Homebuilders are starting to pay more attention to sustainability in the construction process since they’re more mindful of eco-conscious buyers and the rising cost of utilities. For example, the use of cellular glass insulation is becoming more common in the building industry.
What about existing and especially older homes, however? How can you realistically lower your utility bills and be more sustainably minded?
The following are things to keep in mind.
After-the-Fact Insulation and General Efficiency
While you might not be able to re-insulate your entire house, there are still things you can do to make it more insulated overall.
First and foremost, the winter season is here, and you should go through your entire house to make sure there aren’t any air leaks in your windows and doors. You can use caulking and weatherproofing strips to combat them. You can also install a window insulation kit.
If you have thick, lined curtains, this will keep heat in your house. If you don’t want to buy new curtains, you can add material as a liner, like fleece. During the day, keep your curtains open in the winter, so the sun will warm them up. Then, as the sun is setting, close them to seal the heat in.
Some people use so-called door snakes, which are essentially just something made from materials like old socks that you put at the bottom of your door to block the cold air.
If you have a chimney, plug it in while it’s not in use. In one study, household heating bills were 30% higher when a house had a missing or broken fireplace damper. If your flue doesn’t properly seal, you’re potentially losing a lot of heat through the chimney. You can use a chimney balloon to seal it.
If you have an attic, take a look around. Heat can escape through the attic. You can add foil sheets to the rafters in the roof so that the heat is reflected and goes back into your living space.
Check the seals on your appliances, just like you do for your windows and doors because you want your cold air staying where it belongs.
Improve your heating and cooling efficiency by fixing leaky ductwork, and if you’re sleeping or not at home, set your thermostat back anywhere from 10 to 15 degrees. A programmable thermostat will do the work for you.
Regularly change your air filters because when an air conditioner or furnace has a dirty filter, it makes running your appliances more expensive. It also makes your home dustier. Make sure you’re changing your filters every 60-90 days.
The hot water you use in your home is likely your second-largest power-related expense, based on data from the Energy Department.
Taking shorter showers is simple enough, but there are other things you can do here as well. Replace your showerhead with one that’s efficient, and don’t wash clothes in hot water.
Adjust the temperature on your water heater since the default is typically 140 degrees. If you lower it to 120 degrees, you can reduce the costs of heating your water by as much as 10%. If you’re going out of town, turn the heater to the lowest possible setting.
Lighting and Power
Your electronics and lights make up around 11% of your energy usage.
The easiest fix here is swapping out your old lightbulbs for LED bulbs with an Energy Star label.
Dimmer switch installation isn’t necessarily as easy, but it can save you a lot. Dimmers let you adjust brightness as you need, so you’re saving electricity, and you’re also in control of the ambiance of your room.
Some electronics don’t ever actually power off. They might be in standby mode, so over time, they’re using a continuous trickle of electricity. You can use a smart power strip, which will cut the current if these devices aren’t being used.
You’ll often hear these devices referred to as vampire appliances. A vampire appliance can be anything that doesn’t need to be plugged in all the time yet is.
You can get a home energy monitor that will tell you more about the use of electricity in your home via a mobile app. These devices plug into your electrical panel. You can buy them online, and then it will show you how plugging in or unplugging different devices could impact how much wattage you’re using.
Only run your appliances, like your dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer, when they’re full. No matter how full they are, they’re using the same amount of energy, so wait until you can do a complete load.
Get An Energy Audit
If you’ve never done so, with the likely soaring costs of energy this winter, it could be a good time to consult a professional for an energy audit.
During an energy audit, the person conducting it may do blower door tests, which will check for drafts. They can also use infrared cameras and do other types of inspections to assess the house, the features, and your habits.
These take between one and five hours to complete and usually cost around $400 on average, although they can be more depending on where you live and how big your house is.
Some energy companies offer audits for free or at a discount to their customers, so before you pay, talk to your provider.
The Department of Energy says that if you make efficiency upgrades, it can save you between 5-30% on your bills.
Finally, look at the size of the machines you’re using for both work and entertainment. More people are doing more things at home than ever before, but this could be negatively affecting your energy usage.
Your desktop computer, for example, is going to use more energy than a laptop. Laptops are more efficient overall, and you can unplug them more easily when you’re not using them.
Video game consoles are another example. They’re a lot less efficient than a smaller streaming device. Some people use video game consoles to stream TV shows and apps, but you should only use these consoles for games. Get a dedicated streaming device for TV because a console will use as much as 20 times more energy.