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Spending to Save: The Ultimate Guide to Home Efficiency Improvements

Posted on: April 15th, 2014 by Corey Marsh { 4,669 Comments }

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The Ultimate Guide to Home Efficiency Improvements

One of the main ideas behind home efficiency improvements is that you have to spend money to save money. While this seems counterintuitive, it adds up when you examine it further–although home efficiency improvements cost money initially, they save you money in the long run by lowering heating and cooling bills and reducing the amount of energy required for you to live comfortably. And, although home efficiency projects cost money to start, many can be included on your Federal Tax Return, making you eligible for tax credits for consumer energy efficiency.

Aside from being financially beneficial, home efficiency improvements are also environmentally friendly. Using less energy at your home has several positive environmental consequences including less burning of fossil fuels and a decrease in air pollution.

Treating and Updating Windows

Treating and Updating Windows
If you think about everyday examples, you quickly realize that glass doesn’t block hot or cold temperatures. When you bake a cake in a glass pan, the glass allows the hot air from the oven to cook the cake, and a glass mug filled with ice water almost instantly becomes cooler. Considering these real-life examples, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that regular glass windows are not energy efficient. Luckily, there are many ways to improve the efficiency of windows and save money.

Recent technological advances in the science of efficient windows have made many options available to consumers. A low-cost option is to treat windows with coatings that insulate the pane and prevent outside temperatures from modifying air inside of the home. Many of these coatings come in DIY packages, but most window companies can also apply insulating coats to your windows professionally.

If your windows are old or damaged, replacing them is likely a more effective method. When installing new windows in a home, there are various ways you can save energy and increase efficiency. One of these methods focuses on the climate where you live. In areas with mostly cold temperatures, energy is lost through windows when cold air outside causes the warm air inside the house to lose heat. To prevent this, windows for cool climates are treated with a coating that prevents heat loss by absorbing heat instead of reflecting it. Conversely, special coatings can be applied to windows in hot climates so that sunlight is reflected and the windowpane and the air inside the home are not heated as much as they would be with regular windows.

In addition to climate-specific coatings and tints, there are several general ways that the efficiency of windows can be increased. Creating windows with two panes of glass instead of one is a common method to improve efficiency. The double-paned windows don’t allow as much hot or cold air to flow between the window and the outside environment. Efficiency in double-paned windows can be even further improved when the space between the panes is filled with an inert gas that further resists the flow of heat. Even the correct choice of window frames can help save money on your energy bill by preventing heat flow and sealing all possible airflow locations.

Adding and Improving Insulation

Adding and Improving Insulaiton
Insulation works by creating a buffer between outside temperatures and the heated or cooled air in your home. Adding or updating insulation can lower your heating and cooling bills tremendously. An easy way to use insulation to improve energy efficiency is to insulate your upstairs, attic, or basement. Many homes (especially older homes) don’t have insulation in these areas, which causes your heater or air conditioner to use more energy to keep the temperature in your home constant. In homes where the attic or basement are unfinished (there is no drywall), installing insulation can be a relatively easy DIY project.

A more intensive change involving insulation is to re-insulate your home using more energy efficient materials. There are a variety of insulation options and it is easy to select a material that is right for you and your home. For example, foam board and rigid board provide a high level of insulation but are not very thick. Spray foam insulation is energy efficient and can be sprayed into finished areas of a home without causing damage to existing walls.

If you are building a new home or have made plans to remodel your current home, energy efficient insulators can be built into the foundation and walls of your construction. Concrete block insulation is a method where insulating foam boards are placed in between or outside of concrete blocks during construction, reducing heat flow between the home and the outside environment. Rather than place the foam board in between the blocks, some construction companies produce concrete that already has insulators mixed in with it. Both of these methods serve to moderate indoor temperatures and provide an extra barrier against outside temperatures. Reflective systems can also be installed in new construction or major renovation projects. This insulation system involves fitting reflecting foil or film between wood-frame studs, joists, rafters, and beams in a home. The reflective surface moderates temperature and decreases energy costs.

Replacing and Maintaining Appliances and Equipment

Replacing and Maintaining Appliances and Equipment
The equipment and appliances present in your home might be costing you money and wasting energy. Less efficient models of heaters, air conditioners, washers, dryers, and ovens use more electricity, gas, or water than their updated counterparts. A great way to improve efficiency in your home is to invest in energy efficient appliances. If purchasing new appliances is too expensive, regularly maintaining appliances is a great way to save energy.

About 29% of the energy the average household uses in a year comes from heating costs, meaning replacing your furnace is a great way to improve efficiency. If you can’t afford to completely replace your air conditioning or heating unit, look into installing a programmable thermostat. These thermostats prevent energy waste by allowing you to customize your heating or cooling schedule. For example, you can program your thermostat to turn off the air conditioning at night or heat your home less during the day when you are at work.

Replacing other household appliances like washers and dryers, ovens, refrigerators, and dishwashers with energy efficient models is a simple way to save money and reduce energy costs. Energy efficient models of appliances are engineered to use less energy but still provide great results. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star Program makes it easy to compare and select energy efficient appliances.

If purchasing new appliances is too costly for you, having a contractor come and check-up on your furnace, air conditioning unit, refrigerator, and other equipment can help you save money. Often appliances have minor problems that don’t prevent them from working but decrease their efficiency. Having a skilled expert come and check-up on your appliances regularly can help you fix these small problems and keep your equipment running efficiently.

Air and Duct Sealing

Air and Duct Sealing
Almost every home has small holes or cracks that allow air from outside to get inside. Often, these cracks are located close to windows and doors, but they can be anywhere. Sealing these cracks is a great way to reduce energy costs and is relatively easy. If you notice that a particular area of your home is cooler or hotter than the rest, see if you can find a hole or crack in the walls or floor. Patching these holes prevents outside air from seeping into your home.

Sealing and repairing ducts is also a great way to save energy. If your air ducts are not sealed, heated or cooled air could be escaping from them and not reaching the destination. In other words, if your ducts are not sealed your heated and cooled air could be spilling into the duct spaces located in your floor or ceiling, not into the rooms of your house. By sealing air ducts and repairing any damages, you can ensure that all of the hot and cold air generated by your furnace or air conditioner is ending up in the right location.

Purchasing Energy Efficient Doors

Purchasing Energy Efficient Doors
You might be surprised to learn that a significant amount of cold and hot air escapes through your door every day, but it’s true. Air can slip out through the space between the door and the floor, can seep in through cracks between the hinges and the wall, and can come in every time the door is opened. A smart and easy way to improve efficiency in your home is to purchase energy efficient doors for all entryways that come in direct contact with the air outside.

Energy efficient doors are made of insulated materials that prevent the transfer of heat through the door. This means that when it is hot or cold outside, the door prevents heat transfer between your air conditioned or heated home and the outside weather. By preventing this transfer, energy efficient doors reduce your energy costs. If you want extra insulation against outside weather, consider getting a screen door in addition to an energy efficient door. Screen doors that are coated with energy efficient treatments can provide further insulation for your home.

If purchasing energy efficient doors isn’t a feasible option for you, there are several other steps you can take. Consider painting your door a color that will benefit you based on your climate. For example, if you live in a warm climate, painting your door white will reflect light and heat from the surface and will prevent your doorway from overheating. Similarly, if you live in a cool climate consider painting your door a dark color like black or brown. The dark pigments will absorb light and can help keep your entryway warm. Another less expensive way to reduce heat transfer at your door is purchasing rugs or carpets that can block the space under the door and prevent air from coming in and going out.

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