Many consumers who invest in a solar photovoltaic system make the mistake of not considering the energy efficiency of their home. Energy efficiency is defined as delivering the same value with less energy input. In other words, an energy-efficient home will enable someone to do the same things – heat and cool their home and power appliances in the same manner – but using less energy. 

Optimizing the energy performance of a building, therefore, makes sense before investing in a solar PV system, because a home will consume less energy and therefore require a smaller, less costly PV system. So where should one begin to make their home more energy efficient?

Every time you buy a home appliance, tune up your heating system, or replace a burned-out light bulb, you're making a decision that affects the environment. 

Serious human health and environmental problems are directly associated with energy production and transportation: such as urban smog, oil spills, and acid rain, to mention just a few. But you may not realize how much a difference each one of us can make by considering energy use in our household purchases and maintenance decisions.

Energy Audit

The first step is getting an energy audit. Energy audits are assessments of a building's energy performance. For just a few hundred dollars, trained professionals will perform a series of diagnostics on a building to determine where energy loss is taking place or where opportunities exist to improve the energy performance of the home. 

At the end of an audit, the energy auditor will give a written report that outlines the most cost-effective ways to save energy. By some estimates, following through on energy audits, save the typical homeowner up to 30% on their energy bill.

Air Sealing and Insulation

One of the biggest inefficiencies in most buildings occurs due to air leaks in the building envelope that cause air to flow between the outside and inside. Air flows from hot to cold locations, so a building with a lot of air leakage will lose considerable amounts of treated air. A heating or air conditioning system has to work harder to maintain an optimal temperature. The result is that the building consumes more energy than it should.

One way to tell if a building is leaky is if temperatures are inconsistent in different rooms or areas. Adding insulation to a home's walls, attic, and crawl spaces to seal air leaks is one of the most cost-effective ways for someone to improve their home's energy performance. This minimizes heat transfer with the outdoors.

Windows and Doors

A lot of heat transfer also occurs through windows and doors, particularly in older homes with outdated windows and doors. As such, another way to improve the energy performance of a home's building shell is to make upgrades to its windows and doors. Newer models are designed to reduce convective and conductive heat transfer and for windows, block or trap radiant heat from the sunlight. 

Keep in mind that replacing energy inefficient windows and doors is typically a less cost-effective way to make energy improvements than sealing air leaks and adding insulation simply due to the higher price tag associated with windows and doors - insulating and air sealing products are very cheap and have higher returns on investment.

Lighting

Lighting makes up approximately fifteen percent of most homes, electricity usage. Many homeowners use outdated bulbs, like incandescent bulbs, that consume large amounts of energy. Switching to high-efficiency light bulbs, like compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), halogens, and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) is an easy way to reduce electric consumption. 

According to the United States Department of Energy, these high-efficiency alternatives use 25-80% less energy than older bulbs and last 3-25 times longer. CFLs are commonly used in regular lamps. LEDs and halogens are best suited for recessed light fixtures or ballasts.

Appliances

Most Americans have dozens upon dozens of electrical devices plugged into sockets throughout their home. From dishwashers and stoves to refrigerators and televisions, electrical devices are prevalent in most households and account for a considerable amount of energy usage. Fortunately, appliance manufacturers are constantly increasing the energy efficiency of the appliances that go to market. 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created a brand called ENERGY STAR that serves as a way to signify the most efficient products on the shelf. In other words, by looking for appliances with the ENERGY STAR label, homeowners can make upgrades to their electrical devices and save a lot on electricity. Visit ENERGY STAR's website for the full list of products.

Heating and Cooling

Nearly half of all the energy a typical home uses goes towards heating and cooling expenses. As such, optimizing heating and cooling appliances is another major way to improve the energy performance of most homes. As a general rule, if a furnace, water heater, or air conditioner is more than ten years old, it's probably pretty outdated and uses way too much energy. Simply upgrading to an ENERGY STAR model can cut energy usage considerably.

In addition to upgrading heating and cooling appliances, it's also important to maintain your devices. Air filters should be changed every three months to make sure air intake and output are optimal. This also prevents dust and sediment from accumulating in the system, which can help extend the appliance's lifetime. Furnaces and air conditioning systems should also receive annual tune-ups from trained professionals - this ensures they're running optimally from an energy and comfort standpoint.

Passive Solar

Finally, before investing in a solar PV system, homeowners should also attempt to naturally harness the sun through passive solar design. Passive solar design is essentially designing your home to optimize the sun's radiant heat naturally. 

This might mean maximizing radiant sunlight capture (in cooler climates or during winter) and/or minimizing radiant sunlight penetration (in warmer months or during summer). If done properly, passive solar design can reduce or even eliminate the need for heating and cooling systems.

Since North American homes receive sunlight mainly through the south side of buildings, most of the passive design takes place here. The type of design will depend on the building's climate.

During winter or in cooler climates that have high heating loads, a passive design will attempt to capture as much heat as possible from natural sunlight flowing into the south-facing windows and store it. This sunlight can also be used to provide adequate lighting to the home during daylight hours, reducing the need for artificial lighting. 

Passive design systems here include a few basic elements. First, the windows must be properly oriented at approximately 30 degrees of true south. Second, the windows should be unobstructed by objects like buildings or trees so they can maximize light capture during daylight hours. Third, thermal mass is a home's ability to store this captured heat. It's commonly stored by materials like concrete, brick, stone, or tile on floors and/or walls. Finally, a distribution system should be installed to help transfer the heat to other parts of the home.

During summer months or in cooler climates, passive design works differently. Namely, homeowners will want to block out the sunlight's penetration into the home to keep the home cool. 

Good passive design systems will have some type of control strategy that helps provide on-demand shading over south-facing windows. This can be done through sensing devices, like thermostats that signal some type of coverage - blinds, shades, awnings. Or it can even be using proper shrubs and trees that provide coverage via their foliage during the warmer months.

Make Your Home Energy Efficient

How to make your home energy efficient, save even more and use much less solar power.

Home energy efficiency in the form of reducing power consumption is one of the most important factors to consider when going solar. When you make your home energy efficient, you don't waste as much of the solar energy your solar system creates.

With a more energy-efficient house, your solar panels will be more cost-effective and you'll have more power available to use, rather than just letting it slip through the cracks.

When you make your home energy efficient, you use less power and save more money.

Home Energy Efficiency Tips

Refrigerators

The refrigerator alone typically accounts for 20% of an average domestic electric bill. New refrigerators and freezers are about 75% more efficient than those made 30 years ago, so investing in a state-of-the-art refrigerator can cut hundreds of dollars from your electric bill during its lifetime.

Fluorescent Bulbs

Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs: Change the bulbs you use most in your house to compact fluorescents. Each compact fluorescent bulb will keep half a ton of carbon dioxide out of the air over its lifetime. And while compact fluorescents are more expensive than incandescent bulbs, they last 10 times as long and can save $30 per year in electricity costs.

Indoor Temperature

Set heating and cooling temperatures at a level that doesn't waste energy. Get an electronic thermostat that will allow your furnace to heat the house to a lower temperature when you're sleeping and return it to a more comfortable temperature before you wake up. 

In the winter, set your thermostat at 68 degrees in the daytime and 55 degrees at night. In the summer, keep it at 78 degrees. Remember that water heaters work most efficiently between 120 degrees and 140 degrees. In your refrigerator, set the temperature at about 37 degrees and adjust the freezer to operate at about 3 degrees. Use a thermometer to take readings and set the temperatures correctly.

Turn Off Lights

Turn off the lights: Turn off lights and other electrical appliances such as televisions and radios when you're not using them. This may seem obvious, but it's surprising how many times we forget. Install automatic timers for lights that people in your house frequently forget to flick off when leaving a room. Use dimmers where you can.

Use Appliances Efficiently

Use your appliances more efficiently: The way you use an appliance can change the amount of energy it consumes. Make sure your oven gasket is tight, and resist the urge to open the oven door to peek, as each opening can reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees. Preheat only as much as needed, and avoid placing foil on racks – your food won't cook as quickly. 

Clothes Dryer

After the refrigerator, the biggest drain of household energy is the clothes dryer. Dryers kept in warm areas work more efficiently. Clear the lint filter after each load, and dry only full loads. Hanging clothing outside in the sun and air to dry is the most energy-efficient method of all.

Utility Company Incentives

Check your utility's energy-efficiency incentives: Some utility companies have programs that encourage energy efficiency. Check with your utility to find out if it offers free home energy audits, cash rebates for using energy-efficient lighting and appliances, and lower electric rates for households meeting certain energy-efficiency criteria.

Weatherize

Weatherize your home or apartment: Drafty homes and apartments allow energy dollars to leak away. Seal and caulk around windows and doors. Make sure your home has adequate insulation. Many old homes do not have sufficient insulation, especially in the attic. You can check the insulation yourself or have it done as part of an energy audit.

Renewable Energy

Choose renewable energy: Many consumers can now choose their energy supplier. If you have a choice, choose an electric utility that uses renewable power resources, such as solar, wind, low-impact hydroelectric, or geothermal.

Sunlight

Let the sunlight in: The cheapest and most energy-efficient light and heat source is often right outside your window. On bright days, open blinds, drapes, and shutters to let the sunlight into your home for free. Also, remember that sunlight entering a room is essentially passive solar heating. Even on cold winter days, sun streaming into a room can raise the temperature several degrees.

When you improve your home energy efficiency, it is as if you had built a larger solar system that produces more power, faster. What's the point of trying to save money by solar powering your house, if you're just going to lose the savings because you don't have an efficient home?

By following the tips to make your home energy efficient below, you will not only save (and thus utilize more) energy, but you will also greatly improve and increase the value of your home because you'll now have a much more energy-efficient house.

Energy Efficient Appliances in Your Home

Having household appliances makes our life easier. Back in the day, you would have to boil a kettle over an open fire or wash your clothes by hand in the river. As humankind advanced, innovative products were created to assist in easing our lives such as the washing machine, electricity, light, stoves, ovens, heaters, air conditioners, electric kettles, cars, boats, airplanes, and hair dryers. 

This not only cut down the time spent on household duties, it also meant we could live more luxuriously. Unfortunately, the consequences of adapting to this lifestyle mean it has produced greenhouse gasses and released carbon emissions which have been detrimental to our environment. 

Since a Renewable Energy (RE) system can be expensive, it is wise to invest in energy-efficient appliances for your home. Every dollar you spend on efficient appliances will save you about three dollars in system components. For example, get rid of your electric water heater in favor of solar, propane, or natural gas. It takes many photovoltaic modules to run an electric water heater, stove, clothes dryer, or any other appliance that uses a heating element. 

Put all thermal loads on a non-electric source. The average household produces approximately 15 tons of greenhouse gasses annually however if you have an energy smart household, it cuts a third of emissions.

Lighting is another important place to save energy. A 20 watt compact fluorescent will put out as much light as a 75 watt incandescent bulb, and last a lot longer. Outfitting an entire home with energy-efficient lighting will save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of extra photovoltaic modules. The same is true for efficient refrigerators and freezers--efficient units use less than 1/4 the energy of inefficient units. Every watt-hour of energy you don't consume is a watt-hour you don't have to produce, convert, and store.

We are not talking about sitting and freezing in the dark, but doing whatever we choose to do in the most efficient manner possible. Energy efficiency pays big dividends in renewable energy systems.

Alternative Electrical Heating


heating

Home batteries have great potential for homeowners who want to save money, and the planet, by heating their homes with non-polluting, renewable energy. Batteries allow the homeowner to store electricity for times when the energy source (sun, wind) isn't available, or they are using more electricity than they are generating. 

There is an additional plus, in that the direct current stored in the batteries can be used for electrical heat without converting it into alternating current. With modern home insulation techniques, an alternative energy home could go through a moderate winter, heated only by a combination of solar and wind power.

The same lithium-ion battery technology powering electric cars is starting to be used for homes. These batteries are just starting to be used by homes and businesses to store excess electricity generated from solar panels, wind turbines, and hydroelectric systems. 

Large technology manufacturers, such as Honda, Tesla, Bosch, GE, and Samsung are involved. Honda has unveiled a demonstration smart home that features a rechargeable home battery, along with an electric vehicle, solar panels, and geothermal heat pump. And is controlled by an energy management system.

Flow batteries are another new way to store electricity. Researchers from Harvard and MIT have developed these new batteries. Flow batteries are metal-free and rely on carbon-based molecules, called quinones. Quinones are naturally abundant, inexpensive, small organic (carbon-based) molecules. They are very similar to the molecules storing energy in plants and animals. 

Flow batteries store their electricity in external tanks, similar to fuel cells, instead of within the battery itself. The two basic components, the electrochemical conversion hardware, which the fluids flow through (this sets the peak power capacity), and the chemical storage tanks (these set the energy capacity), can be sized to fit the circumstances. This means the amount of energy stored is limited only by the size of the tanks. Larger amounts of energy can be stored for less cost than with traditional tanks.

Having touched on modern storage systems for electricity, it is time to move on to electrical heating. Because stored electricity comes out as direct current, it is an ideal source of energy for electrical heaters. With modern heaters becoming more and more efficient, they are fast becoming a very reasonable option for home heating. And, there is no heat loss through the chimney. Heat pumps are even better.

Electrical baseboard heating has been around for a while and has developed a reputation for being expensive. That used to be true, but, as with other forms of hearing, they have become more efficient. When electricity is compared with the cost of heating fuels (natural gas, propane, etc.), it quickly becomes apparent electric heat doesn't deserve its long-standing reputation as an expensive way to heat.

Baseboard heaters work by way of convection, taking in the cold air near the floor, warming it, and releasing it into the room as it expands and rises. As the air cools, it sinks to the floor and is drawn back to the baseboard heater, where it is warmed again. 

This cycle of warming the air will continue until its thermostat reaches the desired temperature, and the heater shuts off automatically.

Wall heaters are another way to heat your home electrically. Wall heaters typically involve a fan, so part of the unit would require AC, either from the grid or from your battery pack, per an inverter to convert the electricity to AC. As with the baseboard heating, temperatures can be set room to room, and no ductwork needs to be installed or maintained.

Radiant heat from the floor means your feet are warm, and warm feet generally make you feel more comfortable than other heating systems for a variety of reasons. It feels warmer because the heat is delivered from the floor. In-floor heating does not constantly cycle on and off, causing temperature swings, and making you feel too warm one minute and too cool the next. Nor does it dry out the air, in turn drying out your skin and nasal passages. 

Radiant heat is relatively draft free because there are no supply and return registers or convection-reliant radiators. Finally, the air tends to be cleaner because dust and allergens are less likely to be stirred up.

Heat pumps are remarkably efficient and very cost-effective in terms of electricity used. This is because they are not creating heat, but absorbing it from the outside, concentrating it, and moving it inside. Moving heat around is much cheaper than creating heat. In the summer months, they do the same thing, but in reverse, acting as air conditioners. For cooling, they are more efficient than standard in-window air conditioners, and cool larger areas.

The weakness of a heat pump is its upfront price. They are expensive. Also, you will need alternating current to run a heat pump, meaning your alternative energy system will definitely need an inverter. However, your electrical usage will be much lower than baseboard or wall heaters would be.

Once installed, heat pumps are part of the structure (meaning they are not portable, or easily removed). There's no need to pack them away when summer ends because you'll be using them for heating. There is usually no need for additional construction to support their weight. Window AC units often require a shelf to support their weight and to protect the window casing.

All in all, we can expect home heating to go through a number of changes over the next few decades. Alternative energy equipment will become cheaper, and heating fuels will become more expensive.

Heat Pump Water Heaters

In a home or building, the air conditioning system takes heat from the air and transports it to the outside, cooling the building's interior. A heat pump water heater works in much the same way, but instead of transporting the heat out of doors, it is sent to the inside of the water heater.

Water heater

This is a great idea for warm climates. HP water heaters aren't as functional in places with cold winters, but they still save money. Just not as much. 

There are two minor problems with using HP water heaters in cold climates. The first problem is that at temperatures of 40 or below, there simply isn't enough heat to draw out of the air. However, a 55 degree basement would be ideal, and HP water heaters also act as dehumidifiers, eliminating dampness problems. 

The second minor problem with an HP unit in colder climates is that, now that it's in the basement, the heat from your furnace or boiler is being used to heat the water heater. If the HP water heater is indoors, it has to get its heat from somewhere, so it takes it from the heated air in your home.

In spite of this, you should still see a significant savings in your utility bills. This is because it is much cheaper to move heat around than to pay for the fuel to create heat. An old style water heater adds to the amount of fuel being burned, and increases your costs. HP water heaters simply use less energy.

While it is true that heat pump water heaters tend to be much more expensive to purchase than their more primitive, fuel burning counterparts, an HP water heater, running at optimum, is able to transfer up to 2.5 times more energy than it consumes in electricity. 

Today’s HP water heaters are significantly less expensive, and more efficient than the earlier models, making them more affordable, but not cheap. The fuel for an old style water heater is expensive, but the actual equipment is relatively cheap. 

The buyer is faced with the dilemma of purchasing an expensive water heater that will save money over the long haul, or a cheap water heater using expensive fuel, and costing more over a period of time. With today's fuel costs, it is increasingly more cost effective to switch over to HP water heaters. This is becoming true for most alternative energy technologies. Suggested retail prices can start at $700 and range up to $2,423.06 for the Stiebel Eltron Accelera 300, (currently one of the most efficient HP water heaters on the market).

It is primarily fear of the unknown which causes otherwise intelligent people to choose older, less efficient technologies. New technologies are not well understood, making them questionable. An old style water heater is what you grew up with. You're comfortable with them.

Cultural trends are also a factor. At present, it is common to think in the short term, and to make purchases using short term thinking. There are multiple reasons for this, but much of it has to do with our buying habits and role models. How often do you see someone on TV thinking hard and weighing all the factors before making a purchase? That would make for boring television. Impulse buying is much more fun. 

Fortunately, we're not actually TV characters. We are capable of independent thought, and of making comparisons. We don't need to rely on dysfunctional television role models. We can become our own role model.

There is also something to be said for environmentally responsible behavior. While it is true most people are quite comfortable with unthinkingly adding to global warming, the real question is, “Are you one of those people?” Most people don't “think” about the long term impact of heating with natural gas, even though it is a pollutant. Natural gas is made up primarily of methane, which is also described as one of the most potent greenhouse gasses in the Earth's atmosphere. 

The various small leaks in the piping and equipment do as much damage as carbon monoxide exhausts. Environmentally responsible people are aware of their impact on this planet, and make an effort to minimize the damage, erasing it completely wherever possible. “Are you one of those people?”

Short term benefits of using a heat pump water heater:

  • In warmer climates, HP water heaters can be installed indoors, or out of doors, freeing up space.

  • Unlike solar power, heat pump water heaters are not affected by cloudy days.

  • A smaller gas bill.

  • Heat pump water heaters can be used to supplement air conditioning.

  • Heat pump water heaters make great dehumidifiers.

Long term benefits of purchasing a heat pump water heater:

  • It does not pollute the atmosphere in any way, shape, or form.

  • It uses significantly less energy, and is more cost effective, than gas heated water tanks.

Tips for Conserving Hot Water

Water heaters are the second largest energy users in most homes – only space heating/cooling systems use more. Of the total electricity used in an all-electric home, 25 percent is used to heat water for laundry, cleaning, and bathing.

  • Lower the thermostat to between 120 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit. This simple action can save as much as $45 per year and reduce the risk of burns from tap water.

  • Fix leaky faucets promptly. As you can see, a faucet that leaks 30 drops of water per minute uses 18 kilowatt hours per month.

30 drops/minute = 84 gallons/month = 18 kWh/month

60 drops/minute = 168 gallons/month = 37 kWh/month

90 drops/minute = 253 gallons/month = 56 kWh/month

120 drops/minute = 337 gallons/month = 74 kWh/month

  • Wrap the water heater with insulation. If the water heater is located in an unheated area, wrapping it can save up to $1 per month.

  • Take quick showers instead of baths. You can save even more hot water by installing a shower flow restrictor, available at no charge from EWEB.

  • Turn off the electricity to the water heater at the main fuse box if you will be gone for three days or more.

  • Use solar energy to heat your water. It will concentrate sunlight, converted into heat then applied to a steam generator to be converted into electricity which in turn heats your water as well as generate electricity throughout the house and warm buildings.

  • Use cold water with the disposal. Cold water solidifies grease so the disposal can get rid of it more effectively.

  • Do all household cleaning with cold water if possible.

  • When washing dishes in the sink, fill the sink and plug it instead of letting the water run constantly.

  • Use cool water when washing clothes. Cold water detergents can be used for much, if not all, of your laundry. If you must wash clothes in warm or hot water, rinse them in cold water.

  • Use presoak cycle for heavily soiled loads to avoid two washings.

  • Whenever possible, wash only full loads. If your washer has a water level selector, use the lowest practical level.

By becoming aware of the negative effects that our leisurely lifestyle has caused, we can fix what we have slowly destroyed. By merely becoming more environmentally aware and using environmentally friendly alternatives, we can reduce our personal and society’s waste of material and energy. 

Furthermore, it will decrease your bills in the long term if you use products that are environmentally friendly.

Energy Awareness Tips

  • Clean or replace furnace and air conditioner filters once a month during heating/cooling seasons.

  • A basic rule of thumb for thermostat savings: for each degree you lower the thermostat in winter, you can save about 3% on your heating bill.

  • Flip the Switch from 10 to 13% of the average home's electricity costs can be controlled with the flip of a light switch. You don't want to live in the dark, so how can you light the house more efficiently? A good solution: compact fluorescent bulbs have improved tremendously since first introduced. They have become smaller, cheaper, brighter, and offer improved color quality.
    When buying fluorescent bulbs use lumens the amount of light produced to compare bulbs. For example, a 23-watt fluorescent bulb produces about the same number of lumens as a 100-watt incandescent. Your investment will generally pay for itself in a couple of years.

  • Shopping for a new major appliance before the old one breaks down gives you the best chance to find a higher efficiency model with the features you want. The typical refrigerator sold in 1996 has more features yet uses about half the electricity of a comparable model sold in 1980. However, there remains a wide range in efficiency between models. Choose appliances with the Energy Star label to ensure efficiency.

  • Buy a new refrigerator that is the right size for your needs.

  • Use a microwave or toaster oven to cook small portions and a conventional oven or stovetop for larger items.

  • A watched pot will eventually boil but putting a lid on it reduces cooking time and energy use. Also, match the pot size to the burner size to avoid energy waste.

  • Refrigerators in the U.S. alone use the equivalent of the output of more than 20 large nuclear power plants. If all the nation's households used the most efficient refrigerators, electricity savings would eliminate the need for about 10 large power plants.

  • If you are in the market for new appliances, look for energy-saving features such as energy efficient dishwashers, clothes dryers, and front-loading washing machines.

Energy Efficiency: First Things First

The average American household spends nearly $1,500 per year on utility bills. There are scores of things you can do to make your home more efficient. Low-cost, easy-to-do projects can make a big difference in your utility bills.

Getting Started: Weatherization

  • Measure the thickness of insulation in the attic, basement, and walls. Note the age and condition of your home's heating and cooling equipment, the type of windows, and if your water heater is wrapped with an insulating jacket. How does your home feel? Is it drafty on windy days? Are you comfortable?

  • Call for help: Most state energy offices have useful consumer information booklets and can refer you to local weatherization agencies and other energy experts who can help you. Many electric utilities offer free or discounted water heater blankets, new showerheads, or compact fluorescent lamps; many also offer financial incentives for the purchase of more efficient appliances or heat pumps.

  • You may want to have a comprehensive audit done on your home. Many electric utilities and weatherization agencies will send an auditor to your home, often at no charge to you. Professional audits, including a blower door test, typically cost $50 to $150, but if your home energy bills are high it will most likely be worth it.

Things that cost nothing and save cash

  • Turn down the water heater thermostat to 120 degrees F.

  • Set thermostats to 68 degrees F in winter when you're home, and down to 55 degrees F when you go to bed or when you're away.

  • Use energy-saving settings on washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, and refrigerators.

  • Clean your refrigerator's condenser coils once a year.

  • Air-dry your clothes.

  • Close heating vents in unused rooms.

  • Close drapes and windows during hot summer days and after sunset in the cold winter months.

Simple and inexpensive - Things that will pay for themselves in lower energy bills in less than a year

  • Plug air leaks in the attic and basement and replace and re-putty broken window panes ($20).
    Clean or change the air filter on your warm-air heating system during winter and on air conditioning units in the summer ($2).

  • Install an R-7 or R-11 water heater wrap ($12).

  • Insulate the first three feet of hot and inlet cold water pipes ($6).

  • Install a compact fluorescent light bulb in the fixtures you use the most ($15).

Getting serious - Measures that have paybacks of one to three years

  • Get a comprehensive energy audit, including a blower door test, to identify sources of air infiltration.

  • Caulk and weatherize all leaks identified by the test. Start with the attic and basement first (especially around plumbing and electrical penetrations, and around the framing that rests on the foundation), then weatherize windows and doors.

  • Seal and insulate warm-air heating (or cooling) ducts. Have heating and cooling systems tuned up every year or two.

  • Insulate hot water pipes in unheated basements or crawl spaces.

Measures that will save a lot of energy and money, but have paybacks of more than three years

  • Foundation: insulate inside rim joist and down the foundation wall below frostline to at least R-19 in cold climates and to R-11 or better in moderate climates. Remember to caulk first.

  • Basement: insulate the ceiling above crawl spaces or unheated basements to at least R-19 in cold climates. If your basement is heated, insulate the inside of basement walls instead to R-19 or more above grade and to R-11 or more below grade. Basement or foundation insulation is usually not needed in warm climates.

  • Attic: increase attic insulation to R-50 in cold climates, R-38 in milder climates, and R-30 plus a radiant barrier in hot climates.

  • Walls: adding wall insulation is more difficult and expensive, but may be cost-effective if your house is uncomfortable.

  • Install more compact fluorescent bulbs. Put them in your most frequently used fixtures, including those outdoors.

  • Replace exterior incandescent lights with compact fluorescents and put them on a timer or motion sensor if they're usually on more than a couple of hours a night.

  • Install a radiant barrier in your attic if you live in the Sunbelt states. Convert to solar water heating, and perhaps also supplementary solar space heating.

  • Upgrade your water heater, furnace, boiler, air conditioners, and refrigerator to more efficient models. Newer units are far more efficient. Upgrading is often cost-effective, especially if you need to replace failing units anyway. Also, if you've weatherized and insulated, you'll be able to downsize the heating and cooling system.

  • Upgrade to super insulating or at least low-emissivity windows in cold climates, or low solar transmittance windows in hot climates.

  • Install awnings or build removable trellises over windows that overheat your home in the summer.

Save water as well as energy!

  • Install a low-flow showerhead: Showers account for 32% of home water use. Low-flow showerheads deliver 2.5 gallons per minute compared to standard showerheads that pour out 4.5 gallons per minute.

  • Install flow restrictor aerators: Placing these inside faucets saves 3 to 4 gallons per minute when you turn on the tap. You can also help out by doing simple things such as not running water in the sink while soaping your face or brushing your teeth.

  • Repair leaks: Fix those leaking and dripping faucets as soon as possible. A dripping faucet can waste up to 20 gallons of heated water per day. A leaking toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of clean water every day.

Saving resources saves energy

Recycling materials can reduce the energy demand needed to manufacture those products including the energy necessary to extract natural resources used as raw materials.

  • Recycle materials you use: Recycling saves resources, decreases the use of toxic chemicals, cuts energy use, helps curb air pollution, and reduces the need for landfills and incinerators. Participate in your community's recycling program. If there's no recycling program where you live, encourage local officials to start one.

  • Buy recycled products: Look on the label for the products or packaging with the greatest percentage of post-consumer recycled content, which ensures that the materials have been used before. Paper products should have at least 30% post-consumer waste. A higher percentage is even better.

  • Compost: Composting reduces the burden on landfills and is a natural fertilizer for plants and gardens.

  • Buy products with less packaging: A large percentage of the paper, cardboard, and plastic we use goes into packaging, much of it wasteful and unnecessary. Avoid over-packaged items.

  • Use durable goods: Bring your own cloth bags to local stores. Replace plastic and paper cups with ceramic mugs, and disposable razors with reusable ones. Refuse unneeded plastic utensils, napkins, and straws when you buy takeout foods. Use a cloth dishrag instead of paper towels at home, and reusable food containers instead of aluminum foil and plastic wrap.

Landscape to save energy

Landscaping is a natural and beautiful way to shade your home and block the sun. A well-placed tree, bush, or vine can deliver effective shade and add to the aesthetic value of your property. When designing your landscaping, use plants native to your area that survive with minimal care.

  • Deciduous trees that lose their leaves in the fall help cut cooling energy costs the most. When selectively placed around a house, they provide excellent protection from the summer sun and permit winter sunlight to reach and warm your house. Height, growth rate, branch spread, and shape are all factors to consider in choosing a tree. In general, planting evergreen trees on the north side and deciduous (leafy) trees on the south side of a home can block energy-draining winter winds and summer sun.

  • Vines are a quick way to provide shading and cooling. Grown on trellises, vines can shade windows or the whole side of a house. Ask your local nursery which vine is best suited to your climate and needs. Besides providing shade, trees and vines create a cool microclimate that reduces the temperature by as much as 9 degrees F (5 degrees C) in the surrounding area. During photosynthesis, large amounts of water vapor escape through the leaves, cooling the passing air. And the generally dark and coarse leaves absorb solar radiation.

  • Consider low ground cover such as small plants and bushes as well as grass. A ground-covered lawn is usually 10 degrees F (6 degrees C) cooler than bare ground in the summer. If you are in an arid or semiarid climate, consider native ground covers that require little water.

  • Landscapes in tune with the natural environment use plants that are native to your area. Growing native plants can lessen or eliminate the need for fertilizers, watering, and mowing, thereby not only saving labor, energy, and water but also preventing water pollution from the use of fertilizers. If you must water your lawn, water early or late in the day or on cooler days to reduce evaporation. Allow your grass to grow a bit taller to reduce water loss by providing more ground shade for roots and promoting soil water retention.

  • Leave grass clippings on the lawn. Grass clippings make good fertilizer when they decompose.

Buy energy-efficient products. However, buying brand new appliances can be expensive. If you have noticed that one of your appliances is consuming more electricity than normal, you should first look into purchasing newer, replacement appliance parts for them. Of course, not all of us are natural-born handymen, so buying a new appliance may be the only option. 

When buying new appliances or electronics, shop for the highest energy-efficiency rating. Look for a yellow and black Energy Guide label on the product. It compares the energy use for that model against similar models. New energy-efficient models may cost more upfront, but have a lower operating cost over their lifetime. 

More energy tips

  • Make your home energy efficient by upgrading/replacing old or badly insulated windows with more modern windows. Although this can be one of the more expensive ways to reduce your energy usage, it can also be one of the most effective for home energy efficiency.

  • Switch to low-flow showerheads for better home energy conservation. By using less water, you reduce your energy usage as well.

  • Proper home insulation is a must for home energy conservation and an energy-efficient house, especially in cold weather climates. Insulation in old homes can eventually deteriorate, thin out, and allow heat to escape from your walls. By properly insulating the walls of your home less heat will escape and you'll use less power. Also, insulating ceilings, floors, and attics can make a huge difference in energy savings.

  • You can also improve home energy efficiency by using motion sensors on your outdoor lighting so it only gets used when needed. Even better, get some outdoor solar lights and stick them on your lawn or yard. These will collect free solar energy all day long so they can shine bright at night.

  • Clean or replace your furnace air filter to make your home energy efficient. Your furnace will be unobstructed, struggle less, and as a result waste less energy.

  • Using certain appliances at specific times can make your home energy efficient. For example: Wash your clothes and dishes after peak energy hours (at night). Most utility companies charge less at night after peak hours which gives you the chance to save money just by altering your schedule a little.

  • Replace older inefficient appliances and central heating units with energy star appliances and updated heating systems. Get an energy-efficient refrigerator with a small current draw. Of course, this can also be expensive and is not always 100% necessary, but the payoff of home energy efficiency can be tremendous with time. Propane or DC-powered refrigerators and cooling units are also good options.

  • For a more energy-efficient home, seal any cracks or leaks around windows, door frames, floor baseboards, and side hatches using flexible silicone. This can make a huge difference in home energy efficiency by reducing heat and energy loss. Also, repair any cracks in the building's exterior/interior that may be letting heat or cold in or out.

  • Close your garage door to help with home energy conservation. If your garage is heated or attached to your home, remembering to close your garage door can do wonders for keeping the cold air out in the winter and heat out in the summer.

  • Insulating your water heater is an easy way to improve your home's energy efficiency. When your water heater is not properly insulated, it has to work harder to heat the water. By buying a simple wrap for about $30 and "wrapping it" around your water heater, you will save energy you never even knew you were losing. Bonus!

  • Make your home energy efficient by repairing any leaking hot water faucets in your home. Losing hot water means requiring more energy to heat more water, so don't overlook something as simple as a leaky faucet if you want to have an energy-efficient home.

  • Sometimes part of home energy efficiency involves closing the doors to certain rooms that get colder/hotter or that are not in use. There's no point in cooling/heating a storage room, laundry room, or attic that you visit only twice per month.

  • Make your home energy efficient by replacing old incandescent bulbs with new compact fluorescent bulbs, LED light bulbs, or any kind of low-wattage bulbs. Also don't leave the TV, radio, stereo, computer, or other electronics on if they are not in use. Computer monitors are great at wasting energy, especially since people tend to leave them on.

  • You can also make your home energy efficient by closing off any fireplaces that are not in use and could be letting cold or warm air in and out all year round. Also, refrain from using exhaust fans as these also take hot or cold air and remove it right after your furnace or AC makes it.

  • Open the windows and ventilate the house in the summer instead of using the AC for a more energy-efficient house.

  • Taking showers instead of baths will improve home energy efficiency. By taking showers you will not be using as much water especially if you make it quick and use cool water on hot days.

  • Hang dry your clothes instead of using the clothes dryer. Your clothes will last longer and you will save a lot of energy. When washing clothes, use cold water or warm and cold water instead of hot water. This will result in energy savings from using your water heater less.

  • When it's hot, close your drapes and blinds to block direct sunlight (and heat) from entering your home through your windows. This will keep the house cooler and reduce the need to use your air conditioning unit thus making your home energy efficient. When it's cold, open your drapes and blinds to allow the sunlight to heat your home naturally through the windows.

  • When cooking, you can improve your home energy efficiency by simply turning your oven off 15 minutes earlier. Since your oven would still be hot, leaving the food in will cook it just the same without using (wasting) any additional energy.

  • In the summer, try to cook your food on an outdoor barbecue more often to avoid heating your home with the stove and causing your AC to work harder and waste more power.

  • You can also make your home energy efficient by eliminating or reducing any phantom loads. Unplug any appliances that aren't in use since they draw power even when they are off.

  • Using a programmable thermostat can improve home energy efficiency. Lower the heat earlier at night and later in the day. By doing this you will save a considerable amount of power per month and have a more energy-efficient house.

  • Improve home energy efficiency by turning down your refrigerator and turning on the energy saver switch. If your refrigerator is still in good working condition, you should be able to turn it down to about 35 degrees and 2 degrees for your freezer, without a noticeable difference. Use a thermometer to take the temperature inside your fridge.

  • You can also improve your home energy efficiency by vacuuming your refrigerator coils and the area beneath the coils regularly. When dirt, dust, and lint build up on your refrigerator coils, the compressor has to work harder to create the same amount of energy, thus you end up using (and paying for) more power. Unplug the refrigerator first.

  • Sometimes what you don't do can make your home energy efficient – like waiting until your dishwasher is full before you begin washing. This type of home energy conservation will reduce the water and energy used dramatically and will cost you less in dish detergent.

  • Drain your water heater once or twice a year to remove any build-up and improve water heater efficiency. Also, lower your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. More often than not, water heaters are set too high and waste a lot of unnecessary power.

As you can see some of these tips for improving your home energy efficiency are very easy to do and although some of these methods require a bit of an initial investment, the payoff (in long term energy savings) is well worth it when you make your home energy efficient.

By implementing just a few of the suggestions above you will not only save more energy, but you'll also require your solar system to produce less energy. This results in more power being stored in your battery bank (instead of being used frivolously) and thus more power available for use by the other loads in your home.

Start With An Energy Efficient House

While solar powering your house is a great way to save energy, decreasing your energy consumption is equally (if not more) important if you want to reduce wasted energy, make your home energy efficient, help the environment and get the most out of your solar system.

The best part is, once you have made the above energy-saving changes and have an energy-efficient house, you can continue to save energy, year after year.