Last winter the U.S. Department of Energy mailed out a small pamphlet to homeowners in the New England area. Called "Low-Cost/No-Cost Energy-Savers," it was full of simple, inexpensive ways to save energy. In case you never saw the pamphlet, here are the suggestions it contained. Follow them all and the government says you can save from $100 to $500 a year in a typical home. 1: Install flow-limiters on shower heads and faucets. These simple devices cut down on the flow of water coming from showers and faucets, and thereby cut hot-water consumption. They cost less than a dollar and can be installed in a few minutes. Buy them at hardware or plumbing supply shops. Savings? About $40 a year if you heat your water electrically, $15 a year if you use gas. 2: Lower the thermostat on your water heater to about 120 degree f. Savings run about $20 a year for electric heaters, about half that much for gas. Note: Lowering the temperature may decrease the effectiveness of your dishwasher. If so, try for the lowest setting that will still give clean dishes. 3: Insulate the tank of your water heater. You can buy special kits or do the job with ordinary foil-faced insulation. The kits run around $20 and ordinary insulation about $5. Savings are about $20 for electric heaters, $10 for gas. Warning: Be sure not to inslate over the relief valve, thermostat access doors, air inlets, pipes or gas flues. If you are in doubt, use a kit. It costs more but will be precut and contain instructions to help you do things correctly. 5: Plug up the leaking damper on any fireplace that's not being used. Use insulation for small leaks, or a board if the gap is too big to stuff with insulation. Savings can run from $45 on down, depending on the climate, size of the gap and fuel costs. Warning: Do not use the fireplace once the damper has been sealed off. 6: Plug heat leaks into attics. Common points of heat leakage are gaps around pipes, ducts and exhaust fans. Another prime spot is the back of the attic door. Cover it with insulation. 7: Seal off infiltration from the outside. Most homes are well weather-stripped and caulked in the obvious places -- around windows and doors. But a lot of air still leaks in where dryer vents, pipes, wires and so on pass through outside walls. Other air slips in under baseboards or through electrical wall outlets. Seal these leaks by stuffing them with insulation or applying caulk. Seal outlets with special gaskets you can buy at hardware stores. They fit in place behind outlet cover plates. 8: Insulate heating and air-conditioning ducts wherever they pass through unfinished attics and basements. Use two-inch foil-faced insulation and duct tape for savings as high as $135 a year. 9: Turn off energy wasters. Examples: Anti-sweat heaters on refrigerator doors, pilot lights on gas furnaces during the summer, water heaters (whenever you leave home for a weekend or longer), room air conditioners (for an absence of an hour or more), central air conditioners (for an absence of four hours or more). 10: Have your furnace adjusted and reset. Keep it well maintained. With forced-air systems, have the serviceman set the circulating fan to shut off at about 75 degree f. instead of the usual 120. Clean or change furnace filters regularly. Use a nighttime setback thermostat and set the thermostat as low as you can stand it . 11: Use windows wisely. Open shades to let in the sun whenever possible; you'll gather free solar heat. Close shades or drapes on windows that don't get direct sun. Close all shades at night. Q: One of the sinks in my home makes a sucking sound when it drains. Sometimes the bathroom it's in has a strong smell of sewage. Is there anything I can do about these two annoying problems ?
A: Sounds to me as if your sink plumbing is not properly vented. In addition to the pipe that carries off waste water, the sink should also have a vent pipe that allows air to enter the system and prevents the water in the trap from being sucked down the drain pipe by momentum or siphon action. That sucking you describe is a good sign that you have no vent. (Even if you did have one, you wouldn't be able to see it since it would be inside the wall.)
If I were you, I'd call in a plumber. Your lack of a vent is sucking water out of the trap and allowing sewer gas to enter your home. That's not only unpleasant, it's unhealthy and dangerous.
Q: What can be done to eliminate the rust forming on the metal around the drains of our enamel sinks, tubs and wash basins and discoloring the enamel in the surrounding area? The sinks, tubs and wash basins show no other signs of wear, just the rusting metal drains. Installation of new ones is beyond our means.
A: There should be no need to replace those fixtures. The drains themselves are not rusting; your problem is rusty water. Either the water is rusty to begin with, or it's picking up rust from iron pipes in your home. In either case, you should be able to solve the problem with the help of a water conditioning company. Check the Yellow Pages for help under "Water Softening & Conditioning Equipment & Supplies." Q: In cold weather our water pipes freeze up. Neighbors with identical homes do not have the same problem. The pipes run through a low, narrow bay area that extends a few inches beyond the basement. We've tried packing this space with fiberglas insulation but it hasn't helped. Could you comment?
A: I'm surprised a builder would run pipes through exterior walls in your part of the country. It's not very good practice. But that's past history -- the problem now is to eliminate the freezing problem, and since your neighbors seem to be getting by, there should be an easy solution. I assume, first of all, that when you added the insulation you put it between the pipes and the cold exterior wall. If not, remove it and do so.
If possible, pull the pipes as far away from the exterior wall as you can and secure them with pipe supports or blocks of wood. Do not put any insulation between the pipes and the heated part of your home. You want heat from the rest of your house to reach the pipes.
If you can locate some urethane foam insulation, use that instead of fiberglas. It will do a far better job of insulating. Use as many layers as you can fit between the pipes and the outer wall. If you can't find urethane, use styrene foam.
I think that will solve your problem. If not, your best bet would be to use electrical heat tape wrapped around the pipes. This will protect you unless you have a power outage.