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Illinois Country Living

Caulk is Cheap

How to save energy with low-cost, no-cost tips

By Nancy Nixon

Brian Kumer and Bob Dickey

Brian Kumer, a professional energy
consultant and owner of Thermal Imaging Services in Lewistown, and Bob Dickey, Manager of Marketing and Economic Development at Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative, examine a new home air leakage model developed by one of the association members. They both agree that sealing with caulking and weatherstripping are often the most cost effective energy improvements a homeowner can make.


Are you “energy wise?” By using electricity more wisely you can reduce your electric bill and do your part to stabilize your co-op’s electric rates. According to Bob Dickey, Manager of Marketing and Economic Development at Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative in Paxton, “Eastern Illini believes it is important our member/owners are aware of what is causing the rising costs of electric generation. We call it becoming energy wise. The focus not only includes energy efficiency but receiving the best return on energy investment. If we are going to meet the increased demand for energy without building additional power plants, it is imperative that we help our members find ways to reduce their existing usage. The kilowatts saved will help keep rates from increasing even more.”

Eastern Illini Electric and the other Touchstone Energy® co-ops from across the country have developed a comprehensive collection of energy efficiency tools to help you become more energy wise. Among the tools is a booklet titled “101 Low-Cost / No-Cost Energy Saving Measures.” The booklet shares ways to reduce electric use in virtually every area of your home. From water heating to cooking to heating and cooling your home, these common sense tips leave no stone unturned.

Hot water heating

Believe it or not, your water heater drains your pocketbook as water runs down the drain. Water heating comprises roughly 12 percent of the average home heating bill. To save energy, set your water heater temperature to no higher than 120 F. If just one or two people occupy your home, a 115 F setting will suffice. Although it might cramp your style, limit your shower length to 5-7 minutes, and use a low flow showerhead.

Brian Kumer

Brian Kumer uses a balometer, or flow hood, to measure airflow through a bathroom exhaust fan. Poorly vented bathrooms can cause moisture to build up on windows.

Since sediment builds up in your water heater and makes it less efficient, mark your calendar to drain
1-2 gallons of water from the bottom of it each year. And if you haven’t already done so, install a water heater wrap, insulate hot water pipes, fix your dripping faucets, and don’t let the water run while you’re shaving or brushing your teeth. When it’s time to replace your hot water heater, install heat traps on both your hot and cold water lines.


On the average, laundry accounts for about 13 percent of your total electric bill. To improve efficiency, wash only full loads. For smaller loads, match the water level to the load size. Use hot water only for very dirty loads, and always use a cold-water rinse.

Get in the habit of cleaning your dryer’s lint trap before each load, and dry consecutive loads to harvest heat remaining in the dryer from the last load. To further minimize drying time, use the dryer’s moisture sensor if it has one. Ensure that the dryer vent hose is tightly connected from the dryer to the inside wall fitting, and be sure that it’s not kinked or clogged. And be sure that the outdoor dryer exhaust door closes when the dryer is off. Use bath towels at least twice before washing them. And in the summer you might consider using nature’s clothes dryer, a good old-fashioned clothes line.


The kitchen is a big energy use area. Set your refrigerator temperature to 34-37 F and freezer temperature to 0-5 F. Check the seal on the refrigerator door and switch over to the power-saver mode when possible. And use its anti-sweat feature only if necessary. It’s easy to forget, but be sure to clean your refrigerator coils annually. And if you’re not using them, unplug your refrigerator or freezer. Older models are far less energy efficient than today’s Energy Star-rated units.

Use the microwave for cooking when possible, but if you are cooking on the range, use pot lids to help food cook faster. For heating water, use hot tap water instead of cold. And use the range exhaust fan, but only as you cook. Be sure to let hot food cool before storing it in the refrigerator.

Rinse dirty dishes with cold water before putting them into the dishwasher. Only run the dishwasher when it’s fully loaded, and use the air-dry cycle for drying dishes. And use cold water only for the garbage disposal.

Energy Saving Tax
Credits Available

Energy saving tax credits that were set to expire in 2008 have been revived as
part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. Federal tax credits are now available for 10
percent of the cost of insulation, storm doors, up to a limit of $500; for 10 percent of the cost of exterior windows and skylights, up to a limit of $200; for up to $300 on new high-effi ciency air conditioners, heat pumps and water heaters; and for up to $150 on high-efficiency furnaces and boilers. Those tax credits expire at the end of this year, but there’s also a tax credit for 30 percent of the cost of Energy Star-qualified geothermal heat pumps, up to a limit of $2,000, and that doesn’t expire until 2016.For more information go to and click on “Tax Credits Under the Energy Bill.”


Lighting is an easy place to save energy. Replace any light bulb that burns more than one hour per day with an equivalent compact fluorescent lamp (CFL). Use a motion detector or photocell for security lights, and use fixtures with electronic ballasts and T-8, 32-Watt fluorescent lamps. And make it a habit to turn off the lights as you leave an unoccupied room.

Home sealing

Caulk is cheap, and using it can make a big difference in heating/cooling costs. You’ll want to caulk along baseboards, around storm windows and around plumbing penetrations that come through walls beneath all sinks. Caulk electrical wire penetrations at the top of interior walls. And outside your home, caulk around all penetrations including telephone, electrical, cable, gas, water spigots, dryer vents, etc. In a basement, seal the sill and band joist with durable caulking or foam sealant and caulk around the windows. Verify that your supply air duct “boots” (behind supply air registers) are caulked to your ceiling or wall sheetrock or flooring.

Installing weather stripping is also inexpensive and quickly pays for itself in savings. Ensure windows and doors are properly weather-stripped. Ensure windows with window mounted A/C units have weather-stripping between the middle of the top and bottom panes. And using heavy-duty, clear sheets of plastic on the inside of your windows can reduce the amount of cold air entering your home. When heating or cooling, keep your windows locked, and use drapes to your advantage. They can be left open during the day to catch solar heat. Keep them closed at night to keep heat in during the winter and closed to keep out heat during the summer.


Ensure your attic access door closes tight, and be sure to insulate it. Make sure the insulation in your attic does not block soffit vents. Do not use rooftop power ventilators for attic exhaust as they may pull conditioned air from your home.


Fireplaces are an easy place to lose heat. Close your fireplace damper when you’re not burning a fire. When using the fireplace, reduce heat loss by opening the damper in the bottom of the firebox (if provided) or open the nearest window slightly.

Your Heating and Air Conditioning

Comprising roughly 43 percent of your annual electric usage, your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC) is the most expensive mechanical device in your home. Luckily there are many low- and no-cost ways to keep it operating efficiently. Having your HVAC system serviced once per year by a North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certified technician will help to head off small problems before they become big ones.

Monitor your home’s relative humidity in the summer. If it consistently stays in the 60-percent range or higher, ask your HVAC technician about lowering your central air conditioning unit’s indoor fan speed. Remove and clean window A/C filters monthly and keep the “fresh-air” vents on window A/C units closed. Install 15-minute, spring-wound timers on bathroom ventilator fans. Always run your HVAC system fan on “AUTO.” Running it on “ON” uses more electricity and can decrease your air conditioner’s ability to remove moisture.

Ensure your outdoor heat pump or air conditioning unit is kept clean and free of debris. If in unconditioned space, verify that your ducts are sealed and tightly connected to your HVAC equipment. In two-story homes serviced by one HVAC system, a paddle fan at the top of the stairs can push down hot, second-floor air. Run ceiling paddle fans on medium speed, blowing down in the summer and up in the winter. For maximum savings set your home’s thermostat at 78 F in the summer and 68 F in the winter. When installing new air filters, make sure they are facing in the correct direction. (Look for arrow on side of filter), and change them monthly.


Energy leaks can be sneaky. Many people don’t realize that some big screen TVs use as much as twice the energy annually as a refrigerator/freezer, so turn them off altogether when they’re not in use. And, make it practice to turn off any electronics when they’re not in use like stereos and radios, battery chargers, coffeemakers, electric blankets, waterbed heaters, pool pumps and heaters, livestock water tank heaters, and hair appliances. And be sure to replace old appliances as they wear out with Energy Star-approved models.

Although it may not seem logical, don’t close off supply air registers or rooms that are conditioned by forced-air systems. Check that floor registers aren’t blocked with rugs, drapes or furniture and be sure that return air grille soffit vents aren’t blocked.

These energy saving tips are just some of the ways to reduce your electric bill. For more helpful energy-saving hints, or to become even more “energy wise,” visit, or call your local electric cooperative.

Ask The Experts

In addition to using the tips in this article you might consider hiring a professional energy consultant to conduct an energy evaluation, or audit. A consultant can examine inside and outside your home, your heating/cooling systems, appliances, roof, windows, doors, vents and insulation levels.

Many energy consultants conduct a blower door test, which measures air leakage, condensation levels and your home’s air quality. They also often use an infrared camera, or thermographic imaging, to reveal if insulation levels are adequate and if existing insulation has been installed correctly.

Based on his findings, the consultant can provide a full analysis that will show where energy is leaking into or out of your home. The price of an energy analysis for a typical home can run the gamut from $350 to $600, but you’d be spending money to save money.

Brian Kumer, a professional energy consultant and owner of Thermal Imaging Services in Lewiston, says, “An energy evaluation of your home will allow you to prioritize cost effective repairs. You will maximize your energy dollars, increase your comfort and reduce energy consumption. It will address any moisture issues you may have in the home such as sweating windows, condensation, mold, etc.”

Kumer says that it isn’t just about comfort and saving money. Energy consultants take a “whole home” approach, which includes testing for the presence of carbon monoxide.

If your electric cooperative doesn’t have an energy evaluator on staff, log on at to find an Illinois energy consultant near you.

For more energy saving information go to:

• The Geothermal Alliance of Illinois’ –

• The Homeowners Guide -

The U.S. Department of Energy – or

• The Energy Hog – fun energy education for adults and children –

• The Energy Education Council – The council is composed of representatives from the investor-owned utilities, electric cooperatives, electric municipalities and the University of Illinois-Extension.

• Home Energy Magazine’s for cutting edge home energy improvements –

© 2016 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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