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If you’re like many homeowners, you’re looking for ways to increase your property’s eco-friendliness and decrease utility costs. Unfortunately, older homes present more challenges in this way.
That’s because older structures weren’t designed to be especially efficient, and many were not constructed with best practices for energy conservation in mind. Also, today’s builders use different insulation and windows than in the past. Many aging homes now have outdated components.
The good news is you don’t have to move or build a new home to see results. Renovating and upgrading certain elements is often cheaper than starting from scratch. That said, here are the most common ways to get the most bang for your buck:
Get an Energy Audit
First thing’s first: You need to define the issues that you need to address. Perhaps the best approach is to order an energy audit. An energy audit is an inspection survey and an analysis of energy flows for energy conservation in a building. It may include a process or system to reduce the amount of energy input into the system without negatively affecting the output.
You might be surprised to know that utility companies and local governments offer free or affordable energy audits. If you don’t have this option in your area, it’s still worth the money to invest in an inspection. When you identify and fix efficiency problems, you can expect to experience utility bill savings almost immediately and in the longer term, too. What’s more, you can sometimes get a tax credit or deduction for efficiency upgrades.
What might the auditor recommend? The advice can vary, but improving sealing is often high on the list as are adding insulation, replacing windows, and switching to LED light fixtures.
Seal Points in Your Home Where Air Can Escape
Air leaks can add up fast and an energy audit can point to some trouble areas. Today’s materials mean you can get a tight seal to make your house more energy efficient. Experts recommend using caulk or other insulative products to seal pipe and wire inlets, window frames, vents, and doors. Depending on your skills and time, you might be able to handle this project on your own.
Older homes are known to have subpar insulation. However, this is a relatively straightforward job that can bring significant results. However, installing insulation is usually outside the realm of most homeowners’ expertise. You can hire a reputable contractor to examine your home and determine how much insulation it needs to yield results. You can compare their recommendation with data from your energy audit to ensure everything is above board.
The scope of insulation depends on the construction, the type of current insulation, and the local climate. Typically, most older homes need added wall insulation. The attic also might need some attention. In colder climates, attics that lack proper lining can have problems with ice dams and lead to structural damage to the roof.
Improve Your HVAC System
Some upgrades are more costly upfront but worth it. If your HVAC system is more than 10-15 years old, you might consider shopping around and looking at ones with Energy Star certification.
While the average life expectancy of an HVAC system is about 20 years, technology advances at such a fast pace that even newer homes can benefit from a heating and air conditioning upgrade. However, keep in mind that you won’t get the most out of your HVAC investment if you don't also address sealing and insulation issues.
Get a New Water Heater
Your water heater can be responsible for nearly 20% of your home's energy consumption. If your household uses a lot of water, upgrading to a larger unit, such as a 55-gallon one, can help keep utility bills in check.
If you don’t use as much hot water, a tankless model, which heats water on demand, may make the most sense. At the same time, low-flow fixtures can decrease water consumption, ultimately cutting down on the amount of water that requires heating.
Build With Green Materials
If you’re going to be in your home for several more years, it might make sense to get some quotes on projects that can help your home conserve energy. For instance, replacing drywall, installing new windows or doors, upgrading flooring, and repainting. It makes sense to use materials that are sustainable, efficient, and more eco-friendly. As mentioned above, this might be the occasion to look into more efficient windows that can save on energy costs.
Flooring should be on your radar, too. Switching out older flooring for more earth-friendly materials like cork and bamboo can help with both form and function.
On average, home appliances – including clothes washers, dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers, air purifiers, and humidifiers – will account for 20 percent of your home’s total electric bill. ENERGY STAR appliances, which are certified by the U.S. Department of Energy, can reduce that load. The average home appliance lasts for 10 to 20 years. Though more costly upfront, ENERGY STAR-certified appliance will use anywhere from 10 to 50 percent less energy each year than a non-energy efficient equivalent.
By converting to ENERGY STAR-certified appliances, you’re making an investment that will reduce your energy bill for years to come. This is especially important when you recognize that electricity rates are on the rise. That being said, some appliances use more energy than others.
Which ones are energy hogs and which ones are more benevolent? Here’s a breakdown. Dryers are the most energy-rabid appliances. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a typical dryer can consume as much energy per year as a new energy-efficient refrigerator, washing machine, and dishwasher combined. ENERGY STAR-certified dryers use 20% less electricity than a conventional model, which will save you $210 in electric bills over your energy-efficient dryer’s lifetime.
Upgrading to an energy-efficient dryer and pairing it with an energy-efficient washing machine means you’ll see additional savings on both your electric bill and your water bill. An ENERGY STAR-certified clothes washer uses 40 to 50 percent less energy and about 55 percent less water than conventional washers.
Old refrigerators aren’t great in the efficiency department. However, ENERGY STAR-certified refrigerators are nearly 10% more energy-efficient than models that meet the federal minimum energy standard.
Also found in the kitchen, dishwashers consume more energy than you might think. In contrast to older models, ENERGY STAR-certified dishwashers are 12% more efficient than non-certified models currently on the market, and installing an energy-efficient dishwasher will save you around $25 a year.
In short, making these renovations can help your wallet, the earth, and help you feel more comfortable at home. We call that a win-win-win!