There are lots of businesses out there who are more than willing to take your money claiming they are making your home more energy efficient or sustainable. If you are not careful, you can spend a whole lot of money with very little to show for it in terms of energy savings.
I recommend three easy steps to improving your homes energy efficiency.
Step #1 – Conservation. As Americans, conservation is not something on the top of our list, but it IS the least expensive to implement, which of course is free. Turning off lights, unplugging unused appliances, turning off the TV off and turning the thermostat down can make a huge impact. If you don’t have a set back thermostat, get one. If you own a set back thermostat, use it. Make sure you don’t have the set back set on “hold” at 70 degrees, it defeats the purpose.
Water and sewer bills aren’t getting any cheaper either. The sad thing is whatever domestic water you use, you pay for an equal amount of sewer even though you might be watering the yard. A very simple and inexpensive upgrade is to install aerators to restrict water flow in your showers and sinks. Worst case scenario, you might need to upgrade the shower heads or faucets, but these items are fairly inexpensive. This is a given, but make sure the toilets are not running either.
Step #2 – Replace Light Bulbs and Discard or Replace Old Appliances. A few years ago, I replaced every light bulb in our house with compact fluorescent light bulbs. We’re not like average folks with a just few lights in each room. We had something like 40 recessed lights and my wife owned every lamp in town (past tense). It cost us $660.00 to replace every light bulb. Each month after the changeover, I tracked our energy usage and shockingly, ten months later we broke even on the initial cost of the light bulbs. That’s less than one year pay back, not bad!
In all fairness, I should probably mention we also recycled a 20-year-old refrigerator stored in the basement that we barely used at the same time. Appliances can be a big energy draw too, especially the older they are. If you buy new appliances, make sure they are energy efficient. Energy Star appliances should be the minimum goal.
Step $3 – If budget allows, look to improve your building envelope. One of the easiest places to start is by improving the exterior envelope of your home. This includes the exterior walls, windows, and doors, foundation and roof/attic. It doesn’t make much sense to install solar panels, geothermal systems, wind turbines or even a tankless water heater if the energy turned into heat or air conditioning is easily escaping the house. I am not against these things, but the lower hanging fruit is typically not a new HVAC system.
Start by first caulking and weather stripping your home. Air penetrations can significantly increase your yearly energy bills. On older homes, caulking and weather stripping is often overlooked and one of the lowest hanging fruit in terms of improvement cost versus energy savings.
If your home is caulked well, the next place to look is your attic. Adding fiberglass insulation to the attic is fairly inexpensive and also a fairly quick return. Of course the older the house, the more these things make sense.
Finally, consider upgrading your windows and exterior wall insulation. This is a much bigger expense for sure. If you cannot afford new windows, adding storm windows is not a bad option.
In the end, the common sense things are the things to focus on first. Save big ticket items for last.