Everyone loves home efficiency, and there’s no shortage of ways out there you could spend money trying to improve on this – from expensive to cheap and glamorous to boring and everywhere in between. Assuming you live in a fairly standard American home (i.e. not one that was recently built with efficiency as a major priority), you should have plenty of low-hanging efficiency fruit to pick.
The following is a list of five high-value ways to improve your home’s efficiency, as suggested by Benjamin Meredith, owner of the Harrisonburg/Rockingham County home inspection and energy auditing company, Building Knowledge. Because every house is a little different, these are in no particular order. Regardless, all of these, Meredith says, are ways to realize significant energy savings at a relatively low cost.
- Add more insulation to your attic. In Harrisonburg’s climate, you can add up to a foot and a half of insulation in the attic without starting to see a diminishing return on cost. Insulation in the attic keeps heated or cooled from escaping out through your ceiling, and most local homes, Meredith says, only have about four to eight inches of it. If this is the case with your attic, doubling that amount will be well worth it.
- Seal all holes and gaps in your house. Outside air gets into your home through any little crack that air can squeeze through – around doors, around windows, around light switches, around outlets. During a strong wind, sometimes you’ll be able to actually feel the air entering through spaces like these. If and when you find these, it’s a good idea to fill them, caulk them, plug them, or do whatever it takes to stop more air from coming in. When Meredith does home energy audits, he uses a “blower door” device to look for these kinds of holes. In the average home around here, the sum of the holes and gaps he’ll find amount to having an entire window just gaping open.
- Put up good drapes that reduce heat loss and gain. Windows are inherently inefficient, as you probably know if you’ve ever sat beside a big bay window on a cold winter day. High-quality drapes, like the honeycombed kind that have air pockets built into them, provide some extra insulation and reduce the discomfort factor of being close to a window on a very hot or very cold day. Comfort and efficiency, Meredith notes, are two sides of the same coin. If you’re uncomfortable, you’re going to be asking more of your climate control system, and dragging down your home’s efficiency.
- Get your heating and cooling units serviced regularly and have your ducts sealed. Heating and air-conditioning consume more than half the energy used in an average home, making HVAC the most important single system you’ll want to have operating efficiently. Regular servicing keeps the units ship-shape (lots more detail here in a previous LiveHB.com post), and sealing ducts keeps you from losing huge amounts of conditioned air before it ever gets to the living space where it counts (also lots more here in another LiveHB.com post).
- Get a home energy audit. A home energy auditor will use fancy equipment like thermal imaging devices and blower doors to find specific efficiency issues and custom-design an individual improvement plan for your home. A thorough audit, Meredith says, should cost somewhere around $300.
And the Not-So-Smart Efficiency Tip...
A final tip from Meredith: there’s not a whole lot you can do to improve the efficiency of a pane of glass. An old single-pane window with exterior storm windows will have an R-value of about 1. Spending $5,000 or more to replace all your windows with double-paned, more-efficient windows, Meredith says, will boost that R-value up to about 2, which isn’t much of an improvement and probably won’t pay for itself in energy savings for decades. If your windows don’t open easily anymore, or you want new ones that you can tilt in to clean, or you have some other reason to be changing them out, go ahead and get more efficient ones, he says. But the idea that you’ll save money simply by upgrading your windows, Meredith says, “is a fallacy.”