you contribute to the sustainability of the planet, you’re literally improving the air quality. In this day and age, asthma and allergies are more prevalent than ever before. It’s no surprise that the air quality is getting worse. Planting trees, growing your own food, reducing your dependency on fossil fuels and reducing your energy consumption can all contribute to a healthier atmosphere.

Sharing Your Example

Sometimes people worry that living sustainably as one person won’t make much of an impact. But nothing could be further from the truth. When you choose sustainable living practices, you can actually begin a chain reaction. When your neighbor sees you harvesting your garden, he or she might decide it’s time to start one, too. You might find that by riding your bicycle to work, others see what you’re doing and take their bike, too.

Finally, you may feel like sustainable living requires you to change your life too much. When you make one “sustainable” choice, it will inevitably lead to others, and over time, your impact becomes much greater than what you alone did for the planet. Don’t ever think that you alone can’t make change happen. True change has to start with someone.

Different Types of Wood Flooring

Several different types of wood floors are manufactured for use by homeowners, and each offers an array of options for improving the look of your home.

Before you choose flooring, however, you should establish where floor will be installed. This is essential, since not all wood floors are suitable for all locations. For example, engineered wood may be used in most areas, while solid floors are usually recommended for above-ground-level installations, due to humid weather fluctuations.

Flooring made of solid wood flooring is one of the most popular types available. One reason why is because of solid wood’s “rustic” charm and that the wood may be refinished several times. Floors made of solid wood are constructed with one solid piece of wood, approximately 3/4? thick, and are available in a variety of widths.

Some of the most requested domestic hardwoods include American cherry, red and white oak, hickory and maple. Solid wood flooring should be installed above grade and over the appropriate wood subfloors, and must be stapled down or nailed in place since solid hardwood is more apt to react to temperature changes, such as humidity.

b2ap3_thumbnail_May-26-2011-0101-150x150Engineered wood flooring is made through a laminating process, with several pieces of hardwood made into planks. These floors have a cross-ply construction, which serves to reduce plank contractor and expansion caused from humidity that you typically find in solid wood flooring. Installation is easy. Engineered floors can be stapled, glued or even “floated” over many subfloors. What makes engineered wood floors even more appealing is that they come in a variety of colors – from exotic woods to North American hardwoods – and because of their natural look, they can be a great, less-expensive alternative to solid wood.

Exotic wood flooring is another flooring type. It gets its name because it includes those varieties of woods not found in North America – and often grown in exotic lands. Some you may have heard of include Tigerwood, Brazilian Cherry and African Mahogany. These collections offer a richness of wood that you would not be able to find in North American lumber, but it is also important to note that because it is a natural wood, the color, tone and appearance may change over time.

Understanding the various floor types will help you make the right choice for your project.

How to Host (and Enjoy) Your Next Cookout

What’s more fun than grilling out with friends – especially on a warm summer evening? No much, unless you are the cook. Unfortunately, one of the most heard complaints about hosting a cookout is the cooks do more cooking than enjoying the party. It is hard to fix appetizers, grill the meat and enjoy your company all at the same time.

b2ap3_thumbnail_DSC0301-150x150Here are some tips to avoid that this year, to keep the cookout easy and enjoyable for everyone – even the cook.

#1 Plan Ahead

If you are going to host a cookout, plan your menu days in advance. The name of the game is to have fun (even at your own cookout), so planning as much as you can ahead of time will help you accomplish this.

#2 Serve Appetizers

Appetizers and small finger foods give guests something to munch on while they wait for the main course to come hot off the grill. Keep appetizers small – especially if you are serving a variety of food. Why not try a vegetable or fruit tray with a low-calorie dip? This doesn’t have to be difficult; just order a veggie tray from your local grocery store.
Punch is always a refreshing drink at a cookout where there will be children and adults. If the punch is meant to be sparkling (adding soda), chill the punch first (without the soda) and then add it just before the guests arrive.

#3 Punch – A Knock-Out Idea!

This way, your punch won’t lose its fizzy kick while in the fridge.

b2ap3_thumbnail_DSC0282-150x150#4 Pre-Cook Chicken

Keep in mind that chicken takes a long time to cook on the grill. To eliminate the long grilling time, you can pre-bake your chicken before the party – and heat it up on the grill just before being served. Not only will this reduce the overall grilling time, but it will also ensure that your guests don’t fill up on everything else – while waiting for the chicken.

#5 Side Dishes

When you take a little extra time to prepare, a backyard cookout can flow smoothly and be just as fun for the cook as it is for the guests.Side dishes and salads can be prepared a few hours before the cookout even starts. Side dishes are usually good for at least an hour and salads for two. This cuts down on the amount of prep-work you, as the host, need to do once the guests arrive – allowing you to sit and visit with your friends and family while the meat is grilling.

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