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All homeowners are concerned about saving money on their housing costs. One of the most effective ways to do this is to reduce the energy costs of operating a home. In this article, I’ll describe some of the most common methods to conserve energy that will not only save money, but make your home more comfortable and even safer.

Almost every home needs some “tune up” when it comes to energy conservation. Depending on the age of your home, and what upgrades it has had, here are some things to look for and do to conserve energy.

First, we’ll look at maintenance of the forced air heating system.

Change the air filter! This often overlooked action is essential to the efficient operation of the furnace, and the air conditioner, too. A dirty air filter impedes the flow of air through the heating and cooling system, making it run longer to heat and cool the home, wasting energy. A clean filter, changed regularly, can make a big difference. If you have a permanent type filter, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing or cleaning the filter, and do it on a regular schedule.

Keep the area around your furnace clean, and clear of stored items. A furnace needs air for proper combustion and venting. Restricting air flow can increase energy costs, and in extreme cases, and lead to carbon monoxide formation.

Ensure that all return air and supply ducts are free of obstructions (furniture, bedding, clothes, toys, etc.), that can prevent air flow. Remove the air grilles and vacuum out any debris in the ductwork that you can reach with the vacuum hose, and clean and replace the grilles. Also, most ductwork has dampers installed in the duct runs. These dampers can be used to balance heating and cooling to all rooms in the house. Ensure that all dampers are fully open. If you have hot water or electric heat (radiators or baseboard convectors), keep the radiators and baseboard convectors clean. Do not obstruct these units with furniture. If you have baseboard convectors, make sure there is at least 1 inch of free, unobstructed space between the floor or floor covering, and the bottom of the convector, for air flow.

Have your furnace or boiler serviced by a heating technician annually, just before the heating season. The technician will clean the furnace and blower wheel, lubricate the blower motor and fan bearings if needed, check for proper and safe operation, and recommend repairs that may be needed. The cost is nominal, usually $100.00 or less per furnace. Don’t wait till that first zero degree night to find out the hard way that this simple maintenance service could have prevented a furnace breakdown and a large bill! The technician can also assist in balancing the heat and AC by manipulating duct dampers, if needed.

Central air conditioner maintenance:

Again, change the air filter regularly. On most central air units, this is the furnace filter. On other units, a filter will be located in the “air handler” or even behind a grille on a wall or ceiling. Some types of filters are washable. Clean in accordance with the manufacturers instructions. Clean the duct louvers and return air grilles. Do not allow furniture or other items to impede the free flow of air through the duct outlets.

Keep the condensing unit fins (outside unit) clean. Cut vegetation away from the sides of the unit to allow for free air flow through the fins, and keep the area above the unit free of branches, vegetation, or other obstructions. Have the AC unit serviced annually.

Completing the above items will go a long way to ensure a safe and efficient operation of the furnace and air conditioner. Here are other things that can be done to keep that heat or conditioned air in your home.

1. Turning down the thermostat 1 degree will save about 3 to 6 percent for each degree of setback. Consider buying and using a programmable thermostat. Program the thermostat to a lower setting when the house is empty (work hours) and at night. This will produce a significant energy (and cost) savings over time. The reverse is true during the cooling season.

2. Check around doors and windows on a windy day. If you feel any air movement or drafts, you are loosing conditioned air. Ensure all windows and doors close and latch properly. Check the weather stripping. If it is frayed, torn, or missing, have it replaced.

3. Take a close look at the heating and cooling ducts in the house. Most ductwork is not well sealed, resulting is significant air loss to unconditioned spaces. Taping all duct seams with metal foil contact tape available at most hardware stores is an excellent way to seal those leaks, especially in unconditioned spaces such as attics or crawl spaces. Don’t use “duct” tape. The adhesive dries out quickly and the tape falls off. If you have flexible ductwork, make sure it is good condition, free of kinks or sharp bends, tears or holes. Replace damaged sections.

4. Keep the fireplace damper fully closed when the fireplace is not being used. An open damper creates a “chimney effect” and pulls a significant amount of air from the house. Don’t forget to open the damper when you use the fireplace.

5. If you have an attached garage, keep the overhead doors closed.

6. Check for sources of air loss from the house directly to the attic. Recessed ceiling lights are a major source of air loss. Newer type “cans” can be installed that can be insulated from above, reducing air and heat loss. Use bathroom and kitchen vent fans and the clothes drier sparingly, and just long enough the remove excess moisture or odors, or get the clothes dry. Fans pull a significant amount of air out of your house. Seal or weather-strip the hatch to the attic. Insulate the top of the hatch.

7. Approximately 80 percent of the heat loss in most homes is up – through the attic. Check your attic insulation. 12 to 14 inches of insulation is needed in most homes to prevent heat loss, and insulate the house from the heat in the summer. If you have less than that, or the insulation is disturbed or compacted, consider re-insulating the attic. If you do this job yourself, be certain not to block the vents in the attic. Attics need to breathe to prevent moisture buildup in winter and heat buildup in summer. Also, if adding insulation, make sure that it does not have a paper “moisture barrier”. Moisture can get trapped between that barrier and the original moisture barrier.

8. If your home is built on a crawl space, or if part of the foundation is a crawl space, insulate the crawl space walls from the inside. This is more efficient than insulation placed between the floor joists. Use insulation that is fire rated (non flammable or will not support combustion). Do not use insulation batts with the paper face exposed, or most types of foam board. These are flammable. Check local codes for acceptable types of insulation to use. It is also helpful to caulk any gaps in the rim joist, and insulate the rim joist in the basement. This is the area at the top of the foundation walls, and just under the floor above.

9. Unless your home is about 15 years old, or more, you may not have energy efficient windows, proper weather stripping on windows and doors, or sufficient insulation. Loss or air from the home and air infiltration from outside wastes a significant amount of heated or cooled air.

10. If you have older, single glazed windows, consider upgrading to energy efficient, dual glazed windows. If replacement windows are out of the budget, consider storm windows, and storm doors.

I hope you can use some of these tips to make your home more comfortable, and reduce energy costs.


This article contributed by: 
David Bunker
Building Inspectors Consortium, Inc.
809 Talbot Avenue
Lake Bluff, IL  60044
(847) 735-1750


Contact David today to schedule an inspection!