These home improvements can help shave money off your utility bills

Real Estate

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If you want to bring your home utility costs down, you may want to double-check your energy efficiency.

If your air conditioner isn’t the right size, or your home does not have proper insulation or you still use incandescent lighting, you could be unwittingly ramping up your energy costs.

The solution: conduct a home energy assessment, according to Steve Chalk, former acting deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy.

A professional home energy assessment could cost around $400, according to Chalk, depending on your residence and where you live. But subsequent home improvements could help cut 20% to 35% off your energy use — and your utility bills.

Estimates from the Department of Energy show that consumers can save an average of $105 to $627 on their annual bills.

“You could easily have payback for that [assessment] in a couple of years,” Chalk said. “You’re not only saving money in the long term, but your house is more comfortable, and your air quality can be better.”

Temperature control

With the official start of summer just weeks away, now is the time to check that you’re using the right air conditioners.

Many homeowners make the mistake of having an air conditioning system that’s too large and therefore does not run as long as smaller ones.

“[That] might sound energy efficient, but it’s not,” Chalk said.

That’s because what really happens in that case is that your home is filled with a lot of cold air really fast, which leads to extra moisture, condensation and even mold, he said.

Homeowners in colder climates should also make sure that they have proper insulation installed. Adding attic insulation, for example, can result in a “pretty fast payback,” Chalk said.

Sealing up any leakage in heating and air conditioning ducts or crawl spaces can also help to stem energy losses.

Appliance upgrades

Once you have plugged any leaks, the next step you might want to consider to reel in your energy costs is replacing your appliances.

In addition to upgrading your air conditioning, you should also look at your water heating system. If it’s broken or old, a new one could provide three to four times more efficiency, Chalk said.

Lighting is another area where upgrades can reap big savings, Chalk said. Switching to LED from incandescent lighting can increase efficiency by about 85%, he said.

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Other small changes can add up. That includes programmable thermostats or power strips to help manage the energy use of equipment that remains on all the time.

One thing to look for when buying new appliances: the Energy Star label. Products sporting this decal tend to be more energy efficient, according to Chalk. Plus, the labels show exactly how much you stand to save per month.

The government’s Energy Star website also provides further information on home energy upgrades.

Other tips:

  • It is possible to make some of these improvements on your own, particularly if you already know the trouble spots in your home. But hiring a professional to do a formal home energy assessment can give you more insight into where the energy in your house is going. Experts can conduct a blower door test, which can identify exactly where air leakage happens.
  • Start by stopping any existing leaks before you upgrade appliances, Chalk recommended. “With energy efficiency, you get the investment back pretty quickly,” he said.
  • Check to see if there are local incentives that can help offset energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades. The website DSIRE lets you search for policies and incentives by state. Those options can help lessen the burden of the cost of the home assessment, Chalk said.

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