You may be wondering how to save money on your energy bills this year. Conducting a do-it-yourself home energy audit is a fast, relatively simple way to assess how much energy your home consumes and determine what you can do to make your home more energy efficient.
A home energy audit will show you where your home is losing energy, how efficient your heating and cooling systems are, and ways to conserve electricity. All it takes is a thorough inspection of the areas listed here and keeping a checklist of the problems you found.
Air leaks. Stopping or minimizing drafts can save on annual energy costs. Some places to inspect where air commonly seeps from homes include gaps around baseboards, wall and ceiling junctures, electrical outlets, switch plates, window frames, weather stripping, fireplace dampers, attic doors, window-mounted air conditioners and foundation seals.
On your home’s exterior, look at the areas where two different building materials meet, such as corners and areas where siding or brick come together with chimneys or the foundation. If you can rattle windows or see daylight around door or window frames, you likely are losing air.
Once you’ve identified the leaks, seal them with caulk, weather stripping or the same material as the original seal. You can also attach plastic sheets around your windows.
Insulation. In older homes especially, you may have insufficient insulation in the ceiling and walls. Your attic door should be insulated and close tightly. Openings around pipes, ductwork and chimneys should be sealed. Look for a vapor barrier — tarpaper or a plastic sheet — under the attic insulation. To check your walls, make a small hole in a closet or other out-of-the-way place and probe into the wall with a long stick or screwdriver. If it's an outside wall, the area should be completely filled with an insulating material.
Fill the gaps in any openings with expanding foam. Flexible caulk should be used to seal any electrical boxes in the ceiling. If your home lacks a vapor barrier, consider painting interior ceilings with vapor barrier paint. This reduces the amount of water vapor that can pass through the ceiling, which reduces your insulation’s effectiveness.
Heating and Cooling Equipment. Inspect your heating and cooling equipment. See if ducts and pipes located in unheated spaces and your water heater and hot water pipes are insulated. Dirt streaks around your ductwork, especially near the seams, are evidence of leaks.
Have your equipment checked and cleaned by a professional annually. If you have a forced-air furnace, replace your filters as soon as they are dirty. Even if they aren’t, replace them every 30 to 60 days.
Lighting. Look at the bulbs in your home and determine if a lower-watt bulb would work just as well for your needs. For lights that will be used more than two hours each day, replace your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs and you can save up to 75% of the energy used for lighting.
A home audit is a great way to find out your home’s energy deficiencies and make simple improvements that will save you time and money in the long run.
Your 80-year-old aunt is coming to stay for a few days. You're looking forward to the visit, but realize your home may not be entirely "older-generation" friendly. To help enhance the safety and comfort of your visitor, especially one who may have some of the physical challenges that come with aging, here are a few quick and inexpensive things you can do to make the time less stressful for you and more comfortable for your guest:
Consider pathways in the house. Clear obstacles, and maybe even move furniture that a person usually has to maneuver around. Move any electrical cords that are where a person might walk – perhaps taping them to a wall or using a hook. Clear stairs of any objects—shoes, books, and other personal items that tend to collect on the lower treads. Also check that railings on stairs inside and out are secure, and make repairs where needed.
Lighting is crucial. Put night lights in bathrooms, the guest bedroom, any hallways near the guest bedroom, and perhaps in the kitchen. Make sure there is a lamp or light switch within easy reach of the guest bed so that your visitor can keep a light on until safely tucked in. Well-lit outdoor walkways and entrances are also key for coming or going when it is dark.
Be sure the shower your guest will use has a non-slip floor. To enhance the traction, apply non-slip strips or a suction-attached non-slip mat, both readily available at home improvement stores.
Secure or, preferably, remove any throw rugs, including bathroom mats. Edges of rugs can be a tripping hazard, and even a slight scoot can affect a person’s balance. If there are rugs you want to secure rather than remove, non-slip pads can help, but safer still would be to apply double-sided carpet tape or even caulk to attach the rug to the floor. If you choose one of these methods, be mindful that you don't mar the floor underneath.
Identify seating in your gathering rooms that is appropriately firm, high in the seat, and preferably that has arms to help a person easily sit down and get up. A chair that is too soft or too low to the ground can strand a person awkwardly. If in doubt about the available seating in the room, bring a dining chair with arms into the room as an alternative.
If you are considering other more long-term home modifications for aging in place, be sure to consult a remodeler or contractor who is a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist. Find one in your area using the CAPS directory.
Baby boomers, who were the largest American generation until the Millennials took over, are either retired or quickly nearing retirement age. Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964 and who count more than 76 million, may be getting older, but they are definitely not ready to head to the retirement home!
The boomer generation is more active than generations past, has a more sophisticated style and wants options and choices in their homes. Whether they are selling the homes where they raised their children and heading to sunnier pastures, or staying put and redesigning to accommodate their retired lifestyle, boomers are making an impact on housing trends.
Some features that home builders and remodelers are seeing as they begin to cater to the boomers include:
Home Offices: Some boomers are choosing to work past the age of 65. As they transition from a traditional 9-to-5 job, however, they want home offices for flexibility. A second career or part-time employment often eliminates the hassle of commuting while keeping them active and bringing in supplementary income.
Tech/Media Centers: The tech-savvy boomer generation wants top-of-the-line amenities for their homes such as a media room with surround sound and central control systems, which manage all media sources in one location. The house may include a wireless home network, remote control lighting and security features.
Wider Doors and Hallways: As a person ages, there is a likelihood that use of a wheelchair might become a necessity. Designing a home that is livable now but can transition and be functional as the occupant ages is important in ensuring that the home will be a good long-term investment. Wider doors and hallways are useful for moving larger furniture today, and will also be wheelchair accessible tomorrow.
Better Lighting/Bigger Windows: The need for more lighting usually increases as we grow older. To accommodate this, builders are adding more windows and making them larger to let in more natural light. They are also adding more light fixtures in areas including under cabinets and in stairwells. Multiple switches to reduce the number of trips and dimmer controls to eliminate glare are other options.
First-Floor Bedrooms and Bathrooms: More than 40% of new homes have master suites downstairs, a 15% increase over a decade ago. Boomers not wishing to go up and down stairs with bad knees and aching backs have helped fuel this trend. The bedrooms also are also larger, with more spacious walk-in closets and bathrooms that have a separate tub and shower and dual sinks.
Easy to Maintain Exteriors/Landscaping: Yard work, painting, and other landscaping chores may no longer be enjoyable to aging home owners. People who move to a new home when they retire may opt for a maintenance-free community. Those that choose to stay in their homes might make improvements to exterior surfaces such as installing stucco, brick or low-maintenance siding. Lawns are being replaced with living patios, decorative landscaping, or flower beds which can be a hobby for gardening enthusiasts.
Flex Space: Flex space has become more prevalent in both new homes and remodeling. Flex spaces are rooms that take on the purpose of the present home owner's needs but can adjust with changes as they occur. What may have once started out as a guest bedroom can be redecorated to serve as a hobby room or library. This allows home owners to stay in their homes longer as it continues to serve their needs throughout life’s stages.
A Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) has been trained in the unique needs of the older adult population, aging-in-place home modifications, common remodeling projects, and solutions to common barriers. Access our directories to find a designated CAPS builder or remodeler in your area.
Buying your first house is very exciting. But financing your home purchase can be a daunting experience. In both cases, do your research and shop carefully to ensure you find exactly what you want and need.
Deciding how much to spend on your home and which type of mortgage will work best for you — as well as understanding the settlement process — can be confusing. However, there are many sources that can help you get prepared well before you step foot into a sales office, model home or open house.