How to Save Energy at Home – Part 3 of 3

You’ve done the simple stuff so you’re now at step 3.  This article about how to save energy at home – part 3 of 3, talks about projects that cost some money.  SoExpensive and Cheap Projectsme are very inexpensive, and others are very expensive.  An example of an inexpensive project is changing furnace filters.  A more complicated and costly project is installing a new heating and air conditioning system.  Bigger projects require research and financial analysis.

There's a sucker born every minuteI can’t stress enough how important it is to do an economic analysis before starting an expensive energy saving project for your home.  Scammers surface when the cost is high.  They want to sell you new windows or siding.  Or they buy you a steak dinner at a week-night presentation explaining the benefits of installing a radiant barrier in your attic.  Don’t get me wrong – these projects can make a lot of sense and be worthwhile, but not for everybody, and not for every home.  Do the research; don’t be a sucker!

To determine feasibility of any energy project, the smart buyer must do two things:

  1. Run the numbers.  Do an ROI analysis to see if the project is a profitable investment.  Remember, nothing is an investment unless you end up with more money in your pocket than you started with!  Always invest to make money.  Also, do a payback analysis to determine how long it will take for your Cost Value Graphproject to change from an expense to a profitable investment.  If payback takes more years than you plan to be in the home, look at other projects.  And don’t trust the numbers a salesperson provides for a product.  I think you’ll agree that these sales figures nearly always push the limits of the best possible scenario under ideal conditions.  Testimonials are suspect too.  Staged or paid-for testimonials are all too common.  Sometimes they are off-the-cuff testimonials with no long-term substantiation behind them.  I can tell you one thing for sure – your situation is different from the person who wrote the testimonial.  You have to do your financial analysis based on your situation.  Seek out and talk to knowledgeable contractors and get customer references from each of them.  You can acquire an impressive amount of knowledge by getting bids from competing contractors.  Ask each contractor questions about both the product they are pushing and competing products.  You’ll quickly be able to size up the straight-shooters from the scam artists.  If you’re readings this, then you’re probably the kind of person who does the research and stays in control of what you spend.  Run the numbers and check out the products.  Then you’ll be in control because you’ll know for sure that your decision is the right one.  And your expectations will be realistic.
  2. Prioritize projects.  Based on your financial analysis, create a prioritized list of energy projects for your Prioritize projects to do now and laterhome.  Creating a list requires that you look at the big picture to identify all possible projects.  Look for the high priority projects on your list and do them first.  And think about combining projects.  For example, your home might need an exterior paint job.  You could save money by combining a new paint job with caulking and weather stripping for improved energy efficiency.  Put your emotions aside and evaluate possible projects in a logical manner.  Some of the most important projects are far from exciting, but they make the pocket book fatter!

I wish I could provide a cookie-cutter list of projects, all packaged up and prioritized, but that would be leading you down the wrong path.  There are just too many variables because buildings and homeowners are all unique.

Let’s look at some possible energy improvements for your home.  Think of these as a tickler list.  Many items in the list require considerable feasibility analysis before moving forward with them.  Others are no-brainers that you can do next weekend.

Low cost energy projects

  • Replace furnace air filters.
  • Caulk all penetrations that leak air into or out of your home.
  • Replace leaking weather stripping and thresholds around doors.
  • Replace incandescent bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL’s) or Light Emitting Diode (LED) lamps.
  • Insulate any hot water pipes that you can access running through unheated areas.
  • If you are in a warm climate, plant trees on the south and west sides of your house to shade your house and reduce cooling costs.

Higher cost energy projects

  • Replace air conditioning/heating systems with more energy-efficient systems.
  • Seal air ducts to prevent leakage into unconditioned areas.
  • Replace older appliances (refrigerator, dishwasher, washing machine, clothes dryer) with more energy-efficient energy star appliances.
  • Add insulation in attic areas.
  • Replace the water heater with a more energy-efficient one.  Consider on-demand water heaters.
  • Replace old and leaking windows.
  • Install a programmable thermostat.
  • Add wall insulation.
  • Install a radiant barrier in the attic.
  • Add smart home features (Computer/Smartphone monitoring and control of lighting, thermostat, outlets, etc.)

I’ve listed low-cost initiatives in the order I recommend you approach them based on average benefit, cost, and ease of performing the work.  Your situation may be different.  The higher cost projects are in no particular order because there are too many variables to consider.  For example, replacing windows may be a top priority in an old house where you can feel air drafts around existing single-pane windows.

Save Energy by Focusing on Energy Guzzlers

Residential HVAC SystemHeating and cooling systems are the largest users of energy in most homes.  Therefore the general rule of thumb is to focus on improving the efficiency of those systems first.  Stopping leaks and improving insulation decreases both heating and air conditioning costs.  Replacing the entire heating and cooling system provides the greatest cost savings, but you must carefully evaluate the high cost and long payback before proceeding.

Energy Star RefrigeratorAfter heating, cooling, and water heaters, the refrigerator is the appliance that uses the most energy in most homes.  So it would be the first one to consider replacing.  I always recommend choosing energy star rated appliances when possible.  They will save you money in the long run. You can view the energy star database of products as a starting point. Do you have a second refrigerator or freezer?  If so, do you need it?  If you can do without it, you’ve just put an extra $90 to $100 in your pocket each year in electricity savings!

Each concept and energy initiative I’ve mentioned in this article deserves a separate discussion.  Let me know what subjects you would like more information about and I’ll consider it for a future blog article.  Share your thoughts.  Happy savings!