Dean Grubb has tinkered with every nook and cranny in his home. Like a chef who creates a masterpiece with a little bit of this and that, Grubb has crafted a snug, energy-efficient home with touches of insulation, dashes of inspiration and plain old common sense.
Dean Grubb has tinkered with every nook and cranny in his home. Like a chef who creates a masterpiece with a little bit of this and that, Grubb has crafted a snug, energy-efficient home with touches of insulation, dashes of inspiration and plain old common sense. "Dean tried to get them to put in extra insulation when they built the house, and they said we wouldn't need it around here," says Joyce Grubb, who may argue with her husband about what year some of his handiwork occurred, but never the result. They both agree it wasn't long after their home at 6302 N. Hamilton Road was built in the late '60s that they started noticing problems – like how one of the kitchen walls would sweat and how there were only two large air returns in the living room near the ceiling responsible for most of the home's air circulation. "We about froze until he started doing some of this stuff," Joyce Grubb says. A key change was removing the two windows in the eat-in kitchen and replacing them with a sliding glass door out to a nice wood deck. "They were very chancy windows, and they tended to sweat," Dean Grubb recalls. "They about fell out," adds Joyce. The sliding door not only brightened the kitchen area, but also allowed the Grubbs to enjoy a view of their private wooded back yard. "It was cold by the patio doors. I checked with Anderson, and they insisted you do not need (storm doors) with their doors," but Grubb went ahead and installed some anyway. "It really helps in the winter and some in the summer at temps above 90 degrees." Interestingly, when Grubb built his deck, he added an arbor positioned properly to catch most of the sun's rays. "I thought I'd eventually put solar cells there, but they're still way too expensive," Grubb, a retired Caterpillar Inc. research and development engineer, says of one of the few energy efficiencies that didn't pan out. Some of his changes were easy - such as switching to compact fluorescent bulbs - others were more pricey and complex, such as upgrading to a more energy-efficient furnace and putting in more insulation and additional ductwork and registers. "A lot of these things by themselves don't amount to much, but, cumulatively, it makes a difference," says Grubb, who boasts that his last utility bill for his 2,248-square-foot ranch was $63. "And we like to be comfortable. We don't do drastic things" with the thermostat. Actually, homeowners often don't have to make radical changes, such as replacing windows, to see major energy savings, says Brian Kumer of Thermal Imaging Services of Central Illinois, the only certified energy consultant in the Peoria and Bloomington area. "I can count on one hand - and I do over 100 homes a year - that I've recommended window replacement as being one of the top three things to be done. Windows cost a lot, and the payback is very long. There are much bigger problems that can be fixed for a fraction of the cost," Kumer says. Two very simple changes: switching to compact fluorescent bulbs and unplugging that extra refrigerator in the basement or garage. You know, the one that's probably only used for beer or soda. "I constantly get people calling me to say their bill dropped $40 a month after doing that," Kumer says. Other misconceptions: That new homes are more energy-efficient than older homes, and that adding more insulation will solve everything. "There's no difference, really between new homes and older homes. People building a new home just assume it will be energy-efficient. Energy efficiency is not an accident. You have to plan. It doesn't cost a lot more, really it doesn't. You want to upgrade the insulation and have it air-sealed properly. "You never want to just blow insulation in the attic. Not only does it give the homeowner a false sense of energy efficiency, but you can actually make things worse," says Kumer, noting that problems with condensation can be exacerbated with additional insulation. "I've seen icicles hanging from roof rafters." Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, offers tips and information on energy efficiency. According to its Web site, sealing and insulating your home can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs. "Many air leaks and drafts are easy to find because they are easy to feel - like those around windows and doors. But holes hidden in attics, basements and crawlspaces are usually bigger problems," according to Energy Star. Kumer agrees, and that's what he's trained to find. With special equipment, he will suck all the air out of your home and find where it's leaking in with an infrared camera. He charges $350 to $450 for his expertise, but Energy Star also offers a do-it-yourself energy audit tool at its Web site at www.energystar.gov. Ginger Johnson, executive director of the Tri-County Construction Labor-Management Council, believes an energy audit is "the first and most important step." "People think they know the problems with their homes. They usually don't. This gives you an accurate picture. We haven't been in a home - whether it's a month old or 100 years old - that doesn't have a problem. They all have energy issues," says Johnson. "A lot of times, the biggest violator is air leakage. You want to make your home as tight as possible, but then you control where the ventilation happens. It really is hard to get your home too tight." But it's changing fears and misconceptions like that that take time, Johnson adds. "Unfortunately, it's going to take a lot of education. Changing light bulbs can make a difference, but it's not the whole picture. The problem is we're not hitting the whole picture." Jennifer Davis can be reached at email@example.com.