When you start planning a remodel of your home, you will be faced with many choices, some of which can make a big impact on how much energy you use. This in turn can determine how much (or how little) your utility bills will be for decades to come. In short, a little extra thought toward efficiency now can have a sizable financial impact over the years. Here are our top seven environmentally friendly remodeling projects that can make a big impact on your wallet.
Why consider environmentally friendly features in your home remodel?
There are many reasons why you might want your home to perform better and use less energy. They range from wanting to help fight climate change by reducing your carbon footprint to seeking to increase your home's value and save money on your monthly utility bills. By making smart choices when you remodel, you are able to do all of the above.
Now, let's dive into the list of top energy-saving projects you can incorporate into your next remodel. Get ready to save some money . . . and reduce your environmental impact!
Get a home energy audit 🔎
The first step in making your home more efficient is to find problem areas. I recommend a detailed home energy audit. Specialists will track down air leaks, check appliances, and find other areas of your home that are wasting energy and jacking up your utility bills. Most home energy auditors will hand you a prioritized list of items to tackle, with the least expensive, highest impact items at the top. It's an excellent road map for improving your home's efficiency. If your home is like most in our region, the item that can have the biggest impact (and that isn't expensive to fix) is sealing air gaps with expanding foam.
Give your kitchen an eco-makeover 👨🍳
In many homes, the kitchen is ground zero for energy consumption. People love to gather in the kitchen, so the lights are on a lot, and there are lots of appliances that consume energy (and create waste heat your air conditioner will have to remove). If you are planning a kitchen remodel, be sure to pick out Energy Star appliances.
At a minimum, choose an Energy Star refrigerator. Beyond that, look for a refrigerator with thick, well-insulated walls. The yellow EnergyGuide stickers will help you compare annual electricity usage. It's surprising how much more power some refrigerators consume compared to others.
Again, look for the Energy Star designation. To save energy, you will want to find a dishwasher that uses a miserly amount of water. The more water used, the harder your water heater will have to work and the higher your energy bills.
Induction cooking technology is rapidly gaining in popularity. It uses less electricity than traditional electric cooktops, and it provides instant, intense heat. Induction cooktops perform like gas but without the negative side-effects of burning fossil fuel, like indoor air pollution.
When choosing kitchen surfaces and materials, durability is the key to sustainability. Install long-lasting, hard-wearing surfaces, such as engineered hardwood floors and quartz countertops. Durable surfaces need to be replaced less frequently and have the added benefit of being easy to clean, which reduces the need for harsh, environmentally unfriendly cleaning chemicals. Bonus points for choosing materials that are made from recycled materials.
Update your HVAC system 🔥
Replace your aging furnace
If your home's furnace is more than five or ten years old, chances are, it does not utilize the latest energy-efficient technology. Today's furnaces burn cleaner and waste less heat in the form of exhaust. Ask your remodeling or HVAC contractor for a quote to upgrade to a more efficient model. You might be surprised by how quickly it will pay for itself with lower energy bills. And don't assume you have to replace your existing furnace with the same type. Consider all your options, including a highly efficient heat-pump unit, which operates like a central air conditioner in reverse.
Keep your ducts clean and in good repair
If your home is properly insulated and air-sealed, your HVAC system won't have to run very frequently. And if you replaced your furnace with a new, more efficient model, it will use less energy when it does run. But don't forget to regularly clean your air ducts so that the entire system operates at maximum efficiency. Old HVAC ducts can develop cracks that allow air to escape or become clogged with debris that causes your system to work overtime. Even if your ducts themselves do not need repair, it is a good idea to regularly replace furnace filters and consider dampers to reduce backdraft.
Replace Old Windows 🏠
Newer windows are generally designed to be much more energy-efficient than the old ones currently on your home. What's more, most old windows aren't even performing to their original specifications, since they will likely have developed air leaks over the years. Not only can new windows save you lots of money in the long run, they can solve the problem of cold drafts. Your home will be so much more comfortable!
When shopping for windows, look for the NFRC energy performance sticker, which is much like the EnergyGuide sticker on appliances. Look for windows with a lower U factor, which means they insulate better. Here in Seattle, a U factor of 0.27 or less is required to earn the Energy Star designation, but you can find windows that perform even better than that.
Use smart light controls 💡
If you have a family with children, you are no stranger to having the lights on with nobody home. As such, installing motion-detecting light switches can ensure that the lights are only running when people are actually in the room.
Even if you do not have children, it is not uncommon to turn the lights on in the dark of morning and then leave them on while they are no longer needed. Consider upgrading to lights that automatically switch off when the room reaches a threshold brightness.
Upgrade the Insulation ❄️
It should come as no surprise that if you plan on refinishing your walls or ceilings, it's a great time to replace or add to your insulation. Blown-in cellulose insulation can help blanket your home and keep it warm in the winter. Spray foam insulation is even more effective at sealing out the cold. If your walls are open, don't waste the opportunity to insulate as much as possible.
Install solar panels 🌞
If you have followed all the above steps, your home's energy needs will have decreased dramatically. The next logical step is to generate your own solar energy to help offset the power you do draw from the grid. In some cases, you can actually produce as much solar energy as your home uses over the course of a year, making your home "net-zero-energy."
While past generations of solar panels were slow to be adopted due to their high cost and inefficiency, the latest generation of panels produce a lot of watts per square foot and are drastically less expensive. Have a solar installer come out for a free visit to your home and work up a report of how much money you could save with a roof full of panels. Again, you might be surprised by how quickly a new photovoltaic (PV) system can pay for itself.
In addition to adding significant resale value to your home, environmentally friendly remodeling projects can help lower your cost of home ownership through reduced energy costs. From solar panels to improved insulation, there are a number of eco-friendly renovations you can undertake that will improve the energy efficiency of your home.
Mandy Lee is a contributor to Innovative Construction Materials. She is a blogger and content writer for the building materials industry. Mandy is focused on helping fellow homeowners, contractors, and architects discover materials and methods of construction that increase property value, maximize energy savings, and turn houses into homes.