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Westchester: Seal Home Before Winter Takes Bite Of Heating Bill

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – The days are getting shorter and temperatures are poised to plunge throughout Westchester County. And now is the time to pre-emptively rein in your home heating costs.

Mark Sackerson, of Franzoso Contracting and Energy Solutions in Westchester, suggests some simple measures to cap expenditures and limit fuel waste. “Air sealing and insulating are probably the most cost effective means of reducing heating and cooling costs from energy usage.” He added: “Any way to reduce that hot air from just blowing out of the house will save money.”

The starting point for energy-efficient home improvements, said Chris Spiller a home remodeling contractor in Fairfield County Conn., should be having an energy audit, during which energy-efficiency experts measure how “tight” your house is and identify air leakage. After the audit is complete, a homeowner is eligible for rebates and credits for energy-saving improvements. ( Click here for more information about energy audits in Westchester County.)

And while a raging fire in an oversized hearth might seem cozy and appealing, Spiller said its only real benefit would be in “roasting a giant mastodon.” Beyond that, he said, old-fashioned, open fireplaces are inefficient for heating homes because they actually suck out more hot air than they emit warmth.

“Investing in insulation can sometimes save you up to 30 to 40 percent on heating and cooling costs,” he said. The energy savings can offset and sometimes more than pay the cost, he said. Low-interest and even no-interest financing is available.

Insulation, he said, "gives you the most bang for your buck" in keeping things warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Spiller said there are three types of insulation: fiberglass, spray foam and cellulose. Fiberglass – the Pink Panther-colored material that looks like cotton candy – is the most widely used, but it’s the least effective, he said.

“Unfortunately, fiberglass works like a sweater,” said Sackerson. “You are warm because of the trapped air between your body and the sweater. When air blows through a sweater, the warm trapped air is replaced with fresh cold air and you get a chill. Fiberglass insulates when it traps air but fiberglass allows air to pass through it and you lose insulation value. The most promoted insulation products these days are either spray foam (open cell or closed cell) or cellulose.”

Cellulose insulation is somewhat higher on the green scale, Spiller said, as it’s made from recycled newspaper rather than from a petroleum-based product. Closed-cell foam, he said, has twice the insulating value per inch as cellulose, but is substantially more expensive.

Spiller said that if he had his druthers and were building a new home, he might behave somewhat radically: “I would put my money in a super-insulated house and then heat it with a candle.”

Short of candles, Spiller said that geothermal heat – literally using the inherent heat from the Earth – is the most efficient way to heat but also the most expensive.

A forward-thinking option, Spiller said, would be to install air-to-air heat pumps, which he said are highly efficient and have the added benefit of generating cool air for summer using the same equipment. Couple that, he said with electricity generated by photovoltaic panels on the roof, and your home will be ready for that candle.

But for starters, Spiller suggests that homeowners embark on an air-sealing expedition throughout the house, which involves sealing any cracks or holes that leak air. This, he said, includes places you might not pay much attention to, such as maintaining the weather stripping on doors and sealing air leaks in the basement.

“All these cracks may seem small, but the sum total could amount to the equivalent of having several windows open all winter.”

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