Improving Energy Efficiency on Any Budget

These energy-efficient projects will save energy (good for the Earth) and money (good for you).

Earth Month is the perfect time to think about reducing your energy consumption and improving your home’s energy efficiency. Whether you are building or remodeling a home, or you just want to make minor updates, there are many things you can do to make your home more energy efficient. These projects will improve your comfort, lower your energy bills, increase the value of your home and reduce your overall carbon footprint.

Energy-Efficient Appliances: One of the easiest ways to improve your energy efficiency without diving into a major remodeling project, is to choose Energy Star-certified appliances, says Michele Russo , director of green content and research for McGraw Hill Construction in New York.

Energy Star is an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification program for products that demonstrate energy savings without sacrificing features or functionality.

“There is a lot of momentum toward energy efficiency, and Energy Star appliances are a great place to start,” Russo says.

You can find Energy Star-certified brands, such as Kenmore, in every price category for all major appliances, including dishwashers, refrigerators, washers and air purifiers. And even just one Energy Star-certified appliance can have a significant impact on overall energy consumption. A typical Energy Star-rated washer, for example, uses about 70 percent less energy and 75 percent less water than a standard washer used 20 years ago, the EPA reports.

Energy Star also certifies heating and cooling equipment, windows, doors, roofing, lighting and more.

Energy-Rated Windows and Doors: Energy efficiency is one of the primary drivers of window and door replacement projects. Replacing windows, doors and insulation not only reduces your energy use, it increases the aesthetics and value of your home. These projects, though, may require more of an up-front investment. According to the National Association of Home Builders’ What Home Buyers Really Want report, more than 94% of homebuyers want Energy Star-rated windows, and 81 percent say insulation that is of higher quality than required by code is a highly desirable feature in a house.

High-Efficiency Heating and Cooling: If you’ve already got energy-efficient appliances and high-performing insulation, the next step is to add more efficient water heaters and heating, ventilation and air condition (HVAC) systems.

These are more costly projects, and because they are hidden from view, they are harder for consumers to embrace, Russo says. But the impact of these upgrades can be substantial.

Replacing your old heating and cooling equipment with Energy Star-qualified equipment can cut your annual energy bill by nearly $200, according to the EPA. To get the full benefit, however, you should first address any air leaks in your home or duct system.

Think about your priorities when it comes to energy efficiency before you choose to take on any project, Russo advises. If your primary goal is to lower your energy bill, you might make different choices than if you are trying to increase your resale value or improve air quality.

“When you go into these projects knowing what’s most important to you, it will help you get the best outcome,” she says.

To help prioritize your home energy efficiency options, try out our self-evaluation tool.

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