Our homes, especially if they are older, can be wildly inefficient. And even though new homes are often made with energy efficiency in mind, there are still ways you can decrease your house's carbon footprint. We spoke with the folks at Focus on Energy, which helps Wisconsin residents save energy, to find out where to get started with home-efficiency improvements. Updating your abode will take more than a weekend, so keep these steps in mind for when the time is right.
Step 1: Get an Energy Audit
First, request an energy audit—find a certified pro at hersindex.com—to learn what improvements will give you the most bang for your buck. In many cases, incentives provided by the government or your own utility can help cover the cost of your audit and upgrades. Find out what’s available at dsireusa.org.
Step 2: Improve Insulation
The easiest way to make your home cozier and more efficient is often by installing quality insulation and filling in the cracks and gaps around your attic, doors, and windows. With some minimal time and financial investment, these quick projects alone can reduce your home energy use by 20 percent or more.
Step 3: Increase Efficiency
Heating, cooling, and ventilation hog about half of a typical home's energy use. Get a yearly tune-up and regularly swap filters for max efficiency. When furnace shopping, seek AFUE ratings of 95 percent and up. Check for proper sizing of your A/C and a SEER rating of at least 16. For the quickest results: Buy a smart or programmable thermostat.
Step 4: Cut Down Water Heating
Two fixes can yield big savings on water heating, which makes up about 20 percent of home energy use: Insulate hot-water piping, and turn the water heater’s thermostat to around 120 degrees Fahrenheit. (Beware that dangerous Legionella bacteria can live in water cooler than that.) Depending on your home and needs, consider a solar water heater or on-demand tankless system.
Step 5: Update Appliances
When it’s time to upgrade, look for the ENERGY STAR label. Lightbulbs, appliances, electronics, and other products must meet strict efficiency standards for this U.S. EPA-backed certification. These items might cost a bit more upfront, but you will save plenty in money and energy soon enough.