5 Ways to Improve Your Home’s Energy Efficiency
Building and remodeling greener homes is an important part of taking care of our planet. Improving energy efficiency can be simple and cost-effective — and it’s better for the environment. But where do you start?
According to the 2021 American Housing Survey from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau, 13.5 million homeowners made energy-efficient improvements between 2019 and 2021, an increase from 12 million between 2017 and 2019. These homeowners are enjoying benefits like a more environmentally friendly home, lower operating costs, and improved comfort in their living quarters.
Read on for five steps you can take to put energy efficiency at the top of your homeowner goals.
1. Do an energy assessment
Before beginning any remodeling project, your first step should be to inspect your home for areas of poor energy efficiency. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, of the $2,000 the average American spends annually on energy, $200 to $400 could be going to waste from drafts, air leaks around openings, and outdated heating and cooling systems. “It’s typically the simple things that make the biggest impact,” says Andy Michels of Michels Homes. “Ask your builder to do an energy assessment with a simple thermal imaging device. Targeting leaky areas is a quick and easy way to make some large improvements.”
Even without testing, there are some indicators of poor energy efficiency. “In the late fall, when we get our first few frosts, you can tell a lot about a home’s performance just by looking at the frost on the roof. Can you see the rafters? Has the frost melted away in certain areas? These are signs of energy loss,” explains Michael Anschel of OA Design + Build.
2. Insulate key areas
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that homeowners can save an average of 15% on heating and cooling costs, or an average of 11% on total energy costs, by properly air-sealing their homes and adding insulation in floors over crawl spaces, accessible basement rim joists, and attics. “A combination of not enough insulation and holes where pipes and wires travel down to the floors below creates pathways for air and energy to escape,” says Anschel. “Foaming penetrations between floors where air is traveling along wires and pipes is an inexpensive but meaningful action step.”
3. Replace lighting
When you consider that an average household dedicates 11% of its energy budget to lighting, per the U.S. Department of Energy, efficiency should be top of mind. Recessed lights are a significant source of energy loss, especially in homes built in the last 50 years, because they are notoriously drafty. “Removing can lights and replacing them with surface-mounted LED disk lights is a great opportunity to improve the look of the space and the efficiency of the fixture, and get the insulation sealed up and back to a proper level,” says Anschel. Not to mention, new lighting technologies — like LED — can reduce lighting energy use in your home by 50% to 75%.
4. Upgrade mechanical elements & appliances
You’re not saving money by holding on to that 30-year-old chest freezer in the basement. In fact, it’s likely costing you a significant amount of energy waste. Overall, appliances account for about 15% of your household’s energy consumption — with refrigerators, washers, and dryers topping the list — and if the unit in question is old enough to have a driver’s permit, it’s likely time for an upgrade. When shopping around, look for replacements that are Energy Star–certified. A new Energy Star heat pump or air conditioner, for example, can save up to 20% on heating and cooling costs.
5. Invest in smart outlets
From computers and TVs to phones and tablets, we are always “plugged in” — both figuratively and literally. Unfortunately, our smart technology isn’t so “smart” when it comes to energy usage, and even when our devices aren’t attached to their chargers, or they’re in standby mode, they are still wasting energy. “Like a tiny drip on a leaky faucet, when multiplied by the dozens of ‘always on’ appliances and devices we have in the home today, the consumption starts to really add up,” says Anschel, who suggests installing switched outlets that turn electricity on and off with the flip of a light switch — or smart outlets, which you can control with an app — for TVs, charging stations, and other hubs where those standby devices might call home.
Header image: OA Design Build | Landmark Photography
Written by Taylor Hugo