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How many times have you wished you had a knowledgable friend in the business that could just ask questions to?  This section is devoted to answering questions asked by you.

I'm Todd Blackley, owner of Building Performance Solutions.  I am a certified Energy Star contractor that has been with the program for 7 years.

Take a look through the questions below that have already been answered to see if they can help you.

If you have a question of your own that hasn't been asked, click here to ask a pro.


Save energy every day

Home improvements

Home mechanicals

Does it use more energy to turn things on and off?

Turning off an appliance is more efficient than leaving it on.

While an extra surge of electricity flows when you turn on an electrical device, this surge is brief and uses very little extra power.

Even computers can be safely turned off when you are not using them.

  • Personal computer hard drives are currently engineered to withstand hundreds of thousands of on/off cycles. There is no problem with turning them off to save energy.
  • Another way to save is to use the ENERGY STAR� "sleep" mode available on most systems today.

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Are compact fluorescent light bulbs really worth the extra cost?

Yes! Save up to $40 over the life of each compact fluorescent bulb you buy.

Fluorescent bulbs

  • Use about one-fourth of the electricity.
  • Last 10 times longer than comparable incandescent light bulbs.

What to look for:

  • Look for bulbs that meet ENERGY STAR� standards for long life, energy savings, start time, color and brightness.
  • Check the package label to get the wattage that will give you the light you need.
  • Available at many hardware, department and building supply stores.

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Does it really save energy to turn my thermostat back at night in the winter?

Turning the thermostat down saves energy and money.

  • Your home will lose less heat when the inside temperature is lower.
  • The longer your home is at a lower temperature, the more you save.
  • While your furnace will run for a longer period when the temperature is turned back up, the energy saved during setback is more.

Consider getting a setback thermostat.

  • Program it to turn down when you are asleep and when you are gone.
  • The temperature can be set to come back up before you get up or get back home so you will stay comfortable.
  • You can save about 1% on your heating bill for every degree you regularly set the temperature back for an eight-hour period.
  • We recommend a 5- to 10-degree setback.
  • The elderly and children less than two weeks old may need warmer temperatures.
  • Check with your doctor if you have health concerns.

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How do I figure out the cost to use an electrical appliance such as an air conditioner, computer or refrigerator?

Check out a portable energy meter from your local library or you can calculate the cost yourself.

  • Find out the rate you are paying per kilowatt-hour (kWh).
  • Find the wattage of the appliance. It is usually stamped somewhere on the bottom or back of the appliance.
  • Divide the wattage by 1,000 to get the kilowatts used per hour.
  • Multiply the kilowatts per hour times your utility rate times the hours you use the appliance.
  • Cost of operation = (Wattage X rate/kWh X hours used) / 1,000

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What can I do about moisture problems in my home?

If summertime humidity in your basement is 60% or higher:

  • Molds and mildew grow easily.
  • Moisture wicking through a concrete basement floor can be trapped in carpeting, resulting in much higher humidity levels than in the air, allowing mold growth at even lower air humidity.

To reduce humidity during the summer months:

  • Reduce any sources of moisture.
  • Close off the basement to moist, outside air.
  • Use a dehumidifier to bring the humidity down to 50% or less. An inexpensive humidity gauge from a hardware store can help you adjust your dehumidifier to the proper setting.
  • For severe humidity problems, consider buying a large-capacity, high-efficiency dehumidifier such as the "Santa Fe" from Therma-Stor.
  • Make sure gutters and downspouts carry water away from the foundation and soil is sloped away from the foundation.
  • Use vent fans during and after bathing and cooking.
  • Dry clothes outside or in a clothes dryer vented to the outside.
  • Do not dry clothes on an indoor clothesline.
  • Put plastic over bare soil in crawl spaces.

Moisture on windows in the winter is also from high relative humidity.

  • As the outside temperature goes down, the inside surface of your windows can get colder than the dew point of the air in your house.
  • When this happens, water condenses on the glass.

To reduce humidity during the winter months:

  • Make sure the relative humidity is below 40%. Very cold outdoor temperatures often require indoor humidity lower than 40% to prevent condensation.
  • Add another layer of glazing with plastic or a storm window.
  • If you have a humidifier, make sure it is turned off and not leaking water.
  • Increase airflow over windows by moving furniture away or using fans.
  • Reduce night temperature setbacks (although this will increase heating costs).

If mold develops or if you have condensation for more than a few weeks, you have a more serious problem. For severe moisture problems, consider adding a whole-house ventilation system (preferably a heat recovery system).

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How much insulation should I add in my attic?

  • If you have less than about 7 inches of insulation, you may need to add more insulation.
  • If you have more than 7 inches of insulation, the extra energy savings for adding insulation will usually not cover the cost to add it.
  • In the Western New York area, a value of R-38 is recommended for existing homes.
  • The effectiveness of your insulation will be reduced if air leaks around it.
  • Before you insulate, be sure to seal all openings, cracks and crevices where air can escape from your heated space into your attic (see brochure below).

Before you start, you can have your home evaluated for air leakage and overall energy efficiency. Building Performance Solutions can conduct a complete inspection, rating and blower door test.

A Comprehensive Home Assessment will give you access to:

  • A detailed list of energy recommendations.
  • Lists of contractors to do the work needed.
  • Financing.
  • Cash rewards from the State of New York.

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Should I replace my old windows?

  • Replacing all the windows in a home rarely saves more than 10% to 15% of the home's heating bill.
  • It usually takes 20 years or more to recover the cost of the new windows in energy savings.
  • Beware of inflated claims of "up to 40% or more" energy savings.

You may still want to replace windows to improve the attractiveness and comfort of your home. If you buy new windows, look for ones that meet ENERGY STAR� standards.

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If I re-side my house, should I add rigid foam board insulation behind the new siding?

If your wall cavity is full of insulation, adding rigid foam will not yield significant additional energy savings.

  • If your wall cavity has little or no insulation, insulate the wall cavity before re-siding.
  • If you add rigid foam, use foam board at least one inch thick.
  • Siding that has a foam backing on it may provide some additional insulation value; however, it will not significantly reduce your energy costs.

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What kind of water heater should I buy and from whom?

  • If you have an electric water heater, consider switching to natural gas. It will cost about half as much to use.
  • Look for an Energy Factor (EF) of at least 0.61 on a gas water heater.
  • Ask your neighbors, friends and coworkers if they'd recommend a contractor.
  • Get more than one bid.
  • Compare warranties between brands.

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What kind of furnace should I buy and from whom?

  • A sealed-combustion, 90% efficient, natural gas furnace.
  • High-efficiency furnaces with efficient fan motors and burners save electricity and gas.
  • Ask your neighbors, friends and coworkers if they'd recommend a contractor.
  • Compare the warranties between brands.
  • Obtain bids from at least three different contractors.

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I have an old fuel oil furnace and want to switch to natural gas. What will it cost?

Savings of 10% to 20% are typical compared to oil and other fuels, but, costs for switching to natural gas can vary widely depending on your situation. Please let us discuss it with you.

  • If you already have a natural gas line to your home, call us at (608) 252-7117.
  • If you do not have a natural gas line to your home, call (608) 252-7061.
  • If calling MGE is long distance, use our toll-free number at 1-866-252-7080.