According to EPA reports, between 43 and 60 percent of the electricity used by any given building is used to heat or cool the air. Obviously, this depends greatly on climate, building design, and other factors, but no matter how you slice it, heating and/or air conditioning makes up the largest single expenditure of energy in the home. One way to keep your heater or air conditioner from working too hard is to ensure that your home is properly insulated. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that only 20% of homes built before 1980 have sufficient insulation.
So check the amount and repair of your insulation, but use caution – in many homes built before the 1980s, asbestos was used extensively in insulating and other construction materials. It is not dangerous when the materials are intact, but if they are damaged – either from extensive wear or renovation – they can release deadly fibers into the air. Once breathed into the lungs, these fibers can cause symptoms of mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer of the lining of the chest and abdomen. Nowadays, asbestos has been replaced with fiberglass, rock wool, cellulose, or other fibrous, heat-resistant materials, but if you suspect that the insulation in your home contains asbestos, have it tested and consult a professional abatement team before attempting to remove it.
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Keep in mind that you can install the best insulation on the market, but it won’t make much difference if your home is full of cracks and gaps where air can leak out. Doors and windows are especially notorious as leaky spots. If you think there might be a gap in one of these areas, wait for a windy day, then light an incense stick or other (safe) smoke-producing item. If the smoke blows horizontally instead of vertically, you likely have a leak, which can usually be fixed with simple caulk or weatherstripping.
Ideally, every window in your house would be double-paned and made from high-performance glass, but replacing them can be costly. Tight-fitting window shades, storm windows, or even heavy sheets of clear plastic can help keep the heat in for houses in cold climates, and light-colored reflective window shades or sun-controlling film can help keep the heat out in warm climates. If you’re trying to keep your house cool, also remember to close curtains on south and west-facing windows during the day.
Reducing your energy consumption is not only good for the earth; it’s good for your wallet. Even if you don’t have the time or money to make big changes, there are many baby steps you can take to make a difference. These can even be good for your health – getting rid of asbestos will almost completely remove your risk of developing mesothelioma symptoms. A little time and effort is all it takes to make changes that can have a big impact.
Diane has a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology with a Minor in Health Management and Policy. She spent many years working in cancer research, academics, and biotechnology. Concern over the growing incidence of human disease and the birth of her children led her to begin living a more natural life. She quickly realized that the information she was learning along the way could be beneficial to many others and started blogging as a way to share this knowledge with others. While passionate about health and the environment she can’t quite give up her favorite Cheetos and Diet Coke! Learn more about her HERE.