Improving Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

Finance, Home, Home & Family, Living Green
on June 18, 2009

Whenever Matt and Christa Demaree strolled through their rural neighborhood in Madison, Tenn., they would stop and admire a two-story Southern Colonial home. Built in 1974, the house had a wide, welcoming front porch, traditional white columns, and plenty of space-perfect for their growing family.

The couple purchased the home in 2006, and although they were thrilled with their new abode, a drawback, Matt says, was the house's age. "The house is solid, but it didn't have the more modern, energy-efficient features," he says.

With the help of an energy consultant, Matt, 37, and Christa, 36, listed improvements needed to make the more than 4,000-square-foot house more energy-efficient. At the top of the list: replacing the old, poorly sealed doors and 22 original windows, some of which were falling apart.

"They were double-pane, and on some, the seals were cracked, so we were getting fog in between the panes," he recalls.

In spring 2008 they added energy-efficient replacement windows with vinyl frames and multilayer, low-emissivity (low-E) coated glass. This summer, they plan to add foam insulation to the attic. Next on the list: sealing ductwork joints to prevent air leaks.

The investments are paying off, Matt says. Despite a 27 percent regional power-rate increase last year, the family's electric bill has held steady, and he credits the new windows for that. "We're still averaging about $300 a month, and sometimes less than that," he says.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance to Save Energy (ASE), efficient windows can lower your heating and cooling bill by as much as 30 percent. "Being more energy efficient is going to make your home more comfortable, as well as lower your carbon footprint," says Ronnie J. Kweller,  an ASE spokeswoman.

While new windows can be an expensive purchase, federal tax credits, lower prices, and contractors eager for business mean that now may be an opportune time to make such an investment in your home.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 offers federal income-tax credits through 2010 for homeowners making energy-efficiency improvements such as new windows and doors, roofing, heat pumps and insulation. The dollar-for-dollar tax credit is 30 percent of the qualifying project's cost, up to $1,500. But be aware that only certain products qualify for the credit.

Small changes = big savings
If your budget doesn't allow for big-ticket home improvements, it's still possible to make energy-saving changes. Smaller investments can add up to big savings. Here are some affordable ways to improve your home's energy efficiency:

  • Install a programmable thermostat. Kweller strongly encourages this $100-or-less investment. Set the thermostat for a moderate temperature when no one is at home, and program it for a more comfortable temperature for evenings and weekends. "You come home to a comfortable house, but you've saved that money all day and saved that pollution all day," she says.
  • Seal and weather-strip windows and doors. Apply a tension seal of self-stick vinyl inside window tracks and along the sides and tops of doors, reinforced foam at door or window stops, and tape around attic hatches. Install aluminum or stainless steel door sweeps.
  • Install low-flow showerheads and sink aerators to reduce hot water use. Saving water-hot and cold-saves energy, so install low-flow toilets, too. They use about 1 gallon of water per flush compared with the 5 to 7 gallons used by a conventional toilet.
  • Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs. "They last up to 10 times longer than a comparable incandescent bulb, and they only use a quarter to a third of the energy," Kweller says. These bulbs should be handled carefully and recycled, since they contain a small amount of mercury. Check with your local solid-waste disposal agency for recycling options near you.
  • Insulate the water heater with a specially designed wrap. A tank blanket should pay for itself in about a year.