As an energy auditor, my goal is to help people make their houses more comfortable, safe and energy efficient. In addition to being safe and energy efficient, the improvements I recommend to my clients have to be good investments. For any recommended improvement, we consider how long it will take to pay back the upfront cost, just like any other financial investment you make.
Below are five improvements that most homeowners can make to reduce energy use and the associated cost of their utility bills.
1. Replace incandescent light bulbs with CFLs or LEDs.
Compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) and light emitting diode (LED) bulbs can use as much as 75 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs. This reduction in electricity use will often pay off the bulb purchase in as little as a few months.
CFL bulbs are generally inexpensive, but do have a very small amount of mercury inside, so be sure to dispose of used bulbs per the manufacturers instructions (not in the trash).
LED bulbs are generally a little more expensive, but they are coming down in price significantly and they have no mercury issues. LED bulbs will also last around 25,000 hours or more, so you may never have to change a light bulb again.
2. Seal air leaks.
The number one cause of heat loss in a house is air leakage. Air leaks out of our houses through small and large holes in attics, basements, windows, doors and other openings.
This air carries heat out of the house in the winter and heat into the house in the summer. It is possible to locate many of these holes and seal them with caulking and spray foam materials. By reducing this air leakage, you will keep more of the conditioned air inside the house, be more comfortable and reduce your utility bills.
Just like the thick blanket or sweater you use to stay warm during the winter, insulation is the blanket that keeps our houses warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Insulation should be installed in the attic, the walls and in the bottom floor or foundation wall.
By wrapping the entire house in an “envelope,” we can keep our houses more comfortable and reduce the amount of heat that enters or exits our houses. Make sure to air seal your house before adding insulation.
4. Seal the ducts.
Duct systems carry heated and cooled air throughout your house. You can think of a duct system just like a sewer or water pipe. Both the duct and the pipe carry a fluid and should not allow that fluid to leak.
Many duct systems leak significant amounts of air. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), leaky ducts can reduce heating and cooling system efficiency by as much as 20 percent. Duct systems that are accessible, such as in the attic or basement, can often times be sealed using mastic or caulking.
5. Install Energy Star appliances.
Old appliances like refrigerators, clothes washers, dishwashers and even TVs can use significant amounts of electricity. Replacing these old appliances with new, energy efficient Energy Star appliances can reduce your electricity bill and save money.
Look for the yellow “energy guide” label on most appliances for the estimated electricity use and buy the model that meets your needs and uses the least amount of electricity.
You probably thought that new windows would be at the top of the list. In actuality, they are almost always near the bottom of the list of energy efficient improvements because they are expensive and don’t save a large amount of energy relative to their cost.
In many cases, existing windows may be repaired, weather-stripped, have storm windows added or have window treatments installed to make them more energy efficient and make the living space more comfortable, without the high cost and poor return on investment of new windows.
There are a multitude of other improvements or lifestyle changes that can reduce energy usage and make your house more comfortable. An energy audit can help you develop a plan specific to your needs for making these improvements and avoiding pitfalls along the way.
About this Angie’s List Expert: Eric Lowry is the owner of Lowry EcoSolutions, providing energy auditing services in Philadelphia. Since 1989, Lowry EcoSolutions has specialized in energy efficiency auditing, rain barrel design and installation, duct testing, construction management services and more. They are a recipient of the 2012 Angie’s List Super Service Award.
As of October 2, 2013, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.