As the new year approaches, let’s look at ways we can impact the environment and recommit to going green within the walls of our homes. We will go beyond recycling and reusing––two essential first steps––and dive deeper into what it means to have an energy-efficient house. Let’s explore ways to make your home more energy efficient, uncover potential energy tax credits available to consumers, and research designs to incorporate if you are building a new house.
Whether you make significant changes, like building an energy-efficient home, or take smaller steps to reduce usage, you can impact your home’s environmental footprint and save money in 2024. But first, let’s review what living in an energy-efficient home means.
Home Energy Efficiency Explained
Home energy efficiency refers to optimal energy utilization within a residential space to balance comfort, functionality, and environmental responsibility. It involves adopting practices and implementing technologies that minimize energy waste, reduce consumption, and lower the overall environmental impact of a household. This includes employing energy-efficient appliances, utilizing smart home technologies, improving insulation and ventilation, and making conscious choices in daily living habits. The ultimate goal of home energy efficiency is to create a living environment that not only meets the occupants’ needs but also promotes sustainability.
Many of us are not ready to build a new home or start an extensive remodel, but we can still take plenty of steps to make our current home more efficient.
Ways to make your home more energy-efficient:
Some of these actions take planning and cost money. Rest assured, there are various ways to make your home energy efficient on a budget. Plus, there are tax credits and programs available for homeowners. And remember, the investment will pay off in the end, saving you money on utilities.
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One of the best ways to start moving towards an energy-efficient home is with a home energy audit. Check out this infographic to identify areas of improvement by assessing your home’s energy usage. Pro-tip: A home energy audit for your primary home may qualify for a tax credit of up to $150. Learn more here.
Considering many of us live on a budget, let’s break down the energy-efficient steps into low, medium, and high-cost updates.
No to low cost
- Harness Natural Light: Position windows strategically to maximize natural light and reduce the need for artificial lighting during the day.
- Unplug Electronics: Minimize phantom power by unplugging electronics when not in use or using smart power strips to cut off power to inactive devices.
- Switch to LED Bulbs: Replace incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient LED or CFL bulbs, which use less electricity and have a longer lifespan.
- Use Programmable Thermostats: Set and schedule your thermostat to optimize heating and cooling, reducing energy consumption when it’s not needed.
- Maintain HVAC Systems: Regularly service and clean heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to ensure they operate efficiently.
- Seal Air Leaks: Seal gaps and cracks in windows, doors, and other openings to prevent drafts and maintain a consistent indoor temperature.
- Practice Water Efficiency: Fix leaks, install low-flow fixtures, and consider a water heater timer.
- Invest in Smart Home Technology: Use smart home devices to control and monitor energy usage, including smart thermostats, lighting systems, and energy monitors.
- Plant Shade Trees: Strategically plant trees around your home to provide shade and reduce the cooling load during hot seasons.
- Purchase a tankless water heater: This device heats water instantly as it passes through a coil of pipes, rather than keeping an entire tank of water heated at all times.
- Upgrade Appliances: Choose ENERGY STAR-rated appliances for increased energy efficiency in the kitchen, laundry, and throughout the home.
Larger Home-Improvement Projects
- Install Energy-Efficient Windows and Doors: Upgrade to windows and doors with high energy efficiency ratings to minimize heat loss or gain.
- Upgrade Insulation: Improve insulation in walls, attics, and crawlspaces to reduce heat transfer and enhance energy efficiency. Pro-tip: Spray foam insulation is the most energy-efficient insulation.
- Consider Renewable Energy: Explore solar panels or other renewable energy sources to generate clean energy and potentially qualify for tax incentives.
Home Energy Tax Credits
Energy-efficient home improvement credits are designed to encourage homeowners to invest in technologies and upgrades that reduce energy consumption and promote sustainability. These credits may cover expenses related to installing energy-efficient windows, doors, insulation, heating and cooling systems, solar panels, and other qualifying improvements.
Make sure to review any available federal, state, or local tax incentives, as they can provide financial benefits and help offset the costs of making your home more energy-efficient. Keep an eye on official government announcements or consult with tax experts for the most recent and accurate details regarding energy-efficient home improvement credits in 2024.
Resources for Energy Efficiency Assistance
Tax Credits: Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit
Programs for Homeowners in Texas: Make Your Home More Energy-Efficient
Building an energy-efficient home
If you plan to build a new home, consider investing in an energy-efficient house. Various types of home designs are available to reduce your carbon footprint while creating a beautiful, comfortable space to live. Let’s review a few of the more popular home types.
Passive Home: This design maximizes exposure to sunlight, taking advantage of natural heating in winter and shading in summer. Key features include exceptional insulation, airtight construction, heat recovery ventilation, strategic placement of high-performance windows, and thermal bridge free design. Passive houses allow heating and cooling related energy savings of up to 90% compared with typical building stock and over 75% compared with average new builds (source).
Earth-Sheltered Homes: An Underground Sheltered Home is built below grade or completely underground, and a Bermed-Earth Sheltered Home may be built above grade or partially below grade, with earth covering one or more walls. Most of these houses “blend” the building into the landscape. Advantages include less susceptibility to the impact of extreme outdoor air temperatures, less outside maintenance, and the cost of insurance, which is typically lower than a traditional home. Earth-sheltered homes also have disadvantages: they usually cost 20% more to build than conventional homes, care is required to avoid moisture problems due to the humidity of the earth, and the uniqueness of these homes can make them harder to resell.
Modular Homes: These homes are built in a factory on a permanent chassis, then transported to a building site and installed. Since they are mass-produced, construction must be precisely calculated to keep consistent results. Pieces are assembled onsite, and if calculations aren’t exact, the pieces won’t fit correctly. As a result, there is less building and onsite waste, and the homes have an enclosed, airtight design. Modular builders often design the homes to be net-zero, meaning they produce enough renewable energy to cover the home’s needs. Modular homes have high-quality insulation, factory-assembled HVAC, and typically use solar panels.
Tiny Homes: These homes aren’t for everyone, but for those looking to downsize, tiny homes can help reduce your carbon footprint. The main reason these homes are energy-efficient is because of their size. Tiny houses typically range from 100 to 400 square feet. With less space, there is less area to heat and cool. These homes are well insulated, often use solar panels or a generator, require fewer light bulbs, have a smaller water heater, and smaller appliances. Tiny homes can be orientated to take advantage of natural heating in the winter and shade in the summer. Additionally, these homes can be made entirely of reclaimed materials.
For more information on energy-efficiency and potential options for financing visit energy.gov.
Now that we’ve explored the many ways to revolutionize our homes with energy efficiency, let’s make a New Year’s resolution to go green. Whether making small changes or embarking on a grand eco-friendly adventure, the impact you can have is immeasurable.
Here’s to a brighter, more sustainable future in 2024.