Ask the Home Team

Which electric space heater is the most energy efficient?

December 10, 2012

Q. Our house is pretty drafty and we’re looking at electric space heaters to help keep us warm this winter. Can you recommend an energy-efficient model that isn’t too expensive?

A. I wish I could give you a simple answer but the truth is electric portable heaters are all pretty much the same, efficiency-wise, and none of them are energy efficient. Any claim of energy savings made on these heaters is based on the assumption that you’ll be turning off your central heating system, but it doesn’t sound like that’s what you’re looking for here (and it’s rarely a good idea, anyway).

If you’ve seen ads for products like Amish heaters or infrared quartz space heaters, be wary of claims that seem too good to be true; and check out these Ask the Home Team questions from last winter:

You mention drafts, and that leads me to wonder if your home is as well-sealed or insulated as it could be. Have you considered doing some weatherization work? If it were my home, I would have a certified contractor conduct an energy audit and then do the work necessary. That’s the best way to address drafts—the way that will save you the most money in heating costs and keep you the most comfortable. If you’re more of a do-it-yourself type, we offer services to help you through that process as well. 

Other, simpler ways to address drafts or a lack of heat in your home include: changing your furnace filter, applying weather stripping to doors and windows, and vacuuming or dusting heating vents so that heat can circulate. Also, if you have a fireplace then make sure the vent is closed when you’re not using it. Check our winter tips page for more ideas.

And, finally, if you think you might qualify as low-income then contact your local weatherization agency, or visit www.dcf.vermont.gov and see if they can offer you any assistance. If you’re still not sure what to do, contact us and we can help you identify next steps. Good luck and thanks for a great question.

Bob for the Home Team

Saving Energy with Porch Lighting

September 28, 2012

I know that CFLs use less energy, but I feel like the one on our porch takes so long to get bright, it’s not practical. Are traditional bulbs better for outside?


As it gets colder outside, it takes a bit longer for compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) to come to full brightness. So they aren't a great fit for lights in outdoor spots where you want short periods of instant light; at least not in our Vermont winters.

For a bulb that isn’t affected by the cold and saves energy, too, you might take a look at light emitting diodes (LEDs). These are a newer technology and still a bit more expensive than CFLs, but their performance and longevity are really impressive. And right now, some Vermont lighting retailers—in partnership with Efficiency Vermont—offer already-discounted pricing on LEDs, or an instant coupon good for $10 off the regular price.


An added bonus of LEDs is that their light is more concentrated in a specific direction, whereas both incandescent and CFL bulbs emit light in all directions. The more directional light of LEDs is perfect for outdoors. You get the light where you need it most (on your porch) and not where you don’t (like the sky, or your neighbor’s lawn).

Li Ling for Ask The Home Team

I think it’s time for a new refrigerator. Can you recommend a good one?

September 21, 2012

I can’t recommend a specific model, but ENERGY STAR® qualified refrigerators use 20% less electricity than non-qualified models. And if you have an older refrigerator, it likely uses more electricity than any other appliance in your home.

Old refrigerators can make up to 12.5% of your total electricity use, so replacing one of those with an ENERGY STAR model is going to make a real difference in your bills. Plus, when you purchase select ENERGY STAR refrigerators and freezers, you could be eligible for a $50 rebate from Efficiency Vermont.

Kathleen for Ask The Home Team

What furnace do you recommend as a replacement?

September 14, 2012

I’m afraid our furnace won’t make it through another year, and I’d like to make the switch now, before the snow flies. There are a lot of options on the market. What do you recommend?


The right heating system really depends on the house. To choose the one best for your home, contact a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® contractor. These pros can do a whole-house evaluation, and will let you know what type of furnace would be best. They’re not actually selling you a furnace, so you can depend on their unbiased advice. They will also determine steps you can take to lower your heating costs overall.

That said, we do have a section of our website dedicated to home heating and the various systems Vermonters use. Best of luck!

Bob for Ask The Home Team

What kind of insulation should I use to qualify for your incentive programs?

September 07, 2012

I’m going to be adding some insulation to my home this fall, and I hear you have programs to help pay for projects like that. Do I have to use a certain kind of insulation?


I’m glad that you contacted us before doing the work, because our rebate programs require an initial home energy audit, performed by a certified Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® contractor.

The contractor will perform a series of diagnostic tests and identify areas for improvement in your house and can even project estimated savings. Together, the two of you can decide which projects make the most sense to tackle, based on your personal budget and comfort goals. Often times, insulation and air sealing are one of the top recommendations. Your contractor will have ideas for which types are best for your home.

From there, most people have the contractor do the work for them. Another approach, and it sounds like this might be what you’re interested in, is to do the work yourself under the guidance of the certified contractor. Either approach is eligible for rebates from Efficiency Vermont—up to $2,000—and both will save energy and make you more comfortable in your home. The right choice for you just depends on your skill level and the amount of time you have.

Get started today.

Li Ling for Ask The Home Team

How can I stay cool without using air conditioning?

August 17, 2012

You have to help me do an intervention with my dad about air conditioning! I’m 12 and I learned in school about how to save energy. Air conditioning is an energy hog but my dad acts like he’ll die without it. He says that if I can find another way to stay cool , he’ll do it. I know you can help, so please will you give me information that will help? Thank you times 100!


Thanks for writing. I’ll do my best. It’s true that some houses in Vermont can stay cool without air conditioning. I don’t know if your house is one of them, but I’m glad to share some tips that I give to homeowners who want to reduce the need for air conditioning. Good luck to you and your dad!

  • In the cooler evening and early morning hours, turn off the air conditioning and open windows on opposite sides of the house to create cross-ventilation. Use a window fan, blowing toward the outside, to pull cool air in through other windows and to push hot air out. As the day warms, you may find that you feel more comfortable with windows and coverings closed against direct sunlight.
  • On hot days, delay heat-producing tasks, such as dishwashing, baking, or doing laundry, until the cooler evening or early morning hours.
  • Use a bath fan to remove heat and moisture generated by showers. And, if the kitchen range hood fan exhausts to the outdoors, use it to remove hot air created by cooking.
  • Keep cool air in and hot air out: Caulk around window and door frames, use weather stripping on exterior doors, and have a professional (see the final tip, below) seal gaps where air can travel between the attic and your living space.
  • To reduce both cooling and heating costs and make a home more comfortable year-round, homeowners can take a whole-house approach: A Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® contractor can find and fix the causes of high energy bills, uncomfortably hot or cold/drafty rooms, moisture problems, ice dams, and more. Efficiency Vermont offers financial incentives to homeowners for energy-saving improvements completed by these contractors. If your dad wants to learn more or to find a contractor, he can visit our Home Performance with ENERGY STAR section to get started.

Kathleen for Ask The Home Team

What are the best construction materials for home insulation?

August 10, 2012

We’re turning our back porch into a year-round room. We’ve got construction experience but we only know enough about insulation to be dangerous. Between fiberglass and cellulose, which works best and what R value should we use?


Great question. For wood-framed walls, I typically recommend an R value of 19 (the higher the R value, the better a material insulates). Cellulose does a better job of filling spaces, including irregular spaces. If you’re going to use fiberglass, it’s best if you use it in cavities that match the dimensions of the fiberglass batts.

The best tip I can give you about insulation, though, isn’t about the materials. It’s about making sure that a thorough job of air sealing is done first and that the insulation is installed properly, along with a continuous air barrier. Good installation can mean the difference between a comfortable room and one with drafts/air leaks that cost you in higher heating bills. A proper job also won’t trap moisture and create an environment for mold and wood rot.

The most effective and energy-saving approach is to hire a professional. Seeing as you’re do-it-yourselfers, I have a tip for you: Weatherization Skillshops are available to Vermonters who have the skills to do their own home improvements but who want more knowledge. At these workshops, given around the state, you can learn about air sealing, insulation, finding and fixing air leaks and more. Good luck with the project!

Li Ling for Ask The Home Team

How can I maximize the energy efficiency of my refrigerator?

August 03, 2012

I’ve heard that a refrigerator is one of the biggest energy users in a home. Short of buying a new, high-efficiency fridge, are there ways of reducing that energy use ?


There sure are. Keep it full to enable it to run more efficiently. If you’re not filling it to capacity with your food, put in jugs of cold water and keep ice in the freezer. Make sure products aren’t blocking the fan vents inside the fridge and freezer. Whenever possible, put in items that are at room temperature rather than, say, hot from the oven. Make sure that there is plenty of airspace between the back of the unit and the wall. Twice a year, vacuum dust from under your refrigerator, the front vent at the base, and any exposed coils at the back.

I should mention that, if your refrigerator was manufactured before 1993, it’s using twice the energy of a new ENERGY STAR® qualified fridge. That’s like paying to run two fridges! If this is your situation, it makes sense to look into getting a new refrigerator. Visit the Refrigerator Rebates page for information about rebates on select energy-saving refrigerators purchased by December 31, 2012.

Bob for Ask The Home Team

What’s the best energy saving air conditioner for my home?

July 27, 2012

I’ve never bought an air conditioner because I live in the foothills, where it stays cool in summers. Last summer I moved my daughter into her first apartment, near the Massachusetts border. It gets hot down there! This year, I want to bring her a little window unit for her bedroom. I don’t want it running up her electric bills too much, so how small can I go and still make a difference for her?


It’s wise to consider the size of an air conditioner before purchase, both for energy savings and for comfort. An oversized air conditioner not only uses more electricity than necessary but also can leave a room feeling damp and clammy. That’s because an oversized unit quickly cools a room without removing sufficient humidity. Determine the right size air conditioner for your daughter’s room.

Once you know the size, the easiest way to make sure you're choosing an energy-efficient window air conditioner is to look for the ENERGY STAR® label. Another tip for even greater savings: Compare ENERGY STAR models by looking at their "Energy Efficiency Ratio" or EER. The higher the EER number the more efficient the air conditioner.

Another gift you could give your daughter is to direct her to the tips for staying cool without air conditioning.

Bob for Ask The Home Team

How can I reduce the energy costs of a heated pool?

July 20, 2012

Thanks for your tip a while back about efficient pool pumps. It’s been a money saver. I got it for my folks, because they insist on keeping up their pool for their grandkids (there’s no talking them out of it). The pool still costs them in energy bills, though, because it’s heated. Any tips on ways to reduce that cost?


Sure thing. It’s great that you got an efficient pool pump. I’m glad that’s helping your parents. Here’s some advice for your parents:

  1. Use a pool cover and you’ll reduce pool-heating energy use by as much as 75%.
  2. Have the heating system checked and tuned yearly.
  3. Keep the thermostat set at the lowest comfortable temperature.
  4. Make a mark on the thermostat dial where that comfort level is, so that you can find it again if it’s accidentally moved.
  5. Turn down the thermostat to 70 if you're going to be out of the pool for 3-4 days, and turn it off for longer absences.

Bob for Ask The Home Team