Money-Smart Steps to an Energy-Efficient Home
Renewable energy is growing in popularity and affordability to the point that businesses aren't the only ones that can take advantage of solar, wind, or geothermal energy. By investing in opportunities to reduce your carbon footprint, you can make your home more energy- and cost-efficient.
By taking these steps to go green you'll also keep some green in your bank account.
Start with a Home Energy Audit
To become more energy-efficient, you need to know where you are energy deficient. Getting a home energy audit will help you decide which projects to tackle first and which will have the most impact on your bottom line. You can conduct one yourself following U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) guidelines. Many local utilities also offer home energy assessments — some for free and some with offers for discounted products to increase energy efficiencies, such as programmable thermostats or low-flow showerheads.
Stop Air Leaks
Drafty windows and doors, and improperly insulated attics and crawl spaces make it harder to heat and cool your home. Fixing those leaks with new energy-efficient windows and better insulation slows the rate at which heat flows out of the house in the winter and into the house in the summer. This diagram from the Washington Post shows where your home leaks the most, and how to fix those leaks.
Replace HVAC Systems
Older heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems can cause you to waste energy heating and cooling your home, while newer furnaces can have an efficiency rating of 96 percent or higher. Depending on where you live, you may want to consider heat pumps, which may be more energy-efficient than electric furnaces.
Through a series of tubing 10 feet underground, geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) use the constant temperature of the earth instead of the outside air temperature to exchange heat. GHPs deliver more energy per unit than conventional HVAC systems, and some can even heat household water. Depending on which system you choose, the DOE estimates you may recoup your costs in two to 10 years.
Use Water Smarter
Traditional water heating systems (or boilers) drain precious natural resources and your wallet two ways. Older hot water tanks must first heat up the entire tank of water before it reaches you in the shower. This process forces you to waste water as well as energy while you wait for it to heat up.
By comparison, tankless or demand water heaters can be 8–34 percent more efficient than traditional boilers, depending on your hot water usage. A typical family can save $100 or more per year with an ENERGY STAR qualified tankless water heater, according to the DOE. Adding a solar water heating system can save you even more.
Get off the Grid
Residential solar panels and wind turbines can reduce your reliance on public utilities altogether. Both systems have a high upfront cost but pay for themselves in the long term with lower monthly energy bills. On a grid-connected system, you can even make money by selling back any excess you produce to your power provider. The federal government offers tax credits on the cost and installation of both solar energy panels and Energy Star-rated solar water heaters through December 2021. You'll want to conduct an energy load assessment before deciding which systems to install. The DOE has more on what you should consider when planning for home renewable energy systems.
Be sure to contact your financial advisor for affordable loan options to help you finance these home improvement projects, reducing the amount of energy you use and your monthly utility bills.