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Top Three Money Saving Improvements

By Tom Tate

The average age of the American home is somewhere between 31 and 34 years old (according to 2009 US Housing data). As a result, American homeowners have the potential to significantly reduce their energy bills by investing in targeted home improvements. This article goes over the top three improvements in terms of savings potential.

Perhaps the best improvement in terms of both savings and comfort is draft elimination. You want to seal the envelope of your home against air leakage (inside out) and infiltration (outside in). In a perfectly sealed home, the heating and cooling systems will supply the proper mix of outside air and only have to condition what is contained within the home. According to the fine folks at, caulking and weather stripping can run between $3 and 30 per window / door. Average savings range from 5 – 10% of your energy bill.

The home has a variety of areas susceptible to leaks in addition to doors and windows.

These leaks can be difficult to locate, especially when buried behind insulation or in the attic. Here are several places prone to leaks: recessed lights, basement rim joists, attic hatches, holes made for wiring and plumbing and furnace flue chases. Years ago the EPA site recommended walking around your home on a windy day with a stick of incense to locate drafts. While that advice has been expunged from the site, it brings back fond memories from the 60s and 70s. And it still works. Be sure to choose a fragrance that pleases the entire family.

Adding insulation comes next in terms of cost savings. In general, 12” in the attic will provide the right amount of benefit. Insulating the joists under your first floor is also a good move especially if you have an unconditioned basement or crawl space. The average insulation project runs about $1571 and can save another 10% on your energy bill.

When investigating insulation today you’ll find a variety of options in addition to the common fiberglass roll style. Blown in, foam sheets and spray foam all vie for your attention and pocketbook. Costs and performance vary by product and your particular application. Spray foam is really taking off and is a great retrofit product especially for rim joists and attics and its cost is coming down. At some point, more is not necessarily better. Ask your contractor or cooperative to help you determine the actual improvement you can expect in comfort and savings.

The third area for major cost savings comes from appliances and mechanical systems; specifically, heating, air conditioning, water heating, dehumidifiers and refrigerators. Buying Energy Star refrigerators can definitely save money with two caveats. First, don’t repurpose the old unit for another use, say keeping soda cold. And second, if you upsize the refrigerator and get all the bells and whistles, it may actually use more energy.

New heating and cooling systems can provide tremendous savings when properly sized and installed. If you want to replace window air conditioners, consider the newer lines of mini-split systems available today. They cool and heat and are incredibly economical. Efficiencies on central systems constantly increase so when it is time to replace one, savings should come automatically. Ductwork sealing can pay big dividends. Just don’t use duct tape. That is the one application it is not good for. Who would’ve guessed?

Lastly, when tackling any major home improvement be sure to get multiple bids from qualified and certified contractors.