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Make Sure Home Improvements Benefit You

By Tom Tate

In another article, we look at the top three areas ripe for improvement that have a major impact on your energy consumption. The top three are (1) leak (draft) sealing, (2) insulation improvements and (3) upgrades to key appliances and/or heating and cooling systems. Often, when people see such recommendations, the first thing that comes to mind is a large outlay of cash. Over the years, I have witnessed this when delivering comprehensive energy analyses of members’ homes. People tend to take no action because the recommended array of retrofits seems extensive and expensive.

Out of such experiences has developed a particular philosophy around energy efficiency improvements which is, “Just do something that you can afford, today.” True, this approach is not going to cut an electric bill in half. In fact, it is likely you won’t see the meter slow or the bill change much. But the effects are cumulative and you will eventually see a difference. And the fact that you are taking what steps you can is very important.

When taken for the entire country, such small, individual actions can be significant. At one point, I ran a calculation based on every household in the United States replacing three 100 watt incandescent bulbs with their CFL equivalent. While the exact number eludes me at the moment, it amounted to several power plants worth of electricity. As the electric industry changes and begins retiring older, less efficient generating facilities, energy efficiency is a terrific way for members to save money and to allow utilities to make the transition to different power sources.

When looking at improvements of greater magnitude, there are a number of factors to consider in determining if and how much it will benefit you and your family. The favorite approach used by the marketers of these improvements is to put forward a return on investment (ROI) or payback figure. You have likely heard people say, “Do this and your savings will pay back your investment in X years.”

Then there is the fact that certain improvements can add value to your home. Since their home is the largest single asset for most families, doing things that increase the value of that assert are generally worth considering.

But perhaps the most important consideration comes from whether the improvement increases your comfort and enjoyment of your home. Take windows for example. Replacing windows is quite expensive and often carries the longest payback or ROI. Yet, you may find the new windows are much more pleasing, make your home look better, and increase both your comfort and pride in ownership. So long as you can afford the price, payback is relatively unimportant.

New kitchen cabinets won’t improve energy efficiency but new, more efficient appliances will. The increased convenience and pleasure from your updated kitchen may be more important over all.

Before embarking on any significant efficiency improvements, tackle the leaks first. You can install the best windows and insulation in the world, invest in the highest efficiency heating / cooling system and bring in the finest Energy Star appliances on the market first. You can and if you ignore the leaks in the shell of your home, your efforts are going to literally go out the window. Remember your dad yelling at you about leaving the door open, “Are you trying to heat the entire neighborhood?” Well, a leaky home does its best to do just that. Fixing the leaks first makes other improvements more beneficial by creating an envelope that limits the space to be conditioned to your home, rather the entire neighborhood.