Are you planning to spend money on your home this year? Is your project focused on improving you energy efficiency? Then there is the likely chance that you are going to take the wrong step.
A few weeks ago at a party, I had a great conversation with someone who was planning on having solar panels installed on his home. He thought that he would be producing more of his own electricity with this move; however, the installer informed him that he may not be obtaining what he hoped he was going to produce. Solar panels are great, but they are not as great at converting all of the sun’s energy that hits them into power for your home. This homeowner had taken one important first step: insulating the attic, and he had checked on ventilation. After hearing about a survey where homeowners indicated that they would be going after the big projects to save money on their utilities, I realized that thinking about these larger renovations was what most people consider. There are great articles out there, but since I was asked to participate in an Earth Day event, I thought that creating my own list to give out was appropriate, then I figured that I should share it here.
Lights– LEDs will be the wave of the future, but there are not too many options when it comes to lumens. Go with CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) for right now. Many homeowners only change out a few bulbs, but go through the entire home.
Power strips– many items are constantly drawing power even when not being used, like your television. Plugging these items into a power strip can make it easy to turn off the power to everything at once. There are power strips that will turn off the power for you if you are not in the habit (They cost about $30).
Insulation and a radiant barrier– did you know that a home may not have all of its attic insulated? Having at least 14″ of insulation throughout the attic is the minimum. Trying to obtain an R48 is the best for Houston. Treat any attic access that opens up to a living space as an exterior door, so insulate it and install weatherstripping. If it is too hard to install the radiant barrier on the rafters, you could lay it over the insulation. If your garage is attached, then the attic above it should be insulated, and the garage doors should be as well.
Ventilation– when you begin to insulate, you also have to remember to consider attic ventilation. Most homes have the minimum of ventilation needed. Air flow through the attic helps reduce moisture problems, but it also helps cool the attic. A little more expensive, yet a great way to create that air flow is a solar powered vent. These cost about $250. They install like most vents, but you do not need to hook them up to the electrical system.
Caulk– a tube of caulk and a caulking gun will be under $15, but this can save more money than other fixes. Your home has wall joints where ever two wall surfaces meet or where there is a wall penetration, like a window. All of these joints should be sealed. You prevent the movement of warm air in or out of the house. On windows, you should look at the interior as well as the exterior. Pull back the blinds to look at the top of the window frame. If there is a gap, you should caulk that space. Check your caulk every year. Movement of the hose, a bad adherence, or other issue may cause you to re caulk.
Weatherstripping– installing weatherstripping on windows and doors is quite easy, since this is peel and stick. Be careful to pick the right size. If the strip is to big, you may not be able to close the door or window. Too small, and you do not achieve the desired effect.
Wall outlet insulation– especially in older homes, you will want these little insulating pads. They go behind the outlet cover, which can be a big conditioned air leak space.
Working on the windows– there are films which can reduce radiant energy from coming into the home. These stick onto the window pane. Another solution is changing out your screen to a material that does this job. Changing the screens is not a hard DIY project for a weekend. A little more adventurous is installing window awnings.
Shading walls– planting trees and bushes to shade a wall can reduce the heat in your home. Branches should be kept at least a foot away form the home to prevent damage during a windstorm and from moisture. Finding a smaller specimen is cheaper, and they may grow quicker than you think.
Ceiling fans– using your ceiling fans can reduce your need for the air conditioning system. We feel comfort with air movement more than we do with temperature. Having it blow cool air down in the summer, and pull warm air up in the winter, can make us feel good, so we do not need to set that temperature too low or too high depending on the season. A simple ceiling fan can be under $100, and you may find that you can install it yourself.
A programmable thermostat– installing and using a programmable thermostat can be a big energy saver. The thermostats are under $100, and can be a DIY project, but you need to follow the instructions carefully. If the thermostat is not wired to the correct jumpers, your air conditioning will not work.
Open a window– are you too reliant on your air conditioning? If the weather is nice outside, why not turn the air conditioning off, and let the cool breeze come through the window.
Insulate your air conditioning ducts– if you have an older home, then you may want to place new installation around your ducts. This is a good DIY project, and there is insulation rolls designed to wrap around your duct, so you do not have to cut up any big roll.
Once you have worked on these items, then you will want to move onto something bigger. Upgrading your appliances should be the next step. Older units are not energy efficient, so you can find newer units that run better. Front loading clothes washers are more efficient than the top loaders. New refrigerators will be better than an older one. Dishwashers are designed to better use energy and water now. Newer air conditioning systems work to higher energy efficiency standards as well. After you have worked on the appliances, then you can plan out that solar system.