10 Tips to Make Your Home More Efficient and Sustainable

As a homeowner, you want to make sure that everything in your house works for a long period of time, and cost efficient. As technology improves, both energy efficiency and product sustainability increase. Today, there are numerous ways to add green, sustainable technology to our house, to make it more environmentally friendly, and to reduce your utility bills.

Before we get into the list, we wanted to add one note. Yes, adding new technology to your house requires an upfront cost. These upfront costs are higher than older and less-efficient options, but you will get returns because they increase the value of your house, decrease your energy bills, and increase your quality of living.

Switch to LED lights

The easiest and cheapest way to reduce your electric bill is to switch the lights in your home to more energy-efficient bulbs. LED lights consume 80% less energy and last 20 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Incandescent bulbs actually waste energy by generating more heat than light. LED bulbs are cool to the touch. In addition, LED lights come in a wide range of brightness and colors to suit your needs in every room.

Add new weather stripping to doors and windows

As your home ages, cracks will inevitably form in the seals around your windows and doors. As these cracks grow, they let out the air that your furnace and air conditioner work hard to produce. The harder and more often they have to work to reach the desired temperature, the faster they will wear out, and the higher your energy bill will be. More on that later. Weather strips and caulk are cheap at any hardware store and are easy to install by yourself. The easiest way to check for faulty weather stripping is to feel around doors and windows with your hand. If you feel hot or cold air moving where it shouldn’t. You know where to make the fix.

Recycling and compost bins

Up to 50% of the trash that is thrown away by households is recyclable or compostable. A couple of years ago, the Boise area created a few new recycling programs. Recycling bins are now commingled to contain paper, plastic, and metal; the orange Hefty Energy Bag program helps recycle certain hard-to-recycle materials into fuel and energy. Read more on their website; and new compostable yard waste bins. All of these make it easier to put certain materials into places where they can be more readily used.

The new compost bins are specifically for lawn and garden waste, but not pet waste. The compostable materials are then turned into fertilizer that you can buy. Alternatively, you can buy a composter to turn lawn clippings, food waste, and other plant materials into fertilizer for your own gardens, free of charge! These can be found in a wide range of styles sizes, and price ranges at home improvement and hardware stores.

Collecting rainwater

Collecting rainwater in a specialized container is a great way to save money on watering your outdoor plants. Normally, rain will water your plants, and many homeowners will still use their sprinklers to water their already wet grass and plants. Plus, rainwater usually runs off into the gutters and sewers instead of being utilized by the homes it rains on. In places like Idaho with hot, dry summers, having extra water on hand to water your plants can help reduce your water load in the dry months. Some cities and states have laws prohibiting the use of rainwater collection, so be sure to check before installing rainwater collection devices. Idaho does not have these laws.

Proper insulation

Make sure your house is properly insulated from bottom to top. Insulation helps regulate the temperature of your home and keeps it at your desired temperature for longer periods of time. Crawl spaces should be checked periodically to ensure there is no water buildup. Wet crawl spaces are a heat sink for your home, and can cause the insulation to mold, and for pipes to freeze.

Having a properly insulated attic is even more important. The roof of your house absorbs a lot of heat in the summer, and heat escapes through the roof in the winter because heat rises. Keep your attic well insulated to prevent heat and cold air from escaping when you need it the most.

Proper ventilation

While trying to keep your desired temperatures inside as much as possible, be sure that air can escape when it needs to and be replaced with clean air. Install new filters in your heater/air conditioner every 6 months to ensure they are clean. Clogged air filters are a common cause of heaters and air conditioners working harder for longer, and breaking down when you need them most. Your energy bills will go up, then you will have to pay for repairs or replacements.

If possible, install an attic fan. Attic fans work by pulling air out of the attic when it reaches a set temperature. In conjunction with a well-insulated attic space, an attic fan will help keep your house cool or hot as you need it. For example, pulling hot hair out of the attic in the middle of June will help keep your house cooler and longer, which will reduce your energy needs.

Install solar panels

Solar panel technology has come a long way in terms of affordability, energy usage, and material costs, and is a quickly rising industry worldwide. Nowadays, the installation of solar panels on an average-size house can cost $12,000-$16,000. There are state and federal tax credits for installing solar panels on your house that help reduce the upfront cost. There is also a small charge for tapping into the city’s power grid. But after the installation costs, they literally begin to pay for themselves.

As the solar panels absorb UV rays and convert them into electricity for your home, you will draw off the solar panels first before drawing off the city’s grid. Any excess power your home doesn't use gets put into the city’s power grid, which is then applied as a credit on your power bill. Even on cloudy days, UV rays make it through the clouds and add power to the solar panels. Over the course of 10-15 years (depending on the light source and how many panels there are), the solar panels will completely pay for the installation costs, and you will be constantly earning credits on your energy bills throughout the year.

New water heater

Conventional residential water heaters keep a tank of 50-75 gallons of water hot at all times. If you turn the heat down a little and wrap the tank with insulation wrap, it still takes a lot of energy to keep hot, and you have to run the water to let it heat up. A new tankless water heater only heats the water when it is needed, cutting down on energy use, and water consumption. Plus, since tankless water heaters are electric, they can draw power from your new solar panels to help offset the energy costs.

Conventional water heaters last between 13 and 15 years on average. Tankless water heaters are smaller and last twice as long as water tank heaters. This means less landfill waste in addition to less energy and water usage.

Low-flow shower heads and toilets

Showering and toilets are two of the biggest water users in the home. This article is not telling you so stop showering and using the toilet as a means to sustainable living. We at Build Idaho, and society at large encourage hygiene. But, normal shower heads use 5 gallons of water per minute and older toilets use 4-6 gallons per flush. Over the course of a year with the national average of 2.6 people per house in Idaho (2.5 people nationally), that adds up to hundreds of gallons a year per house.

Low-flow shower heads use around 2 gallons per minute, which cut down on water usage and electric usage to heat that water. Newer toilets use around 1 gallon per flush, which is a huge savings on your water bill.

Energy-efficient appliances

Finally, energy-efficient appliances are a large benefit to homeowners. Dishwashers, ovens, refrigerators, heaters, and washers and dryers with the Energy Star label are proven to use less electricity than their conventional counterparts. Energy Star is a partnership between appliance manufacturers and the federal EPA. Appliances with Energy Star approval are verified by an independent, approved third party to consume less water and electricity to perform the same functions. These tend to cost a little more upfront, but that cost is quickly offset by the savings on water, gas, and electricity bills.

Bottom line

There are plenty of ways to reduce the amount of water, gas, and electricity you use. Even if you don't approach it from an environmental or sustainability point of view, everybody loves saving money. Buying a house is an investment in your future. Investing in making your house cheaper and enabling it to work better for you is investing in paying less money in the mid-to-long term. Plus, when it comes time to sell your home, these upgrades can help you fetch top dollar from sellers.

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