Ten Steps to Home Energy Efficiency
Saving energy, improving comfort, and reducing energy bills are all things any homeowner should want to do. Home Energy Efficiency improvements shouldn’t be hard. There are steps you can take to improve the systems and features of your home that will incrementally result in energy efficiency gains. At Scott Home Inspection, we know homes and we know what steps you can take to meet your home energy efficiency goals. Evaluate your home using the following 10 step outline, or ask us for help and we can come in and help you identify the top priority improvement items.
Unless your home was built in the last few years and was built to today’s building codes, it likely could benefit from adding insulation in certain areas. The number one place to look is in the attic. We lose a lot of heat through the ‘lid’ of the home if not insulated well enough. In Colorado, the recommended level of insulation is R-49 or more. If you have fiberglass or cellulose insulation present, that is in the range of 16-18″ of insulation. If you have an older home, say built prior to the 70s, the wall insulation may be insufficient. You can look past the edge of an electrical outlet with the cover removed (be careful!) to see if insulation is present. There are processes today to ‘drill-and-fill’ insulation in the walls of the home. The same can be done for the ceiling of a garage where rooms are located over the garage. Lastly check your basement or crawlspace for proper insulation. In the same way we lose heat out the lid, we bring in the cold in our basement and crawlspace. If the perimeter surrounding these areas is not insulated, consider having more added. Insulation is the blanket or jacket of your home – if not enough is present, your house will be cold. Work with an insulating contractor to add insulation where needed.
Think of your house as a balloon; in winter we blow warm air into our ‘balloon’ and our hope is that the warm air stays inside and the cold stays outside. Leaks in your balloon, or your thermal-envelope as we like to say in the energy industry, causes the loss of that nice warm air to outside. You can have a really well insulated house, but if you have unwanted leaks throughout the home, you will still be losing heat in winter, and allowing outside hot air into the home in summer. The trick is to find and plug the leaks. Energy efficiency specialists can come out to your home and perform a test for air leakage. Testing is done using a device called a ‘blower-door’ which, like it sounds, blows some air out the door of your home in a controlled way, then forces air in through leaks. This controlled process allows an auditor to then use an infra-red camera to go around the home and find those nasty leaks. Once you have defined the leakage paths present, you can work to seal them up, caulk them, etc to eliminate unwanted heat loss or heat gain.
Upgrade Windows and Doors
Ok, so you have insulated your home where possible and you’ve sealed up unwanted leaks. The next piece of your ‘thermal-envelope’ you want to evaluate is the adequacy of your windows and doors. If your home is older and the windows have never been upgraded, they may represent a significant portion of your energy loss. Old doors that don’t seal well or are not insulated can also be a problem. While even the best window to the outside is an inherent weakness in the insulated layer of the home, you can replace old windows with new super energy-efficient models. We don’t recommend replacing windows without first addressing insulation and leakage, since those items represent substantially better efficiency gains. But once completed, take a close look at your windows. If they are double pane and somewhat newer, you may be able to avoid full window replacement by making sure they close and seal well, repair any non-working latches, and then install energy efficient shades or blinds. But if you have older single pane units – definitely time to think about an upgrade.
Heating and Cooling Equipment Upgrade
Addressing thermal-envelope issues is definitely top priority, but once completed it may be time to look at your heating and cooling equipment efficiency. If you are considering an upgrade, or if you are faced with replacing equipment due to a breakdown, take a little time to research and understand your options. Today you can purchase very high-efficient equipment that doesn’t cost that much more, but will consume a considerable amount less energy. There are forced air furnaces you can purchase that are 92-98% efficient today! That means for the energy used, nearly all of it is converted to heat for the home versus lost out the flue-pipe. Who wouldn’t want that! You may also be able to purchase a smaller sized unit since you have insulated, air-sealed and improved your window performance in the meantime!
If you have a forced-air heating or cooling system, the ducts that run from your system to each room or area need to be sealed well. Gaps can exist allowing heat or cooling to be lost and not delivered to the desired room. Some of that heat or cooling loss may just make its way back into the home, but could also be lost into crawlspaces, wall cavities or outside! Seams and joints can be sealed with the proper tape or with a goop called ‘mastic’ that hardens and creates a tight seal. Testing can also be done to measure your duct leakage to determine if this is a problem or not. Many heating contractors can perform duct-sealing for you, to make sure that air gets to where it is supposed to!
Replace Your Old Water Heater
So maybe ol’ Bessie down in the basement is still chugging along keeping the faucets hot, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t costing you a ton just to create that hot water. Or switching on and off throughout the day to keep the water hot, just in case you might need it at any time. We’ve come a long way since we invented the storage tank water heater. Lots of options exist including tankless, on-demand units, solar hot water systems, and yes even super high efficient tank units. Do some research and know your options. Don’t wait for ol’ Bessie to fail and in your moment of weakness you stick another low-efficiency tank in its place, since you weren’t sure what do to. Look into options and talk with a plumber who is up on the latest and greatest. Heck, maybe even retire your old unit before it decides to imitate old-faithful and dump 50 gallons of water on on your new wood floors.
Improve Lighting Efficiency
I know what you’re thinking – “you’re not gonna tell me to use those curly-Q light bulbs, are you, ’cause I hate those”. No, I’m not (sorta). But, if you haven’t stopped by your local home improvement store and stood in the light-bulb section and said to yourself ‘wow light-bulbs have changed’, then maybe you should. Because light-bulbs have changed. Today you have great options (and no excuses) to install super energy efficient bulbs in all of your fixtures, saving yourself a ton of money on lighting. LED technology has improved considerably and costs have come way down, making LED bulbs the best option. They can be dimmed and come in different color temps, so you are hard pressed to tell the difference between and LED and incandescent bulb. And, yes, CFL curly-Q bulbs have also improved considerably, so if you haven’t tried a new one give it a shot. What do you have to lose? Besides lots of energy…
Replace Old Appliances
Do you really need that old beer-fridge in the garage? Or joking-aside, have you been putting off upgrading your refrigerator or your washing machine? These are the two biggest energy using appliances, and where technology has made tremendous improvement. If your refrigerator is older it is likely consuming more than 3 times what a modern unit will consume. And front loading washing machines consume much less energy and water (and are much quieter!). Budget some funds to update your units and save more energy (and look cool too).
Improve Summer Shade
The best way to keep your house from over-heating in summer, once you have completed the insulation and air-sealing efforts, is to block that solar heat from hitting your house to begin with. Plant some fast-growing shade trees around your home where you can. Add shades and awnings to large south or west facing picture windows or sliding glass doors. Look into honey-comb blinds and solar shades to install on the inside of your windows. If you are replacing your roof material, look into installing a radiant barrier under the roofing material, or consider the roof color and more reflective material choices. Keeping that heat out will help to reduce the load on your cooling system and make your home more comfortable and keep that cooling bill down.
Once you have the major energy efficiency improvements completed on your home, look into the options for generating your own energy. A Photo-Voltaic (PV) Solar system can be installed on your home that will generate electricity when the sun is shining on the panels. The sun’s energy is converted into electricity which is then connected to your electric panel, working in concert with your electric utility system, to help power your home. If allowed by your utility company, a PV solar system like this can spin your meter backwards during the day when you are over-producing electricity, reducing your electric usage and your bill. There are also solar hot-water systems called solar-thermal systems, that use the sun’s energy to heat hot water, reducing the energy use of your standard water-heater. Geo-thermal systems can be installed to use the stable temperature of the earth’s soil to generate heat and cooling in a home, and while they have an increased installation cost, long-term energy use can be substantially lower than traditional heating and cooling system operating costs. Seek out a local supplier of solar or geo-thermal systems to get an idea of operating costs and whether your home is a good candidate for these new technologies.
That’s my Top-10 List of Home Energy Efficiency upgrades to consider. Whether your goals are improving comfort, reducing bills, saving energy or all the above, this list of actions can help you to identify the concerns present in your home and create your own custom action list of improvements and upgrades. At Scott Home Inspection, we love this stuff. Hire us to perform a full Energy Audit on your home. We’ll include a blower door test and infra-red scans with a full Energy Audit. If you a purchasing a home, consider adding our Energy-Check service to your pre-purchase home inspection. Check out our Energy Services page on our site for more info. Also take a look at our Ask-Your-Inspector page and shoot us over any specific questions you have on your home. We’d love to help!