Home Energy Efficiency
Technological advances and improved building practices allow you to improve your home’s energy efficiency today more than ever before. There are many things that the typical resident can do to save energy and save on your electricity and heating bills, and there many other things you can hire others to do. Efficiency and conservation are the first options on the road to reducing energy use, saving money, and helping the environment. Some guidance below will get you started on energy efficiency improvements:
Get an advanced home energy assessment
Before embarking on home energy improvements, especially large projects, we strongly recommend having an advanced home energy assessment, or home energy audit. An assessment of how your house is functioning can help you decide what needs fixing, what needs upgrading, and what needs replacement. It will identify some simple low-cost measures you can take, such as weather-stripping doors, and it will determine more expensive but cost-effective measures, such as air sealing and adding insulation to attics or walls and replacing furnaces or water heaters. An advanced energy assessment should include:
- A review of energy bills to help assess home performance and identify savings opportunities:
- A blower-door test to determine air leakage.
- Infrared scans to detect insulation levels and sources of air leaks.
- Efficiency and safety testing of combustion appliances.
- A thorough visual inspection for attic, wall, crawlspace, foundation, basement, window, door and roof problems.
The importance of having a home energy assessment and the big dividends to be earned from prescribed home improvements is captured in “Improving Your Home’s Performance,” a video produced by Twin Cities Public Television and the Minnesota Building Performance Association and funded by the Minnesota Department of Commerce and six utilities.
Contact your gas or electric utility to arrange an advanced energy assessment. The Minnesota Building Performance Association also offers a list of energy auditors at www.mbpa.us.
Seal and insulate
Adding insulation combined with sealing air leaks is one of the most cost-effective energy-saving improvements you can make to an existing home. It can cut heating and cooling costs by 15 percent or more. Typically, air infiltration causes drafts and a chilly feeling near windows and doors and in basements. Adjusting your thermostat will not stop drafts, but sealing cracks and openings will. An advanced home energy assessment will locate the air leaks (around windows, doors, vents, chimneys, wires, and light fixtures), and sealing those leaks must be part of any insulation job. The home assessment will determine the amount of insulation you have and how much more you need. See the Home Energy Guide (pages 6-20) for details on air sealing and insulation.
Upgrade appliances and lighting
When shopping for appliances, electronics, and lighting, always look for the ENERGY STAR® label. ENERGY STAR is the trusted, government-backed symbol for energy efficiency helps us all save money and protect the environment. ENERGY STAR products meet the strictest energy efficiency requirements. For instance, one of the best ways to reduce your electricity bill is to replace traditional incandescent light bulbs with ENERGY STAR-labeled compact fluorescent (CFLs) or light emitting diodes (LEDs). LEDs are roughly equivalent to CFLs in efficiency, but they last about 2-3 times longer than most CFLs. Learn more about ENERGY STAR-qualified products at www.energystar.gov. See the Home Energy Guide (pages 52-64) for more on appliances, lighting, and electronics.
Maintain heating and cooling systems
Heating and cooling account for a little more than half of the energy used in a typical Minnesota home, the largest energy expense for most homes. To keep those energy bills as low as possible, your heating and cooling systems should be inspected annually and maintained. Replace filters regularly and seal your heating and cooling ducts. A home energy assessment will detect leaky ducts. Consider replacing your furnace or boiler, for instance, if it’s nearing the end of its expected life (15-20 years for furnaces, 20-30 for boilers), it requires expensive repairs, or it is inefficient. Look for the ENERGY STAR label when shopping for heating and air-conditioning systems. Read more on heating, cooling and ventilation in the Home Energy Guide (pages 26-45).
Consider renewable energy for your home
Once you have completed many of the basic energy-saving measures to ensure the efficiency of your home, you might consider a renewable energy system such as a solar photovoltaic system to help power your home. By investing in energy efficiency and energy conservation up front, you can lessen your energy demand, which will reduce the size of the investment needed for your renewable energy system and optimize the returns on your system. Commerce can help determine if you home is right for renewables. Call or email our Energy Information Center at 1-800-657-3710 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Considering solar, then read “A little guidance for going solar”
To help pay for it all
You may be eligible for incentives to help pay for or finance your energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, a comprehensive source of incentives that includes utility rebate, grant and loan opportunities; federal tax credits, federal grant and loan programs, state incentives and loan programs, and more.