Fall and winter are just around the corner, but updating your home with energy-efficiency upgrades is always in season. Residential electricity rates have risen at a steady rate of 4% over the last 10 years, and there's no relief in sight. And if you're planning to sell your home any time in the near future, you'll likely be selling to a Millennial (according to a recent study by Bank of America, Millennials are becoming the dominant buyers in the real estate market). Millennials tend to expect energy efficient homes and they're often willing to pay a premium for them. And while home renovations can seem daunting, there are plenty of ways to renovate for energy efficiency without breaking the bank. Here are six green home renovations that you can tackle this year.
Ditch Your Old-School Light Bulbs and Opt for LEDs
Switching to Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs is one of the easiest ways to reduce home energy use. LED bulbs can last up to 50,000 hours - that's 50 times longer than incandescent bulbs! While the initial cost may be a bit higher than you're used to for light bulbs, the long-term savings are enormous (and, like most consumer goods, LED bulbs go on sale at hardware stores and even grocery stores from time to time). In addition to unparalleled efficiency, LED bulbs are also safer than incandescent bulbs because they contain no dangerous toxins like mercury and they emit almost no heat (which is also a big reason for their efficiency) - so they're not a fire hazard.
Upgrade to a Programmable Thermostat
For an initial investment of as little as $30, a programmable thermostat can provide your family with up to $150 in energy savings each year. These thermostats allow you to easily adjust your home's temperature to fit your family's schedule. With a programmable thermostat, you can set the heat to come on shortly before everyone wakes up in the morning and shut off after everyone's left for work and school. The same is true in the evening; pre-heat the house before everyone comes home and shut the system off after bedtime. This "as needed" heating schedule immediately lowers your energy bills and reduces the workload of your HVAC system - all without sacrificing any warmth and comfort. Newer models can even be controlled over the Internet, enabling you to adjust your home's temperature remotely.
Seal Cracks Around Your Windows and Doors
Simply caulking gaps around your windows and adding weatherstripping around doors can reduce CO2 emissions from your home by over 1,000 pounds in just one year! If you're not sure whether your windows are producing a draft and need caulking, there's an easy test: Using a lighter or a candle, hold the flame close to where your window meets the frame. If the flame flickers, it indicates a draft that should be caulked. You'll also want to inspect the exterior of windows and caulk any gaps with weatherproof sealant from the outside.
Weatherstripping is a simple rubber insulator that attaches to the bottoms of doors to prevent air from escaping in both directions. It's inexpensive and easy to install.
Harvest Rainwater and Reduce Your Water Bill
On average, 58% of urban water use goes toward landscaping. You can greatly reduce your water usage by setting up a home rainwater harvesting system (like our rain barrel systems that capture water from your roof and gutters or our all-in-one Pioneer WaterHarvest tanks that collect, store, and filter rainwater to NSF standards for potable water).
Rainwater is not for drinking unless it's been properly treated (the WaterHarvest tanks do this for you), but it is always better for your plants since it's highly oxygenated and free of the fluoride found in tap water, which can harm plants and decrease soil quality over time. Additionally, if you live in an area that enforces municipal water restrictions, you'll have your own water supply that replenishes every time it rains!
Invest in Quality Insulation
OK, so insulation isn't exactly an exciting home renovation. But it can have a huge impact on the comfort of your home, your energy consumption, and your environmental impact. Properly insulating your home can prevent thousands of pounds of CO2 emissions each year! It can also significantly decrease your heating and cooling costs (which account for 50-70% of monthly energy costs in most homes). Any amount of insulation will decrease your energy costs, but you can get the biggest bang for your buck by prioritizing the attic and any crawl spaces. Cellulose insulation is considered the most effective eco-friendly type of insulation available. It's made from recycled newsprint and other paper sources that would otherwise end up in landfills.
Take Advantage of Great Prices on Solar
While your monthly energy costs have been steadily climbing, the price of solar has been decreasing. And many local, state, and federal rebates and incentives are available for installing solar at home. Some utility companies will even buy your excess solar energy from you through a process called "net metering." And remember, there are also lots of ways to utilize solar power at your home, including photovoltaic (PV) panels for electricity, solar water heaters, solar-powered water pumps, and backup power sources.
Danielle Hegedus is an Atlanta-based writer. She writes for the window replacement experts at Modernize Windows as well as a variety of lifestyle and home design websites. Danielle recently finished her first cookbook in collaboration with Chef Kamal Grant for Atlanta's beloved Sublime Doughnuts.