What energy efficient improvement should you do first to your house?

Everybody wants new windows. Me too! Especially with the new 2009 up-to-$1500 tax credit. But first things first. Seal the Envelope. Get an Energy Audit to find where your house leaks. And then get caulk, and mastic and insulation and seal all those leaks. People think they need windows because they feel a draft. New windows will take your heat sealing from R-1 to R-3. Insulation in your walls or attic can improve your heat sealing to R-13, 13 times the savings!!! Much more bang for the buck!
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March 27 2009 - Philadelphia
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Replies (31)

Hello,
I think you are on the ball, starting with an energy audit!  Finding out how tight the envelope for the structure of your house is the place to start.Look at the history of the house . If insulated 20 years ago, then I suspect how effiecient it is. The loft in insulaton flattens out over time and is less effective. Also target all of the mechanical systems in your house and check their performance. The furnace is a huge componeant! Is it clean and running effectivly? Hot water tanks cost money. Is yours effiecient? Sometimes a re-circ pump can cut down on the wasted water while waiting for the hot water to arrive. If your house is tight, do you have fresh air coming in? I would start with the structure,then the house systems and see what the priorities are.Stay warm! 
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March 27 2009
Profile picture for bsrice

If you are looking to do tasks that will give you the best return on investment then you should check out this great Home Remodeling list.  It has over 50 projects that you can do that will save you money, energy and the environment.

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April 04 2009

Start with an energy audit as stated previously. Many utility companies provide this for free. If not, you should be able to find one for $200-$300 and it's well worth the money. You will earn this investment back. You should have a blower door test done, which will tell you the leakiness of the home. Your air changes per hour (ACH) should be at about 1/3 per hour (that's recommended under ASHRAE 62). If it's less than that, fantastic! But you would need mechanical ventilation. Never let anyone tell you that the house needs to breathe (from unknown sources). You want to control that breathing with mechanical ventilation.

During the blower door test, the rater should be able to show you where the home is leaking. You may be surprised. That will direct you where to put that caulk, and not just be guessing where.

They should also have an infrared imaging camera. During the blower door test (while the home is depressurized) they can go room to room and determine leaks, and heat/cold conduction.

They should also be able to do a duct blaster test. If you have forced air furnace for heating or cooling, this will tell you how leaky the duct work in the home is, and you can address those areas as well.

What all that will do for you is to give you a blueprint of which areas to focus your attention on. Then after that, have the home retested to see how much you've tightened the home up.

Good luck.



 

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April 05 2009
Profile picture for Big Poppy
Check out GREENandSAVE.com, they have simple ROI calculators that break out what you shoudl do first.  They also have an energy audit program, I have not tried this yet as my home is so old I am startign with changing my light bulbs first...
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April 07 2009
a HVAC contractor friend of mine told me about the geothermal units.  He told stories about houses that use very little heat.  The geothermal units don't turn on much because of the envelop.  A waste of my money.  He told me seal it good then insulate the piss out of it.  Spend extra money for more and better insulation.  If the heat turns on less it saves $$$. Install a whole house fan.  They run about $800.  This will help keep cool fresh air in the summer.  Use CFL's in the whole house to help save power and to keep the house cooler.  In the summer I get up at 3:00-4:00 in the moring to go fishing, I open windows and fill the house with cold air to reduce the a/c usage. A tankless H2O systems are great for the water also.  With the credit federally and localy the end result will cost me about $300.
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April 11 2009
Pat,

You're absolutely right. Stay away from the big ticket items like HVAC and Windows. My HVAC guy confirms this by saying that what he puts in a house is an "accessory" to the building  I give him. If it's a leaky structure, money spent on the best windows, geo-thermal, solar, wind will all be wasted. Spending $5000 to tighten up a house and have $600 utilities for the year is better than spending $40-50,000 on Geo Thermal or Solar and having $300 utilities for the year.

It all comes down to the load of the house (how many btu's does it take to heat/cool it). How you choose to heat/cool that load is then discretionary. Lower the load first by insulating and air sealing (be wary of fiberglass batt insulation), then consider the "accessory"--the means to heat/cool..

As far as windows, the best window poorly installed (flashed, air sealed) is worse than an ordinary window properly installed. It's all in the details.
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April 11 2009
I love this issue !
Everyone is so divided on it ! !
If you don't have dual pane windows, PUT THEM IN !
If you "SEAL" up the house to tight, your HVAC is going to be blowing dust, and you are going to be breathing it !
Make the house functional.
If your house has no attic insulation, add it.
If you are re-roofing, use the thermal backed plywood (radiant barrier) to block 90% of the heat entering the attic.
Put weatherstripping on your exterior doors.
Very simple.

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April 12 2009
We have seen the happiest customers when they replace their leaking windows!
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April 23 2009
Profile picture for LikeMyHouse
Here's a good how-to article on http://www.greenremodeling.org - small modifications one can make on the path to green:

http://www.greenremodeling.org/consumer/article.aspx?resourceid=16
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May 18 2009
Of course you start with simple, inexpensive repairs first. Stopping air infiltration, adding insulation and installing double insulated windows makes a tremendous difference.
John is correct, Geo Thermal is currently expensive and probably better  for new homes build with it in mind.
Solar Hot Water however is not that expensive to begin with, but if you take into consideration all the tax incentives, it becomes very affordable and will save you about 70% of your hot water bill for many years, 25 and more (hot water is approx. 25% of your total energy expenses). ROI varies depending on the family size and the area you live in
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May 19 2009
Profile picture for BungalowMo
I'd never replace my windows.  I have 90 yo old growth oak with wavy leaded glass.  I have recently begun the restoration process on mine & they have turned out absolutely beautiful.

When this:


Becomes this:


And the dried wood trim inside becomes this:


Why on earth would I spend thousands on vinyl when this fix cost me about 9 hours time & about $10 in materials?

"Everyone wants new windows"???  No...not everyone.
Mine have lasted over 90 years...can yours compete?

And lastly...you can't get any greener than this!  No old windows in a landfill!
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July 01 2009
Profile picture for workabee
Nice old window. Makes me want to go strip some paint!
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July 01 2009
Profile picture for blacroix
Technically speaking, R13 is not 13 times better than R1.  R value is the inverse of U-Factor.  An R-Value of 1 has a U-Factor of 1.0, meaning that one BTU/hr of energy can pass through one square foot of surface area for every degree of difference between the two sides.

Therefore, R-Value of 3 would have a U-Factor of 0.333; R-value of 5 would have a U-Factor of 0.20; R-Value of 10 would have a U-favtor of 0.10.  So increasing from R1 to R2 will literally HALVE the energy transfer, decreasing U value from 1.0 to 0.5, but you can NEVER get the U-factor down to zero, so you can never save that same amount of energy again.

Good windows will have a U-Factor of 0.35 or lower (roughly R-3).  Walls with R-13 have a u-factor of 0.077.  Increasing that doesn't hurt, but it has diminishing return.  For walls and windows, it's more important that they are sealed to not allow air to penetrate them.

Basically, your money is best spent increasing insulation in the attic and sealing your home from air leaks.  After that point, if you have an old HVAC system, replace it with as energy efficient unit as you can.  You'll get a much better return there than you would by replacing windows.  Windows would actually be one of the last items on my list.  That said, we've done just about everything else and have begin replacing windows.
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July 03 2009
Excellent post!  Always start with the KISS principle and do what is most easily accomplished--the most "bang for your buck", and that is making sure your home is sealed and insulated!

There are some debates heating up regarding PACE programs (Property Assessed Clean Energy), which are aimed at alternative-financing for energy retrofits on existing homes.  Does your area have one in place already?  Find out!
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July 18 2010
Great suggestions!
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July 20 2010
Profile picture for openup
Get a programmable thermostat. Caulk the windows and doors. Seal up any air leaks. Make sure your attic is venting well. change the filter in your HVAC. Get your HVAC serviced.
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July 22 2010
Profile picture for Rolando123
I'll be using solar energy panel. It would be a great investment using this kind of power source. Plus, this will help our environment. I have read some advantages about solar energy and its facts, and cost.

This website blog will help:

Solar Energy Advantages

http://www.solar-energy-advantages-blog.com/
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August 18 2010
Profile picture for mrs ryca

bungalowMo,

Love how you restored the windows...we bought and sold a century old home after 15 years...wish we had thought of this.  We ended up replacing with crappy vinyl windows and then they never fit right because nothing is square any longer.  How beautiful!

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August 18 2010
Profile picture for Netizen

In 1997 all my windows (including two huge sliding glass patio doors) were replaced with Sears colonial style triple-panes with inert gas between each layer. The cost for my home was $15,000. I have never regretted this purchase as my home remains comfortable year-round, and my energy costs are reasonable considering I maintain 73 degrees in the summer and 75-80 degrees in the winter.

Triple-pane windows are heavy (with sliding doors so heavy they could theoretically crush someone like a pancake if they fell) so make absolutely sure you get experts to assess the strength of your residential structure and install the windows correctly. Sears did a good job, as evidenced after 13 years use (with only very minor stress cracks on the paint around the rims of the kitchen windows which is barely noticeable).

Classy colonial style windows truly truss up a home!

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October 08 2010

One of the most beneficial solutions for retrofitting a home for more energy efficiency is to improve attic insulation. Heat rises, and escapes thru poorly insulated ceilings. Do-it-yourselfers can rent an insulation blower for free from most home improvement stores with the purchase of the cellulose insulation. Use caution not to blow the insulation over the walls into the vented spaces near the eaves of the home. 
Also, many homes can benefit from better attic ventilation, where summertime heat can act to raise radiant ceiling temperatures in many homes.
Best regards,
Matt Evans, REALTOR Valparaiso, Indiana

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October 08 2010
Profile picture for Netizen
I absolutely agree attic insultation is essential. My attic is heavily insulated (completely filled with insulation) and although the attic was insulated in the early 1990's, it looks eerily brand new as if it was insulated recently. (Even the wood is perfectly preserved.) My heating and air-conditioning bills are a testament to the value of quality attic insulation.
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October 08 2010
Go Green! With Earth Friendly Eco Paint of course, having the person and paint company who originated the term "Eco Paint" do it for you.: ) Paint Today, and Entertain Tonight, using either Low or Zero VOC Paint. (Volatile Odor Content). These Clay based paints retain color much better than conventional water borne latex types, without having ammonia and formaldehyde vapors being released for up to 3 years! The exact same type paints were used during the Roman and King Tutt days, still having color preservation today.
Green Eco Paint is an area that many still do not know much about, hoping to change that, along with getting the message out to all we come in contact with. Paint Green! 
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November 11 2010
Profile picture for Dave Closterman
All good stuff, I'll add one important thing to look at... the basement.  As an energy auditor and performance contractor I have found that the best bang for your buck is often targeting your basement:  air seal and insulate.  Basements typically have alot of air infiltration and typically have no insulation.  They also usually make up a greater square footage of the house's envelope then the attic and are usually much more accessible.  Lastly, often the heater and distribution system are located there!

Air seal the contection between the foundation and the framed floor and insulate to R-13 to R-20. 

It is true that air sealing work can be a Do It Yourself project, but if you want it done very well find a professional that specializes in it, and uses a blower door to help locate the leaks and confirms that they are sealed.  They should also use the blower door to calculate the building airflow standard of the house to ensure that the house is not sealed too tighly (although this is very rare).
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December 24 2010
windows and hvac are a top selection
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December 25 2010
Profile picture for MyrtleBeachSprayFoam
If your looking to save money on energy cost, the best "green" energy solution is spray foam insulation.  Its been proven, spray foam insulation, reduces energy cost by up to 33%, usually paying for itself within 3-5 years.  I am from the Myrtle Beach SC area and "spray foam insulation in myrtle beach sc" can save even more than 33% in older homes due to high temperatures in the summer.  Spray Foam Insulation actually uses the inefficiencies of your HVAC ductwork, and uses it to help balance the entire house, including the attic and crawlspace, and helps keeps the heat or A/C from running as often as it use to.  Windows and HVAC upgrades are good, but go ahead and prep for a new HVAC with spray foam insulation, and then the other upgrades like windows and HVAC will benefit the house more.  I see your in Charlottesville VA and I know your temperatures are similar to ours in Myrtle Beach, SC, and probably runs the heat more up there than in Myrtle Beach, so I promise you the biggest savings that no one really knows about yet is spray foam insulation.  So I'd definitely consider at least doing the rafter area of your home in spray foam insulation, because spray foam insulation contractors in myrtle beach sc, have come down a lot on the price and there are also still tax incentives on having, spray foam insulation installed in your home, .  Hope this helps and check out a company called Retro-Solutions Spray Foam Installation Installers of Myrtle Beach SC, They may travel to VA and give you a great deal.
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January 31 2011
Depends on where the need and savings is greatest. A nre central air unit can reduce elect bills 300/mo in some cases. Tankless hot water can save 60/mo. New toilets and shower heads are cost effective ways to save. More than just windows.
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January 31 2011
The one that will save the homeowner most money.
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March 05 2011
Of course, windows, insulation, and an updated heating system is where a homeowner can save the most upon investment! Have you ever considered a tankless water heater? Tankless water heaters provide hot water, on demand, and does not waste natural gas by constantly heating water you aren't using. Plus, with a tankless water heater, you never run out of hot water! It's a great investment and there are a lot of great tankless water heaters on the market.
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March 30 2011
I believe that having double pane windows with a seal that's not broken would save you a considerable amount of money spent on heating and cooling.
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March 30 2011
Profile picture for BungalowMo

Karen wrote:"Of course, windows, insulation, and an updated heating system is where a homeowner can save the most upon investment!"

I don't agree that new windows are the answer.  Do you have any idea how long it takes to recoup a $15k (as mentioned previously) window installation?  Trust me, you won't live that long.

I do agree that insulation & heating maintenance are key, but the push for replacements is all about the profit for the company doing the installation.

If any of you have an older home (and I mean 1930's & older) and you still have the original windows, do yourself a favor & find a local architectural restoration business & they will be more than happy to do this for you for 1/3 of the cost of replacements & you will be saving the original history of your home too.

If we continue to "replace" historic structures, there will be no history left.  It will all fall apart.  There is a lot of truth in the saying "They just don't make things like they used to"!

....she decends from her soapbox...

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March 30 2011
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