House heating and cooling makes up around 43% of the total energy used every year by households, according to the 2008 report from the U.S. Department of Energy. How much energy is consumed depends on the size of the house and the number of people living in, but improvements in the energy efficiency of a building are always an option when you want to relieve some of the financial strain and stress over your monthly energy bill.
Good news is that boosting your home’s energy efficiency can be achieved simply by adopting a few new daily habits. Or if you are willing to take things to the next level and have money to invest, you can start by making structural changes to your house, such as buying new windows or investing into the right appliances.
It doesn’t matter which option you choose and how much money you spend, any of our 10 tips on how to improve energy efficiency at home will help reduce your home’s energy consumption. Let’s have a look at them.
Tips to boosting energy efficiency
1. Air sealing
By ensuring that your home is properly sealed from drafts, you are reducing the amount of heated or cooled air that is lost, thereby reducing the overall energy you need for your home. The most common places where a house needs to be checked are in the attic because warm air rises up and is more likely to escape through cracks under the roof; spots where the walls meet the floors; the entrance; and the openings around wires or plumbing.
Make sure you check for small holes on the walls and ceiling even if they are insulated. Holes are easy to recognize either by the presence of frost or water, or any discoloration of the wall. Other places where your heat might be disappearing are fireplace dampers or air conditioner outlets.
One simple and inexpensive way to help make your home more energy efficient is to install electrical outlet and light switch foam gaskets to stop drafts.
Insulation serves as a thermal barrier between the inside and outside of your home. This ultimately reduces the amount of energy that heating and cooling systems require in order to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature. For the most efficient results, ensure that your home is properly air sealed prior to installing new or additional insulation.
When deciding on the insulation material, it is worth doing some research or hiring a specialized company, because no material will function properly if not installed correctly. Some of the green insulation materials are brown cellulose, sheep wool, cotton or even recycled plastic. They are non-toxic, have good insulating properties and even come with extra bonuses.
For example, sheep wool is noncombustible, which might reduce the risk of your house catching on fire. Cotton is a slightly more expensive alternative, but it is long-lasting and offers stronger protection from noise. And what is so good about recycled plastic? Well, the fact that it re-purposes plastic waste to insulate our houses sounds good enough, doesn’t it ?
This is probably not much of a surprise for those who live in colder regions, but lot of heat escapes also through the floors. Carpets and rugs help trap heat and prevent some heat losses, but what helps the best is investing in flooring that preserves the warmth. For centuries, a great favorite has been wood, although, nowadays the market offers many sustainable alternatives, such as bamboo. Bamboo has a faster growth rate compared to wood, which makes this material readily available while not ravaging endangered forests.
3. Doors and windows
Doors and windows are often a place where we can lose a great deal of energy. The cheapest solution is to buy stick-on insulation stripes and apply them along the frames. For the door bottoms you can use door sweeps to minimize the gap between the door and the floor.
Thick curtains also make a difference when it comes to heat exchange between the outside and inside of your home. Curtains provide an extra insulating layer and make a great home décor.
If your windows are old and severely damaged, it may be better to buy new ones. Replacing these parts of your home’s envelope can go a long way to reducing wasted energy. When looking for a suitable option, try to invest in double-glazed windows, as their insulation capacity is higher.
Many companies specialize in good quality windows, but the best is to look for a company with Energy Star certification. Energy Star windows save on average 12% of the total energy costs , making your investment worth in the long-run.
4. Duct sealing and insulation
If the ducts in your home are located within a crawl space or an attic, leaks can lead to a waste of energy, as well as condensation when the heated air comes in contact with a cool roof deck or crawl space.
Mastic is an inexpensive paste that can be applied with a brush to the joints and connects of your ducts, where air leaks commonly occur.
5. Water heaters
120℉ (49℃) is typically the most efficient setting for a water heater. Temperatures warmer than that can unnecessarily waste energy and money, as well as potentially lead to scalds from overheated water. You can check your water heater settings, but for some water heater models, you may need to use a thermometer dipped into the water in the tank to determine the temperature.
Insulated water pipes also save energy because they will not cool down too quickly between uses. You can insulate water pipes easily yourself using inexpensive pipe wrap tape or foam pipe insulation. A water heater tank wrap can also be used, but for some models, using such tank wrap may void the warranty. Be sure to check your owner’s manual to determine if this is the case for your water heater.
Also consider purchasing a more energy efficient water heater if you are in the market for a replacement. Newer models come with higher efficiency and often have even special energy saving settings, such as time control to set “on” and “off” periods of the day.
6. Saving Water
While it may not seem obvious at first, saving water in our homes also saves energy. It takes energy to heat your water as well as to pump the water. The installation of low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators, and low-flush and dual flush toilets can be good ways to save water in your home. If you really want to save water and energy in this department, composting toilets may be a good option for you.
If you are still using incandescent light bulbs, consider opting for compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or the light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs whenever you need to replace them. These bulbs typically last longer than traditional incandescent light bulbs, and are much more energy efficient.
CFLs need only 25% of electricity to generate the same amount of light as 100-watt incandescent lightbulb, and last approximately 10 times longer. LED is the most energy efficient solution. Energy Star LED bulbs can last up to 50 times longer and use also around only 25% or electricity compared to incandescent bulbs .
This makes investing in these bulbs worth it, and requires minimum effort from your side, except for reaching for the alternative light bulb in the store.
After heating and cooling our homes, household appliances are major users of energy, consuming approximately 20% of the total energy in households . The highest demand comes from refrigerators and freezers, washing machines, and dishwashers. You can reduce the amount of energy a fridge needs by placing it separately from the cooker, dishwasher or any heat producing unit. Also, make sure it isn’t exposed to direct sunlight and keep the door open only for the necessary time. Clean and undamaged door insulation makes temperature maintenance inside the fridge better as well.
To achieve the highest efficiency, run your washing machine or dishwasher only when full. This way you actually use less energy and water than if you would wash dishes or do laundry by hand or when the appliances are only half-full.
When you are in the market for a replacement, look for an energy efficient model. The U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency created a Energy Star Program to help customers choose from a variety of energy saving electronic devices.
In any case, and regardless whether you are buying Energy Star appliances or just a regular product, always make sure you use appliances in accordance to their specified load. Constant overloading also compromises their energy efficiency.
9. Eliminating Phantom Loads
Our household appliances and electronics use electricity even when they are not in use. Coffee machines, microwaves, chargers or computers consume power for as long as they are plugged. Do not forget to turn off your computer when not using it, and if you want to save more money, buy a laptop rather than desktop PC because it needs less energy overall. Unplug all electronics when leaving for vacation or a long weekend.
To find out which of your appliances may be drawing this phantom power when they have been turned off, inexpensive meters for home use are available on the market. Power strips can also help with this problem, as you can switch off the power to those appliances that are plugged into the strip, eliminating any residual draw of electricity.
10. Planting trees
You might be thinking that this point is just another general statement about trees sequestering carbon and therefore offsetting our greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector. But actually, trees boost the energy efficiency of your house because they provide shade, slow down wind and regulate temperature in their surroundings.
Just one tree planted on the west side and one on the south side of your home can reduce your annual costs on air conditioning by up to 18% and heating costs by 8% . Besides, people living around trees are happier and healthier. Isn’t this a wonderful solution available to everyone?
Energy efficiency is not just some unrealistic and costly suggestion for modern houses. Everyone has the power to make some of these simple changes in their homes, regardless whether you are just renting a studio or owning a large villa. The beauty of the concept is the fact that by saving on energy, you not only saving money but also taking a huge step in helping reduce environmental problems, such as pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and land degradation, all of which are caused by our dependency on fossil fuels.
So, don’t forget to turn off that computer when you have finished reading this article!