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Dust, energy bills, and you 

Lower your energy consumption by patching up microscopic cracks

See that dust building up on your nightstand? Well before you reach for a rag, you may want to make a run to the hardware store for a caulking gun and a new filter for your furnace and air conditioning system, as this build-up could be a sign your home has some energy efficiency troubles that are luckily pretty easy to solve.

While the dust in our homes comes from many sources—maybe Junior walks around with his shoes on indoors and Fido loves to romp around the yard before plopping down on the carpet—increased build-up of dust could also mean heating and air conditioning filters are due for replacement, or that the collection of cracks and crevices in your home are letting in outdoor air and contaminants.

Having dust around is a nuisance and can be a nightmare for someone with asthma, but the inefficient use of energy in our homes also means we’re paying way too much on our monthly utility bill. 

One of the most common problems out there—and easiest to fix—is a dirty filter on forced-air heating and cooling systems. These filters remove particles from the air the system is sucking in, keeping them from getting thrown back out into your home. A dirty filter not only lowers the air quality in a home, but also slows the airflow into cooling and heating systems, making them kick into high gear and use more energy.  

Check your filter once a month and replace it if it’s looking grimy. Everyone’s heating and cooling usage is different, but Energy Star recommends that filters be switched out every three months at a minimum. Filters are fairly inexpensive, and switching them out regularly will also help save on pricey heating and cooling system repairs. 

Air sneaking into homes through cracks and crevices can also be adding to that unwanted collection of dust. These cracks and gaps add up to a hula-hoop size hole in many homes. And in addition to adding to the time you’re spending with a duster in your hand, this gaping hole is also a significant way for heated or cooled air to escape, leaving your system working overtime to keep you comfortable. 

Grab a caulking gun and seal these gaps near windows, doors, ducts, recessed lighting, attic access, etc. Sealing them all up will help control how much outside air gets in, limits dust build-up, and could help you save 20 percent on heating bills.  

You can spot and seal some of these openings on your own, and a local contractor participating with the emPower energy program—available throughout the Central Coast—can help seal the tougher ones. A contractor can use specialized equipment, such as infrared cameras, duct blowers, and door blowers to find leaks we can’t with the naked eye.

And if you want to take the energy savings even further, combine that air sealing with proper insulation in your home. A contractor can inspect your home for insufficient, improperly installed, and disturbed insulation. Proper insulation will keep you comfortable all year round without putting your heating and cooling systems under unnecessary strain.

Calling in a contractor to tackle an issue like this can be intimidating, but the emPower program has been helping homeowners and families across the Tri-Counties with exactly this, all with the goal of lowering wasteful energy usage and lowering those energy bills. We’ve been working to make these upgrades easier and more affordable by connecting homeowners with utility incentives, low-interest, unsecured financing, and qualified contractors.

An easy place to start is by chatting with an emPower Energy Coach, either by phone or in person during a free home energy efficiency site visit. An emPower coach will, free of charge, look for common troubles like improperly operating furnaces, leaky ducts, drafty windows, and poorly installed insulation, as well as discuss what solutions are available and how they can be completed without breaking the bank. Just visit to schedule an appointment.

Whether you’re looking to cut down on the time you’re spending waxing down the dust collectors in your home or thought last month’s heating bill was too high, taking a look at your home’s energy efficiency is a great place to start. Your sinuses and your wallet will thank you.

Paul Menconi is an energy coach with the SLO County emPower program. The emPower program offers voluntary incentives, financing, and other services to help single-family homeowners in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties make home energy upgrades easier and more affordable. emPower was originally established by Santa Barbara County to help the community preserve the environment by helping to lower energy consumption and stimulate the economy by creating jobs through innovative, voluntary solutions to support a sustainable building performance market. EmPower is funded by California utility ratepayers and administered by Southern California Gas Company, Southern California Edison Company, and Pacific Gas & Electric under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission, the U.S. Department of Energy Better Buildings program, and the California Energy Commission with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars.

Readers Poll

Do you think the SLO County Board of Supervisors should have gone against their policy that states funding for independent special districts should not result in a net fiscal loss to the county?

  • A. Yes, the housing and job opportunity the Dana Reserve is bringing is important
  • B. No, it's giving special privileges to the Nipomo Community Services District
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