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 qualified local contractor 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 system under unnecessary strain.

So, whether you’re looking to cut down on the time you’re spending waxing down the dust magnets 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.