Multiple Ways to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient [Complete Guide]
All the hype in the housing market in the past decade has been around the energy efficiency of homes that people want to purchase. As the average US home is 37 years old, it can be expected that the insulation needs repairing and that an overall energy audit is necessary. A handy tool, a home energy audit will let you know exactly how to improve the energy efficiency of your home, without purchasing energy-efficient appliances as the first step.
The thing is that energy is not getting any cheaper. Add to these financial concerns the issues with climate change and the overall desire to reduce your carbon footprint and you’ve got yourself a new trend in the housing market: it is a fact that energy-efficient homes sell faster, and for more. Besides this benefit, if you do not wish to sell your home, working on energy efficiency will help you save energy and reduce energy costs.
In addition to this, an energy-efficient home will also provide you with a healthier living environment and more comfort – as energy-efficient homes stay around the same temperature year-round and provide clean air to their inhabitants. If you are interested in making energy savings and reducing your energy usage, let’s read on and see how your home can be more energy-efficient.
What is an Energy Efficient Home?
An energy-efficient home is a home that has good, thorough insulation. An energy-efficient home is also airtight and relies on (passive or active) ventilation to bring in the fresh air. All the technical and technological solutions in an energy-efficient home work together, use very little power and require very little input from the homeowner.
Relying on the top-shelf commercially available technology, such as solar panels and heat pumps, these homes enable the owner to make significant energy savings month after month. Considering that an average US household pays more than $2,000 per year on their electricity bill and more than $1,000 per year for heating, energy-efficient homes save money by reducing energy use.
An energy-efficient home is not a smart home. It does not need any of the AI-enabled appliances, although it is compatible with them. It is also not a passive, nor a carbon-negative home. This is simply a home that can do the most with the least resources and financial input from the homeowner. And since they enable a significant reduction in energy costs, they save a lot of money for the homeowner – something that brings the price up to the homeowner.
Benefits of an Energy Efficient Home
Besides financial, there are other benefits as well. Energy-efficient homes provide you with more comfort, they are a healthy place to live in, they lower your energy use and they save you money over the long run. Let’s consider each of these benefits in more detail.
Firstly, energy efficiency in a home means that the home uses very little energy to stay warm during winter and cold during summer. The fact is that most of the money that is spent as a part of energy costs goes for the heating and cooling costs. Good insulation ensures that the air that has been air-conditioned stays where it is supposed to be – in the house itself.
Secondly, energy efficiency with homes means that these homes are healthier places to live in. They mean that temperature fluctuations, both day-to-night, and season-to-season fluctuations are much lower than in traditional homes. These homes also come with dehumidifiers, which keep the air relatively dry and prevent the growth and buildup of mold and mildew.
As energy-efficient homes come with air filters, you are sure to be breathing in fewer pollutants as well. Things like dust, dust mites, mold, mildew spores, and different fumes from cleaning chemicals, renovation works, and other environmental pollutants such as pollen are filtered out and you are left with fresh, breathable air that you can enjoy the smell of.
Thirdly, an energy-efficient home reduces the overall energy use. Sure, we said that these homes have good insulation and take less energy to keep both hot and cold. But, other solutions, such as heat exchangers, heat pumps, LED lights, and other energy-efficient upgrades all work together to bring down your electricity bill as well.
Some homes even have water-efficient taps, shower heads, and low-flush toilets, making you leave the most positive impact on the environment that you possibly can. As there are simply too many technologies to be implemented in any one home, the customized approach to home designing or home refurbishing is necessary to ensure that you use the most out of every kWh of energy that you can.
Finally, homes like this save money in the long term. Energy-efficient homes cost way more in the housing market, but many purchase them for the sheer savings that they can make. A few dollars every day make a nice sum, especially over a period of, let’s say, 20 years. Lower energy usage can potentially save you thousands of dollars every year.
Home Improvements to Become Energy Efficient
With all this in mind, it is no wonder that so many new homeowners want to reduce energy waste and keep their air conditioning units running for less time. Energy-efficiency upgrades to reach energy efficiency cost a considerable amount of money, but if you are smart with how you do it, you can use savings to pay off at least a part of those energy improvement costs.
As many different technologies enable energy efficiency improvements, it is a good idea to consider several that are most important and prevalent in the market. These technologies make simple upgrades to your cooling system, water heater, etc, to save energy in your home. As saving energy is a must, both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce the impact on your wallet, let’s consider a few of these solutions and see what can be done to help you reach energy efficiency.
There is no energy efficiency without good insulation. Insulation of your home means:
- The insulation of the walls,
- The insulation of the roof, and
- The insulation of the basement.
Even if your home has insulation installed, you should consider having an expert come and check the state of your insulation materials. Almost all of these materials degrade over time, and the insulating factor drops with each new year and degradation. Expandable foam insulation, styrofoam, and other insulating substances need to be replaced every few decades.
Considering that an average US home is 37 years old, it is no surprise that most homes in the US need some kind of refurbishing to meet new energy-efficient criteria. Investing in renewing the insulation is one of the best investments that you can make, as it can keep the temperatures in your home more stable throughout the year and significantly reduce your heating and cooling energy consumption.
When thinking about insulation, there are very simple steps that you can take yourself, without waiting for good weather or professionals to do this for you. Installing an attic tent and placing reflective foils behind the heating bodies are cheap and easy fixes that can save some energy. Keeping the windows closed during the heating season and keeping the filters of your HVAC system clean and outlets unobstructed are great first steps to take and see a reduction in your energy bill.
Air sealing is also something that you can do yourself. First, what you need to do is check whether there is any air leaking. This mostly happens around doors, door frames, and windows, as even the tiniest of gaps can let a lot of air in and increase both your heating and cooling bills. A simple candle, that you keep close to windows and doors when they are closed, will tell you whether there is air leakage or not.
As this is only first-aid, you should eventually call air-sealing professionals. Bear in mind that some of your windows may need replacing and that you may need to upgrade even the glass on your windows when switching them out. For best results, contact your utility company, natural gas supplier, or electricity supplier and see what they can do to help you enjoy a more energy-efficient home.
In addition to this, a part of the air sealing means that the chimney of your fireplace will have to be closed or that a special type of door will have to be placed there. As it goes, your chimney lets a lot of both hot and cold air enter your home and can significantly increase your energy consumption. Your home’s energy efficiency will be significantly improved once these simple and relatively affordable changes have been implemented.
Improve Attic Ventilation (If Applicable)
Attics are places where most of the heat collects. As heat always goes up (important for ceiling fans as well), you may want to ensure that your attic can be sufficiently ventilated. You can do this by installing (a new) attic fan and helping push all that hot air out during the summer. In the winter months, however, you may want to stop the fan and close the window to it, if you have a way to seal it off. This way, the hot air will stay trapped indoors and reduce heat losses.
Energy-efficient windows are a hot debate right now. The thing is that this type of window costs a lot to install, and may take a very long time to pay off, sometimes up to 35 years. However, when building a new house or doing a large-scale remodeling, energy-saving windows are a thing to consider.
A much more affordable approach would be to weather-strip your windows, by caulking them to prevent any draft. This investment is low-labor, low-cost, and has a high ROI (Return On Investment) value. Weather-stripping is simple, yet effective: it can save so much heat that it can help reduce heat loss by up to 20%.
Window treatments are the next best thing to weather-stripping and caulking your windows. Window treatments include placing special reflective coating or film on your existing windows. Although not as good as replacing the windows themselves, these window films can reflect heat outside during summer and back inside during winter. In the wintertime, they still allow some heat gain from the winter sun.
Weather-stripping doors is another way to significantly improve your home’s energy efficiency. With weather-proof doors, there will be no more draft under the door or around the door frame. Using the same caulking agents as for windows, you can prevent heat loss and reduce how much insulation you need around your home for the same reduction in utility costs.
Weather-proofing or winter-proofing internal doors have the same function. As not all areas of your house need to be heated to the same temperature, you may want to consider adding caulking of the doors between different home areas. Your basement, for example, may stay cool during winter, especially if you use it to store food as well. The same goes for your garage and any storage rooms you may have. Winter-proofing works for bedrooms as well, as most people prefer them slightly colder than the rest of the house.
All energy-efficient upgrades state that installing LED lights result in immediate energy savings. Simple and affordable, this is a solution that you can do yourself. Sure, lights do not use that much electricity but considering that most LEDs use 90% less energy than conventional light bulbs, these savings can be significant. An average LED takes less than a year to pay off, but will easily last you for up to five years.
LED lights do not only belong in your home. You can also install them in your garden, on the porch, and in the garage. Security lights can also be made with LED diodes and connected to the regular motion sensors that you may already have installed in your home.
HVAC upgrade is often seen as a costly home improvement. In reality, replacing your HVAC unit does not cost as much as you may think and the high ROI means that you can recover a lot of the initial cost in a considerably short period of time. When improving or upgrading your HVAC, you should look for energy-efficient, Energy Star-rated models or you may also decide to completely substitute heat sources.
In case you use your HVAC for heating as well, it may pay off to consider installing a model with a heat pump ability. This handy device can save up to 85% of your electricity use and may pay off in a record period of 7-10 years. There are other innovative heat sources that you may want to consider using, such as wood or agricultural pellets, biomass, and others.
If you live in the countryside, you may want to consider using an aerobic digester. This way, you use existing biomass (including animal manure) and use a simple heat exchanger to keep your home warm. Most of these systems can be connected to the existing heating in the home.
Whatever you decide to use as the heat source, you should know that newer models of any appliance will use much less energy than older models. If you are stuck with older models, for now, insulating the duct pipes and cleaning the filters regularly can significantly decrease energy use and make your home more eco-friendly.
As more energy in a household is used for air conditioning and heating, it is no wonder that this is the place where you can save the most. Most energy-efficient home improvements mention that a smart or a programmable thermostat needs to be installed and for a good reason. Let’s consider them both and see which solution works best for you.
First of all, when you are not in the home itself, there is no reason to keep your home as cold or as warm. This is where these thermostats come into place: instead of simply regulating the temperature of the house, they can also regulate the times during which the house will be heated. As you do not always have the same energy needs, you may as well save money on your utility bills.
A programmable thermostat is the simplest kind of thermostat there is. This small and affordable device is used to program the times when the heating and cooling will be on. This device can shut the HVAC system on and off and can help you save by being smart about how you program it. We recommend the following:
- Turning the heating completely off one hour before you go to bed, and turning it back on one hour before you wake up.
- Turning the heating off one hour before leaving for work and setting it up so it comes back on one hour before you return home,
- Completely shutting off the HVAC system whenever you will not be home for more than two days – spending two weeks on a vacation can save you around $450 that month on heating or cooling bills,
- Reducing the overall temperature in your home by several degrees, as this will help you save every month, and
- Checking options for area-based heating in your home. For example, there is no need to heat bedrooms during the day, and no need to heat the kitchen and the dining room during the late evening. Likewise, if you have heating installed in your garage, there is no need to keep it on during the night or when you are at work. You can simply keep it on for an hour before you leave the home and for an hour before returning.
As this can take some time and planning, and as many people forget to fine-tune their thermostat and heating system, we recommend that you go with a smart thermostat. This type of thermostat learns about your energy needs and habits and keeps the house at a comfortable temperature, taking into consideration outside factors as well. Smart thermostats cost a bit more than programmable ones, but they pay off within months through reduced energy bills.
Ductworks Insulation & Sealing (If Applicable)
If you have complex ductwork running through the house, you should consider insulating these pipes. As they have a large diameter, they also have a large surface and can emit a lot of heat. This means that placing simple insulation in the form of heat blankets and fixing it to the ductwork can save as much as 30% of the heat your HVAC system produces.
Ceiling fans, on the other hand, are something that you may already have in your home. What most homeowners do not know is that they can be used to heat your home as well, not just provide a gentle breeze during the summer months. Most ceiling fans have an adjustable blow direction. During the summer, you want them to blow the air upwards, to help hot air rise to the ceiling. During winter, you want them to blow downwards and help bring the warm air back into the room.
Upgrade Water Heater
Upgrading your water heater is a must in energy-efficient home improvements. Improving your water heater will mean that less heat is dissipated and lost during the day and then you can program your water heater and when it will be on. If you live in an area where there are peak and off-peak electricity prices, make sure to install at least a timer with your water heater and save as much as you can.
There are also other things that you can do to reduce or minimize energy losses with a water heater. Using an insulating blanket around the heater and insulating sleeves on hot and cold water pipes can help you save even more. In addition to this, you can also use a sewage water heat recovery system and enjoy the benefits of saving 25-50% of the heat every time you have a shower.
Your water heater can also be upgraded to use a different energy source. Going for electric water heaters is better for the planet, especially if you have solar panels, but going for a gas water heater will keep more money in your pocket. The best idea though is to purchase a heat pump water heater and enjoy up to 85% in energy cost savings, which is something that no gas water heater can offer.
In addition to this, storage water heaters are best if you have solar collectors on your roof. If you do not and live in a particularly cold climate, tankless water heaters may be a much better choice, as these heaters heat water only when the water is going to be used. They present a higher initial cost but can save money for you.
The roof is the place where most of the heat can escape during the winter. In fact, some 30-40% of total energy losses happen when hot air leaks to the attic and then through the roof into the environment. To prevent these losses, you should install a lot of insulation on your roof and check it regularly: rodents and storms can damage this insulation and increase heat losses.
However, what should you do with the roof during summer? Well, the same layer of insulation that has helped keep your home warm during winter will help keep the house cool during summer, making your air conditioner work less. If you have a flat roof, you may want to consider painting the roof white, to help reflect heat in the summer. This is especially useful in southern states.
Additionally, placing extra layers of hydro-insulation and placing a green roof, may have even more benefits. Namely, as the green roof (a thin layer of vegetation placed on the roof, such as moss or a lawn) is covered, it saves both hot and cold air inside your home. As a green roof can be coupled with solar panels, it is a great way to provide some more uses for the natural light that may be hitting your roof.
Energy Star Rated Appliances
Most homeowners need to replace at least a single appliance for more efficient models. The reality is that every ten or so years there is a new efficiency category that can help you save significant amounts of money month after month. Some of this new technology includes:
- Heat pump water supply – for both heating and residential use,
- Efficient water heaters,
- Induction cooktops and stoves,
- IR ovens,
- Improved air conditioning units.
All of these can help you part with fossil fuels and stand behind your environmental considerations. As it goes, it is much easier (and more affordable) to switch to clean energy once you reduce your total energy consumption. Efficient water heaters are a great example.
Sometime in history, we forgot about a simpler way to dry our clothes. A simple clothesline in the backyard can help you reduce your energy bill by $65, assuming you only use it for half a year. In warmer climates, you can achieve double the savings, as you will be able to dry your clothes outside for a full year. In case you worry about your privacy, the porch or a room with good ventilation in your home will help you save as well.
Installing high-quality solar panels is a high investment. Depending on the state you live in and your energy needs, you may expect to pay even more than for new windows to be installed in your home. However, as solar panels take 8-12 years to pay off and can easily work for 25+ years, you will be able to enjoy free electricity for many many years. The versatility and scalability of solar panels are what make them so tempting to many.
In fact, when coupled with a good solar battery, your solar panels can help you get off-grid in most areas. For as long as you have at least some roof space available, you can also use them to offset up to 100% of your energy use. In areas where there is net metering available, you can use the grid to effectively act as your solar battery.
Variable Speed Pool Motor (If Applicable)
In case you have a pool, you may also have a motor to move the water around and help filter it. The thing is that, as a single-speed motor always works at the maximum capacity, even when the water is clean enough, you may want to consider purchasing a variable-speed pool motor and use the same amount of energy that a single-speed pool motor would use in 3 hours to power a variable-speed motor for 24 hours.
What is the most energy-efficient wall material?
As there are different materials that a house can be made of, they all come with different efficiency levels. Many materials have very poor insulation properties, but they are frequently combined with styrofoam boards or expandable foam materials to increase the insulation properties. Among efficient materials are timber, aerated concrete, mud bricks, and expanded materials, such as YTONG.
How do I make my cold floor warmer?
Insulating your floor from underneath may be a good idea to make a cold floor warmer. You can also purchase carpets to insulate them and keep your feet warm. While in the construction phase, you may want to consider flooring materials with insulation properties or even floor heating.
Can you make an old house energy efficient?
Yes, you can make an old house energy efficient. Improving or replacing the existing insulation, as well as switching the windows to double-pane windows will do the trick and save as much as 40-50% of energy. Additionally, you may also want to replace old major appliances, such as your HVAC system, or purchase separate efficient air conditioners and a heat pump for heating. Replacing your old water heater with a heat pump water heater is another thing you can do to make your old house more efficient.
What is the most cost effective insulation?
Fiberglass is the most cost-effective insulation, but you may want to consider some pricier options as well. These include spray foam and other expandable materials. Although more expensive, these materials create the air seal that you want to have in a structure such as your home.
Making homes energy efficient may take time and resources, but it is worth it. As most homes in the US are not energy efficient, it may be time to contact professionals and have them do a thorough home energy audit. This type of report will highlight all the changes that need to be done in your home, from changing light fixtures to hot water pipe insulation and replacing your cooling systems. Needless to say, the upfront costs can be a bit high, but the savings can be massive and comparable to those you get when you install solar panels.
Far from replacing every appliance in your home for an Energy Star-rated appliance, energy-efficient home improvements take a more holistic approach to your air conditioning and heating, and special measures are taken to prevent any air leaks. Heat pumps and other innovative solutions are there to ensure a higher percentage of clean energy in your home and save you health and money.