Improving the energy efficiency of your home is a win-win-win. It makes your living space more comfortable, saves you money, and is good for the environment. Leading analysis shows that energy efficiency can significantly reduce energy use and is a critical tool for reaching emissions reduction targets. In the US, the residential and commercial sectors account for about 30 percent of energy use (which represents almost all of energy use in buildings), with the residential sector accounting for about 16 percent of that total.
There are numerous opportunities to realize the benefits of making our homes more energy efficient, such as replacing inefficient appliances; switching to electric energy sources whenever possible; incorporating efficiency upgrades like new or refurbished efficient windows in home improvement projects; and keeping insulation, weather stripping, and other air sealing up-to-date as a regular part of home maintenance. Getting a home energy audit to assess your home is the first step.
My colleague, Connie Volcke, recently had her home of 25 years audited for energy efficiency. As part of our celebration of national Energy Efficiency Day, I spoke with her about the experience and the steps she took based on that audit in her 1940s home, which is in Northeast Minneapolis.
Q. How did you decide to do an energy audit? What did you learn?
A. I got the idea for doing an energy audit from reading the Metro Clean Energy Resource Team newsletter (GPI leads the metro region of the statewide Clean Energy Resource Teams) which had a story about the Home Energy Squad. The Home Energy Squad is a home energy improvement program of CenterPoint Energy and Xcel Energy that’s delivered by Center for Energy and Environment (CEE).
CEE came out to our house and completed an energy audit, including a blower door test (which detects air leaks), and gave us detailed recommendations for how we could improve our efficiency. They also did some improvements on the day of the audit (which were included in the audit cost), such as installing weather stripping and changing out inefficient light bulbs.
Some of the big things we discovered during the audit: we had poor insulation in the walls and needed to upgrade our appliances, especially the furnace. The big takeaway from the audit was that it helped us realize just how much energy (and money) we were wasting. They gave us a detailed report with the greatest opportunity for energy and financial savings.
Q. What did you do to upgrade your energy efficiency?
A. One major focus of our energy efficiency improvements was to make a better seal around our house with additional insulation. The energy audit showed that there were places in our house that had no insulation at all. Living in Minnesota, we knew this would help keep our home warm in the winter—we also learned how it could help keep our house cooler in the summer.
We invested in a high-efficiency furnace that replaced our old gravity-fed furnace from 1942 that may have been original in the house. We also replaced our water heater.
Q. What have you noticed since the work was completed?
A.We’ve noticed that our house is more comfortable overall and it’s also quieter—that was a surprise benefit from the added insulation. It’s also great to see the energy and financial results; we’re saving money by wasting less energy, which we can see by comparing old energy bills.
Q. What advice would you give others who are thinking about improving their home efficiency?
A. Get a home energy audit. If you have never had one done or it was 10 years ago, the time is now. The audit process was easy—it provided us with a quick diagnosis and we were able to put together a plan of action, which included a helpful set of funding options for our energy efficiency upgrades.
In terms of getting started on improvements, we found it helpful to get a few cost estimates from different contractors for each of our major projects and find a trusted resource for references. In our case, the energy auditors helped identify an insulation contractor and provided a list of names to refer to contractors.
Between the increased comfort and combination of energy and financial savings, along with the knowledge that we’re reducing our carbon footprint, I would highly recommend going forward with an energy audit for your home—it’s surprisingly easy to do and gives you a clear path forward.
Live in Minnesota? Learn about opportunities to increase the efficiency of your home here: https://mn.gov/commerce/consumers/your-home/energy-info/efficiency/
For residents outside of Minnesota: