As energy prices continue rising, homeowners are seeking solutions to increase their home’s energy efficiency. Improving your home’s energy efficiency not only helps the environment but also saves you money on your utility bills.
This comprehensive guide provides tips and strategies to reduce your home’s energy use and make it more sustainable.
- 1. Conduct an Energy Audit
- 2. Seal Air Leaks
- 3. Increase Insulation
- 4. Upgrade Windows
- 5. Improve Heating and Cooling Systems
- 6. Improve Water Heating Efficiency
- 7. Seal Ductwork
- 8. Upgrade Lighting
- 9. Improve Laundry Efficiency
- 10. Upgrade Appliances
- 11. Install Smart Thermostats
- 12. Upgrade Home Electronics
- 13. Consider Renewable Energy
- 14. Use an Efficient Pool Pump and Heater
- Final Thoughts
1. Conduct an Energy Audit
Performing an energy audit is the initial step in making a home more energy-efficient. This will identify areas where your home is losing energy and provide insights on the best ways to improve efficiency.
You can hire a professional energy auditor to thoroughly inspect your home’s insulation, air leaks, heating and cooling systems, appliances, lighting, and more. They will use advanced tools like blower doors, thermal imaging cameras, etc. to detect issues.
If hiring a pro is not in your budget, you can conduct a simple do-it-yourself audit. Turn off all appliances, lights, and electronics in your home. Check your utility meter to get a baseline reading of energy use when everything is switched off.
Then go around your home, turning on lights and appliances to identify the biggest energy drains. Inspect windows, doors, outlets, and ducts for drafts using incense sticks or your hand to detect air leaks.
Examine the insulation levels in your attic, basement, and walls. Assess the age and condition of heating/cooling equipment, large appliances, and electronics. These simple tests will give you an idea of where you can make the most impactful efficiency improvements.
2. Seal Air Leaks
One of the biggest ways warm air escapes from your home in winter and cool air in summer is through small cracks and openings. Use caulk and weatherstripping to seal leaks around windows, doors, electrical outlets, and attic hatches.
Applying spray foam insulation in larger gaps can also help stop infiltration. Reducing air leaks could save 10-20% on heating and cooling costs while also improving your home’s comfort.
Pay special attention to areas where different building materials meet, such as corners of walls, foundations, joints around windows and door frames, etc.
These are common places for air gaps to show up. Proper sealing will lead to better energy efficiency and prevent the loss of heated or cooled air.
3. Increase Insulation
Proper insulation acts as a barrier to stop conditioned air from escaping and unwanted outside air from entering your home. It also absorves and blocks heat transfer through surfaces like walls, floors, and ceilings.
Adding insulation to your attic is often the most cost-effective way to improve energy efficiency. Aim for an insulation R-value of R-38 or higher in your attic. Topping up wall insulation to R-13 and floor insulation to R-19 can also help realize savings.
Read the U.S. Department of Energy’s insulation guidelines for your climate zone.
When installing new insulation, ensure proper alignment with existing insulation to avoid gaps. Seal edges with caulk or foam for maximum efficiency. The higher the R-value, the better the insulation’s performance.
4. Upgrade Windows
Windows can be a major source of heat transfer in homes. During winter, heat escapes through poorly insulated windows and cold air infiltrates through gaps and cracks. In summer, heat and sunlight enter through windows making your air conditioner work overtime.
Replacing old inefficient windows with new double or triple-pane Energy Star-certified windows can cut heating and cooling costs by 12%. Look for whole window U-factors of 0.27 or lower and SHGC coefficient under 0.30 to maximize energy savings in hot climates. Low-E coatings on glass further reduce heat transfer through windows.
If window replacement is not possible, add storm windows over existing ones to improve efficiency at a lower cost. Sealing window air leaks with caulk and weatherstripping also helps. Proper window treatments like insulated curtains and shutters provide additional insulation.
5. Improve Heating and Cooling Systems
Heating and cooling systems account for over 40% of a home’s energy use. An inefficient system results in higher utility bills and uncomfortable indoor temperatures.
Replace old heating and cooling equipment with Energy Star-certified heat pumps, furnaces, boilers, and central air conditioners that are at least 15% more efficient. Properly sizing the system for your home’s heating/cooling needs helps improve performance.
Schedule maintenance like tune-ups and cleaning before each season to keep HVAC equipment running efficiently. Change filters once a month. Clear debris from outdoor condenser units. Fix refrigerant leaks promptly. All these basic maintenance tasks improve operation and extend the system’s lifespan.
Installing a programmable thermostat optimizes heating and cooling by adjusting temperatures when you are asleep or away. Turning down the thermostat at just 7-10°F for 8 hours a day can save 5-15% on bills. Setting the temperature higher in summer has an even greater impact.
6. Improve Water Heating Efficiency
After heating/cooling, water heating is the second biggest user of energy in homes. Take the following steps to obtain hot water while using less energy:
- Insulate hot water storage tanks to reduce standby heat loss. Follow manufacturer guidelines, but aim for at least R-24 insulation.
- Install heat traps on hot and cold pipes to prevent convection before entering the tank.
- Set the water heater temperature to 120°F to avoid scalding and reduce heat loss.
- Install Energy Star certified heat pump or tankless on-demand water heaters that use up to 50% less energy.
- Drain 1-2 gallons from the bottom of the tank annually to remove sediment that impairs heat transfer and lowers efficiency.
- Install low-flow showerheads and faucets to reduce hot water usage. Take shorter showers to save water heating energy.
- Fix any leaky faucets promptly, as they can waste hundreds of gallons of hot water over time.
7. Seal Ductwork
If you have a forced air heating/cooling system, sealing and insulating ductwork can optimize efficiency. Start by sealing ducts at vents, returns, and connections using mastic sealant or metal tape.
Then wrap all accessible ducts with duct insulation to prevent conditioned air loss. Avoid kinking flexible ducts, which obstruct airflow.
Straightening ducts where possible improve performance. Installation is quick and straightforward for a DIYer. Properly sealed ducts can remain efficiently leak-free for over 15 years.
8. Upgrade Lighting
Replacing old incandescent light bulbs with LED lighting can reduce lighting energy use by 80%. LED bulbs last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs, saving you the hassle of frequent replacements.
Also consider installing dimmable lights with motion sensors or timers in rooms like bathrooms, garages, and closets. These smart lighting controls reduce energy waste from lights left on.
Outdoor solar-powered lighting has also come a long way. Solar path lights, spotlights, and post lamps can elegantly illuminate gardens and pathways without any electrical usage during the night. Installing them is an easy DIY project.
9. Improve Laundry Efficiency
Doing laundry consumes a significant amount of energy and water in homes. You can improve the efficiency of clothes washing in the following ways:
- Only run full loads and use the appropriate water level setting. This saves electricity and water heating energy.
- Wash with cold water instead of hot water whenever practical. Skipping the hot water cycle reduces energy use by 80-90%.
- If you must use hot water, ensure the water heater temperature is set only to 120°F. This provides sufficient sanitize washing in most cases.
- When purchasing new washing machines, choose Energy Star-certified models with high-efficiency operation. Features like sensors match water used to load size.
- Clothes dryers require large amounts of electricity. Air dry laundered items on drying racks or clotheslines whenever possible to avoid dryer energy use.
- Make sure to regularly clean the dryer lint filter and vent duct to improve airflow and drying efficiency.
10. Upgrade Appliances
Today’s refrigerators, dishwashers, and other kitchen and laundry appliances are significantly more energy efficient than older models.
Replacing appliances over 10-15 years old with new Energy Star-certified units can create major savings on utility bills.
When shopping for new appliances, compare the yellow EnergyGuide label stating estimated yearly operating costs.
Units with the lowest energy use in their class have the Energy Star logo. Also, look for energy-saving features like sensors and insulation panels.
Proper appliance use also optimizes efficiency:
- Let hot foods cool before refrigerating. This lessens the burden on the fridge.
- Open refrigerator/freezer doors only long as needed. Frequent opening causes cool air loss.
- Use stove burners matched in size to cooking pans to maximize heat transfer.
- Enable dishwasher air-dry feature instead of heat-dry to reduce energy drain.
- Clean refrigerator coils every 6 months to improve operation and efficiency.
11. Install Smart Thermostats
Programmable thermostats have been around for decades, allowing homeowners to set different temperatures for certain times of day. The latest advancement is smart thermostats, which fine-tune heating and cooling usage based on home occupancy patterns and other variables.
Brands like Nest, Ecobee, and Honeywell make smart thermostats with WiFi connectivity, allowing you to control temperatures remotely via smartphone. They utilize built-in motion sensors to detect when you’re home and automatically change heating/cooling modes. Machine learning features identify your household’s schedule and temperature preferences for optimized heating and cooling.
Smart thermostats also work with other smart home devices. For instance, integrating with smart lights allows automated temperature adjustments when rooms are unoccupied to save energy.
Smart thermostats can cut heating costs by up to 12% and cooling costs by 15%. The schedule optimization and convenience of controlling temperatures remotely make them worth the $200 to $250 upgrade cost in most homes.
12. Upgrade Home Electronics
Many of us use computers, tablets, game consoles, and other electronics every day without realizing how much energy we consume when not in use. The weekly energy waste of leaving electronics constantly plugged in and on standby can be significant.
First, ensure you are using Energy Star-certified electronics, TVs, and home office equipment. Then get in the habit of unplugging items like phone chargers, gaming consoles, and laptops when not in use.
Smart power strips make it easy to completely cut off standby power drainage with the flip of a switch or by programming shutoff times. They even provide charging when needed.
At the end of electronics’ useful lives, ensure responsible recycling to prevent waste and avoid the impacts of manufacturing new items.
13. Consider Renewable Energy
Besides energy efficiency improvements, some homeowners choose to generate their own renewable electricity. Solar panels have dropped significantly in price, making adoption more financially viable.
If your roof receives full sunlight, rooftop solar panels may be an option to reduce grid electricity usage.
Before purchasing a solar system, check details like your roof’s orientation, panel wattage needs, electric bill savings, incentives or rebates, financing options, etc. Some key considerations are the long-term economics, system size, panel efficiency, panel warranties, and qualifications of the solar installer.
For homeowners not suited for solar panels, purchasing renewable energy credits (RECs) may be worthwhile. RECs fund clean energy projects and show investment in growing America’s renewable energy footprint.
Even if your home still uses fossil fuel power, RECs offset that usage through green electricity generation.
14. Use an Efficient Pool Pump and Heater
Maintaining your backyard swimming pool and using energy-efficient equipment is essential for reducing costs if you’re fortunate to have a pool:
- Upgrade to a variable-speed pool pump, which uses up to 70% less electricity than single-speed pumps. The DOE estimates $145 per year savings for variable speed pumps.
- Install a properly sized pool pump timer to limit operation to 6 hours or less per day. This prevents pumps from running longer than necessary.
- Maintain proper pool water chemical balances to preserve water heating efficiency according to manufacturer recommendations. Test pH and chlorine levels at least weekly.
- Use an insulating pool cover and possibly a solar cover to reduce water heating requirements. The less heat dissipation, the less energy needed for heating the pool.
- For gas heaters, ensure proper pipe sizing to run efficiently. Have a pool technician tune up your heater annually.
- Consider a heat pump pool heater that uses 50-80% less energy than gas heaters for significant cost savings. Heat pumps also double as a dehumidifier.
Overall, creating an energy-efficient home requires a whole-house approach. Tackling the problem from all angles ensures you maximize energy reductions and financial savings.
Consult a home energy specialist if you need help deciding on improvements specific to your home. With proper upgrades and efficient practices, you can reduce your utility bills and environmental impact.
I'm a licensed home maintenance contractor with over a decade of experience, dedicated to preserving your home's value. My expertise includes roofing, gutter installation and repair, fencing, pool maintenance, deck and patio construction, plumbing, appliance repair, lawn care, painting, garage doors, windows, sump pumps, and steam heating systems.