I know, I know. Installing home solar panels is so exciting that it’s easy to forget the preparation steps leading up to your big spin-the-meter-backwards party. But those steps are incredibly important, as they tighten your home’s efficiency and actually maximize the amount of energy your new panels will save.
It’s unfortunate, but if your home is a drafty and poorly insulated energy drain, no amount of solar can offset that cost-effectively. Efficiency comes from first improving what you have, and then working upward to the solar array.
So what can be done? Here are some key steps to getting started below. The tighter your home’s energy efficiency, the lower your utility bills will be—and remain—for the 25 to 30 years you own your solar system. Let’s get cracking.
1. First things first: get an energy audit
Many states and local utilities offer these for free, and they provide detailed reports of your home’s most vulnerable areas. Leaky ductwork, worn-out insulation and broken seals in your windows and doors are the biggest culprits. They’re also probably the reason you’ve thought about going solar in the first place—skyrocketing utility bills. Fix these first, and solar will take care of the rest.
2. Upgrade your energy-hogging appliances
If you’ve owned the same refrigerator or HVAC system for 10 years, it’s safe to say it’s time for an upgrade. In addition to running smoothly and reliably, newer Energy Star appliances save an extra 10-15% on utilities.
3. Be the master of your thermostat
Got an old-school central air thermostat? Install a programmable one that lets you decide when—and at what temperature—your air runs, rather than running automatically and cooling the place when no one’s home.
4. Upgrade to LED or fluorescent light bulbs
Conventional incandescent ones are nothing but energy drains. Plus, the new LED varieties mimic natural lighting so well you won’t be able to tell the difference.
5. Shut the flue!
When it’s not in use, keep the fireplace flue shut. Areas like these allow heated or conditioned air to escape. Also, be sure to check the attic for similar vents and leaks.
6. Make a simple switch
Use the “eco” setting or equivalent on your dishwasher as much as possible.
7. Use the auto sensors
Most clothing dryers come with heat/temperature auto sensors. Use yours as much as possible. And remember that little tray called a lint filter? Keep it clean to improve efficiency.
8. Water conservation is cheaper than you think
Wherever possible, replace your plumbing fixtures (e.g. toilet, shower head, faucets) with water-conserving models. Low-flow shower heads cost as little as $15. If you’re not sure which to buy, those approved by WaterSense are among the most efficient on the market.
9. Look out for leaks
Check all plumbing (especially under the cabinet, in the basement, etc.) for leaks. A leaky pipe is often responsible for wasting up to 50 gallons a day.
10. Throw on some weather-stripping
For a last little boost in efficiency, install some weather-stripping around your windows and doors. It’s cheap, easy and fast to install, and the benefits are immediately noticeable.
What have you done to improve your home’s efficiency? Let us know in the comments below.