We often hear the term Energy efficiency talked about as there is a growing concern regarding Global Warming and Climate change. What do we actually mean by the term Energy-Efficient?
Energy is the fuel or resource such as petrol that is put into a car, from the petrol we are able to drive a certain number of miles. There are various techniques that can be utilized in driving the car and modifications that can be made to increase the number of miles that can be driven for the same amount of fuel.
Consequently, when we talk about the energy efficiency of a house, we are looking at options that are available to reduce the quantity of energy resources that we use in a house.
How does the energy efficiency of a home relate to global warming and climate change? The answer is simply that small saving made in all the homes worldwide can make a huge difference in the quantity of energy that is used globally.
American homes consume approximately 900 kWh per month with 129 Million homes in America if each house only reduced consumption by 1 kWh per month that would equate to a national saving of 129 Million kWh per month.
Today there is a growing trend to building zero-carbon houses these are houses that have been designed and constructed in such a way that energy consumption within the house is reduced to a minimum.
Most of the homes constructed in America have not been designed with energy in mind making them energy efficient. There are many changes that we can make in such a home to make them more efficient.
These changes range from very simple, cheap fixes to a retrofit that can make an existing home carbon zero. This option, as you would expect, at this time is very expensive.
Let us look at 50 changes we can make to ensure our homes are more energy-efficient. Whilst some changes can be very simple with very low-cost other may be costly taking a number of years for costs to pay for the changes to be recovered.
It does, therefore, require some thought as to what is the prime reason for making a house more energy-efficient, save money or to save the planet. What is your priority?
1. Perform an Energy Audit
The first step to take before making any changes is to conduct an energy audit to establish what energy is being used, what is using the most energy and where energy is being lost.
Companies are available that can conduct this audit at a relatively low cost using equipment to measure energy consumption. It is, however, possible to calculate how much energy is being used by household yourself, and there are many websites that can help to undertake a comprehensive DIY energy audit.
2. Make the Switch to LED bulbs
A simple way to have an immediate effect on energy consumption is to change light bulbs to LED versions. Most people have already undertaken this change when CFL bulbs became a cost-effective option a number of years ago.
LED bulbs provide the best available option to save energy. Based on a 60Watt equivalent bulb a CFL bulb will use 0.035 W per hour whilst an LED will use 0.0085 W. Yes, they do cost more at this time, but they last longer.
Typically, an LED will last between two and three times longer than a CFL making it considerably cheaper in the long term.
There are many LED bulbs with different luminosity and different types of light that can make the choice of new bulbs a bit daunting. There are however many websites that offer guides to help in deciding what type is best.
3. Turn Lights Off
Many people do not take into consideration the power used by lights, and consequently leave all the lights on all the time. It is not necessary to have a light on in a room if it is unoccupied. Turn the lights off when you leave the room.
4. How Many Lights Are Required?
Lighting in a room can have an effect on the ambiance within a room. Tranquility can be created by the correct mood lighting whilst in a home office, a more functional lighting design is more practical.
But how many do you need to create your desired effect, can the same affect be achieved with a few less?
5. Audit Temperature Settings
All heating stems have a means of controlling the temperature within a building. Look to see what the temperature setting is, it is possible that the setting could be reduced by a few degrees.
This change will make very little difference too warm the house feels and yet this small change to energy consumption over a period of makes huge savings
6. Get a Programmable Thermostat
We all like a nice comfortably warm, however, heating a house consumes a considerable amount of energy. The installation of a programmable thermostat will ensure that heating is only activated when there is a requirement for it rather than being left on all the time.
7. Unplug Appliances When Not in Use
Any appliance, whether it be a TV or a radio that is left plugged in on standby mode will still draw a small amount of power. The small amount of power multiplied by a number of devices can become a significant amount.
8. Use a Power Strip
The simple use of a power strip to power all of your rechargeable devices makes it possible to completely turn the strip off when not in use. This will completely disconnect all chargers at once. Chargers, when not connected to a device, will still draw power and consume energy when left plugged in.
9. Don’t Overcharge Devices
When charging any device disconnect them when they are fully charged as the charger will still be using energy whilst connected.
10. Adjust the Brightness Settings
Modern televisions, tablets and computers allow the brightness settings to be adjusted or have power plans that enable this function. A small reduction in brightness will probably make little to no difference in viewing the device but will make dramatic reductions in energy consumption.
11. Clean Appliances Regularly
Cleaning dust and debris from any household appliances, both inside and out will help them to function more efficiently.
12. Check weather stripping and caulking
If your windows have been installed for some time, they may have exposed caulking on the exterior edges of the window. Over a period of time being exposed to the elements of the weather the caulking can deteriorate and leave exposed gaps that drafts can infiltrate.
Any gaps should be filled with a suitable caulking. Similarly, weather stripping on the opening sections of windows can deteriorate and should be replaced to prevent drafts.
13. Update Roof
Construction techniques, codes and materials are constantly changing. It is possible that the design of some house roofs is very energy inefficient, whilst insulation will certainly help there are certain circumstances where the only way to improve efficiency is to update the materials used in a roof construction.
14. Insulate Roof Areas and Walls
For many older houses, especially, roof areas and sometimes the walls are the source of significant heat loss. The more heat that is lost, the more energy is required to heat the house to an acceptable temperature.
It should also be remembered that the opposite applies to in hotter areas of the country. Heat can enter the house more readily requiring more energy usage to cool to an acceptable temperature. The solution to this problem is to add insulation certainly to roof areas and possibly walls.
15. Insulate the Garage Door
For houses with integral garages, it is a good idea to insulate the garage door. A traditional garage door is not very effective at stopping heat transfer. Consequently, any energy loss in the garage could transfer to the house by an internal door.
16. Install a Storm Door
Even if a front or side door is energy efficient there could still be a benefit to adding an extra layer of thermal protection by adding a storm door.
This type of door is constructed with a specialized glass that helps to lower the emission of heat. Consequently, it creates an extra heat barrier than help to reduce the loss of energy by up to 50%.
17. Wrap and Insulate Your Ductwork
With ducted heating systems, the ducts run through areas of the house that are not insulated. Ensuring that these ducts are wrapped and insulated can have a large effect on heat loss from the system.
18. Change the Glass in Your Windows
Your windows may be only be fitted with single glazed panels consider changing the glass to double or triple glazing. This one change could reduce heating bills and energy consumption by approximately 30 per cent.
19. Change Your Windows
Aluminum frames transfer heat very easily while vinyl frames will transfer far less. Saving of 10 per cent of energy could easily be made by this action.
20. Add Secondary Double Glazing
If the cost of replacing glass or windows is prohibitive considering the installation of secondary double glazing. This option will possibly not save as much energy, but will definitely help.
21. Tint Windows
Simply tinting windows can help to keep unwanted heat or cold out of the house. Yes, we do want to keep heat out sometimes to avoid running air conditioning to reduce the temperature. DIY kits are available making this an easy and affordable option.
22. Change Your Washing Machine Program
Changing how a washing machine is used can make a big difference in energy consumption. Modern machines have energy-saving settings and also allow the use of lower temperature washes.
Ensuring that washing is only operating with a full load will help to reduce the number of times a machine is used.
23. Don’t Rely on Tumble Dryers
It’s nice to be able to complete laundry by using a tumble dryer but a simple washing line can be used at the fraction of the energy cost.
24. Update Old Appliances With Energy Star Appliances
There have been significant improvements in the design and construction of electrical appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators over the past few years.
Due to these improvements, they consume far less power and display quite readily how much energy they use. It certainly makes sense that when appliances require updating that consideration is made as to those with the least energy ratings.
25. Hang Drapes
No matter what the condition your windows are in heat will still be lost through them. The converse is true in that warmer areas heat can enter through the windows.
A simple option is to hang drapes to create a heat barrier. If you need to keep the sun out blinds are a good idea as they may be adjusted to allow light in whilst still reducing heat transfer.
26. Change How You Heat Water
Hot water is a necessity in every home. How we heat water has changed dramatically over the past few years. Techniques have become much more energy-efficient.
If a system is five years old or older it may well be due for a change, that is the time to assess what type of system will be the most energy-efficient.
In some areas of the country, it is possible to heat water all year round using solar energy alone, if you are not as lucky with your climate there are systems that incorporate solar into their function making it possible to use solar for part of the year and other means for the remainder.
27. Install Low-Flow Shower Heads
By simply installing low-flow shower heads it is possible to reduce the amount of hot water that is being used.
28. Fix the Furnace
If your furnace or heating system has not been regularly serviced it may well not be functioning correctly. If the system is not functioning correctly it will be inefficient, a service will possibly improve its efficiency.
29. Add Solar Panels
Solar panels are an excellent option to assist in making a house more efficient. In some areas of the country, it is possible to acquire most, if not all of a home’s energy requirements from solar panels and using batteries to store the energy.
Though in other areas without adding large solar arrays, it is only possible to acquire a proportion of the requirements of the home.
In many areas of the country, states require that houses are still connected to the electricity grid. This is still an excellent option since it is possible to utilize the power from the panels when it is available and even input any excess power to the national grid whilst still having the grid available when solar panels do not produce enough.
30. Add Wind Turbines
Wind turbines installed on rooftops or freestanding versions combined with batteries are another excellent option to reduce the power utilized from the grid. Again, similar to solar panels, it is possible to attach these to the grid to input any excess energy.
31. Install Heat Pumps
In some situations, the installation of heat pumps can be an efficient way to heat your home. Heat pumps use heat from underground or the outside air and use this to heat the home.
This is a combined heat and power system that helps to reduce energy usage. A boiler produces steam when it is working, the Micro-CHP system utilizes the steam produced to produce electricity by using a device called a Stirling Engine.
33. Solar-Powered Outdoor Lights
Outside lights are decorative but also have a practical function of allowing people to move outside in safety. It is possible now to provide fashionable and functional lighting to outside spaces from an extensive range of solar-powered lighting.
34. Install Ceiling Fans
Without intervention heat that is in a room will always rise to the top, leaving slightly cooler air below.
Ceiling fans help to distribute the warm air around the room which means that less heat is required to maintain a comfortable temperature inside.
35. Install Daylighting
Some properties do not allow adequate light into some rooms, resulting in excessive electric light being used. There are options available that can boost the amount of natural light that can enter the house.
Light shelves installed by windows reflect the natural light onto the ceiling and into the room. There are also devices that use optical fibers to introduce natural light into dark areas. The natural light eliminates the excessive use of electric lights in those areas.
36. Choose Appropriate Flooring
The floor of a house can also contribute to heat and energy loss in the property. Careful consideration as to the type of flooring used can make a significant difference to heat loss.
37. Paint the House
How is it possible that a house can become more energy efficient by painting it? It transpires that if you paint the interior of your house with dark colors the interior feels darker as they absorb more light and as a consequence more lighting is required.
If rooms are painted with dark colors they will absorb approximately 80% of the radiant heat within a room or from the sun. Whilst in some geographical locations this may be a good factor, in general, it reduces the energy efficiency of a house.
The paint on the exterior of the house can have a profound effect on the energy efficiency of the house. Color is the main factor as we have seen in the interior of the house dark colors absorb more light and light colors reflect more.
Consequently, a light color will keep the surface cooler and a dark color warmer. The choice of light or dark depends on the climate in your location and if your aim is to cool or warm the house.
Specialized paints are also available that are designed to be energy efficient by being waterproof to keep a house warm and semi-permeable to help keep a house cool.
38. Use Handheld Appliances
Today there are many electrical appliances that are available for use in the kitchen, blenders, choppers, slicers, and juicers.
Many of these functions can be performed just as easily and quickly by using traditional hand held appliances. It is very easy to become over-reliant on electric devices without considering the energy usage of these decices.
39. Do Not Fill a Kettle
We often just fill our kettle without considering the quantity of water that we need to use. Once water has been boiled the taste changes so that any water that has not been used tends to be thrown away.
Try just putting the water that is required in the kettle to save the energy that is being used on wasted water.
40. Keep a Lid on Pots and Pans
A simple method to use less energy is to put the lid on saucepans. The lid affects the amount of heat that is required to bring the contents to temperature and achieves that temperature quicker.
41. Choose the Right Burner
The simple choice of the correct size burner for the saucepan that you are using also has an effect on how long the pan needs to be on the burner and consequently the amount of energy required.
42. Turn Burners off Earlier
Many heavy modern saucepans carry on cooking even when the power has been turned off. Consequently, by turning the burner off a few minutes before normal still allows the food to be cooked but reduces the energy used.
43. Turn the Oven Off Early
When cooking in the oven the same principle as using the burners applies, as the oven stays hot for some time it is possible to turn it off slightly earlier without affecting the food.
44. Use a Microwave
There are times when it can be more energy efficient to use a microwave than a normal oven. For example, baked potatoes will cook in a few minutes in a microwave, but take an hour in an oven.
45. Defrost Food Overnight
By removing frozen food from the freezer, the night before it is required and allowing defrosting in the refrigerator rather than using a microwave removes the energy usage of the microwave. This takes a bit of thought and planning, but is a quick and easy option.
46. Keep Your Freezer Full
A freezer will consume far less energy if it is fuller rather than half full.
47. Let Hot/Warm Food Cool
Hot food that is allowed to sit and cool to room temperature before refrigeration will prevent the refrigerator using extra energy to cool it down.
48. Change Dishwasher Usage
Not everything needs to be washed in a dishwasher, although if everything will fit in one wash that is probably the most energy-efficient usage.
However, do you always need to use the dry cycle? When the wash has completed turn the machine off and open the door, the residual heat will dry the dishes.
49. Use washing up bowl
If you are washing items in a sink, use a washing up bowl rather than letting your faucet run continuously, this will use less hot water.
50. Bundle Up
Layering clothes keep you warm. Rather than turning the thermostat up out on some extra clothes.
51. Extra blanket or duvet on the bed
An extra blanket or Duvet on the bed will help reduce the amount of heating needed in the bedroom.
51. Use an Electric Blanket
Reduce energy by not heating your bedroom. Use an electric blanket to heat your bed and turn off before jumping in.
52. Only Heat the Rooms You Use
If rooms are not in constant use reduce the amount of heating applied to them or even turn it off for some rooms.
53. Room layout
By ensuring that furniture and drapes are not covering or restricting air flow from heating and cooling vent airflow will be improved. Improved airflow will allow the heating or cooling system to work more effectively and possibly allow the level of heating to be reduced.
54. Trees and Shrubs
There is also an energy benefit in where trees and shrubs are planted in relation to a house.
Planting trees and shrubs that shed their leaves in the autumn on the southern and western sides of a house will provide an element of shade to the house in summer months keeping the property cooler by blocking the infrared energy.
In the winter as they shed their leaves this will allow any winter sun to help to heat the house.
From this list of 50 ways to improve the efficiency of a home, it is clear that they are a variety of measures that can be taken. They range from very simple, cheap DIY measures to others that involve a substantial financial commitment and extensive work.
The best way to make a home more energy efficient is to assess how efficient it is at the moment, decide on where it needs to be, set a budget and a program of measures to make over a period of time. It is a good idea to aim at measures that save the most energy first but even the small saving add up over time.
Check with your county office there may be grants or tax incentives to help with some of these energy efficiency measures.
Three years ago, I bought an off-grid Cortijo in a small valley in the Andalucian mountains. This move was not really a planned decision to live of-grid, I just fell in love with the tranquil location. Although, perhaps the lifestyle is in my genes as my grandfather and his four brothers were Homesteaders in Alberta Canada in the 1900s. The mountains of Spain are a difficult place to grow many of the flowers that I was used to in the UK. However, veg grows well all year around peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, cucumber, melons and chard all fare well in the Mediterranean climate. This year I aim to build a polytunnel that will extend my growing cycle and range of products. Almond trees provide me with a cash crop of around 1 ton whilst still retaining some to make almond milk and flour. The tranquil setting of this semi-remote location is mentally stimulating and inspiring both during the day and the night when in total darkness the visibility of the stars and planets are amazing.