TIP 1: Wrap Your Home in Insulation – “The More, The Better!”
Proper insulation is probably the most important factor you can control in creating an energy-efficient home. I always say insulation is like chocolate, the more you have, the better! On average, ½ of your home’s heating and cooling will escape through walls (35%), windows (25%), floor (15%) and roof (25%). Therefore, the first thing you should do to determine where insulation is needed is to scan your home with a thermal radiometer or infrared scanner in order to detect where your home is leaking heat. (You could hire a professional energy auditor to come out and do an infrared scan of your house and produce pretty rainbow color pictures, like the one above, or you could do it yourself with a cheap spot radiometer like this Black and Decker Thermal Leak Detector).
TYPES OF INSULATION
Once you’ve determined where you are leaking heat, you can patch up your insulation in a number of different ways. The location of the leaks will determine which type best suits your needs, but whatever you do, it’s a good idea to hire an expert to help you determine what type of insulation is best for your climate and where to put it. For attics and roofs I prefer blown-in cellulose insulation, which is basically shredded/recycled newspaper. When adding additional insulation to your walls, my favorite type of insulation is a soy-based spray foam called BioBased. While I like the organic and eco-conscious qualities of Bonded Logic recycled denim insulation and wool insulation, I find that when you are looking for the highest R-value and the tightest seal, spray foam just can’t be beat, and BioBased is my favorite green option in that department.
DON’T FORGET WINDOWS
As much as 25% of a home’s heat is lost through its windows, so when replacing windows get the most energy-efficient model you can afford. If you have old single-pane windows and you live anywhere where it gets cold, you need to replace those windows pronto with double-pane glass. If you have really large windows and live in a cold climate, it also might be worth considering super-insulated windows with triple panes, argon in between panes, and really tight seals around the edges. Or, if you want to take it to the next level, Marvin Windows now makes a triple pane with a krypton/argon/air gas mix in between the panes, this window ups the thermal performance by 0.03 beyond the U-factors of a tripane with argon, which Marvin also offers.
TIP 2: Manage Your Heating and Cooling Intelligently with a Thermostat
All the insulation in the world won’t make a difference in cutting energy costs if you aren’t smart about how you heat and cool your house. This may sound blindingly obvious to some, but you can cut your heating bill in half if you are strategic about WHEN your heating and cooling is running. Without a thermostat to guide them, most heating/cooling systems are dumb and blind and will consume loads of energy keeping your bedroom nice and toasty during the day (when you are not home), or warming your living room at night (when you are asleep). If you connect your heating and cooling system to a programmable thermostat, you can heat/cool different rooms at specific times during the day when people will be in those rooms (such as between 6-8pm in the evening, after work). Many brands of thermostats (check out Honeywell) even have smart phone apps that allow you to program your heating and cooling on the fly, remotely.
TIP 3: Conserve Water Through Smart Technology
Because water seems plentiful and is all-around us, most Americans have no idea about the coming water crisis. Our water infrastructure is crumbling in this country and potable water shortages are going to become commonplace within 10 years. You can get a jump on tackling this looming problem by installing some water-saving appliances in your house, such as low-flow shower-heads and water-saving toilets. I’m a big fan of the AQUS grey water toilet, which recycles grey water from your sink to flush your toilet!
60% of the average American’s water use takes place outside the home (in irrigating water-sucking lawns), so ditch the 1950’s Cleaver-style lawn and consider “xeriscaping” – planting native foliage that doesn’t need high maintenance watering and fertilizing.
TIP 4: Overhaul Your Roof To Cool Your House, Neighborhood & Your Carbon Footprint
Dark colored roofs soaks up the sun’s energy and make your home and the surrounding area hotter. That’s why tons of dark roofs clustered together in one spot can warm up an entire city to create the “urban heat island effect” – an effect which causes cities to be significantly warmer (sometimes up 10 degrees warmer) than surround natural landscapes. Do your neighbors and your electricity bill a favor and make your roof a ‘white roof’. By reflecting the sun’s rays, you can lower the temperature of your house and save on your cooling bills by up to 40%.
Installing a green roof on your home requires a bit more effort, but they have the same cooling effect as white roofs plus lots of added benefits such as producing oxygen, absorbing carbon and mitigating storm water runoff pollution. An easy way to get started with green roofs is to look for a turnkey, modular green roof system like GreenGrid. One thing to consider when deciding if a green roof is right for your home is that weight can be a concern, so make sure your home’s structure is strong enough to withstand the added poundage on the roof. Green roofs are a great way to add insulation to your home while adding more greenery and oxygen to your local environment.
If you’re feeling even more ambitious, putting photovoltaic panels up on your roof is a great way to generate your own energy and save an enormous amount of money on your monthly energy bill – in many areas you can even get money back each month from your local energy company! Installing solar panels is not an inexpensive or simple endeavor, but there are tax breaks in many states that make it an easier pill to swallow, and your investment will pay off eventually, through tax breaks and energy-bill savings, over many years. Dsireusa.org is a great resource to find the solar tax incentives in your local area. Getsolar is a great place to find solar installers and consultants in your area.
TIP 5: Upgrade Your Lighting To Improve Your Energy Bill and Your Outlook on Life
Most people don’t realize that lighting is responsible for at least 1/3 of the energy used in the average home. There are several different ways you can transform your current situation to reduce the energy used by lighting and the cost of your electric bill by nearly 25%. Start by switching the types of bulbs you use to energy-efficient LEDs, and get creative with natural daylight – it will make a significant difference!
SWITCHING TO GREENER BULBS
These days there’s more than one type of bulb on the market that claims to be “eco-friendly,” but not every “green” bulb is created equally. In recent years we’ve been encouraged to leave the archaic incandescent bulb behind and switch to newer technology such as fluorescents. Although CFLs are more energy-efficient than incandescents, LED bulbs don’t have the nasty problem of mercury in their bulbs. Now, more than ever before, with the release of products like these square LED alternatives, LED lighting is quickly becoming the most efficient and convenient form of indoor lighting on the market. The cost of LED bulbs will continue to drop.
UTILIZE THE NATURAL LIGHT OF THE SUN
Even though the sun is 93 million miles away, the benefits it can provide to your well-being and your carbon footprint are innumerable. From strategically placed windows and new approaches to the concept of “skylights”, such as solar tubes and fibe roptic sunlight transport devices, getting creative with natural daylight can reap big benefits for your health and your energy bill.
SOLAR TUBES AND SUNLIGHT TRANSPORT DEVICES
Whether you have floor-to-ceiling windows or you stare at a brick wall through a porthole, you can still use natural daylight to light your space. New solar illumination technology that utilizes mirrors and fiber optics such as solar tubes and sunlight transport devices can collect sunlight on your roof and pump it into your interior space through small cables. A great example of this is a product called the Sun-Tracker made by Ciralight Global. This skylight works by tracking the sun with a set of mirrors that redirect light into the interior of your space through fiber optic cables.
PASSIVE SOLAR DESIGN
So by now you know that having strategically placed windows and/or skylights is great in terms of flooding your home with natural light – making you peppy and cutting your energy bill. The downside to this, of course, is that while additional solar radiation can be a boon in the winter when you are trying to keep warm, it can be a real problem in the summer when you are trying to cool your home, and the sun keeps heating it back up again! Fortunately there are many great tricks and tips to cut solar radiation in the summer and maximize it in the winter, such as positioning your windows correctly, placing overhangs over your windows, and placing trees in front of your windows (in summer leaves will shade the windows, while in the winter, bare branches will let sunlight into your windows). This collection of tried and true natural methods for heating and cooling your house using the sun is called ‘Passive Solar Design’ and it is a powerful and fascinating discipline that is worth studying.
He was the founding Chair of Architecture for The San Francisco Design Museum and one of the founders of ecoTECTURE: The Online Journal of Ecological Design. He is a regular contributor for Sustainable Industries Journal, Luxe, Natural Home, Metropolitan Home and dozens of other publications. Eric lectures around the country at 40+ conferences a year, and his work has been featured in Dwell, Metropolis, Town & Country, Natural Home and Newsweek. He has been seen on television on Fox News, HGTV, The Sundance Channel and PBS.
Eric is the author of four books, including “Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies”, a best seller with over 100,000 copies in print. His latest books, “Sustainable School Architecture” and “Green$ense for your Home” were just released in 2010.
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