get started with energy efficiency
building (between work and home, about 22
hours per day), the quality of the indoor environment is an important consideration in making home renovations.
consumption at a modest cost. Taken together,
these techniques can save more than 20 percent
on a homeowner’s utility bill.
• Replacing furnaces, appliances and electronics is also effective, but the costs are much
higher and the payback periods (investment
costs divided by annual energy savings) can be
long. On the other hand, if these devices have
worn out and are going to be replaced anyway,
the incremental costs for upgrading to energy-efficient equipment is quickly offset in most cases
by the energy savings.
• Although not identified by the survey
respondents, solar water heating can be an
attractive option, now that tax credits are available nationwide. At locations with an abundance
of sunny days, solar water heating can provide
up to 75 percent of hot water needs and save 10
percent on a home utility bill.
• Lifestyle and good habits can also make a
difference — turning off lights when leaving a
room, washing clothes in cold water and adjusting the thermostat when not at home. The U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s)
Energy Star program reports that a programmable thermostat can save about $180 annually
on home energy costs.
• Another low-cost option is to seal off any
rooms that are seldom used and block the
heating and air conditioning
vents in those rooms. Depending on house size, the most
effective option of all may be to
just sell the house and downsize
to a smaller one; heating and
air conditioning bills will fall in
proportion to house size.
When deciding what energy
improvements to make to an
existing house, homeowners need to take into account
increased resale value — often
cited as up to $20 for every
$1 reduction in annual utility
costs. Using this formula, if an
annual utility bill is cut by, say,
30 percent (around $600 for a
typical house), the resale value
would increase by $20 X $600
= $12,000. This figure is in line
with other estimates putting the increased value
for an energy-efficient house in the $10,000 to
$15,000 range. Keep in mind that this is a ballpark estimate; for any specific home, the actual
resale value after energy improvements could be
higher or lower.
State and federal tax credits can also help Smart Efficiency Upgrades
homeowners justify and afford energy improve-
• Check to be sure you have adequate
ments. Many states offer energy and solar tax
insulation in the attic and crawl space
credits, and the federal Emergency Economic
and insulate your water-heating tank.
Stabilization Act of 2008 extends tax credits
for (1) energy-efficient windows, doors, roofs, • Seal around doors and windows with
insulation, heating and air conditioning and non- caulk and ensure they close tightly.
solar water heaters; and ( 2) solar energy systems
• Install energy-efficient lighting and a
and fuel cells. (See the Energy Star web page,
energystar.gov, for a good summary of federal
tax credits for energy efficiency.)
• Replace worn-out heating and air
The Johns Manville survey found another
conditioning equipment, appliances and
incentive for making home energy improve-
electronics with energy-efficient models.
ments: indoor air quality. Sixty-two percent of
• Avoid sealing your house so tightly that
homeowners reported taking some action to
indoor air quality suffers.
improve the air they breathe at home, including
• Close off rooms that are seldom used
upgrading furnace or heating system compo-
and block off the heating and air condi-
nents. Perhaps even more homeowners would
tioning to those rooms.
take action if they realized that indoor air pollution can be a serious problem, even worse • For many homes, solar water heating
than outdoor air pollution for some older and may make good economic sense. Find
poorly ventilated homes. Since many Americans calculators and local professionals at
spend 90 percent or more of their time inside a FindSolar.com.
The Climate Matters, Too
Energy efficiency is not just about saving
money on utility bills — it is also about reducing global warming gas emissions. Nobel laureate Al Gore’s plan to Repower America includes
a nationwide effort to address climate change
by retrofitting buildings with better insulation,
energy-efficient windows and improved lighting. Using existing technologies, he believes that
household and commercial building efficiency
can be increased 30 percent while saving the
average homeowner $450 on utility bills.
Major metropolitan areas are also acting to
reduce energy consumption as part of their
broader climate change initiatives. Chicago’s
Climate Action Plan calls for retrofitting 400,000
city homes with new and improved insulation,
tighter windows and doors and Energy Star
appliances. The city hopes to reduce energy consumption in 65,000 homes and apartments each
year, achieving efficiency savings of 30 percent.