How to heat, cool the house--and not lose your shirt

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

You don't have to overdress to stay warm in the house and at the same time cut wintertime fuel costs. And you don't have to overspend on electricity in the summer to keep cool.

The price of fuel oil, natural gas, and electricity are almost keeping pace with the upward trend in gasoline prices. Thus, right now may be the time to take whatever steps are required to be ready for seasonal extremes.

The federal Conservation and Renewable Energy Inquiry and Referral Service (CREIRS) has some helpful suggestions for saving energy at home. While some projects may be a little expensive, in the long run spending some money now should save more money later.

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Here are some ideas to consider:

* Plant trees and shrubs to form a windbreak and provide shade. They will have the additional benefit of beautifying the landscape. Windbreaks should generally be on the north side of the house.

American Association of Nurserymen (AAN) experiments show that a tall windbreak can reduce by as much as 25 percent the fuel cost of a house in the wide open, wind-wept states of the Great Plains, such as South Dakota. And in the Eastern states, where winds may not be as strong, evergreen trees strategically located around a house, especially on the north and west sides, can cut fuel consumption by as much as 10 percent, particularly if the bushes are as high as the house.

Evergreens that reach down to the ground and and are close to the outside walls of the house are the most efficient, because evergreenbranches retain their needles during the winter, creating an insulated space between the walls and plants.

For summer shade, plant trees to the east and west of the house--but not too close--so that the house receives as much shade as possible for as much of the day as possible.

Deciduous trees drop their leaves in the winter, allowing the sun's rays to warm the house.

During the summer months the AAN measured a difference of between 8 and 10 degrees F. on shaded and unshaded outdoor walls. Properly placed deciduous trees break up and reduce the direct rays of the sun in the summer, thus cutting air conditioning use in half.

* Install a vestibule with an inside and outside door, or use the garage entrance as an air lock, to keep from chilling the rest of the house each time someone opens the outside door.

Also, a service entrance or walkway through an attached garage may allow the garage to be used as an air lock. Keep the garage door closed and use this entrance during the winter.

* Use ducted exhaust fans infrequently in the winter because warm house air goes out the duct with the odors.

Save electric energy in the summer by using power fans efficiently and correctly, assuming you do not have air conditioning. A whole-house fan that draws air from the living areas of the house and exhausts hot air through and from the attic is a good idea. Make sure to close up the house when the outside temperature is high; then open the windows and turn on the fan in the evening when the temperature drops.

Use a fan in the attic during the daytime to exhaust superheated air in the attic.

* Install storm sash over any poorly fitting basement window. Because colder air falls, much cold air infiltrates through poorly fitting basement windows and cracks.

* Inspect the basement headers, the large boards at the ends of the floor joists on the outside walls, for insulation bats. A crack that is only one-sixteenth of an inch wide and runs 32 feet along the base of a wall, is the equivalent of a hole two inches square, warns CREIRS.

Everyone knows that insulation in the walls and attic keeps heat inside the house. The ceiling is the most critical area for heat loss because warm air rises. Putting 12 inches of insulation in the attic also will do wonders in the summer by keeping cooler air in and warmer air out.

* See that each attic access from upstairs hallways and closets has insulation stapled to the attic-side coverings.

* Insulate basement walls from the frost line up.

* Put glass doors on a fireplace to keep the warm air from going up the chimney. Glass doors are most effective if the firebox uses outside air. Bring in cold outside air to a fireplace to retain the warm and humidified inside air.

* If you are installing new siding, consider using a layer of insulating foam paneling over the old siding and under the new for an added energy saving.

* Have a licensed contractor or a utility company representataive give your furnace an inspection, including both flue and damper.

* Install a door at the foot of a stairwell in a two-story house. A closed door at the bottom of the stairs keeps warm air from rising to the bedrooms above. Without the door, the rooms upstairs become too warm when the first floor is comfortable in winter and summer. The right kind of entrance hall to a stairwell might allow installing a door where the hall joins the rest of the house.

* Check windows for heat loss. Some building contractors recommend putting windows only on two sides of the house in new-home construction. CREIRS advocates wooden storm sash over any existing metal-framewindows--and over double-glazed windows to provide the equivalent of triple glazing. For new-home construction some windows even come with three panes of installed glass.

* Use the sun wisely when building a new house. Place the house on the lot so the main windows face south and minimum window space is on the north. See that roof overhangs are made deep enough to shade the windows in summer, but still admit low-angled rays of the sun in winter.

Plan windows to catch the prevailing breezes.

* Make sure your furnace gets a fresh-air supply. Otherwise, the furnace will take gulps of heated and humidified air from the interior of the house. As the furnace burns oxygen and sends products of combustion up the chimney, the house becomes a partial vacuum and outdoor air seeps into the house through cracks in the windows and doors.

As a result, the house becomes drafty and requires more heat.

* Put awnings or shades on windows to reduce any solar-heat gain from 65 to 75 percent. Awnings are particularly efficient on east, west, and south windows.

Removable or crank-up awnings allow the winter rays of the sun to enter the house. Fiberglass window shades are durable and may last longer than exterior awnings. Both keep curtains and carpets from fading. Newly developed thermal shades are thicker than traditional models and slide up and down in tracks along the sides of the window, minimizing heat transfer in both summer and winter.

* Try roll-down shutters on door walls or large windows. They have vinyl slots that allow little slits to be open for coolness in summer or closed for insulation in winter.

* If you need a new roof, use white or light-colored shingles to reflect solar heat and keep the attic a little cooler in summer.

* Make sure the attic has adequate rooftop- and gable-vent openings. Keep these vents open in both winter and summer. Insufficient or blocked vent openings could mean attic temperatures of up to 140 degrees F., and this heat will eventually penetrate into the living areas below.

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