What Can You Do to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient?

In a previous column, I pointed out that making your home more energy efficient can save you money immediately if you finance the improvements, because the monthly payments could be less than your monthly savings. The recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act has some very generous tax credits and rebates that make such improvements even more practical and affordable. My intention this week is to give you a “roadmap” for doing so.

The logical starting point is to hire a professional to do an energy audit of your home — to identify the “low-hanging fruit,” meaning the quickest and easiest changes you can make or improvements you can install that will give you the most “bang for your buck.”

That low-hanging fruit is typically better insulation, and the energy auditor normally begins by performing a blower door test of your home. That involves installing a computer-calibrated fan in a doorway which sucks air out of your house. By depressurizing your home in this manner while all your other windows and doors are closed, the auditor can identify all the leaks which allow cold air into your home in the winter. That way you know where to caulk to make your home less “leaky.”

When it’s cold outside, the auditor can use an infrared camera pointed at your walls and ceilings to assess where you could improve your in-wall and in-ceiling insulation.

You’ll get a written report from you energy auditor with suggestions of things to do and how much benefit you will get from making those changes, whether it’s blowing insulation into your attic and walls, replacing your old gas furnaces and gas water heaters with heat pump versions, or installing better windows. Most recommended improvements will earn you a 30% tax credit under the Inflation Reduction Act.

There are more “roadmap” items, but you will learn about most of them by attending the Oct. 1 tour of green homes. See the blog post.

If you or someone your know is an energy auditor, let me know. We expect big demand for your services!

My Favorite Home Improvements When Purchasing a New-to-Me Home  

This column is adapted from my July 18, 2019, column on this topic.

Energy efficiency is very important to Rita and me, so the first thing we did when we purchased our current home was to pay for an energy audit to identify opportunities for making the home more air-tight. One result of that test was to blow additional cellulose insulation into walls and ceilings and to caulk around windows. We considered installing an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) to bring fresh air into the home using a heat exchanger that warms outside air in the winter and cools outside air in the summer. Instead we installed a fan in our powder room that runs 24/7 at a very low volume, but higher when occupied.

I love bringing sunlight into a home, with sun tunnels. Rita and I had Mark Lundquist of Design Skylights install a Velux sun tunnel in our garage and another one in our laundry room. (He installed four more at Golden Real Estate.)

Speaking of sunlight, we replaced every light bulb in our home with LEDs which are “daylight” color.

Installing solar photovoltaic panels is a no-brainer now that the cost has dropped so much. Your roof doesn’t have to face due south. Southeast and southwest are good enough. Since everyone will be driving an electric car eventually, install as much solar PV as Xcel Energy allows to cover that future load.

Don’t you hate climbing a curb to enter your driveway? Developers install mountable curbs the entire length of residential streets, because they can’t know where each driveway will be. One of the first things we did at our home was to remove the mountable curb in front of our driveway.  It cost about $2,000 for our 3-car-wide driveway, but we love it every time we enter from the street!

When your gas forced air furnace needs replacing, consider replacing it with a heat-pump or hybrid furnace. And when your gas water heater needs replacing, I recommend buying a heat-pump water heater. We bought a 50-gallon Rheem unit for $1,200, but it came with a $400 rebate. Once you’ve replaced both, you will have eliminated the most common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. 

Other improvements I’d recommend: Replacing any bathroom carpeting with ceramic or porcelain tile; replacing regular double-pane windows with Low-E windows on south-facing windows; replacing fluorescent fixtures (as we did in our garage) with flush-mount LED panels sold at Lowes for about $100.  Love ’em!

Here’s More About Our Planned ‘Net Zero Store’  

By the time you read this article, Golden Real Estate’s move from 17695 S. Golden Road to 1214 Washington Avenue will be well underway.

Last week I announced that we will be transforming our old office space (which Rita and I own personally) into the home of a new venture Ty Scrable and I are calling The Net Zero Store.  It will be a one-stop shop for “all things sustainable,” selling and/or brokering products and services designed to reduce your home’s carbon footprint.

Among the products we will be selling or promoting are the following:

Solar Photovoltaic and Solar Thermal Systems

Sun Tunnels

Heat Pump HVAC Systems

Heat Pump Water Heaters

High-Efficiency Windows

Various Kinds of Home Insulation

HRVs and CERVs for Home Ventilation and Air Quality

Induction Cooktops

Condensing Clothes Dryers

Sustainable Countertop Choices

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

 Among the services we will offer directly or through vendors are the following:

In-Home Consultations With a Sustainability Coach

Energy Audits

Blower Door Testing

Testing and Mitigation for Mold, Radon, Asbestos

Advice Regarding Electric Vehicles

ADUs and Tiny Homes

Webinars and In-Person Events on All Aspects of Sustainability

Reading/Video Lists for Further Study

Styrofoam Recycling

Unlike other stores, everyone you encounter at The Net Zero Store will be knowledgeable in all these areas. Ty and I are in the process of creating partnerships with vendors of these products and services. If you have a product or service you think should be featured in our store, please call Ty at 720-281-6783.

We are also recruiting volunteers to serve as sustainability coaches.

Some Favorite Home Improvements When Purchasing a New-to-Me Home

Who doesn’t want to make some improvements on a home they have just purchased?  Here are some of my personal favorites.

Energy efficiency is very important to Rita and me, so the first thing we do is pay for an energy audit by someone like Andrew Sams of Alpine Building Performance to identify opportunities for making the home more air-tight. This would likely include blowing more insulation into walls or ceilings and caulking around windows. It might also include installing an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) to bring fresh air into the home. This device warms cold outside air in the winter and cools hot outside air in the summer by means of a heat exchanger.

I love bringing sunlight into a home, not with traditional skylights but with sun tunnels. Most people are familiar with the Solatube brand, but I prefer the Velux brand. I had Mark Lundquist of Design Skylights install a 22-inch Velux sun tunnel in my windowless garage and a 14-inch sun tunnel in my windowless laundry room — and four large Velux sun tunnels in the Golden Real Estate office. Ah, sunlight!

Speaking of sunlight, we replaced every light bulb is our house with LEDs which are “daylight” color (like sunlight), not cool white or warm white. CFLs and incandescent bulbs are so 2010!

Installing solar photovoltaic panels is a no-brainer for us, especially now that the cost has dropped so much. Your roof doesn’t have to face due south. Southeast and southwest are good enough. (That’s our situation.) Since you might be driving an electric car someday, install as much PV as Xcel Energy allows to cover that future load.  If you have just purchased an EV, Xcel will allow you to install more panels based on anticipated future use.

Don’t you hate climbing a curb to enter your driveway? Developers install those mountable curbs the entire length of the streets in new subdivisions, not knowing exactly where each driveway will be. One of the first things I would do (and have done) is to hire a concrete company to replace the mountable curb with a smooth entrance. It cost over $2,000 for our 3-car-wide driveway, but I love it every time I enter from the street! Caution: the sidewalk will now be sloped slightly and pedestrians could more easily slip on ice, so be prepared to salt your sidewalk to eliminate icing!

When your gas forced air furnace needs replacing, consider replacing it with a heat-pump furnace or mini-splits. And when your gas water heater needs replacing, I suggest buying a heat-pump water heater. The cost is about the same, and, by converting to electricity for both, you will have eliminated the most common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home.

Other improvements I’d consider include: Replacing carpeting with  tile in bathrooms; and replacing regular glass with Low-E glass on south-facing windows to reduce the harmful effects of sunlight on furniture, hardwood floors and artwork.