Every home has unique energy efficiency needs, but there are a lot of universal energy saving projects that will help homeowners lower their utility bills and take advantage of incentives that are available now.
Too often, advice about how to make your home more efficient falls into one of three categories:
Costs a lot of money and has a big impact: Geothermal heating, for instance. Great project, but it’s a big upfront cost for a long-term payback. Not everyone is in a position to do something like that right now.
Doesn’t cost much, but doesn’t have much impact: Insulating your hot water heater tank in a basement that already has wall insulation. The internet is full of ideas, but it doesn’t mean that they’re all worth doing.
Costs a lot and doesn’t have much of an impact: Number one culprit… New windows. There’s a lot of marketing out there that’s about how new windows can improve your home’s efficiency. It’s true that they will, but the impact of changing from the worst window to the best one is fairly small when compared to insulating and air sealing the exterior of your house really well.
So, the last category? Doesn’t cost much and actually has a worthwhile impact. That’s what this post is about. The top 5 list of mostly do-it-yourself projects, going room by room, that can make a real difference in your home.
1. The Front Door: Are you air conditioning the outside, too?
Passing through the front door, you’ll notice that the doorframe is lacking proper weather stripping, which is needed to keep cold air from seeping out during the hottest months and warm air in during the coldest. Weather stripping a door is an easy do-it-yourself project. You can purchase the materials from a hardware store for around $10.
2. Living Room: The most uncomfortable room in the house.
Because families spend a lot of time in the living room, this is usually where they’ll notice uncomfortable drafts or heat lost through single-pane windows. Rather than taking on an expensive project like replacing your windows, you can purchase a low-E window film that can be applied to the windowpane. This will reduce the heat transferred through the glass and increase comfort. A blower door test performed by a professional energy auditor will tell you exactly where the drafts are coming from. Caulk can be used to seal up the cracks located around windows, doors and outlets is a low-cost way to save a lot on your utility bills.
3. Kitchen: A room where vintage doesn’t cut it.
Moving from one popular room to another, the kitchen tends to be a bit cozier in the winter. However, the extra heat from cooking can be uncomfortable in the summer. Moreover, the appliances people use to prepare meals and clean up after may be wasting a lot of energy. Refrigeration alone accounts for 8 percent of the energy used in the average household, according the U.S. Department of Energy. By switching to a modern ENERGY STAR refrigerator and recycling the outdated model rather than keeping it as a second refrigerator, homeowners will see a nice drop in their electricity bills.
Switching to ENERGY STAR dishwashers, ranges and ovens are all great ways to save money. More than half of all U.S. states are still offering rebates on ENERGY STAR appliances. California, for example, has more than $22 million of funding remaining for rebates on efficient dishwashers, refrigerators and room air conditioners.
4. Kitchen & Bathroom: Is your hot water too hot?
Not only do ENERGY STAR appliances save electricity directly, but the water consuming appliances tend to use water more efficiently as well. This is important when you consider that the average household spends 12 percent of its energy budget heating water. The easiest way to reduce the energy you use to heat water is to lower the temperature of your tank to 120 degrees if your dishwasher has a built in temperature booster and 135 if not. A few other easy and affordable ways to save hot water are short showers, washing clothes on cold and installing low-flow showerheads and faucets.
5. Bedroom: Creating ambiance … efficiently.
We’ve almost made it through the entire house, but we can’t forget the bedrooms. Efficient lighting throughout a home is a great way to save electricity, but for some rooms, like the bedroom, people are hesitant to buy compact florescent lightbulbs due to the “poor ambiance.” However, modern LED bulbs are much more flexible and can be used with dimmer switches to create a softer light to wake up to. Or, you can install a skylight and take advantage of the sun’s free natural light.
Skylights, as well as high efficiency windows, air sealing, insulation, duct sealing and HVAC systems are all eligible for the federal Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit. Through 2010, homeowners can take advantage of this tax credit, which is equal to 30 percent up to $1,500 of the cost of energy efficiency improvements.
If you’d like an idea of what upgrades you can make in your home to lower your utility bills and take advantage of the federal tax credit, try out this online energy estimator. Getting started now will set you up for affordable cooling bills this summer and a comfortable home come winter.
EnergySavvy.com provides homeowners with educational resources, rebate lists and a free online energy audit tool. EnergySavvy.com also provides lists of qualified energy auditors and energy retrofit contractors.
Any air sealing my upset the balance of the home if it is not already there.
Anything we do to air seal (caulking, weatherstripping, new windows, etc.), exhaust air, circulate conditioned air through our heating and or cooling system, closing interior doors, sealing leaky ducts, opening or closing supply grill registers, installing high efficiency filtration as well as other items may make the home not safe to be in. Every home needs a test called “Worst case and combustion” to determine if it is backdrafting your water heater furnace and or your fireplace. And after any of the above mentioned items (there are more than this list) are done the house needs to be rechecked.
Example: I just tested a very leaks house and by turning on the exhaust fans and the heating system, then closing several doors the room with the fireplace went -9.2 Pascal’s negative. The most negative the space should be is -3.0 Pascal’s and we would really like it to be 0.0 Pascal’s. The fireplace showed heavy black staining confirming it frequently spills in the living space. When this hose is made tighter this may happen more often. By the way the water heater also spills its combustion gas in the house.
Beyond backdrafting negative pressures can pull the unhealthy air from your attic and crawlspace into your home.
If your contractor is not a build scientist that does “House as a System” think twice. Yes it is more expensive but what is your health worth.
Is your house safe? This is not a DIY job or that of any untrained person.
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