10 Energy-Efficient Home Upgrades You Should Make

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On Earth Day and every day, we need to find ways to be kind to the Earth, preserve our natural resources and minimize the energy we are using. There are a variety of things that homeowners can do to make their homes more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. Adam Prince of ZeroEnergy Design recommends implementing what you can now, while also creating a simple energy plan for the future.

"If an opportunity arises, you'll be ready," Prince said. "Think ahead about your decisions to improve your building shell, systems, appliances, lighting, and possibly add renewable energy. Having an energy plan in place will help avoid snap decisions and instead make the right decision -- for example, if your refrigerator breaks, if the roof needs replacement, or if you are about to finish the basement."

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10 Eco-Friendly Things to Do for Your Home
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10 Energy-Efficient Home Upgrades You Should Make

Substituting less efficient bulbs to more efficient ones is one of the simplest ways to save energy. According to Energy Star, CFL bulbs can save up to $40 over the life of the bulb, use about 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and last at least six times longer. LEDs, now available with Edison screw tops, are 80 percent more energy-efficient and last about 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs.

Dirty air filters restrict air flow and make the system work harder to heat and cool the house. This wastes energy, as well as money. Changing filters is quite easy, should be done regularly and can be replaced by the homeowner.

Set it to reduce energy when you will not be home or when you are sleeping. According to Energy Star, the proper setting of a programmable thermostat can save the homeowner about $180 each year in energy costs.

An on-demand tankless gas unit heats the water only when it is needed, rather than incurring standby losses. For an electric solution, a heat pump hot water heater is typically more than twice as efficient as standard electric resistance tanks. 

Sealing up leaks in the envelope of the house, particularly around windows and doors and the attic and basement will save a great deal of energy. An energy audit can help to identify where these leaks exist. A tax credit or other financial incentive may be available for a percentage of the cost of air sealing the house, achieved with weather stripping, spray foam, caulking and house wrap.

Aerators can be added to faucets and showerheads to limit the amount of water being used. Old toilets that can use up to 3.5 gallons per flush should be replaced with new low-flow toilets that can use as little as 1.28 gallons per flush and save up to 3,000 gallons of water per toilet, per year.

Although ceiling fans do not cool the air, they move the air to help make people in the room feel cool, reducing the need for other more energy guzzling mechanical cooling. Energy Star qualified fans are 50 percent more efficient than conventional units and can save up to $15 per year on utility bills.

Energy Star indicates that replacing an old dishwasher (from before 1994) with an Energy Star certified one will save $40 on utility bills and about 1,300 gallons of water over its lifetime. Energy Star  refrigerators use about 15 percent less energy than non-certified models and can save the homeowner from $200 to $1,100 on energy over the lifetime of the appliance. Energy Star certified clothes washers use about 20 percent less energy and 35 percent less water than regular washers.

Select sustainable or recycled materials when replacing interior finishes. If carpeting or other flooring is worn out consider replacing it with FSC certified bamboo, or a locally harvested hardwood. Worn out countertops can be replaced with materials that are made from recycled content such as some Formica, quartz, glass and even paper.

This is a simple, inexpensive way to be eco-friendly. Using cloth bags to shop are an ideal way to save plastic and paper; they’re readily available to purchase in most grocery stores. However, if you prefer to use plastic or paper bags, recycle them for liners in trashcans or for newspaper recycling.

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Sheri Koones is an award-winning author and journalist who has written several books about building energy efficient and environmentally friendly homes. Her latest book is Prefabulous + Almost Off the Grid: Your Path to Building an Energy-Independent Home, published by Abrams.

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