Home Energy Efficiency Tips - Where do I start?
Updated March 2010
If you’re reading this, I’ve shared our family’s efforts to increase the energy efficiency (and comfort) of our home and lower our energy costs and our impact on the environment with you. We’ve been on this path since 2003 and we’ve made a lot of improvements which I’ll explain in more detail in other articles, however the majority of efforts were undertaken spring-summer of 2007.
There is a wealth of knowledge available on energy efficient home improvements and I’ll share the information that I’ve found the most useful. There’s an article on Mother Earth News - 8 Easy Projects for Instant Energy Savings where a person published the results of doing the same things we've done. Another great perspective is from Michael Bluejay aka "Mr. Electricity" where he not only educates but also explains the "Why?"
As you can see in our 12 months Energy Cost graph (annual cost), we have reduced our energy bill approximately $600 a year! Savings like that help justify the time, labor, and expenses you’ll put into doing energy efficiency projects. Also remember that by consuming less, you’re also putting less CO2 into the air.
FACT: The energy used in the average home can be responsible for more than twice the greenhouse gas emissions of the average car. When you use less energy at home, you reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and help protect our environment from the risks of global climate change. If that doesn’t motivate you, perhaps simply saving money will!
Our Electricity Usage Analysis
Our energy consumption (Natural Gas and Electricity) was 40% less than the previous January, and we reduced our CO2 output by 962 lbs.! That’s fairly significant and was achieved through replacing all incadescent bulbs with Compact Flourescent bulbs, home sealing and insulating, HVAC duct sealing, replaced my old fridge and freezer with ENERGY STAR models, and through putting powerstrips on our electronics and turning everything off when they’re not in use to avoid those fantom draws.
Most folks will wonder what really pays off and saves the most as did we. Switching your most commonly used lights to CFL's is a no brainer - you'll save roughly $75 over the life of the bulb. For the other big hitters, you need to do a little research. I read that refrigerators and freezers were significant energy consumers in a home, and those manufactured before July 2001 were most likely energy hogs. "Most likely" doesn't pay the bills, so I spent the $30 to get a Kill-O-Watt meter to measure what my old fridge and freezer were really consuming and was shocked. My old fridge consumed twice as much energy as my new one, the old upright freezer in my garage consumed nearly 8 times as much energy as the chest freezer I replaced it with. I spent $1,099 to replace both of the old units with Energy Star models and will save that much in energy costs (at today's rate) in less than 4 years!
With our goal of supplementing our energy source with solar, reducing home consumption is the mandatory first step to make solar affordable.
Analyze your Home’s Energy Use (get a starting measurement)
Before you start these efforts, you’ll want a measurement so you can clearly see the results of your investment and labor. You can simply track your energy bills and compare them, or use some of the online tools available. I’ve done both - and am completely impressed by the clarity of the Energy Star Yardstick. When you’ve got about 15 minutes, grab your last 12 months worth of energy bills (Electricity and Gas) and go to the US Government’s Energy Star website and use their ENERGY STAR Yardstick to determine how you measure up. You’ll immediately get a score from 1-10 with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best.
Our score for September 2005 through August 2006 was 3.3 meaning that only 33% of US homes use more energy. Our score for July 2007 through July 2008 was 8.7 meaning we’re more efficient than 87% of US homes. That’s a pretty good improvement considering we’ve got a 2400 square foot home that was built in 1989.
Set your goals
Whether your goal is to be more comfortable in your home using less energy, to "save the earth" through reducing your carbon footprint, or simply want to save money, you need to set goals to help you determine your project priorities. The ENERGY STAR Yardstick results will help you set goals, in fact it will clearly list them out for you.
Go to the ENERGY STAR website and get educated - your energy providers may have good information. There are many other websites and good books on the subject which you may find useful. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Money Pit have launched a new video podcast that outlines the first steps any homeowner (or renter) can take to reduce energy bills. Hosted by Tom Kraeutler, the segment highlights how people can use the tools on the Energy Star Web site to get started. (Also try The Daily Green's DIY Home Energy Audit).
- The Complete Guide to Reducing Energy Costs (Consumer Reports: You Need to Know) by the Consumer Reports Editors. If you buy only one book and want the layman's guide, this is it.
- The Home Energy Diet: How to Save Money by making Your House Energy-smart by Paul Scheckel - Expert advice with an engineering perspective. Great advice and guidance for most cost effective improvements. If you’ve got a goal to go solar - this book is a must have.
- Insulate and Weatherize: Expert Advice from Start to Finish (Build Like a Pro) by Bruce Harley - Expert tips and guidance for those ever so important insulation and home sealing tasks.
Practice good energy efficiency habits (no cost changes) - turn off lights when not needed (one light one person), unplug your battery chargers and other devices that have a "brick" adapter when not in use (vampire draw - they consume energy when not in use), close the door to the outdoors when heating or cooling, turn off the TV/music player/PC/video game when not in use, wash full loads of clothes in cold water, adjust your hot water temperature to 120F, turn off the coffee machine after coffee’s made and heat individual cups up in the microwave (or use an insulated carafe), cook in the microwave as much as possible, use the right size pot/pan on the right size burner, run the dishwasher when it’s full and let it air dry, take shorter showers, pull the blinds during the day in the summer (to block the sunlight heat gain) and after the sun goes down in the winter (to help keep in the warm air), and many other "smarter" habits you can acquire.
Replace your 5 most frequently used lights (or bulbs) with ENERGY STAR Compact Fluorescent Lights or LED's
Always buy ENERGY STAR products when you replace or purchase anything that consumes energy
Heat and cool efficiently - service your heating and cooling equipment annually, replace your air filters regularly, install and correctly program a programmable thermostat, seal up your heating and cooling ducts, add insulation where needed, and if you’re live where cooling your home in the summer is expensive consider adding a radiant barrier in your attic
Seal up your home - Seal air leaks around doors, windows, and electrical outlets. Seal up the gaps or holes in your attic and crawlspace/basement where wires, plumbing, HVAC ducts, lights and entries go from your unconditioned spaces to your conditioned spaces. Choose ENERGY STAR qualified windows when replacing older ones.
Educate your friends - My family was involved in our personal efforts this year as a summer project, so they'll tell their friends. When meeting with friends and family share the knowledge - everyone I've talked to has asked for tips.