Energy Efficiency Pays
So you're going to be spending a small fortune on your new home. Wouldn't it be nice if it could pay you back somehow? It can.
Energy efficiency pays annual dividends, and the rate of return rises with energy prices. And it just got sweeter. Federal Tax Credits offer up to $500 for energy-efficient improvements on existing homes, and $2000 on new homes. Plus another $2000 for photovoltaic systems and solar hot water heaters.
Energy efficiency measures pay you back in:
Cold hard cash. Energy efficient homes are at least 30% more energy efficient than similar homes. Since most homeowners spend around $1500 a year on utility bills (not counting recent increased energy costs), that's a savings of about $500 a year, minimum. What would you do with it?
Comfort. Energy-efficient homes are also more comfortable. They eliminate drafts and drastically reduce and usually eliminate the hot or cold spots in a home.
Health. On top of these advantages, your energy efficient home will usually be healthier for you to live in since there will be less unhealthy air flowing in from the attic, crawlspace, and garage. There are often less moisture related issues that lead to mold.
A major feature that sets an energy-efficient home apart from inefficient houses is increased insulation. Insulation in the walls and roof keeps the heat from flowing between your home and the outdoors - it keeps you from paying to heat or cool the entire neighborhood. Generally, you want as high an R-value as possible. An energy-efficient home should meet or exceed ENERGY STAR levels of insulation.
Insulation becomes irrelevant if the home isn't properly air sealed. This is because air can travel through most types of insulation, negating their ability to slow the flow of heat. Air sealing is like your home's version of a windbreaker on a cold, windy day: without the windbreaker, you will be cold because the wind whips right through your wool sweater. For this reason superior air sealing is done for all energy-efficient homes to make them as air tight as possible.
High-performance windows are another important feature of an energy-efficient house. Because heat gain and loss through windows can account for up to 50% of a homes heating and cooling needs, upgrading to double-pained, ENERGY STAR qualified windows is a no-brainer.
Energy-Efficient Heaters/Air Conditioners
Because heating and cooling a home can account for over 50% of the home's energy use in some areas of the States, it is important to select energy-efficient mechanical equipment. In addition to selecting high-efficiency equipment, it should also be properly sized for optimum efficiency. A central air conditioner that is too large for a house will not only cost more to purchase, but it will be more expensive to operate, remove less humidity from the air, and have a shorter lifespan than a properly sized unit. Make sure your central air conditioner, heat pump, boiler or furnace is ENERGY STAR qualified.
Ducts carry air from the central air conditioner or heater to the rest of the house. If they are leaky, then up to 20% of the air (and money) is being used to heat or cool the attic, unfinished basement, or outdoors. By properly insulating and air sealing the ducts, or installing them in conditioned space, you can eliminate most or all of this unnecessary loss, and save up to 20% on your heating and cooling bill.
There are many ways that a home can be designed to maximize the energy efficiency. The most important aspect is to not add unnecessary rooms: the smaller the home, the less energy needed to heat, cool, and provide light for it. Another important aspect is to design for the climate. For example, you can take advantage of prevailing winds to cool the home, or use the sun to heat it. When selecting a builder or remodeler, ask them how they would maximize your home's energy-efficiency.
There are many bad energy habits that people have, such as leaving windows and doors open in the summer when the air conditioner is running, keeping the heat on when no one is home, or leaving lights on in unoccupied rooms. Just being mindful of energy use and then eliminating wasteful behaviors can yield the most drastic improvements of them all and save you fistfuls of money every month.
Content updated on 4/4/2006