Watchwords for do-it-yourselfer: looks, cost, energy

If reading about how to save energy is beginning to sound a little boring, consider a new approach. Think instead about how some energy projects will add beauty and value to your home.

All the tips in the world on insulating the water heater just don't get the old creative juices flowing.

But ideas for perking up the looks of your house while increasing its real-estate value somewhat might do the trick.

Some of them might be part of a home-improvement project this year, for example.

Did you know that plush wall-to-wall carpeting will increase a room's temperature by several degrees? Or that cedar shakes make a house cozier because they're wood and their texture exposes less surface to winds blowing across the roof?

Before you rush into any costly projects, though, write down the improvements your house really needs. Then try to incorporate some of the following ideas.

It doesn't pay to install a $3,000 cedar-shake roof unless you already had decided the house needs a $1,500 shingle roof, anyway.

The winter months are a good time to tackle some indoor energy projects. Interior shutters that can be closed to hold in heat at night, glass fireplace doors that fit well, and solid-panel bifold doors that help close off unheated areas are simple projects that can be tackled in one afternoon.

The shutters and bifold doors can be louvered, but solid wood panels will insulate better. Both shutters and good, solid folding doors add a feeling of strength to a house, similar to the wide baseboards and door facings of older homes.

They can be painted or stained after they're installed.

Folding glass doors for a fireplace should have quality frames and tempered glass that's at least three-sixteenths of an inch thick. Get the thickest encasement you can, and avoid cheap-looking metals that will corrode and look terrible in a short time.

Folding glass doors can cut air flow up the chimney by 70 percent and double as a damper if your fireplace doesn't have one.

If your kitchen, bathroom, or laundry area is poorly lightly and rather gloomy, consider putting up flourescent light fixtures.

"Flourescent bulbs last 10 to 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs and use up to 75 percent less energy," says a spokesman for a major department store chain.

"We sell them in 25 or so different styles," he adds, "including butcher block, kappa shell, wood grain, or chrome encasements. They don't look like utility lights for the garage any more."

Flourescent lights put out three or four times more light than incandescent ones, and they're now available in "soft white" to erase almost all the harsh glare.

Many energy-saving treatments for windows are available at Sears or J. C. Penney. Thermal drapes, high-quality wooden blinds, insulating shades, and wooden cornices are available. If you plan these improvements wisely, they will help the resale value of your house.

For the best results, they should blend with the decor, be of exceptional quality, and have an "installed" look.

How can wooden cornices help insulate window areas? Remember, the insulating power of drapes is in the principle of creating a dead air space. Without a cornice, warm ceiling air will circulate downward behind the drapes across the cool glass, causing a constant movement of air.

Drapes should reach the floor and hug the window all the way around to sustain the still air cavity.

If you're planning to install carpet, think about paying more to get wool or at least buy something with a shag or plush texture. With a good pad, carpet can warm a room faster than anything you could do, short of turning up the heat.

One reason is that the temperature of a room's surfaces is more important to your comfort than the air temperature of the room. And textured carpet is lots warmer to the touch than a bare floor.

If you live in an extremely cold part of the country, you might even consider carpeting a wall or two in the den or family room in the basement.

I remember seeing a room carpeted three feet up the wall and trimmed with chair rail molding for a wainscoting effect. In this case the baseboards were removed and the padding under the carpet stopped when the carpet started up the walls.

A number of new energy-saving stoves and free-standing fireplaces are on the market. Those designed for looks as well as efficiency should be classified as wood-burning stoves -- with airtight fireboxes and strongly constructed of cast iron or heavy steel before being coated with enamel.

Many decorative stoves on the market are a waste of money.

The only free-standing fireplaces that will function to the optimum are circular ones that allow for a spinning "cyclonic" flame.

The main chamber will be shaped like a snare drum with windows all the way around. The whole thing is on a raised circular pedestal and topped off by a round chimney that caps the burning chamber.

If you're planning to do something about an unsightly ceiling, consider giving it an insulation-stucco treatment, using Styrofoam-brand products, or equal (to be explained in Part 2 of this series) or maybe a three-inch-thick acoustical panel covering.

These insulating panels will prevent heating and cooling loss, plus cut down on noise. They require gridwork for suspension, but are perfect for family rooms that are large and hard to heat.

Because of their thickness, they should never warp or sag if you have the gridwork properly installed.

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