Did you know that homes and businesses use 40% of the total energy consumed in the United States? Does your home have high energy bills, cold floors, or drafts? If so, a home energy audit is the first step in improving home comfort, cutting your energy bills, and reducing your carbon footprint.
An auditor can determine if lack of insulation, leaky windows, or gaps and cracks in the home exterior are the main culprits. If your home has energy performance issues, an auditor can often get to the root cause. Energy efficiency experts can use a blower door test, infrared cameras, and a duct leakage test to customize top energy-saving recommendations for your home.
Some home energy upgrades can be done as a DIY weekend project with limited skill while others are more difficult to complete. Some upgrades may qualify for 0% financing, allowing the energy savings to outpace the loan payments in some cases. Many of the tips in the advanced energy-saving upgrades section may qualify for financing. Let’s take a look at some of the top recommendations for reducing your home energy consumption and carbon footprint.
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Simplest Energy-Saving Projects
Install Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs
If you still use incandescent or halogen light bulbs in your home, it is important to swap these out. High-efficiency LED light bulbs can pay for themselves in energy savings in as little as one year. Check to see if there are any incentives in your area. You might be able to receive discounted or free LED or compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL).
Eco-tip: LEDs have come down significantly in cost in recent years but are often still more expensive than CFLs. They also last longer and consume less electricity, making LEDs a greener option overall.
Maintain Your Heating and Cooling System
Did you know that on average, 43% of your energy bills are for heating and cooling? Having your HVAC system serviced at least every year helps keep it operating at peak performance and helps prevent costly repairs. Also, make sure you swap out your furnace filters as recommended to keep the air flowing through the system properly.
Eco-tip: Purchase a reusable furnace filter and clean it regularly to ensure proper filtration.
Install a Water-Saving Showerhead
On average, water heating comprises about 18% of your energy bills. Installing a water-saving showerhead is a great way to conserve both water and energy. Also, wash laundry in cold water whenever possible.
Eco-tip: To save the most water and energy, install a showerhead that uses 1.5 gallons per minute (GPM) or less.
Install a Programmable Thermostat
Programmable thermostats allow you to set the optimum levels for each day of the week and then the system adjusts itself automatically. Some models allow you to make adjustments from an app or website. These devices save energy and boost home comfort because they adjust your home to the programmed temperature at the designated time. Once they’re programmed, you don’t have to make changes manually. No more forgetting to turn the heat down at night or when leaving on vacation.
Eco-tip: Install a smart thermostat if you are likely to use the remote features for greater energy savings.
More Complex Energy-Saving Upgrades
Seal Leaky Ductwork
Leaky ductwork is another common cause of high energy bills. Gaps in the ducts allow conditioned air to escape into unconditioned spaces and cause your heating and cooling system to work harder to compensate. The best way to determine the condition of your ductwork is through a duct leakage test. Unfortunately, ductwork is typically hard to access in many homes, so systems have been developed the seal the ducts from the inside. There are also methods that seal leaky ductwork with seal putty or tape when the ductwork is accessible.
Eco-tip: Use nontoxic, water-based products if sealing the ducts from the inside.
Insulate and Air Seal the Attic
Because hot air rises, a lot of conditioned air can escape through your attic if it isn’t properly sealed and insulated. Unfortunately, insulation breaks down due to time, water, or vermin, making it less effective. An infrared camera can help detect gaps in insulation, and a blower door test helps pinpoint gaps and cracks in the exterior. A home energy auditor can conduct these tests for you.
The U.S. Department of Energy of energy has specific recommendations on insulation values by location. When insulating the attic, it is also a good opportunity to air seal it because it saves energy, increases home comfort, and keeps critters out. While you’re at it, air seal the basement or crawl space to have the biggest impact.
Eco-tip: Use insulation with recycled content and nontoxic materials when possible and avoid fiberglass insulation and certain types of foam insulation that use blowing agents with potent greenhouse gases. Check out our guide on the greenest home insulation products.
Advanced Energy-Saving Upgrades
Replace Inefficient Heating and Cooling Equipment
The energy efficiency of HVAC equipment has advanced significantly in recent years. According to Energy Star, you can save 30% on cooling costs if you replace an air conditioning system that is more than 12 years old. Some homeowners choose to replace inefficient equipment while others wait for the system to break down first.
Eco-tip: Install a high-efficiency heating and cooling system with a variable speed motor.
Replace Old Windows and Doors
Although this can help cut drafts and boost overall energy efficiency, replacing windows and doors often isn’t one of the top recommendations when considering cost and estimated energy savings. In some cases, adding weather stripping, caulk, and thermal window treatments are sufficient. If you have older single-pane windows and live in a cold climate, then it might be worthwhile to replace windows for the energy savings alone. Installing new windows can also make it easier to ventilate the home if the windows are easier to open.
Eco-tip: Install windows with low toxicity and high thermal integrity.
Replace Inefficient Water Heaters
If you have an inefficient electric water heater, it might be worth replacing it for the energy savings alone. Many water heaters have a label with estimated energy use. Determine your annual savings to decide if the water heater upgrade is worthwhile.
Eco-tip: For greater water heater energy savings, upgrade to a hybrid or tankless model.
Replace Inefficient Refrigerators
If your fridge was manufactured before 2001, it might be worth replacing it. If your fridge qualifies as an antique, it is definitely worthwhile replacing it for the energy savings alone. A kill-o-watt meter can help you determine how much electricity your refrigerator is draining and if it is worthwhile to replace it for the energy savings alone.
Purchase a Front-Loading Washer
If you have an old top-loading washing machine, it might be worth replacing it. Front-loading washers conserve water and are known to perform better than their top-loading counterparts.
Download the Guide
To view our printable guide to energy upgrades in the home, click the image below.
Originally published on March 4, 2019, this article was updated in March 2021.