How to Plan Home Energy Upgrades Based on an Energy Audit

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Did you know that homes and businesses use 40 percent 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 zero-percent 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.

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. The high-efficiency 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 percent of your energy bills are for heating and cooling? Having your HVAC system serviced at least every year is a great way to keep it operating at peak performance and to help 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 18 percent 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).

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.

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 percent 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 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.

Eco-tip: Install an Energy Star-certified refrigerator and recycle your old refrigerator.

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.

Eco-tip: Install an Energy Star-certified washer because they use 25 percent less energy and 33 percent less water.

Download the Guide

To view our printable guide to energy upgrades in the home, click the image below.

Earth911 guide to energy-saving home upgrades

 

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Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is a renewable energy and sustainability journalist and communications professional with an MBA in sustainable management. She is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Earth911, Home Power, Triple Pundit, CleanTechnica, The Ecologist, GreenBiz, Renewable Energy World and Windpower Engineering. Lozanova also works with several corporate clients as a public relations writer to gain visibility for renewable energy and sustainability achievements.
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