If you’re interested in more sustainable living, lessening your impact on the environment, living a healthier, more cost-effective lifestyle and lowering your carbon footprint, you’re probably also wondering about how to make your home more energy efficient. You can learn a lot from an energy audit or even a regular home inspection, but before you get started with those, arm yourself with some knowledge on what you can improve on your own before involving others.
Whether you’re building a new home or just thinking about how to improve one you already have, there are plenty of important considerations as you take steps toward creating an energy efficient home. Even the size and shape of your home can affect its energy efficiency. For example, big rooms with high ceilings require more energy to heat and cool, while interiors with smaller rooms and lower ceilings take less energy to keep temperatures at desired levels.
So many aspects of a home’s design, construction, orientation, build and interior appliances, systems and devices will influence its energy efficiency. Energy-saving design and functionality is a subject worth studying and one that changes fast as new technology emerges. Millennials are the dominant group of new home buyers, and their demands for energy efficiency are being heard by builders. If you’d like to save money by using less energy, increase the resale value of your house, lower your cost of living and retain comfort and safety while being kinder to the planet, here are our ideas to help you reach the goal of an energy efficient home.
It’s not wrong to assume that about half (or more) of your home’s total energy consumption is due to your HVAC unit. Therefore, making sure that your system is efficient and installed correctly is very important for your overall energy footprint. You’ve probably noticed a jump in your utility bills at the height of winter when you’re using the most heat, which is a good argument for energy efficient space heating/heaters, but the opposite is true during peak summer heat, when your HVAC system is working overtime, and an energy efficient air conditioner is essential.
Choosing a highly efficient HVAC system can increase your home’s efficiency and lower its energy bills while keeping you comfortable during either peak season and in between. If you’re thinking of replacing your HVAC unit, it’s worth looking into the latest technologies like VRF, also known as variable refrigerant volume, and variable speed units, which are among the most efficient.
When you’re aiming for optimal energy efficiency, another huge consideration is insulation, which can even impact the size of the HVAC unit your home will require, so thinking of these in tandem, especially if you’re building a new home, could work to your advantage. Home insulation options can also vary widely. The minimum amount of insulation a home requires can depend on various factors, from local climate and the sort of HVAC system employed, to its location, local building codes and which parts of the home need to be insulated.
Most buyers today want a new home that exceeds the minimum and is even better insulated, resulting in higher efficiency ratings. One way to accomplish this is by installing continuous insulation, which straddles structures without thermal bridges, meaning it has less opportunity for leaks and lowers HVAC costs.
It may surprise you to learn that your home’s water heater is responsible for up to 20 percent of your home’s energy consumption, second only to your HVAC unit. Older models heat and store water in large quantities, and often all that water isn’t even used.
Tankless water heaters are an on-demand design, meaning water is only heated when you need it. They take up a lot less space, use a lot less energy and can significantly increase your home’s efficiency, though they are more expensive upfront.
One easy way to save energy throughout your home is to use LED light bulbs, which last up to 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs while using only 20 percent of the energy.
Whenever a bulb in your home goes out, get into the habit of replacing it with an LED bulb. They may be a little more expensive up front, but they pay for themselves many times over with their efficiency and longevity. These days, they’re available in just about any shape or size. To save even more energy, consider putting some of your lights on timers.
Today, many energy-efficient appliances are also considered smart appliances, meaning they can help automate your life while reducing your energy expenditures. A smart thermostat, which can be easily programmed to adapt to your heating and cooling routines and allows you to adjust your home’s HVAC system from a smartphone app, can help you increase energy efficiency.
A smart house today can involve everything from smart lighting to smart appliances, electronics, alarms and more. As we’ve entered a new era of smart home devices, our opportunities to increase efficiencies based on how we live is rapidly expanding.
Windows, doors and orientation
Good windows are a worthy investment, as you lose up to 30 percent of your home’s energy through them. Make sure they’re not single pane. Double- and triple-pane windows offer better resistance to cold and heat transfer than their single-pane counterparts.
For optimal efficiency, doors should fit well, and any air leaks around them should be minimized with weather stripping. If you’re building a new home, consider its orientation on the lot. With passive solar design, a new home is oriented onsite in a way that best takes advantage of solar energy. The direction doors and windows face can also impact energy efficiency. For example, rooms facing north and east tend to be cooler, so they’re better for kitchens. Rooms facing south and west get more direct sunlight, resulting in warmer interior temperatures and perhaps more need for blinds or drapes.
Airflow and moisture
Much of your home’s efficiency depends on maintaining airtight seals that keep your HVAC system from working too hard to heat or cool your home. Typical areas to watch for and prevent leakage include weatherstripping around windows and doors, HVAC ducts, attic doors, pipe penetrations in walls and outlet boxes on the exterior of your home.
More modern homes often incorporate energy recovery ventilation systems that condition fresh air and circulate it, removing potentially damaging moisture from the air. Moisture barriers can help prevent the accumulation of damp air within the walls of your home and impede the growth of mold.
The more sunlight your roof is able to reflect, the less heat it absorbs, so naturally a lighter color is a better choice for roofing materials. A cooler roof makes the work your HVAC system performs considerably easier, lowering your energy bill, extending your roof’s life and making your indoors more comfortable.
When houses and buildings in a city have cool roofs, power demand and energy expenditures drop, so why not let cooler roofs prevail? Tile, clay or slate are good roofing choices with reflective capabilities. If you have a flat roof, go green! What a great spot for excellent access to sunlight and rain, perfect for growing extra plants and vegetables with fewer uninvited guests like groundhogs or rabbits who might otherwise eat up your efforts.
Alternative energy sources like solar and wind, while still slow to catch on in residential areas, can lower your energy costs and increase the value of your home. Solar panels, windmills or even hybrid systems that take advantage of both are available.
Determined to live off-grid, some homeowners prioritize renewable energy sources, using everything from solar panels and windmills to microhydro power systems to significantly drop, if not eliminate entirely, their energy bills. As a first step, look into what’s legal for use within your community.
By and large, new home buyers want their appliances to be Energy Star certified by the EPA to be energy efficient without demonstrating a reduction in performance. Appliances with a large demand for energy, like refrigerators, washers, dryers, dishwashers and ovens, are going to make the biggest impact on your energy bill, so you want to be sure that each of these is Energy Star certified. These days, even homes themselves can be Energy Star certified. These homes are built with energy efficiency as a priority from the outset and are typically about 20 percent more efficient than the average new home.
Sustainable building materials typically last longer, require less frequent maintenance or replacement and lower your carbon footprint. They usually consist of at least 40 percent recycled material and are great choices for added efficiencies in your home’s insulation and within its foundation.
High thermal mass materials are excellent at absorbing and retaining heat energy, which slows down temperature changes and gives your HVAC unit a break. Other environmentally friendly building materials include recycled steel, vacuum-insulated panels and wood alternatives.
Home Energy Score
Developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Home Energy Score evaluates a home’s heating, cooling and water-heating systems and structure for a score reflecting its overall efficiency, accompanied by recommendations on how it could improve.
Before you start making significant changes in your existing home or finalizing your plans for a new build, you may want to have an audit performed by an energy auditor and review all your potential improvements here. Your score, should you plan to build a new home or remodel an existing one, is based on a “whole systems approach” that includes:
- Occupant behavior
- Site conditions
- Appliances and electronics
- Insulation and air sealing
- Lighting, heating and cooling
- Water heating
- Windows, doors and skylights
Read more here about the benefits of energy star appliances and the rise of smart homes. Consider whether smart appliances are the right choice for you, as you work out how to cut energy costs at home. There’s plenty more where these came from. Thanks for stopping by!
The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.