If you’ve been feeling the pinch like we have, you’ve probably learned to shop smarter, pack your own lunch, and cut back on the gourmet coffee, but you might still be missing out on big savings if your home hasn’t been optimized for energy efficiency. The good news is that just a few quick and easy DIY upgrades to your home could equate to hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year in savings on your energy bill. Crafting a home energy-optimization strategy sounds more daunting than it is. We’ve rounded up 15 great inexpensive and easy-to-find green home improvement products that will set you on the path towards a lower energy bill and more moolah in the bank – read on to get the inside scoop on all of them.
HEATING & COOLING
If you’re looking to uncover insulation-poor spots in your home that leak heat in the chilly winter months, this handy spot infrared thermometer will be your new best friend. Simply aim this handy and relatively inexpensive little gadget at a bit of wall or ceiling to ferret out cold patches that could use extra insulation or caulking. Before these were around, you would have to call a professional to perform an energy audit on your home (which could cost hundreds of dollars), but now you can take matters into your own hands (literally) for about $30.
Programmable thermostats are intelligent devices that give you control over your house’s temperature and energy usage. These relatively inexpensive units allow you to easily view or even adjust your thermostat remotely, meaning you can time when your AC or heating goes on and off, cutting down on wasted energy (like when you’re sleeping or on vacation) and making your home an overall more comfortable place to live. The customizable setting buttons also allow you to “set it and forget it,” and it’s estimated that homeowners can save about $180 a year by properly setting their programmable thermostats and maintaining those settings.
If you live anywhere outside of California, you’ve probably noticed how much your electricity bill jumps in the warmer months due to air conditioning, but you may have just resigned yourself to that costly expense because you figured it was either that or sitting in the heat. What you may not have considered is how effective ceiling fans are as an alternative to the AC. Unlike regular fans, their raised and central position allows them to circulate air and cool an entire room, and a typical ceiling fan uses about the same amount of power as a 100-watt incandescent light bulb. Even if you already have an AC for unbearably hot days, you can also purchase an Energy Star-rated ceiling fan, like the Hampton Bay one you see above, for energy savings all year round.
You might think that you’re being eco-friendly by keeping your 20-year-old air conditioner in action, but if you haven’t yet switched to an Energy Star-rated model, your AC might be leaking dollars and cents. In fact, if your central air conditioning unit is more than 12 years old, replacing it with an Energy Star-qualified unit could cut your cooling costs by 30% and prevent 1,600 pounds of greenhouse-gas emissions per year. If you want to see how much you stand to save by swapping out your AC, take the Home Efficiency Audit here. If it doesn’t make sense to upgrade your AC unit, at least consider upgrading your AC filters – they make a huge difference in the efficiency of your unit. At the very least clean the filters regularly – every 1-3 months is a good idea.
Large windows are usually considered a plus for their ability to help light your home, but they do have one major downside – their tendency to allow heat to escape in the winter, and excess heat to build up in the summer from solar radiation. Excess solar radiation in the summer drastically increases your need for AC, and by default, cranks up the numbers on your monthly electricity bill. Installing Low-e windows is one viable option to prevent excess solar heat gain, but if you’re looking for a less resource-intensive fix, cellular shades are relatively inexpensive and you can install them yourself. Also called honeycomb blinds, cellular shades are made up of two layers of fabric that are joined together at the seams so that when the shade is pulled down, excess solar radiation is shut out, and pockets of air are created to insulate your room. The soft, double-layered fabric that keeps too much heat from coming in while still allowing daylight in. They also help keep your space warm by preventing heat from escaping through your windows on chilly winter nights.
Low-e or low-emissivity windows are windows where the glass has been treated with a special metallic coating that allows them to be more insulating (less emissive of radiant heat), therefore, much more energy-efficient, reducing the amount of mechanical heating and cooling that you need to do in your house. In order to improve the thermal efficiency of the window, a thin layer of coating is applied to the glass’ surface, resulting in glass that cuts back the amount of UV and infrared radiation that is able to shine into your home in the hot summer months, and also allowing less radiant heat to escape through your windows during the winter months. Many low-e windows are Energy Star qualified and can lower your monthly electricity bill up to 15%. Almost every window size and shape today comes in a low-e version and these products can also make your home more comfortable in the winter by keep drafts at bay and keep your furniture from fading due to sunlight since they reflect the long-wave light rays that carry UV.
Contrary to what you might think, energy-saving products don’t have to be high-tech or costly. Case in point: these draft guards that are as elementary as they are effective. Draft protectors slip right under your doors and (as their name implies) prevent air from passing under them, ensuring that you’re only paying to heat or cool the rooms that you intend to.
Here’s one green product on our list that’s 100% free (since you probably own at least one sweater already). Throwing on a sweater when it’s chilly might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people turn their thermostats up to a balmy 78 degrees in December while they walk around in a tank top. By just wearing a few more layers, you can really chop down your heating bill in the colder months and you can even use the cash you save to buy yourself a cute new sweater!
On a related note – this is pretty much common sense, but it bears repeating anyways – you can significantly warm yourself up without using much electricity or energy simply by drinking a hot beverage. So before you reach for your thermostat, or even your sweater, on a chilly winter night, try boiling some water and tucking into a warm cozy cup of tea or coffee.
In the winter, nearly one-third of an average home’s total heat loss occurs through windows and doors, so if you have single-pane windows, you might be losing a ton of money. One of the best ways to retain warmth in your home – and stop paying for lost heat – is to install double- or triple-pane windows, which have multiple layers of glass instead of just one. The spaces between the glass panes are then filled with air or another gas as another layer that prevents heat from passing through, resulting in a warmer home and lower energy bills for you.
There’s a reason they call this stuff “Great Stuff.” It fills gaps and cracks in your home that might be leaking air and causing your heating or cooling bills to increase. You don’t need to be an expert to use it – just identify cracks or voids (up to 1″ wide) that are letting air escape and squeeze some Great Stuff right into them. The substance will expand to take the shape of cracks and form an airtight, water-resistant bond.
Your home’s vents (if you have central air conditioning) carry cool air to your rooms in the summer, but can be an unwanted source of drafts in the winter. A simple, aesthetically pleasing and inexpensive way to close off these openings is to use magnetic vent covers. They can be cut to size, used and reused infinitely and can reduce the energy you waste trying to keep your home warm.
Just as you can put on extra layers to stay warm, your home can maintain its temperature with less energy when it’s properly insulated. There are many products available to carry out this job but we recommend staying away from nasty toxic fiberglass and using Ultratouch recycled denim insulation instead, made from recycled blue jeans! We love the denim insulation for most spaces where you are looking for rolled/batt insulation, but if you’re working in a space that’s a bit difficult to install chunky layers of batt insulation (such as an attic), blow-in recycled paper cellulose insulation is a great fire-resistant and formaldehyde-free option, as well.
Hopefully you watched our video explaining how LED lights bulbs can help you save money and energy in your home, but in case you didn’t, we’ll reiterate our main point: LED light bulbs can help you save money and energy in your home! Switching to LED bulbs is really a no-brainer when you see how much you can save, and each bulb typically lasts close to 20 years. It’s an investment worth making, especially since they start at just $22 a bulb.
If you’ve been faithful to your old appliances and kept them in good working condition all these years, we applaud you, but unfortunately they might not be paying you back in kind. Energy Star-rated appliances can be 15-30% (depending on the appliance) more efficient than their less advanced counterparts, which means that with an upgraded product, you could be saving dollars and cents every time you run your dishwasher, open your fridge or do a load of laundry. It’s true that buying new appliances can be costly, but considering the energy savings, it’s an investment that could end up paying for itself, and decrease the strain on our national power grid.
For even more energy-saving products, visit Home Depot’s EcoOptions website.
At The Home Depot, we pride ourselves on being sustainability minded. To make saving energy and money even easier, we’ve launched our EcoOptions website dedicated to green products such as WaterSense® and ENERGY STAR® labeled products and wood harvested from sustainable forests. EcoOptions also offers helpful tips for homeowners trying to go green to help you every step of the way. Whatever your home improvement project, we’ve got the organic solutions that can help make your home healthier and air cleaner; and products that can help you conserve water, be more energy efficient and save money.