When it comes to green energy, there are plenty of little things homeowners can do to help. Both minor adjustments and major investments can help reduce the amount of energy you waste in a given year and thereby lower your heating and cooling bills significantly. Below I’ll outline a few ideas that the average homeowner overlooks far too often. Some of them are simple DIY projects; others call for replacing some equipment. Either way, a reasonable initial investment and some attention to detail can help you minimize your environmental impact and save money at the same time.
1. Check the Attic Insulation
The attic is one of the most overlooked areas of any house but it’s definitely worth investing in, especially if it’s unfurnished. Proper insulation will help bottle up the heat in the winter and keep it out in the summer. Fiberglass, cellulose and most foam materials, when installed properly, are all cost-effective materials that can help reduce your energy costs and keep your home comfortable. That means less tinkering with the thermostat, less uncomfortable fluctuations in temperature and less energy needed to sustain a comfortable living space.
2. Upgrade Your Windows
It may not be entirely cost-effective to replace every window in your house, but if you’re in the market anyway you might as well check out EnergyStar.gov to shop around for the most effective kinds. Replacing entire windows could save between 7 and 25 percent on your energy bills, but that really depends what kind of windows you have. There are, however, some relatively affordable upgrades you can make instead, like replacing the weatherstripping or installing new storm windows. Always remember to keep your storm windows closed during extreme seasons when you’re running either your heat or AC continuously.
3. Plant Some Trees
A lot of people overlook the possibilities landscaping brings to the table. If you were to plant a tree on the west side of your house, the leaves will help provide shade and protect the house from infrared radiation that would otherwise warm up the entire house in the summer. Then, during the winter, after the leaves have all fallen off, the bare branches will let that same light through, which helps warm your house naturally. If you’ve already taken care of the insulation and upgraded your windows, the effect here will be minimal, but every little bit helps; at the very least, you’re planting another tree, which is a great way to go green.
4. Replace Your Old Furnace
Any furnace built before 1992 that uses a standing pilot is going to be inefficient, to the tune of about 35 percent wasted energy. If it’s near the end of its lifetime, early replacement is a great idea. Modern condensing furnaces waste no more than 10 percent of the natural gas they use, which equates to roughly 25 percent savings on your heating bill. The difference is even more substantial if your house has a boiler or utilizes a hot water heater or radiators for climate control.
5. Adjust your Hot Water Heater and Replace Light Bulbs
This last one is a two-parter because they’re both relatively simple. First, set your hot water heater to around 120 degrees. This should be in the “warm” range on your unit. This way your hot water doesn’t get too hot. If you want to go the extra mile you could even insulate your hot water lines to retain heat between uses, or you can even install low-flow fixtures in showers and bathtubs. Lastly, replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents. They’re more expensive, but they last much longer than their outdated counterparts, which can save you about 75 percent on energy. The best lights to replace are ones that you use the most, in order to more quickly recover the investment.
Contributing author Mike Martin is a consultant and blogger, writing about a wide range of topics, including energy efficiency and green car technology. He currently works with Small Step Energy Solutions, an energy auditing company in Kansas City.