5 Energy Efficiency Mistakes to Avoid

Written by Reuven Walder, Vice-President of ecobeco
Updated November 16, 2016
Old energy efficiency tips are no longer enough, so be sure to try a smarter solution in your home to keep out drafts. (Photo courtesy of Pella® Windows and Doors)

Some older solutions to improving your home's energy efficiency are no longer the best solutions.

Instead of spending time and (a lot of) money on "solutions" that end up not being energy efficient, consider these smarter options. 

The problem: My windows are drafty

Old solution: Buy new windows.New smart solution: Air seal and insulate your attic and basement.

Your home acts like a giant insulated thermos container. For you and your family, the important part of this container is the perimeter surrounding your personal living space area, called the “building envelope.” In most cases, it turns out that perforations in the building envelope that are left unsealed are your real culprits for drafty windows.In winter, when you are heating your home, the warm air rises and bumps into your uppermost ceilings. If there is any way for warm air to sneak out through any type of exit hole or through an unsealed attic floor, it will. The warm air exiting actually works as a vacuum, forcibly pulling cold air into your home from the outside. Outdoor air is very opportunistic and will enter through doors, windows and other leakage sources. The same effect happens in the summer, when cool air exits through the basement and is replaced by warmer air from the outside.We have seen time and time again that proper air sealing and insulation of attics and basements drastically slows the rate of air leaks. This changes the pressure in the house so that leaky windows will stop leaking! Slowing air leaks also reduces your heating and cooling costs.

The problem: "Enough" insulation isn't enough anymore

Old solution: Your house was “built to code” and had plenty of insulation. New smart solution: Add more insulation to be sure you are up to date. 

Insulation code has changed a lot. In Maryland, for example, a home built in 1978 would have required R-19 on an attic floor – that’s about six inches of blown cellulose insulation. Contrast that with a home built in 2012 or later, which requires R-49 – 14 inches of blown cellulose insulation.

While insulation is best known for saving energy and improving comfort, another benefit is that it reduces the likelihood of moisture condensing on walls, which can reduce the risk of mold. Insulation is relatively inexpensive as a home improvement upgrade, and your potential savings are excellent as compared to your investment cost.

The problem: My attic is too hot

Old solution: Install an (expensive) attic fan. New smart Solution: Air seal and insulate, then passive venting is enough.Unconditioned attics get crazy hot. So to cool it down, many home owners add attic fans to ventilate and cool down the area. Unfortunately, most attic floors have lots of air leaks. Instead of pulling fresh air from outside your house, most attic fans are actually pulling conditioned air from inside your house. This means you are now using your air conditioner to cool your attic space that is open to the outside! Do you ever open your windows when the air conditioning is on? Of course not. Similarly, stop using an attic fan in a leaky attic.By effectively air sealing and insulating your attic, your air conditioning stays in your home’s living space. Then the passive venting that already exists in your attic will be enough. Attic fan no longer needed.

The problem: I don't use some rooms, so I'll close the vents

Old solution: Close vents and registers in unused spaces.New smart solution: Leave ‘em alone and open.Air conditioners and furnaces are designed to produce the exact right amount of heat to fill your home duct work systems. Your trusty furnace will continue to work hard, regardless of whether every register in the house is open or closed. Closing a few of them will simply redirect all the heat into other rooms. This has the unfortunate effect of increasing the air pressure in the whole system (pros call this “static pressure.”) Closing vents will actually force your furnace or heating unit to work even harder, causing it to use more energy and to wear out the motor more quickly, which can be an expensive repair or require system replacement sooner than expected.

The problem: I'm not sure energy efficiency additions are worth the cost

Old solution: Only look at the energy savings payback periods. New smart solutions: Energy efficiency projects also increase a home’s value. The research is in. Energy Efficient homes sell for more. Studies by realtors and local governments have shown around 5 percent premiums. Appraisers have developed a special Residential Green and Energy Efficient Addendum to capture the additional value. Just be sure to list your home’s energy efficiency features when you put it on the market.Realtors appreciate this because it makes your home easier for them to sell. Energy efficient homes sell faster, too. 

Buyers appreciate it even more, because they know and understand the benefits of moving into a home where someone made the investment in home energy improvements – so they don’t have to. Bravo!

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About this Experts Contributor: Reuven Walder is the vice president of ecobeco, an energy efficiency company based in Rockville, Maryland. Mr Walder is a certified Home Energy Auditor and Quality Control Inpsector in the Pepco Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Program.  

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