Save Your Zappy Volts

So our annual budget includes $650 million towards “energy programs” geared at helping Pennsylvania reduce its dependence on foreign oil.  The exact nature of the programs hasn’t yet been made clear, but any chance to bring energy conservation to the forefront can’t be all bad.

Right now we’re in a sweet spot for home-efficiency improvements.  Utility costs are rising, and both PPL and Met Ed have announced their intention to spike the hell out of your prices by 2011.  But the cost of many inexpensive improvements either has not risen, or better yet, continues to fall.  Compact flourescent lights, for example:  They can now be bought in bulk for about $1 each, and they use about 65% less electricity than an incandescent or halogen bulb.  Now is the probably the best time in history to look around your home and save some cash.  Here’s what I’ve done so far:

About three years ago I switched my house over to all-flourescent lighting.  Every bulb in every socket — including my outdoor dusk-to-dawn security lighting — was replaced all at once.  My electric bill immediately went down about $15 / month.  The upgrade has since paid for itself several times over.  My brand-new master bathroom remodel replaced all of my light sockets, and I decided to purchase color-accurate CFL bulbs to replace my old “economy” CFLs.  At a price of about $1.50 each, I was really impressed with the color temperature of the new bulbs, as well as the “instant on at full brightness” characteristic so lacking in older models.

This past spring I had my roof re-insulated.  It was a 30-minute job using blown-in insulation in every available inch of crawlspace.  Now, instead of my central air running continuously to barely keep the house under 80, it switches on and off holding the house around 70 even on those mid-90s days a few weeks back.  The job cost me about $300; I estimate it’ll save me about $50 / month during the summer months, to say nothing of how much it will help my $300-a-month winter heating bill.

This fall, before the worst cold weather hits, I’m going to replace about half of my windows with heavily-insulated thermal pane windows.  What’s in there right now is terrible, even with the plastic sheeting.  The ones I was eyeing up are about $300 at Lowes, and my contractor is charging $50 each to install them.  I’m not sure that I’ll break even on this before I sell the house next year, but they’ll definitely add resale value.

Since I learned how unbelievably easy drywall is to install, I’m going to remove all the 20-year-old, horribly-installed drywall from the walls of my home.  Not only will I be dropping in the 1/2-inch fire-code stuff, but I plan on pulling out the insulation (also 20 years old, and apparently of the cheapest possible variety) and re-wrapping the house room-by-room from the inside.  Total cost?  A few hundred bucks; maybe a grand at the most.  The cost of the insulation is guaranteed to pay for itself within a year, and the drywall will make a huge cosmetic improvement.

The only thing I haven’t really looked into yet is insulating my HVAC ducts.  Being metal they obviously leak a lot of thermal energy.  Has anyone done this?  I also need to basically rebuild / replace my door frames to get rid of the 1/4″ gap around the entire door; my solution of duct tape is growing a little too redneck anymore.