Bad Energy Advice

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Well, going green at home is a big trend nowadays with homeowners looking to save money on energy bills while also shrinking their environmental footprint.

    TOM: But as with any trend, there’s a lot of hype and misinformation surrounding the green movement. So, how do you cut through the claims and figure out the straight scoop on going green at home? Here to help us get to the bottom of it all is This Old House host Kevin O’Connor.

    Hey, Kevin.

    KEVIN: Hi, guys. Great to be here.

    TOM: So, listen, I guess we’ve heard some pretty bad energy advice over the years. I’m sure you have. I mean for starters, I once heard a window dealer say you could save 50 percent on your energy bills by installing new windows.

    KEVIN: Wouldn’t that be great?

    TOM: I said, “If I had no windows and now I have windows, maybe.”

    KEVIN: I had a guy tell me that if I replaced half my windows, I could reduce my energy bill by half, at which point I turned to him and said, “Well, why don’t you replace all of my windows and then I won’t need energy at all?” And then I kicked him out of the house. I’ve heard some awful energy advice. One of my favorites is – you know this whole thing about trees providing shade and it’ll reduce your A/C load?

    TOM: Yes.

    KEVIN: Which is all true, absolutely. But when they actually advise you to do it, I’m kind of like, “Well, it’s going to take 30 years for this tree to grow big enough.” Some of it just doesn’t add up.

    TOM: Alright. So let’s talk about those windows. Does it always make sense to replace your old windows – your old wood windows – with energy-efficient windows?

    KEVIN: No. I don’t think it always makes sense. Now, there are times where it does make sense. They operate better, they can provide more comfort and that may be reason enough to do it. But if you’re talking specifically about saving energy, think about this: according to the EPA, replacing old windows with an ENERGY STAR-certified window has the potential to lower your household energy bills by about 12 percent nationwide. And so that’s something to consider.

    But, again, there’s a lot of costs that go into actually replacing your windows. You’ve got to buy the new windows, you’ve got to have someone install the new windows. And as you guys know, you don’t just pop them out and put them in. You’ve got trim to deal with and all of that.

    So it’s a little bit more of a complicated calculation. There are some utilities throughout the state that actually will help you purchase the windows at a discount and you can check those out. There’s a couple websites out there, like ENERGYSTAR.gov. They’ve got a rebate-finder feature and you might want to look into that.

    TOM: So, certainly, replacing your windows will give you a more convenient experience: tilt in, cleaning and that sort of thing. But truth be told, if you just really want energy savings, you might be better off sort of replacing the weather-stripping on your old windows, improving your storm windows and putting the job off for a while when going green at home.

    KEVIN: You know that we’re in the business of old homes. A lot of times, our customers want to save the original windows and we tell them, “That’s perfectly fine.” If you have single-pane windows, just one piece of glass that are 100 years old – we just did this on a house – and you add to it a good, working storm window and you actually seal up so that there’s not a lot of air movement, drafts and you tighten these windows so that they lock and clamp down, you can get a very efficient, comfortable window that, I will tell you, can be comparable to a new window. It is something to consider.

    LESLIE: I think another sort of energy victim in this movement of going green at home, if you will – something in your home that gets a bad rap when it comes to savings – is insulation. So what’s the truth there?

    Well, insulation is great. Don’t get me wrong. I think – I’m a huge fan of it. And more insulation is better than less insulation. If your house doesn’t have it, you should definitely add it. And if your house was insulated many, many years ago, you should definitely look into upgrading your insulation. And think first about critical spots, like the attic. That’s probably the best return for your dollar.

    But keep in mind that insulation is not the same as air sealing. And the way that we’re losing heat from our houses is escaping a couple different ways. And if the air is moving – if the air is leaking into the house, sealing up those leaks can be just as important as insulating the house properly. And you want to think about those two in combination with each other.

    And there are lots of places where we can seal those leaks: around windows and doors, certainly, but also around the rim joists, for example. And a good insulation contractor can actually seal between floors. So if you have recessed lights on the second floor and heat is escaping up into an uninsulated attic, those types of places could be sealed up. Air sealing and insulation, to me, go hand and fist.

    TOM: Good advice. We’re talking to Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, about some of the energy myths that are out there.

    So, Kevin, how do you think people can avoid sort of falling prey to those outlandish claims and bad energy advice when going green at home? Is there a reliable source of information for these topics?

    KEVIN: There are. And there are a lot of different sites out there. But if I was going to point somebody to a single site, I would say start with www.Energy.gov. It’s run by the Department of Energy and they’ve got a section there, an energy-saver section, that will point you to different resources when you’re thinking about heating, cooling, weatherization, saving electricity and other fuels in your house. It’s a good catchall site.

    TOM: Good advice. Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for being a part of The Money Pit.

    KEVIN: My pleasure.

    LESLIE: Alright. Thanks, Kevin.

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