Simple energy conservation steps can save money

Families worried about winter heating bills can take some simple, low-cost steps to conserve energy. “No one thing will magically cut energy expenses a lot, but attention to many little things can all help add up to greatly reduced costs,” says Bob Schultheis, natural resource engineering specialist with University of Missouri Extension in Webster County.

Schultheis recommends caulking all outside joints where dissimilar materials meet, such as where wood meets masonry and where pipes go through concrete.

“Use acrylic latex tube caulk for joints one-quarter inch wide or less,” Schultheis says. “For joints wider than one quarter inch, use expandable foam, oakum or other filler material plus tube caulk.”

You also can slow heat loss by installing storm-window kits on single-pane windows, placing tight-fitting doors on fireplaces and wrapping insulation on water heaters that are warm to the touch.

Make sure there is adequate insulation, says Kandace Fisher-McLean, MU Extension housing and environmental specialist in St. Louis.

“For homes in Missouri, ceilings and attics should have at least a value of R-49,” Fisher-McLean says. “Walls should have a value of R-15, floors over crawl spaces R-25 and basement walls at least R-11.”

Homeowners can check for the R-values of their insulation in exposed areas such as attics, crawl spaces and basements. Different insulation types have different R-values per inch of thickness.

“If you look at the insulation and you are not sure what kind of insulation it is, take a picture and send it to your extension office,” Fisher-McLean says. “A housing specialist would be happy to help you identify what kind of insulation you have. Give them the thickness and we can help you determine the R-value of your insulation.”

Schultheis and Fisher-McLean agree that an excellent way to conserve energy is weatherstripping exterior doors and windows. In terms of heat loss, one-eighth inch wide gap around a door is the same as having a 6-inch-diameter hole through it.

Other ideas are to wear clothing in layers and turn down the thermostat, open drapes during the day and close them at night. Put plastic plugs in unused electrical outlets, and foam gaskets under outlets and switch plates to reduce cold air invasion.

For more information on energy conservation options, contact your local MU Extension center or go to

By Robert A. Schultheis and Kandace Fisher-McLean, University of Missouri Extension