Increase your home’s energy efficiency by addressing these areas

Your home is your castle, but if that castle is drafty and inefficient, your energy usage could be much more than you thought — not to mention the extra money you are wasting trying to heat and cool your living space.

Increasing the energy efficiency of your home, so that it is not consuming more gas or electricity than it needs to, can also help reduce negative impacts on the environment.

“Almost every home (unless it is newer and built to be high-performance) could be more efficient and benefit from an energy audit and energy-efficient upgrades,” said Elizabeth Sanfelippo, energy consultant, HERS Rater, LEED Green Associate, BPI Certified Infiltration and Duct Leakage Professional, and vice president of Operations for Eco Three.

Eco Three is a group of energy efficiency experts located in Alabama. The company’s experts help make homes more energy-efficient and safer through energy audits, energy-efficient upgrades, consulting, duct and envelope testing, HERS Ratings, and energy code compliance for new construction.

“We’ve evaluated thousands of homes from less than a month old to over 100-years-old, and we have yet to find one that couldn’t use some help to be more energy-efficient and better performing,” said Sanfelippo.

Elizabeth Sanfelippo, energy consultant and vice president of operation for Eco Three, runs a blower door test, which measures the airtightness of buildings. Photo courtesy of Eco Three.

People contact Eco Three for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they are uncomfortable in their house, they are wasting energy, paying too much trying to heat and cool their house, and are using more natural resources than they would in a house that was upgraded, she said.

“The things that we focus on are geared towards energy efficiency and lessening our client’s carbon footprint,” said David Wilkerson, lead energy evaluator and BPI Certified Infiltration and Duct Leakage professional at Eco Three. “The upgrades we make, lower energy bills, which means less energy consumption.”

“We plan changes with the client based on their budget and their potential payback,” said Sanfelippo. “And, not all changes have to be made at once — we work with people within their means to get their house from whatever state it’s into a more comfortable, efficient, and sustainable state.”

She said that while the company comes at these changes from a whole home, house as a system weatherization standpoint, there are things that people can begin doing on their own to make incremental differences.

And, “the more people that make those small steps, the better we all are in terms of working towards a more sustainable existence,” said Sanfelippo.

Here a few steps you can take towards making your home a more sustainable, energy-efficient dwelling.

Look for gaps. Check your thresholds for gaps, she said. For example, if you have a big gap under your front door, you are losing energy. If you do notice a gap, check to see if the bottom piece that goes on your door is adjustable. If it’s not, consider adding a door sweep or shoe which has rubber flaps or fins to close that gap to reduce drafts, said Sanfelippo. The same goes for weather stripping on the bottom of windows so that they close more tightly, she added.

Utilize those blinds and curtains. Open your blinds and curtains during the day to let sunlight in to help with heating in the cooler months, and then close them at night to help keep some of the heat that is generated inside your conditioned space, Sanfelippo said. In the warmer months, close your blinds and curtains during the day to reduce heat load.

Have your HVAC checked regularly. Here, Eco Three, shows a before and after of a trunk line (part of a duct system) repair. Photos courtesy of Eco Three.

Stay up-to-date with HVAC. Have your HVAC system cleaned and serviced at least once a year, and make sure the filters inside your home are clean so that your system doesn’t have to work harder than necessary, she said. These checks are the equivalent of getting an oil change for your car — you wouldn’t drive your car indefinitely and never have it checked out or the oil changed, said Sanfelippo.

Think before you cut. Consider the shading that trees and bushes around your home may have before you start cutting them down, she said. “In Alabama, we have incredibly hot summers, and you wouldn’t believe the number of people that give us a call after they’ve cut down three or four trees around their house and all of a sudden the upstairs portion of their house is much, much hotter than the previous summer,” said Wilkerson. “Reducing the shade that you have can have a pretty big impact on your heating and cooling performance, especially the cooling performance in the summer months.”

Replace with LEDs and ENERGY STAR. As your old lightbulbs burn out, replace them with LEDs, said Sanfelippo. Keep an open mind with LEDs, she added. They have come a long way, especially in the last few years in terms of color, temperature, and price. Also, if any of your appliances are older than 10 years, then you may want to consider budgeting to replace them with ENERGY STAR appliances, she said.

Get a home energy audit. If you are unsure about where to start in your home or even what kinds of changes need to be made to increase its energy efficiency, Sanfelippo suggests getting a home energy audit or evaluation. A professional in this field looks at your home as a system from a building science perspective and can evaluate your home (based on your budget, needs, and goals) to help put together a customized scope and then work with you to address some of the issues that are better left to a professional vs. what an individual homeowner can do, she said. “Here, at Eco Three, our business model is cost-effective, minimally invasive upgrades on older homes,” said Wilkerson. “You can spend quite a bit of time and money improving the performance of a structure, but the best first step is that energy audit or evaluation so that you can get some trusted advice and recommendations.” Two good certification bodies to locate certified professionals are Building Performance Institute, Inc., and Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET).

Know that renters can make changes, too. Some of the obvious things are turning the light off when you leave the room, and setting your thermostat higher in the summer and lower in the winter to help reduce the amount of usage your HVAC system is putting out, said Wilkerson. But, a programmable thermostat isn’t a huge investment, and some landlords may allow you to do that, he said.  A programmable thermostat allows you to automate your home’s temperature so that when you are not home, you are not heating and cooling your house as much, said Sanfelippo. You can also ask your landlord to have the HVAC system serviced at least annually, and make sure you are checking those air filters if you don’t have a regular maintenance person that takes care of that for you. You can continue to reduce energy usage by using the “eco” option on your washer or dishwasher and not using the heated dry option. Also, set your water heater to 120 degrees, said Wilkerson.

Free resources

A lot of utility companies offer free, basic energy evaluations, or even energy efficiency kits. Your state may also offer weatherization assistance programs. A few examples of these include the resources below.

East coast

  • If you live in a Duke Energy location (Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, or South Carolina), you can get a free Home Energy Assessment, which looks at your home’s insulation, ductwork, etc., and includes a detailed report highlighting ways your home could be more energy efficient and free energy-saving products.

Midwest

  • MidAmerican Energy Company offers its customers in Iowa a free HomeCheck Online assessment, which analyzes the effects of home energy use based on lifestyle and habits, provides information on what uses the most energy in the home and includes personalized tips to reduce energy use. Iowa residential customers who complete an assessment may be eligible for a free energy efficiency kit, which contains: ENERGY STAR certified LED bulbs, an advanced power strip, a low-flow showerhead, and a bathroom faucet aerator.
  • Indianapolis Power & Light Company offers access to a free eScore Home Energy Assessment, which provides IPL residential customers with an in-home energy assessment and a free energy savings kit.

Rocky Mountains

  • The Energy Resource Center offers free energy efficiency evaluations and upgrades to income-qualified residents of Alamosa, Boulder, Broomfield, Cheyenne, Conejos, Costilla, Denver, Douglas, El Paso, Elbert, Fremont, Gilpin, Jefferson, Kit Carson, Larimer, Lincoln, Mineral, Rio Grande, Saguache, Teller, and Weld counties, Colo.

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