Maximize Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

by Kelly R. Smith

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These air leaks in your home also leak money.
These air leaks in your home also leak money.

This article was updated on 10/16/20.

One thing nobody likes to do is throw away money. But if your home is a perpetual slacker on its attempts to restrict energy usage, that is exactly what you are doing. As a general rule of thumb, the older a home is the less energy efficient it is. There are many reasons for this but the two main ones are:

  1. In days gone by, utility expenses were not what they are today. For one thing homeowners didn’t have all those confounded contraptions that we just can’t live without today. And why does everything have to have a clock?
  2. The building technology wasn’t what it is today. Our forebears knew nothing about tight envelopes, radiant barrier foil and passive solar concepts.

Keep in mind that in the long run it is not necessarily one big thing that will reduce your bills, but the sum total of a lot of smaller home improvements. Let’s look at a few, shall we?

Insulation is a Bargain

In most cases insulation is a good place to start, especially if you are a frequent rider on the climate change bandwagon. It gives you the most bang for the buck. Your attic should have the recommended number of inches for your location. Even if your home started with the suggested amount, remember that the fiberglass settles over time. If you want to take your savings a step further, roll out some radiant barrier foil over it.

Exterior walls are also a concern. This involves a bit more expense and hassle because obviously these walls are closed on both sides. The best solution is to hire someone to install blown insulation between the studs. Can you do it yourself? Yes, but a pro has the right equipment and knows how to make it look like there never was an intrusion.

Use Thermal Mass to Your Advantage

OK, the term thermal mass doesn’t mean what you might think it does; let’s not go there. Thermal mass simply refers to an object that absorbs and retains heat. Some examples are brick, concrete, ceramic tiles, and eco-friendly cork flooring.

In the wintertime of course, we want those objects to absorb heat during the day and release it at night; this will save tons of money in utility bills and wear and tear on your HVAC equipment.. This can be accomplished by the sun coming through the windows or from areas where the home’s heating system affects the objects.

In the summertime the opposite is true; we want to shield these objects as much as possible. For all seasons, homes should be built or remodeled with the concept of passive solar building in mind.

Seal All Air Leaks

Checking for and sealing all air leaks in your home’s exterior is an easy, inexpensive DIY project that can and should be done twice a year. Just pick days before the weather transitions from cold to hot and visa versa.

Possible leak culprits include windows, doors, even things like recessed light fixtures on your ceiling and behind cover plates for your switches and outlets. Special wall plate insulation gaskets are available and you can complete the job in just a few hours with a screwdriver. The materials to put all things air-leakable right are inexpensive and readily available. Most likely things like caulk and floor sweeps will do the trick.

Keep in mind that the tighter your home’s envelope becomes, the greater the danger of radon is. What is radon? Radon gas is a radioactive, invisible toxic vapor that results from a natural process which is the radioactive breakdown of the uranium isotope. It pays to test for it.

Consider Installing Energy Efficient Windows or Window Film

Today’s higher-end windows are head and shoulders above those flimsy contractor-grade windows. Yes they will cost you more money but isn’t it worth it to be able to see outside and save on utility bills?

If your bank account isn’t flush don’t despair. Solar window film is an acceptable alternative. It won’t perform as well as the new super-windows but they will still make a huge difference. If you have tinted windows on your car you know what we are talking about.

Finally, if your electricity company allows it, get on one of those plans that averages your bill so you don’t get slammed on those peak months. Follow these tips and you will maximize your home’s energy efficiency in no time.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Al Gore– The P.T. Barnum of Climate Change

by Kelly R. Smith

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Al Gore expounding on global warming
Al Gore expounding on global warming

This post was last updated on 11/03/20.

It used to be “global warming.” When that catchphrase came under question the buzzword shifted to “climate change.” The idea was to make the term so vague that if the temperature in any given area got cooler or warmer, the True Believers from the Church  of Carbon Defiance (CCD) could wag their warm/cool fingers at skeptics and mutter, “I told you so.”

But the political correctness and the search for a more palatable phrase continues. www.the guardian.com says, “Staff at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been told to avoid using the term ‘climate change’ in their work, with the officials instructed to reference ‘weather extremes’ instead.”

A couple more examples of rhetorical manipulation include substituting “resilience to weather extremes” for “climate change adaption” and “build soil organic matter” for “sequester carbon”.

I earlier mentioned the CCD because climate change really is a faith in the sense that any other religion is. The so-called global “real science” climate change that backs it up is nebulous science and conjecture at best.

When did Meaningful Weather Records Begin to be Collected?

Older weather records are only as accurate as the instruments used. In the US, Thomas Jefferson made regular observations at his home Monticello from 1772 to 1778, and participated in taking the first known simultaneous weather observations in America. But that is one solitary location and hardly gives us the “big picture.”

That didn’t begin to happen until the invention of the telegraph so that weather observations from distant points made by volunteers could be collected in a reasonable period of time, plotted, and then analyzed at one location. In 1849 this location was the Smithsonian.

Weather Projections from Past, Present, and Onward

There are three time frames in weather analysis. First, the past as outlined above up until today. While the early technology was primitive, the resulting data can at least demonstrate trends and patterns that can be loosely correlated with advances in industry and manufacturing (e.g., the increase in carbon emissions).

The second frame is a snapshot of today. At any given moment we have an accurate comprehensive view of what is happening worldwide. Finally, we are left with the third frame, computer projections of the future which is where we really begin to get into trouble.

Anybody on the gulf coast biting their nails while watching the dozen or so computer-generated hurricane path possibilities during each and every hurricane season knows how accurate that can be. Given that dose of reality, can we bank on what is going to happen 50 or 100 years from now? Which brings us to…

Al Gore, Alarmist and Profiteer

As an analogy, if Jesse Jackson can be described as a poverty pimp, Gore can certainly be described as a climate change pimp. It boils down to taking a popular issue and using it for personal gain rather than making a meaningful difference. After a lackluster performance as Vice-President and failed Presidential candidate, he had to cast about for something new to do.

After working as a visiting professor at various universities he drifted off into the global warming movement. He was no stranger to this world; he had been involved with environmental issues beginning in 1976, when as a freshman congressman, he held the first congressional hearings on the climate change, and co-sponsored hearings on toxic waste and global warming.

Carbon credit: any tradable certificate or permit representing the right to emit one ton of carbon dioxide or the mass of another greenhouse gas with a carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) equivalent to one ton of carbon dioxide.

Seeing an opportunity, he jumped into the carbon credit business, founding Generation Investment Management (GIM) along with David Blood. The firm’s focus is on a research agenda including global sustainability and renewable energy issues.

GIM took a big position in the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) for carbon trading and Gore used an alarmist position to attract investors.

According to forbes.com, “Between May of 2008 and October of 2009 the CCX market value for one metric ton of carbon plummeted from $7 per metric ton to $0.10 along with the shareholders’ investment values. Losers included the Ford Motor Company, Amtrak, DuPont, Dow Corning, American Electric Power, International Paper, and Waste Management, along with the states of Illinois and New Mexico, seven cities, and a number of universities. But GIM was in a winning position.

“Never give a sucker an even break” – P.T. Barnum

Arctic ice to be gone by 2012
Guess we dodged the bullet on this “real science” prediction.

Al Gore, Hypocrite

The face that Gore presents to the world is that of a planet-saving messiah. The truth is far from that. It’s a case of do as I say, not as I do. Case in point—his home in Nashville, Tennessee.

Al Gore's energy-guzzling home
Al Gore’s energy-guzzling home

According to Drew Johnson, National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) Senior Fellow, “The past year, Gore’s home energy use averaged 19,241 kilowatt hours (kWh) every month, compared to the U.S. household average of 901 kWh per month. During the last 12 months, Gore devoured 66,159 kWh of electricity just heating his pool. That is enough energy to power six average U.S. households for a year.”

“There’s a sucker born every minute” – P.T. Barnum


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Should You Do Your Own Electrical Repairs or Upgrades?

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This can be a tricky issue. Usually it boils down to:

  • Are you competent to complete the task?
  • Does the local electrical building code specify a licensed electrician and building permits?
  • What is the scope of the remodeling project?

Regular Maintenance or Full-Blown Remodeling Project?

We all have situations where we are simply fixing small issues. These usually involve tasks such as replacing GFCI receptacles in the bathroom or kitchen, replacing ceiling fans, and hard-wiring a new oven. These are likely considered regular maintenance.

These are all things that the average homeowner can handle. A project that goes beyond that may involve having to pull building permits and having the job inspected and signed off on. In this case you will likely have to hire a licensed electrician. Always check you local code to be sure.

For example, if you are doing a kitchen remodel, there is likely to be some electrical work. Kitchens are very electric-intensive because of all the appliances. Plus, there is the issue of water and electricity. They don’t usually play well together.

Bathroom remodels face similar issues. There might not be so many appliances but the water issue is at least, if not more, critical. With kitchen and bathroom issues you will likely have to hire a licensed electrician.

Preventative Maintenance for Electrical Repairs

We never know when electrical problems will arise. Who among us has had a circuit breaker or fuse trip in the middle of the night? (It’s always at the worst possible time, right?)

Anyway, now is the time to cover your backside, before fate slaps you upside the head. The most basic thing you can do is to map electrical circuits. This way, when you do have an issue in the wee hours or you are wiring an appliance, you will know just which breaker is involved. The builder made these decisions and they don’t always follow logic.


Speaking of the circuit breaker box, I always keep a padlock on mine. Why? Well, it just happens that one of the things that would-be burglars will do is to flip the main switch to cut power to your house.

Does this qualify me as a bona fide paranoia whacko? Perhaps, but at least I’ve got my (imaginary) ducks in a row (or mallards in a queue if you are reading this across the pond).

The bottom line of this post is that you should know which electrical projects you can and should tackle from both a legal and frugal standpoint. Stay safe and enjoy your kilowatts.


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Does Your Home Have Enough Fiberglass Insulation?

Winter or Summer, You Probably Need More Thermal Mass

by Kelly R. Smith

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Loose fill attic insulation and fiberglass batts
Loose fill attic insulation and fiberglass batts

Of course, fiberglass insulation is the most common insulation in existing homes and new construction. It doesn’t require any special equipment to install and it’s more economical than spray foam. In fact, it is one of the easiest (although itchy) DIY projects to increase your home’s energy-efficiency.

What’s up with Soy Spray Foam Insulation?

Nope, not a joke. If you’re familiar with the fact that soy beans are an easy to grow crop and do well in many climates, you’ll understand why it makes such a green and sustainable building material.

Soy spray foam insulation is sprayed on as a liquid which quickly expands and fills all voids, making a very air-tight building. You might hear it called a tight envelope. And it’s water-based so there’s no questionable chemicals.

Now is the Time To Beef Up Attic Insulation

If your home is already built and occupied, insulating walls can be problematic to do yourself, but installing attic insulation is a snap. And it’s not always so hot up there to make it a miserable job if you do it in the spring or fall.

But that stuff is itchy! That’s because the tiny fiberglass fibers stick into the pores on your skin. There are ways to handle it, though. You can wipe your arms down with fingernail polish remover. The active ingredient is acetone. Save big bucks by buying a can of it at the home improvement store.

I used to install a lot of the stuff in the summer when I was installing suspended acoustical ceilings and framing walls and hanging drywall. I lived in an apartment at the time. After work I’d just slip into my swimming suit and hop in the pool.

That took care of it. I suspect that it just washed off, although logically, it seems like the cool water would tighten up the pores. Whatever. It worked

Rockwool: the Insulation From Hell

Rockwool is the worst, no doubt about it. It’s also a fiber kind of construction material. It also has some glass-like chunks of stuff I can’t even speculate about. I just know they would dull the blade of a utility knife quicker than anything I’ve ever seen.

How Much is Enough?

Good question. It’s tempting to say as much as you can stuff up there, but there is a point of diminishing returns. Owens-Corning (the pink panther people) tell us “The amount of insulation to add depends on two factors – the amount and type of insulation already in place and the recommended R-value for your location.” Well, duh.

The minimum in the US depends of where you live but the average maximum that the government recommends is R-60. In the south, the minimum is R-30. It increases as you go north, finally getting to a minimum of R-48 if you live in, say, Nebraska or Minnesota.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.