As I stared at the poorly insulated expanse of my attic, I contemplated the irony of the situation: I had spent several years "greening" my home by using non-toxic paints, formaldehyde-free Forest Stewardship Council certified floors, recycled countertops … the list goes on.
But my home was not energy-efficient. It was drafty, and the bills were high. Fear of the unknown had paralyzed me, but after seeing bare floor in my attic where insulation should be, I decided it was time.
Not knowing what to do first, I called an energy auditor to get a better understanding of where my home’s energy problems really were. I opted to go for the full home energy analysis, which takes about four hours (for a quicker assessment of home energy use, try the Home Energy Yardstick).
The auditors tested for air leaks throughout our house; checked our ducts and insulation; the safety of our gas fueled appliances, and more. My favorite part was when they used an infrared camera to look at the walls to determine areas where insulation was missing, or air sealing was poor. I got to play with the camera and discovered that my husband was right: he does have cold feet!
By the end of the audit, I had a new relationship with my house. I thought I knew it well, but the veil was lifted. Its secrets were revealed to me in the form of charts and graphs and photo evidence. Fortunately, the auditors gave me exactly what I needed in order to begin – priorities! For my home, they were:
- Air conditioner/furnace upgrade
- Air sealing
- Attic insulation
- Duct and air handler sealing
- Low-cost no-cost measures
- Window replacement
My biggest lesson from this part of the process was how important it is to work with professionals who can easily identify problem areas, and address both safety and energy efficiency. The company we worked with charged a fee, but in some states, this service is free or subsidized.
Be sure to check out what rebates and incentives are available from your local utility company or state and federal programs. For low-income families, the Weatherization Assistance Program is a great option to reduce energy bills.
Whether your home’s energy issues – and your budget – are large or small, there are many things you can do to save money and the environment. Here are 21 ways to start:
7 Free Ways: No excuses here!
- Keep your thermostat at 68 in winter and 78 in summer.
- Set your hot water heater at 120 degrees: each 10 degree reduction saves you up to 5 percent on your bill.
- Avoid using the ‘heated dry’ cycle on the dishwasher – just let them air dry
- Conserve water – wash clothes on cold and shorten your shower: this reduces your bill and your impact on a very limited resource.
- Line dry your laundry when the weather is nice.
- Use a ceiling fan in the summer and wear an extra layer in the winter.
- Unplug your electronics when not in use: anything with a LED light glowing (e.g., cell phone charger, computer monitor, etc.) is drawing power even if it is not ‘on.’
7 Cheap Ways: Small Investment, Big Payoff
- Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent. (Cost: They're about $5 apiece, but each bulb can save up to $40 during its lifetime—which is 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb.)
- Make sure all your windows and doors are well sealed with caulking or or weatherstripping. (Cost: Less than $100)
- Make sure your plumbing and wiring penetrations are sealed. (Cost: Less than $50)
- Get your heating and cooling system serviced annually to maintain and monitor efficiency. (Cost: The average service call is $75)
- Insulate your hot water heater (Cost: $10, savings up to 9% on your water heating bill)
- Insulate your air compressor and hot water piping. (Cost: Less than $50)
- Change your air filters at least every 3 months. (Cost: $2.50 per filter)
7 Tips for Big Ticket Items:
- Follow Department of Energy guidelines on insulation. Check out the map.
- When replacing your roof, choose the lightest roof color you can handle aesthetically. This will keep the house 10 to 15 percent cooler in the summer.
- Get your ducts inspected and repair any holes or faulty connections.
- Because hot water heaters are the second largest energy user, it is important to explore your options when replacing a worn-out unit.
- When you need to replace an appliance, make sure it has an Energy Star rating.
- When replacing windows, be sure the windows are Energy Star certified.
- When replacing an HVAC system, purchase Energy Star certified equipment and buy compatible heating and cooling systems.
For more information on tackling the energy hogs in your home, check out the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s Consumer Resources.
Stephanie is a marine biologist and Director of Coral Reef Conservation for The Nature Conservancy. She has snorkeled in a jellyfish lake in Palau, come face to face with a Komodo dragon in Indonesia, swam with sharks in the Bahamas, and camped in the deserts of Namibia. She has lived and worked in the Caribbean, Hawaii, and the Florida Keys and is now settled with her family in Gainesville, Florida. She continues to travel the world with two little ones as she works to develop a global network of coral reef managers. Stephanie's passion for coral reefs is matched by her obsession with living green as she continues to find ways to reduce her family's impact on the planet.