Energy-Efficient Home Improvements

Are high utility bills getting you down? Would you like to do something nice for the planet that has generously fostered your existence? If so, we have good news! Whether you’re able to spend a little or a lot, there are plenty of things you can do to improve your home’s energy efficiency and help keep more green – not only in your life, but also your wallet.

See the Light

One of the easiest fixes on the list involves the humblest of household devices: the light bulb. According to the US Department of Energy, approximately 11% of a typical household’s energy usage goes toward lighting. Replacing traditional incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient halogen bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs, and/or LED bulbs is a simple swap that can make a big difference in the long term. These kinds of bulbs last much longer and use less power, saving you money on both replacement costs and utility bills.


Think About Thermostats

An old-style thermostat always heats or cools your home to the same temperature, even if the house is empty, unless you adjust it manually. Replacing it with a programmable thermostat lets you schedule changes in heating and cooling, keeping you comfortable when you’re home and saving you money while you’re away. There are many different kinds, from simple clock-based models to sophisticated Wi-Fi ones controllable via tablet or smartphone that can integrate with smart home technology and learn your habits to better predict the optimal temperature at any given time.


Seal Open Spaces

Even small cracks and gaps at the edges of walls, windows, doors, or fireplaces can inflate your heating and cooling expenses, as your climate-controlled air leaks into the outside world. Closing those cracks with a tube of caulk will keep your money from needlessly seeping away. Similarly, blocking the gaps in badly sealed ducts can stop you from losing hot air as it moves from the furnace to your living spaces.

Make sure you choose the right kind of caulk for the surface to which you will be applying it:

  • Masonry caulk works best on porous surfaces like stone, concrete, or mortar.
  • Silicone caulk is better for non-porous surfaces like metal, glass, or ceramic.

Insulation is another relatively inexpensive way to beat (or keep) the heat. If insulation is missing from your attic, crawlspace, or basement, a few rolls of fiberglass insulation or some loose-fill insulation blown into the gaps will help keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer, paying for itself in a surprisingly short time.

  • The thermal resistance of a particular type of insulation determines its effectiveness as an insulator – this quality is known as its R-value.
  • Higher R-values mean that insulation is more effective.


Watch Your Windows

Now that we’ve talked about the gaps in your home, what about the windows, doors, and skylights themselves? These portals provide light, warmth, ventilation, and scenic views, but old ones can be a real “pane” when it comes to air leakage and heat loss. Upgrading to modern, energy-efficient windows is a worthwhile option for many homeowners. You’ll need to consider carefully the orientation and location of your home to make the best possible choices:

  • The Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) number for a window, skylight, or glass door is the amount of passive solar heat the property will capture and retain through that portal. Higher numbers mean a greater amount of heating from environmental sunlight.
    • High SHGC numbers are generally more helpful in colder climates, where you’re mainly using energy to heat your home, rather than warmer climates, where you’re mainly using energy to cool it.
    • South-facing windows, skylights, and patio doors receive the greatest amount of sunlight, so high-SHGC windows, skylights, and patio doors facing in that direction will give you the largest amount of heat. East- and west-facing ones will gain less heat, and north-facing ones will gain even less than that.
    • The slope of a skylight affects its SHGC. A good general guideline is to take your city’s latitude, and then install your skylight at an angle between five and fifteen degrees higher than that number.
  • U-factor is a measure of the rate of heat flow through a window. Lower U-factors are almost always better, because less heat will be flowing in during summer or out during winter.
  • Things like tints, low-e coatings, and extra panes can reduce Visible Transmittance (VT), the amount of visible light passing through a window, patio door, or skylight. Low VT numbers lead to darker interior spaces, so be aware of the tradeoff.
  • Just like insulation inside walls, solid exterior doors have their own R-factor. Replace old or badly fitted exterior doors with new ones that are better insulators.
  • Optimize the performance of new windows and doors with weatherstripping!


Upgrade Appliances & Systems

Nobody likes major home expenses, like replacing appliances, furnaces, air conditioners, or water heaters, but these things happen to everyone sooner or later. Fortunately, there is a silver lining – choosing a new tankless water heater or an Energy Star-certified appliance can help recoup your costs over the lifetime of the replacement. The Department of Energy has a helpful calculator that allows you to estimate how much you’re paying to power your current equipment and see how much you could save with more efficient modern versions. There are also federal income tax credits available for qualifying products, to make deals even sweeter.


If you’d like to try out some of these ideas, but are still looking for the right home to improve, don’t worry! Howard Hanna can find the perfect house to help you start living clean and green. Check out all the best listings in your area at, along with information on our “My First Home” program.

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