Q: Our energy bills seem higher than they should be, but I’m not sure where to start looking around my home for opportunities to save energy. Do you have any suggestions?
A: Many products and services claim to provide maximum energy efficiency, so knowing where to start can be a challenge. Fortunately, our monthly bills can help identify areas to maximize energy savings.
For most homes, energy use is highest in the winter and summer, when temperatures are extreme. To get an idea of how much more you are spending during high energy use months, total your average energy use for the months when you use the most energy, then subtract the average amount you use during “shoulder months”—when you barely use your heating or cooling system, typically during fall and spring.
The most likely reason for the difference in energy use is heating and cooling your home. If someone says switching to a new heating or cooling system could save you 20%, they likely mean you can save 20% on heating or cooling costs.
Every home is different. A small percentage of homes include uncommon energy uses, such as a well pump, swimming pool or a home business that requires more energy than heating or cooling. Typically, heating and cooling your home are by far the largest energy uses.
Sealing air leaks is one of the least expensive energy-saving measures , delivering the most bang for your buck. Beyond that, cutting heating and cooling costs depends on your situation.
If you have an older propane or oil furnace, replacing it with an energy-efficient heat pump might be your best investment. If you already have a relatively efficient furnace or air-conditioning unit, insulating your attic could be the next most cost-effective measure, followed by insulating exterior walls, or the crawl space or basement.
Replacing windows is a high priority for many homeowners, and new windows can certainly add value to your home. However, this can be a costly project, making it difficult to justify solely based on potential energy savings. If your windows are old and leaky, it could be worth the investment. Do your research so you fully understand the project’s costs and benefits.
After you have found ways to reduce your heating and cooling costs, where else should you look for energy savings? Your next largest energy use is likely water heating. A few low-cost measures include repairing leaky faucets and insulating the first 6 to 10 feet of hot-water line. Installing low-flow showerheads can save water and reduce energy use. Check Consumer Reports for reliable comparisons and reviews of energy-efficient showerheads.
If your water heater is more than 10 years old, it is likely time to consider how and when to replace it. You can buy a traditional water heater that uses the same fuel you are using now. However, there are several other options, including heat pump water heaters, tankless water heaters and even solar water heaters. Do some research before your water heater breaks so you know your options.
Appliances and lighting account for a smaller portion of your energy use. As you replace older appliances and lighting, look for options that include the Energy Star label. You should also review energy use information found on the EnergyGuide label.
We hope this information will help you find areas to save energy at home. Consider enlisting the help of an energy auditor, who can provide an overall assessment of your home’s efficiency.