Budget-Friendly Home Improvement Ideas for Winter

Winter is just around the corner. As the weather starts to change and temperatures continue to drop, it’s time to think about how you can protect your home from the harsh winter weather while keeping your family comfortable. Below, we’ve put together some simple and affordable home improvement project ideas to help you prepare your home for the winter months ahead while saving money throughout the year.

Winter Home Improvement Projects

It’s time to get your home ready for the winter. Here are just a few affordable home improvement projects that you can do to maintain home comfort while saving on energy costs:

Seal any air leaks or openings.

For less than $100, you can work to seal the openings and air leaks around your home, especially around doors, windows, and electrical outlets. This helps keep the cold winter air front entering your home and also prevents the heat from escaping. This simple home improvement project can help you save a significant amount of money on energy costs while improving your home comfort. All it takes is some caulk, weather stripping, and waterproof sealant to get started.

Insulate your attic.

Another way to improve your home comfort while cutting down on energy costs is insulating your attic space. Though this may seem like a daunting task at first, it is one that homeowners can complete on their own without the help of a contractor. It can also be completed for less than $500, while providing a significant return on investment by helping lower energy costs over time. The best time to make sure that your insulation is effective is just before winter when temperatures start to drop significantly.

Install a programmable thermostat.

Programmable thermostats help you improve efficiency when heating and cooling your home. With a programmable thermostat, you can adjust the temperature of your home on a schedule. This helps you avoid paying to heat your home when no one is there as you can set the thermostat to a cooler temperature to conserve energy. It also helps ensure that your home is at a comfortable temperature during the times when you and your family are home. Overall, this device saves you the hassle of adjusting your thermostat every time you leave and return home, but it can also help you save money while keeping your home comfortable throughout the winter time.

Winter HVAC Maintenance

While you’re preparing your home for the winter, don’t forget about your HVAC system. Most homeowners use their heater more often in the winter, which can cause wear and tear to the parts. If you are noticing issues with your heater or you just want a yearly tune-up, call the HVAC experts at Countryside. With decades of experiencing serving homeowners in the St. Croix Falls area and beyond, we know just want it takes to keep your Wisconsin home comfortable year-round.

Call now to schedule a service appointment: (800) 542-4243.


Winterizing Your Tankless Water Heater

481723049With winter always comes the opportunity for things to freeze up. One of the last things you want to have freeze up on you is your tankless water heater. Fortunately they have been designed to take on even the worst winter weather. That doesn’t mean they can be totally neglected while winter is wreaking havoc on the temps. Here are a few ways to winterize tankless water heaters that can help to ensure you have warm water all winter long –

Check the Gas

Anytime your gas appliances need more gas than the meter size can handle, you could experience an insufficient supply of fuel that can and will hinder performance. If you see that your meter capacity comes to less than what your total household Btuh load is, then you need to contact the gas company.

Insulation on External Pipes

While a tankless unit does contain freeze-prevention heaters there are still hot-and-cold-water lines that lead from both to and from your heater. These plumbing lines need to be protected as well. If you do experience freezing, this is where it happens. You want to protect those pipes with insulation, even if it’s something as easy and simple as using aluminum foil.

Check Your Venting

When the weather reaches extreme cold temps, back draft coming into the vents on your unit can become problematic. To avoid this try running your vent vertically rather than horizontally.

Keep The Power On

The freeze prevention heaters on your tankless water heater needs electricity to operate. You never want to unplug or disconnect the power and stop the flow of electricity to your unit in the winter time. You should actually thing about purchasing a backup generator in case your power ever does go out.

Water Flow

You have much less of a chance for your pipes to freeze when there is water flowing through the them. If you are on a re-circulation plumbing system, let it run frequently during cold winter months. Of course that will cost you more on your energy bill but it’s better than being without warm water. If you’re not on a re-circulation system, then let your faucet drip a little to prevent freezing.

Keep The Unit in an Area That is Warm

If you live where the temps can get really low, then try to place your unit in a place that is fairly warm. It will lower the risk of your unit freezing over.

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What To Consider When Purchasing A Water Heater

When shopping for a water heater, there are many factors you must consider to ensure that you get a unit that can meet all of your needs. The following factors are crucial features to consider in your search for the right water heater.

Fuel Types

Before you purchase a heater, you must first identify the cheapest source of energy in your neighborhood. If there are natural gas lines in the area, a natural gas heater may be the best option. If the unit cost of electricity is low and natural gas lines do not exist in the area, you can opt for an electric water heater. However, it is also important that you also consider propane gas prices. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons of using different types of fuels.

Water Heater Capacity

A water heater with a smaller heating capacity than your hot water needs will have a shorter lifespan because it will be forced to work harder. On the other hand, an oversized heater will heat more water that you can use. This will lead to unused hot water. It is therefore important that you buy a perfectly sized water heater for your home. If there are five or more people in the household, a heater with a 60-gallon capacity may be the perfect fit. On the other hand, a heater with a capacity of 30 gallons or fewer can serve up to two people comfortably. If the number of occupants exceeds two, but is less than five, you can either pick a 40- or 50-gallon water heater, depending on your needs.

Water Heater Dimensions

Water heaters come in a variety of sizes. Since these appliances often have a designated location, you must measure the dimensions of a unit before making a purchase. The heater should fit in place comfortably and leave enough space for the insulation. Be sure to carry the measurements of the designated space with you when going water heater shopping.

Energy Efficiency

Understandably, you want the most energy efficient water heater for your home. Therefore, it is important that you look at the EF (Energy Factor) rating of the device. The higher the number, the more inefficient the heater is, so you want a water heater with an EF rating that is as close to 1 as possible.

With these tips, hopefully you’re one step closer to the right water heater for you and your family. Keep following our blog for more great energy and HVAC information.

Energy Efficient Products Can Help Save Money In Winter

When winter temperatures fall well below freezing, many homeowners begin to worry about how high their heating bills will be. What most people don’t realize, however, is that little things can go a long way when trying to save a few extra dollars when it’s cold outside. Here are some valuable energy savings tips for winter that that will save money during colder weather, but can also result in energy savings when the weather is warmer.

Turn It Down
Heating systems typically account for about 40% of energy usage in winter. Set your thermostat at 68 degrees or lower, if possible. For every degree above 68°F, your furnace will use 3% to 5% more energy for each degree above that benchmark. Set the thermostat to 56°F when you’re out. By reducing home temperature 10°F to 15°F for an average of eight hours, you can save as much as 15% on heating costs.

Laundry Savings
When doing wash, put clothes in cold water to save about $30 per year in annual energy costs if you have a gas water heater. If your washer is over 10 years old, buy a more efficient ENERGY STAR® model that can save energy. Clean the lint trap every time you put a load in to dry. By doing so, you’ll save about the same amount in gas costs. Similarly, don’t over dry your clothes. Let your dryer’s moisture sensor detect when clothes are dry to determine shut off.

Replace Old Windows
Today’s ENERGY STAR®-rated windows keep out cold and keep in heat much more efficiently than windows made 20 years ago. Even if you can’t replace all at once, consider replacing those in your draftiest areas. New windows can reduce heating and cooling costs by 15%. At the same time, take a look at your home’s insulation. Properly sealed and insulated attics, walls, crawl spaces and basement rim joists can provide a 10% annual savings.

Check Your Heating System
Even if its running properly, considering replacing your furnace if it’s more than 10 years old to take advantage of more energy efficient models. At the same time, have an HVAC contractor look for leaks in ducts to minimize heat loss.

Check back with us often for more HVAC and energy savings tips.

Efficiency Standards For HVAC Equipment: Are They Going Up Soon?

The national energy strategy is a hot topic of conversation these days, and home HVAC occupies a reasonable spot in the limelight. Half of the energy used by residential buildings goes to heating and cooling; therefore, the Department of Energy pays careful attention to heating, ventilation and air conditioning efficiency standards. Unfortunately, raising the standards is not as simple as it sounds.

Back in 2011, the DOE made the decision to improve the HVAC efficiency standards by May 2013. The new standards would have raised the current minimum AFUE standard of 78 to 90% efficiency. AFUE means annual fuel utilization efficiency. An AFUE rating of 78 means that the unit wastes 22% of the fuel it uses while a unit with AFUE rating of 90 wastes only 10% of the fuel it uses.

Before the effective date of implementation, various stakeholders challenged the rule, stating that the new efficiency standards for boilers and furnaces would be too costly for many homeowners. Replacing a standard furnace with a condensing furnace with a rating of 90 AFUE is not as straightforward as switching out the dishwasher or refrigerator. A high–efficiency condensing furnace requires a different venting system, which could force the homeowner to abandon or reconstruct the existing venting system to accommodate the new furnace.

Due to a court order, the Department of Energy had to postpone the implementation of the new HVAC efficiency standards, and it could take years until a new ruling goes into effect. As it stands, there have been very few changes to the heating and cooling efficiency requirements since 1992, which is when the Department of Energy set the minimum AFUE rating at 78. In 2007, the Department of Energy proposed raising the minimum AFUE to 80; however, this proposal had little meaning since nearly all modern furnaces already meet that standard.

From the perspective of an energy conservationist, the delay in the implementation of the proposed efficiency standards is regrettable, since keeping the standards low is causing more pollution and waste. On the other hand, one can always make an individual decision to invest in high–efficiency HVAC systems to enjoy greater comfort, energy savings, and lower carbon footprint.

Homeowners should call their local HVAC contractors for questions about HVAC efficiency standards and services.