Improve Your Home's Energy Usage

Find out how you can reduce your energy consumption

If you have work around the house that needs to be done, consider doing an resource audit and building energy conservation into your projects. There are organizations in many cities that offer free or low cost services to find ways to improve your home's energy usage. Some are affiliated or sponsored by the power companies and others are sponsored by local government. Even water bureaus get into the act with water conservation measures. Regardless of the agency, you could benefit.

New homes built since about 1985 are usually up to current energy standards, but older homes can benefit substantially by increasing insulation levels, caulking, and window replacement. If you've never systematically analysed your home's energy performance, you might be paying a lot more than necessary to heat and cool your home.

Start with an energy audit

Whether the audit is free or a fee for service, an experienced energy auditor will come to your home and assess its energy efficiency. The auditor will look at insulation levels in your ceiling, walls, and floors, evaluate the type of ductwork and whether it needs to be sealed or insulated. He'll look at existing heating and cooling systems as well as appliances, then suggest replacements that could result in energy savings. He'll also look at windows, caulking, and vents. Once he's completed his walk through, he'll provide a list of the various improvements you can make.

If you are paying for the service, find out whether the auditor will cover more than just energy. Recommendations for water conservation, native or xeriscaped landscaping, or other useful cost-saving solutions.

Rebates and incentives

Every region of the country is different. Some cities and states are extremely proactive in encouraging citizens to reduce energy or water usage. Often the carrot is a compelling incentive program. In Portland, Oregon, homeowners serviced by the local electric and gas companies can take advantage of programs offered by the Energy Trust of Oregon. A few of the current incentives include a $300 rebate each for ceiling, floor, and wall insulation upgrades. For Oregonians, that's a smoking deal. Other cities and power companies offer comparable programs.

Unfortunately, not all parts of the country are so proactive. To achieve maximum reductions, homeowners have to do their own research and assess their homes or hire professional energy auditors to perform evaluations. Hiring an auditor may run as high as $200-300, but it can still pay, though more slowly, to have an evaluation performed. Just make sure that the auditor provides a comprehensive report with priorities clearly spelled out. There's not much point if you don't know exactly what to do first and understand clearly what the short- and long-term benefits are. An auditor can not be absolutely specific about costs and savings, but they should be able to provide a viable range for planning purposes.

Do it yourself

There's nothing complicated about an energy audit. You just need to know what to look for. A basic checklist is a good place to start, though a more comprehensive checklist with specific recommendations is even more useful. For instance, your ceiling insulation might consist of 4 inches of vermiculite. That's equivalent to an R4 insulation value. Depending on your area of the country and building codes, you could upgrade your insulation to R38-49. If your home still has its original single-pane windows, upgrading them to double-panes can save you lots of money.

Energy improvements

Conservation is the cheapest source of energy. Once you've conducted your home audit yourself or with a professional, you'll have a clear idea of what you can incorporate into your next home improvement project.

Our list of tips might help you decide how to organize your projects with conservation measures that will save you money over the long term.


Are you ready to upgrade your windows? NextStep Remodeling can provide leads for qualified contactors and installers.

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