Go Green: Achieving a Sustainable Home

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A remodel provides the perfect opportunity to make green updates since areas of the home are likely already cleared of furniture; studs, wiring, and pipes may become exposed; and the contractor is already there to work.

For homeowners, there are three main objectives to focus on when incorporating sustainability into a remodel; Resource conservation, energy efficiency, and a healthy indoor environment.

Thanks to major advances in both selection and performance, homeowners who are interested in tackling these challenges have a wide variety of products and methods they can incorporate into their renovation projects. Still, to gain in one area you might have to give up part of another.

In this article, we are going to discuss the basics of green updates that an experienced builder can execute for you to help you save money on your utility bills and support the environment in the process.

Before your contractor starts ripping out sheetrock, get your ducks in a row with the following preliminary and key steps:

1. Conduct an Energy Audit
First, conduct an energy efficiency audit with a blower door test and thermal imaging survey. Check your lighting, appliances, venting heating system, and water heater. You can audit yourself, but the best way to really find out what’s going on is to hire an energy audit contractor. A certified assessor can conduct an energy audit and give you a rating on your current energy usage, as well as make practical suggestions for improving efficiency. The Department of Energy’s online tool can help you find an assessor in your area.

2. Research and Brainstorm
Next make a list of materials, appliances, fixtures, and surfaces that will go into your project. Search the web or call or visit local vendors to see if there are green options and locally made choices for those options. Find a contractor who has a green building certification indicating he/she has training in this area.

Common Energy Efficiency Upgrades

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Windows

When you’re adding or getting replacement windows, you can boost their energy-saving abilities by installing windows with features to keep heat out in summer, and in during winter. These include double or even triple panes, high-quality frames of vinyl, fiberglass, or wood, low-e glass coatings, gas injections between panes, and pane spacers. Intelligently located, large windows and “no-leak” skylights can also be used to light rooms such as the kitchen and remove the need for turning on the lights during the daytime.

Photo: Forbes

Solar panels

Doing roofing work or adding to your home? Then you might consider incorporating the gold standard for energy efficiency: solar panels, or even solar shingles, the newest entrant to the photovoltaic products industry. Some roofs aren’t big enough or angled properly to make a solar installation worthwhile, but if you’re renovating, you may be able to design the roof to get the perfect orientation for your panels to capture the most sun rays and maximize their output. You could also choose shingles made of recycled material.

HVAC and Smart Thermostats

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With your home properly sealed up, you can also take advantage of a remodel to move in a new air conditioning system and/or furnace that’s high-efficiency. These systems have variable speed motors that optimize airflow while better controlling humidity. Pair the new system with a smart thermostat such as Nest that automatically adjusts the temperature in your home based on your schedule to prevent energy waste when you’re away.

Appliances

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Speaking of water heaters, renovations make a great time to switch to newer appliances such as washers, dryers, refrigerators, and dishwashers. Energy Star-certified products can save as much as 50% of the energy of non-certified appliances. In the store, look for the Energy Star sticker, which will tell you the operating cost of the appliance, to get an idea of how much you could save.

Plumbing

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A tankless water heater saves water by providing instant hot water, eliminating the need to run water to warm it up and the energy to keep hot water on standby in the tank. Installation is fairly complex, requiring re-routing piping, wiring, and connecting to a gas line (for gas models). That is why a bathroom remodel makes a perfect time to switch from a storage tank heater.

In addition, if your pipes are going to be exposed during the remodel, insulating them will reduce heat loss as the water travels from the water heater and provide additional water and energy savings. New eco-friendly taps, showerheads, and toilets can also cut down on your water usage, as well.

Insulation

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Once your home audit results are in you can target those places where the air is entering and escaping the home. Caulking and weather stripping spots of air leakage need to happen before adding insulation in walls, windows, doors, or the attic, because it may need to go on top of any areas that need sealing. A radiant barrier is another attic upgrade that helps block heat from entering through the roof, reducing the strain on your air conditioner. For new attic and wall insulation, you could opt for fireproofed recycled denim, which is manufactured in a zero-waste process.

Caulking: Alternative to Save Energy

Air leaks around windows, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), waste a significant amount of energy. Normally, experts would suggest getting energy-efficient window replacement. It is the best way to get rid of leaky windows and guarantees energy bill shrinkage in the long term. On the other hand, caulking is also recommended as one of the simplest and least expensive ways to conserve energy and lower utility bills. While window caulking is a do-it-yourself project, the EPA recommends hiring professionals for ductwork or any other part of your home that you are not comfortable doing yourself.

What is Window Caulking?

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You can purchase silicone caulk or acrylic latex. It may be found in a tube or in a disposable cartridge that fits into a caulking gun, and this is the type of supply recommended for anything larger than a small space. Some manufacturers also produce high-pressure cartridges that do not require the use of a caulking gun. Spray cans or tubes may also be available in small jobs.

Before purchasing caulk, you should be aware of the following possibilities:

1. If you need the finished result to match a specific color look for acrylic latex that can be painted.
2. You cannot paint caulk but it is available in a variety of shades. Latex typically lasts longer than silicone.
3. If you buy classic cartridges, you can use about half of one cartridge for each window.

What Are the Advantages of Caulking Windows?

Heat escapes through air leaks in the winter and enters your property in the warmer months. In either case, you will be forcing your HVAC system to function harder than what it needs to, potentially reducing the amount of time with both calling for renovations or even acquiring new units. Your system will consume more energy as it works harder. As a result, you will overpay the energy company. Simultaneously, your system cannot keep you as satisfied as it could in a well-sealed and insulated home.

The EPA approximated that somehow this simple venture could save an average home 10 to 20% on energy costs and would cost most folks no or more than $30 and a longer period of time to complete. Because it is a relatively simple task, professionals usually charge reasonable fees for this service as well.

Even though the holes do not go together all way through, they can still lead to severe problems. Rainfall can get into the space for both walls, wiring as well as insulation. Aside from water leakage, you may also have electrical problems and mold. Window caulking can help you save a huge amount of money and keep you more comfortable for a quick, inexpensive job.

Where Caulk Should Not Be Used

When you learn about all of the advantages of window caulking, you may become enthused about these basic ways of conserving energy and saving money.

Caulking-styled windows or above windows can cause serious damage since they are already designed to hold away the excess moisture.

When Should You Caulk Windows?

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When installing new windows or if you notice any obvious gaps or holes around your existing windows, caulking should be a top priority. Check the condition of any existing caulking. Latex caulk seems to break over time. Any caulk may begin to separate from the frame and window. You should re-caulk at that point.

Furthermore, if you’ve never seemed to have caulked your windows, then you should make an investment in a small amount of money in a task that will help you save energy and money.

Consider the following tips for detecting difficult-to-find air leaks:

1. Examine the exterior of your home for areas where multiple opposite kinds of substances meet, such as around window frames.
2. Examine the panes for cracks or holes.
3. Examine the existing caulk for damage.
4. Tap or lightly shake your windows to see if they rattle.
5. Examine any areas where you sense a pocket of cold air when you’re close to the window.
6. Open a window and place a scrap of paper on the window ledge so that you can close it. If you can easily pull the paper out, you know you don’t have a tight seal on the lowest part.

Start Caulking

Caulking also must start taking no more than few-hour shifts and a little money. As a result, you may have decreased electricity bills and enjoy a draft-free home. Whether you do it on your own or hire a well-skilled individual, you should see immediate returns on your home improvement investment.

How to Self-Energy Audit

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An energy audit of your home is simple to perform on your own. A quick but thorough walk-through can allow you to identify a lot of issues in any kind of home. Keep a record of the areas you have examined and the issues you discovered when auditing your home. You can use this list to prioritize your energy-efficiency improvements.

Look Into Lightings

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Your power cost for lights typically uses fifteen percent of your energy budget. Check the bulb wattage in your home. You probably have 100-watt bulbs or greater where 60 to 75 watts would suffice. For spaces where lights are left on for extended periods of time, you should also take into account compact fluorescent lamps. For buying energy-efficient lamps, your electric utility may give rebates or other incentives.

Check for Air Leaks

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Air leaks should be checked in windows and doors. Try to shake them if you can, as movement could indicate air leakage. When the area surrounding a window frame or door is lit up, the door or window is leaking. Usually, caulking or weather-stripping will stop these leaks. Make sure the storm windows fit properly and are in good condition. You could also want to think about buying new, energy-efficient windows and doors to replace your old ones. If purchasing brand-new windows or doors that are made in the factory is out of your price range, you can cover the windows with cheap plastic sheets.

A simple building pressurization test may be useful if you are having trouble finding leaks.

Close all windows, doors, and fireplace flues outside first. Turn off all combustion-based equipment, including water heaters and gas furnaces. In order to remove the air from the rooms, turn on the exhaust fans which are typically found in both the bathroom and kitchen or utilize a sizable window fan. By increasing leakage through gaps and leaks, this test makes it simpler to find them. To find these leaks, use your damp hand or incense sticks. Using incense sticks will result in the smoke wavering while using a damp hand will result in any drafts feeling chilly to your touch.

Probe Insulation

If the insulation levels drop than the advised minimum, your home may experience a significant loss of heat thru the walls and ceiling. Your home’s constructor most likely used the recommended quantity of insulation at the time it was constructed. The degree of insulation may not be appropriate given current energy rates and likely rising prices in the future, particularly if your home is older.

Photo: Pricewise Insulation

Check to ensure if the attic hatch is weather-stripped and closes securely. Check the attic to see if any holes for chimneys, ductwork, or pipes are sealed. Fill up any gaps using an expandable foam caulk or another type of long-lasting sealer. Verify that insulation is not obstructing the attic vents. Additionally, you need to insulate the whole attic floor with the suggested quantity of insulation and seal the ceiling’s electrical boxes with flexible caulk.

It is more challenging to assess the insulation level of a wall. Choose a wall exterior and remove the fuse from any in-wall outlets. By plugging in a working lamp or portable radio, you can check sure the outlets are not “hot” by testing them. Start removing a cover plate from any outlet once you are certain that none of your outlets are receiving any electricity and use a long stick thin enough to get through or a screwdriver to carefully check into the wall. You are guaranteed to have insulation there if you experience a small amount of resistance.

Inspecting Heating/Cooling Systems

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Annual inspections of heating and cooling systems are suggested, or as specified by the manufacturer. Check your furnace filters. Replace them as necessary if your HVAC system has a forced-air part. Generally speaking, you ought to replace them every month following, especially during times of excessive usage. Once a year, have a professional inspect and clean your equipment.

You should think about upgrading your system with a more recent, energy-efficient model if it is older than 15 years. Particularly if the current equipment is in bad condition, a new unit might significantly lower your energy consumption. Look for dirt streaks in the ductwork, especially close to seams. These are signs of air leakage and need to be fixed using duct sealant. Any ducts that pass across unheated areas should be insulated. The minimum insulation R-Value that is advised is 6.

Understanding Energy Efficiency and Conservation

Although energy efficiency and conservation could be associated, they are defined differently in the energy sector. Energy conservation entails modifying your actions and habits to use less energy while energy efficiency is utilizing technology that uses less energy to carry out the same task. Large home appliances, energy-saving lightbulbs, and smart thermostats are just a few technology examples that are considered energy-efficient.

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Energy Conservation

Energy conservation is the practice of making efficient use of the existing energy supplies. Less material is utilized in this method to conserve energy. By conserving energy, one can achieve a number of advantages, including cost savings and ecological harmony.

According to the law of conserving energy, energy can only alter its state; it cannot be brought into existence. When doing a task, energy can take on different forms. For example, when devices are moving to complete a task, this requires energy and can occasionally result in energy waste. Energy waste can be prevented with the aid of reducing emissions.

There are several ways to improve energy efficiency. By using this technique, one can prevent the loss or destruction of forthcoming power generation. This approach can be put into practice by improving the energy-intensive materials one uses, keeping everything in harmony to prevent energy waste, utilizing technology breakthroughs, etc.

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We have gathered some energy-saving suggestions you may implement right away.

Set Refrigeration Temp Down. Up to 13.7 percent of the total household energy use is used by refrigerators. Set your freezer to 3 degrees Fahrenheit and your refrigerator to 37 degrees to save even more energy.

Clean or Change Air Filters. Most homes’ top energy consumers are the heater and air conditioner, which are forced to work harder by clogged air filters. To assist you to remember when the filter needs to be replaced, mark the installation date on it.

Fill Up Washers. To get the most energy-saving use out of each run cycle, fill up the washing machine and the dishwasher.

Use Smart Strip. Household electronics continue to drain power from plugs even while not in use. The term “phantom load” refers to this phenomenon. Using energy-saving smart power strips can help you reduce phantom-load costs, which could lead to financial and energy savings. These power strips turn off equipment that has been placed in standby mode.

Let Everything Dry in the Air. Let the dishes air-dry rather than utilize your dishwasher’s drying function. And on a good day, allow your clothes to dry outside rather than using the dryer.

Designate Burners. Use the tiny burners on your stove for little pots and the larger burners for pots that are larger to save electricity.

Look for Air Drafts. Don’t let the money go to waste by having to pay for cool air during the summer and warm air when the cold season comes. Look for gaps and cracks in your doors and windows, then caulk or fresh weather-stripping them shut if you are not yet looking to get door or window replacement.

Control Temperature at Home. It is best that when the time comes that the temperature changes, you are ready. Choose to dress in lighter clothing during the summer while dress a few more layers during the cold. As a general rule, set your thermostat to 78 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, 68 degrees in the cold season.

Energy Efficiency

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Energy efficiency is the method of replacing energy-intensive equipment with less energy-intensive ones rather than reducing energy consumption altogether. Energy efficiency is a notion that has several benefits for people. By applying energy efficiency, you can use non-renewable sources of energy in place of often employing renewable sources of energy.

Some people perceive efficiency as a more costly way of conserving energy. That is when they get wrong. Yes, you might have to pay more upfront for your daily living to be energy-efficient but you are actually saving money in the long run. You save energy without compromising any task.

Energy efficiency can be practiced with just simple actions.

Choose LED Lights. LED lights, which use less electricity at about 75 to 80 percent, can be used in place of inefficient incandescent bulbs.

Use Electric Cars. Most energy-efficient automobiles consume lesser fuel to travel a certain range. Utilizing electric cars is another practical energy-efficient choice.

Replace Doors and Windows. Although it is cheaper to do repairs on leaky windows, you might not be able to notice it at first but frequent repairs can damage your wallet more than eyeing to replace windows with energy-efficient ones.

Ways to Achieve an Energy-Efficient Home

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By taking cost-effective steps to lower building loads and then installing appliances that are of the proper size to handle the lower loads, you can save money and boost performance. Oversizing generally lowers performance and raises expenses.

The best way to increase your home’s energy efficiency is to start with the envelope of your house, which includes the doors, windows, and walls. Next, make systems like lighting, heating, cooling, and appliances more energy-efficient. Finally, take into account clean energy production methods like solar or geothermal.

Go Green

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Good landscaping, especially deciduous trees, can save energy if your home is older with relatively weak insulation and windows, especially if they are situated on the west side of the building. Infrared radiation would take the chill off the house in the summer, but in the winter, the bare branches allow this heat to pass through. Of course, the impact is significantly reduced if your home has excellent insulation and energy-efficient windows because the building shell itself already prevents practically all heat gain.

Upgrade Old, Leaky Windows

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It could be time to replace old, leaky windows at your home with new, energy-efficient ones. The cost of replacing windows solely to save energy is nearly never worthwhile. EnergyStar.gov states that replacing windows can reduce costs, however replacing single-glazed windows would result in the biggest savings. The update would be affordable and would also make you more comfortable. Energy-efficient windows are also easy to be installed so you do not have to worry about remodeling your walls in case you have decided to replace your old windows because not much construction will be done.

Get Your Walls Insulated

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Effective insulation reduces the rate at which heat is lost from the home during the winter or gained during the summer, requiring less energy to cool or heat your home. Blown-in insulation can significantly increase your comfort and save you enough money on energy if your home lacks wall insulation and has relatively continuous wall cavities like typical stud walls. Adding insulation to already insulated walls rarely pays. If you have an unfinished attic, it usually pays to improve the insulation.

The knowledge of your contractor is more crucial than the type of insulation you select. Fiberglass, cellulose, and the majority of foam insulation materials, when put correctly, can all lessen the conduction of heat in the finished wall system. In principle, contractors utilize a thermal imager in the course of or following the installation to search for voids.

Dump Incandescent Lights and Use CFLs

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Three-quarters less electricity is required by Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) than by incandescent bulbs. The majority of people do not consider the fact that running a lightbulb requires significantly more electricity. A new CFL costs approximately $2 or $3, but it has a lifespan of 10,000 hours and consumes just around 27 watts to produce light comparable to an incandescent bulb that is 100 watts. It costs roughly $25 overall because it consumes about $22 in energy over the course of its lifetime. It takes ten 100-watt incandescent bulbs, which cost $5 to purchase but only last 1,000 hours for a dollar, to last 10,000 hours. You will be using 1,000 kW of energy during those 10,000 hours, which, at the national average price, will be around $80. Therefore, the CFL’s lighting cost is less than a third of what an incandescent bulb would be. Because usage influences how much time it spends to recoup the expenditure, bulbs that are 60 to 100 watts used for several hours a day are the best candidates for replacement.

Unplug Old Refrigerators

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Avoid the urge to store party goods and beverages in the old refrigerator as a backup. You’ll pay more for the extra storage space: add an extra $50 to $150 in electricity costs a year to keep that old refrigerator running. In comparison, considering the efficiency of a refrigerator has increased so much over the past three decades, a new fridge may only cost $30 to $60 per year to operate, especially if it is Energy Star-rated. Evaluate the amount of refrigeration you actually need in these conditions. The greatest tip is to keep your refrigerator to one and make sure it is the right size for your needs.

Look for Energy Professionals to Audit

Energy raters analyze your home using specialist equipment and expertise, and they make recommendations for the most economical ways to increase its convenience and efficiency including the optimum order in which to implement those measures to benefit from interactions. The rater may also offer an unbiased opinion of the caliber of the job performed by the contractors. Look for RESNET-accredited raters.

Doors and Windows: Seal ‘Em Up!

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If the winter gust is making you go get your long warm coat and you are inside your home, it is about time you need to make your doors and windows airtight. Drafts will cause you gratuitous high energy bills because they not only let the cold in but also let the heat out.

These tips for doors and windows with air gaps will get you warm and cozy and your heating expenditure down in no time—whether you have old windows that need replacement or newer ones that have some wear.

Winter weather can be unpredictable in some parts of the nation. Two days later, when it is only 15 degrees outdoors with gale-force winds, you are outside without even a sweater. You might not want to seal your windows for six months if you reside in a pleasantly warm climate. The repairs that are listed below will seal up drafts while keeping your doors and windows functional.

Weatherproofing Doors

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Did you know that the perimeter of an exterior door may let in as much air through a 1/8-inch gap as a regular-sized window opened halfway? Apply weather strips to the sides, top, and sweeps at the bottom if you notice drafts around your doors.

Using Barriers on Doors

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Long tubes with a sand filling called “door snakes” are installed at the bottom of doors to stop drafts. Try putting an old counterpane over your door to stop drafts from the outside if a door snake proves ineffective.

Replacing Glaze

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Your antique wooden windows’ glazing should be checked. Before it gets below fifty degrees, re-glaze any windows that have missing or loose pieces.

Weather Stripping

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The most crucial aspect that homeowners tend to forget in winterizing a house is locking the windows. The air leak is closed up by the window locks pulling the sashes together.

You might want to install two locks, preferable to a single one in the middle of your windows that are bigger. This will shut the gap completely across the sash. Pull down your double-hung window’s top sash and install weather stripping through the top edge before locking. After that, tighten the sash as far as you can go before locking.

Covering with Plastic

You may buy window insulation kits online and at your neighborhood hardware store. These kits seal the glass with a plastic film. The kits have plastic sheets that you may use double-sided tape to attach to the jambs. Once positioned, heat the material using a hairdryer. In this way, the plastic will shrink and will appear as if it is an additional glass pane.

Layering Window Treatments

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The combination of sheer curtains, thick drapes, and shades—hanging on the inside—should be adequate for any weather protection.

Keep everything closed when it’s chilly outside. Raise the blinds, throw open the long curtains, and allow the sunlight in if the temperature is cool (but not freezing) and the room receives direct sunlight to help warm the area. Additionally, a cornice and tightly hung drapes that hug the window limit ventilation by 25%.

You probably won’t mind having windows that are not functional in the winter if you reside in the north and stay inside a lot out of fear of getting frostbite. However, make sure that each room has at least one operable window for safety. Building codes mandate that sleeping quarters and basements have a minimum of one operational exit. While reversible, the following simple adjustments will keep you toasty and free from drafts for the full season.

Filling in the Gap

Use gap filler to close any windows that have openings large enough for a fingertip. Backer Rod comes in several sizes and on a roll to fill substantial gaps. With scissors, trim it after pressing it into the voids.

Applying Caulks

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Nothing seals cracks like temporary caulking. It is available on a roll or in tubes similar to ordinary caulk. Mortite Caulking Cord is a roll of clay-like material that you insert into window gaps to block winter winds. Simply take it off to open the window during summer.

Replacing Windows and Doors

The mentioned solutions will get you by if you are not ready to acquire window and door replacement services. You might even want to mix a few of them because doing so will help you keep warm and shield you from the brisk winter air.

But if you feel like saving yourself from the hassle of always performing these fixes and are in the market for energy-efficient replacement windows and doors, then you are definitely on the right track! These windows are made to stop hot or cooled air from leaving your house. Their enhanced insulation minimizes your home’s energy usage—hence, your energy bill—while also enhancing the general comfort of your house.

The majority of consumers dodge the idea that a new front door might save them much money on energy. Despite having a very ordinary appearance, a new door can save you up to 35% of your annual energy expenditures. The reason is that most new front doors are composed of fiberglass. These materials are able to defend your home as effectively as possible because they insulate and offer protection way more than worn-out wood doors.