Obviously, you can save money by doing repairs, renovations or changes in your home yourself. But some jobs can even pay for themselves.
We’re not talking here about things like painting a bathroom or putting a tile backsplash behind the kitchen counters. We’re talking about ways of cutting back or saving on energy in your home by means of repairs or renovations.
Here are five possible ideas:
Change lighting fixtures – Perhaps the easiest fix of all is putting LED bulbs in your overhead can lights. LEDs or light emitting diodes are more energy efficient as well as being brighter and longer-lasting than incandescents or even CFLs (compact fluorescents).
According to Consumer Reports, LEDs use about 80 to 85 percent less electricity than incandescent lights. Even so, LED prices were pretty costly a few years ago. But now you’ll find LED can lights cost from $10 to $20. The lower the price, of course, the more quickly the bulbs pay for themselves, but try to make sure you’re getting good quality bulbs. Until recently, you had to buy a retrofit kit for the can to insert the LED bulb. Now you can screw an LED bulb right into the socket – no problem.
An LED can last up to 25 times longer than a similar incandescent bulb; it also burns cooler. According to a local utility company calculator, if you buy 10 reflector LEDs to replace incandescents in ceiling can lights, your total average savings can be as much as $90 a year depending on the wattage of bulbs. Many Arizona utilities like SRP and APS offer discounts for LEDs bought at participating retailers.
Plant a tree to shade your house – Fall is a great tree planting season in Arizona, and trees around your home really can save energy, according to the National Forest Service. The NFS did a computer simulation based on the premise that a typical energy efficient home in the Southwest spends about $250 a year on air conditioning. (For many of us in Arizona, it can be a lot more.) But shade from two 25-foot tall trees on the west side of the house plus one 25-footer on the east side will save $57 a year or 23 percent of that cost. Trees on the west side do the best job of blocking the hot afternoon sun. Trees on the south side cast shadows on a house in mid-morning and early afternoon; trees on the east side cast shadows only in the morning. The taller the tree, the larger the shadow. Plant the trees from 10 to 40 feet from your house. Any closer and the roots might endanger your walls or plumbing. Be very careful not to plant an invasive tree that takes over your yard.
Caulk gaps around windows and doors on your home’s exterior to keep out hot air in summer or cold in winter – We recommend polyurethane, sometimes referred to as butyl rubber, for this job. This long-lasting caulk stays flexible and does not dry out or crack.
Buy the caulk at a hardware store along with a caulk gun. You’ll use about a half cartridge per window. The total cost per window will probably be about $5 or less. What you save in energy costs will depend on the size of gaps and cracks around windows and doors.
Apply the caulk between the window frame and the stucco or siding on your home. Start by cleaning and drying the area you plan to work on. Scrape away old caulk and loose paint, and scrub off dirt.
Apply the caulk by holding the gun at a 45-degree angle and squeezing a small bead of caulk into the tiny line separating the window frame from the stucco, brick or siding. Use the smallest amount of caulk possible. Avoid applying too much by releasing the trigger before pulling the gun away. Use your finger to smooth caulk into tiny openings. Repeat the process until you have caulked around the window frame. If you’re caulking another opening, like a crack or a gap where a cable enters the house, push the spout of the tube into the hole before squeezing. Wipe away excess caulk as you work. Clean up mistakes quickly before caulk dries. Caulk does have to dry for 24 hours before you paint it.
Install better attic insulation — Inside the average frame-construction Arizona house, you’ll find fiberglass insulation in ceilings/attics. Unless it was a custom-built home where the owner wanted something else, fiberglass loose fill spray is the standard for the construction industry.
Most framed homes built here in the last 20 years probably have sufficient insulation. But if your home is older, you could have issues to deal with because that original insulation can age and deteriorate.
You can also add insulation to your attic to bring it up to the federally recommended standard. Insulation levels are specified by R-value, a measure of the insulation’s ability to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the better that insulation performs in keeping your home cool. The recommended level for attics in Central and Southern Arizona is to insulate to R-38 or about 10 to 14 inches, depending on insulation type. Going beyond that level will not pay for the extra insulation put into the attic.
It is important for insulation to be in contact with the wall board on the ceiling. If there is a gap, insulation value is less. Cost will vary based on the square footage of your attic. Installing better installation yourself would probably cost about $500 for a 1,200 square-foot house. One DIY project you do not want to add to your attic is a power ventilation fan. It will cost more to run than you will save by ventilating the attic.
Super-cool your house – When it’s 100 degrees or more outside, we’re always looking for a way to make homes cooler indoors. We’ve come up with a concept called “super-cooling” that might make you more comfortable – and at less cost. In fact, you don’t have to buy any special equipment or materials for this plan.
Some Arizona homeowners have told us that super-cooling has helped them cut power bills by from 25 to 33 percent compared with previous summers. The basic plan is that you chill your house at just the right time each day during the summer to save money on your power bills.
First, you need a time-of-use or time-of-day plan from your utility. These plans offer cheaper rates for electricity at certain hours of the day and higher rates at other times. SRP (Salt River Project), APS (Arizona Public Service) and TEP (Tucson Electric Power) all have these plans. Sign up for one of them soon.
Once your plan is up and running:
Set the temperature on your thermostat to as cool as you can stand it (68 to 74 degrees) during the time when your off-peak or cheapest rates are available. Run it at that setting throughout off-peak time.
You will feel super-cool yourself; so wear a sweater or add extra blankets in your bedroom. That’s because by doing this, you are not just cooling the air in your house; you’re cooling the walls, the furniture, the floors, the rugs, and even clothes in your closet.
Then when high-cost, on-peak hours arrive, raise the thermostat to the warmest temperature you can stand in the house in summer (maybe 78-80).
Guess what? Your house has been so super-cooled by then you may not get to where you feel uncomfortably warm. Believe it or not, that will happen even though your air conditioner doesn’t turn back on again for hours and hours.
If you have a lot of family members going in and out of the house all day – opening doors and letting the heat in – this plan will not work as well.
Next week, we’ll tell you what makes a home in Arizona different from homes built elsewhere in the country.
For more do-it-yourself tips, go to rosieonthehouse.com. An Arizona homebuilding and remodeling industry expert for 25 years, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated “Rosie on the House” radio program heard in Phoenix from 7 to 11 a.m. Saturdays on KTAR-FM (92.3). Call 888-767-4348.