5 Steps to Home Energy Savings

Dec 14, 2011 by

by Tim Snyder

“I’m tired of paying high utility bills every month. I know my house could be more energy efficient, but I’m confused about what to do first. Will a solar energy system solve my problems? Do I need a new furnace? Maybe new windows are the answer. I can’t afford do it all; that’s for sure, and I don’t know where to begin.”

Making a house more energy efficient is a common objective and a good one, too. Who can dispute the value of spending less on utilities so you can spend more on other stuff? But it’s not easy to figure out what to do first. Contractors who sell replacement windows want to convince you that this is the first energy-saving upgrade to make. The HVAC contractor is certain that a new air conditioning system will net some major savings. Or maybe the plumber has it right, blaming high utility bills on an outdated water heater.

The reality is that improving home energy performance is complicated. A house is a complex collection of different components and systems that interact in different ways. But don’t get discouraged about all the factors, decisions and dollars involved in energy-efficient upgrades.
Believe it or not, there is a logical sequence to follow if you want to improve home energy performance. It’s worth paying attention to these priorities, because making upgrades in the wrong order often causes problems. It can waste money and diminish the savings you’re trying to achieve. For best results, you’ll want to follow the 5 steps explained below.

Step 1: Learn how your house uses & loses energy.

You’ll find plenty of useful information about energy efficiency right here at Dr. Energy Saver. And you can find out even more by contacting the Dr. Energy Saver franchise in your area. One of the things you’ll learn is that every house (and every homeowner) deserves an energy audit — a complete, top-to-bottom look at the systems, features and conditions in and around your house that affect energy performance.

A home energy audit performed by Dr. Energy Saver technicians from a Dr. Energy Saver franchise, like Dr. Energy Saver Watertown, NY,  is more thorough than the audits performed by other companies or agencies. You’ll not only get a detailed “report card” that grades your home in 10 distinct areas of energy performance; you’ll also get a prioritized list of recommendations to improve energy performance.

Step 2: Make building envelope improvements first.

“Building envelope” is a term used by building scientists to describe the shell of a building that surrounds the “conditioned” living space. The condition of the building envelope — how airtight and how well-insulated it is — has a huge impact on home energy performance. Most houses have too many air leaks and too little insulation. As a result, air that you’ve paid to heat or cool can leak out, while unconditioned air leaks in from the exterior. Air-sealing and additional insulation are building envelope improvements that will minimize energy losses and improve interior comfort.

Step 3: Repair & adjust existing systems.

This step can include a wide range of improvements. If your house has a ductwork system, it’s important to seal leaky ducts so that your forced-air heating and cooling systems can work more efficiently. Adding duct insulation is a smart improvement if you have ductwork that is located outside the building envelope (above the attic insulation or in an unconditioned crawl space, for example).

Step 4: Upgrade older systems & products.

An older furnace or boiler may only be able to operate at 65% efficiency even when it’s properly maintained. Replacing this unit with a new 90% efficient model is a smart upgrade. Water heaters, washing machines and dishwashers are other appliances to consider replacing if they’re consuming too much energy. One of the most affordable upgrades you can make is to replace an old-style thermostat with a programmable model that saves energy by automatically letting your HVAC system “rest” at night or when the house is empty. Your energy audit (Step 1) should identify the major “energy hogs” that you can target for replacement.

Step 5: Harness renewable energy.

By the time you get to this step, you’ll already be saving serious money; your house will also be much “greener” than when you started. Steps 1-4 are about conservation; Step 5 moves into renewable energy generation. By installing a solar photovoltaic (PV) system or a solar thermal system, you’ll actually put the sun to work at your house, using clean solar energy in place of energy that consumes fossil fuels. Not all houses are properly situated to take advantage of solar energy. If you have suitable solar exposure and if you’re planning to stay in your house for more than 5 years, this investment is worth considering.

4 Comments

  1. Jessica Francisco

    Everything sounds so technical. I can’t even understand some of it, but hey, thanks. We really needed this one. I’ll let everyone in the house know, and make them read this so they too have an idea. :)

    Cheers!

    • cynthia

      Hi Jessica!
      This post is about major energy improvements, but stay tuned and we will be discussing simple and more affordable ways to save energy. Thanks for reading!

  2. These are some great tips but i would throw in changing to CFL or LED lighting systems and unhooking all those little power vampires in your home. it all adds up to savings.

    • cynthia

      We focused on major improvements in this specific post but you are right, small improvements such as replacing bulbs, unplugging electronics and using smart strips to get rid of “phantom loads” can indeed add up to great savings.

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