Spring has finally sprung in central Virginia, and we’re excited to move on after the last few snowy months. But, a prolonged school year isn’t our only headache from our the winter-that-wouldn’t-quit. Many folks will be dealing with the hangover of high energy bills for months to come, which makes this the perfect time to put “fix energy issues” atop your home improvement list.
Plenty of people dabble with an occasional energy efficient upgrade – they install new energy efficient light bulbs when the old ones burn out, and when comfort issues get bad enough they occasionally replace a window or caulk a door. While there’s nothing wrong with an incremental approach to energy efficiency, many people dream of a complete “home energy makeover.”
Regardless of which approach is right for you, most homeowners just need a little help figuring out how to get started. There is a common misconception that solving comfort and high energy bill problems is pretty simple – just replace some windows or lay down some additional insulation in the attic, right? Unfortunately, homeowners who undertake their quest for savings and comfort without a map often fail to achieve optimal results.
For Dominion Virginia Power customers, a great place to start is with a Home Energy Check-up available through a rate-payer funded program. From this low-cost, 90-minute visit, you get a sense of your trouble spots and which fixes should be tackled first. When you’re ready to get to work, LEAP recommends that you enroll your home in the Department of Energy’s Home Performance with ENERGY STAR (HPwES) program for the peace of mind and certification it provides.
While every home is different, these are some of the steps commonly recommended whenever LEAP’s Energy Coaches visit a home:
• Air seal the home
Almost always the first step and quickest ROI
• Insulate the attic, crawl space and walls This is extremely popular in both old and new homes. It’s also a measure with immediate results. Said one client: “The first night we had the foam insulation, the house felt better. My wife said, ‘it’s like someone put a blanket on our house.’”
• Air seal and insulate duct work
• Switch incandescent lights to CFLs or LEDs Incandescents long ago passed their prime, and the CFLs and LEDs on the market today use at least 75% less energy
• Upgrade to high efficiency HVAC units (i.e. heat pumps, furnace or boiler, air conditioner)
• Upgrade to ENERGY STAR appliances Home appliances like dishwater, refrigerators and laundry machine account for about 15% of a household’s energy use, and ENERGY STAR versions are 20% more efficient.
• Upgrade to a high efficiency water heater
• Replace or install bath fans to improve ventilation
• Replace windows
• Weather strip windows and doors
• Condition crawl spaces
• Condition attics with foam and fireproof covering
• Replace or reconfigure ductwork
• Insulate pipes and add controls to boilers
• Install programmable thermostats
• Address health and safety issues
• Fix moisture issues inside and out
Most homeowners are concerned that a Home Energy Makeover is unaffordable. In many cases, rebates, local incentives, and/or PowerSaver loans available through UVA Community Credit Union can help. Regardless of how you proceed, rest assured – an energy efficient home is worth it.
Lower energy bills are worth it. Homeowners in the HPwES program typically see energy savings of 20% or more.
A healthier, more comfortable home is worth it. After their home energy makeovers, clients rave about being able to enjoy a sunroom in the winter or not suffocating upstairs in the summer. And they are surprised by the health and safety benefits. We’ve heard things like “We got fans and vents in our bathroom and kitchen and new windows. These measures greatly reduced condensation and mold in our home – a big plus, especially since our daughter has asthma and we are always trying to reduce her symptoms” and “they also found two safety issues related to our old gas furnace that we would not have known about!”
A higher home value is worth it. Increasingly, homeowners are seeing their home value jump after certified home energy improvements — like HPwES. Indeed, according to a study by the National Association of Home Builders, 90% of people believe that energy efficiency is important when buying or selling a home. The same study found that 72% say that energy efficient features would sway their decision to purchase a home, and 61% would be willing to pay $5,000 up front in order to save on utility costs later.
LEAP has new services to help sellers get fair market value for high performing, energy efficient homes, including the Appraisal Institute’s Green and Energy Efficient Appraisal Addendum and a Home Performance Certificate.
Whether you’re in the market to buy or sell or if you’ve already found your forever home, as you thaw out this spring think about a home energy makeover to get more health, comfort, savings and value out of your home.
Tim Leroux, Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP)
LEAP is a Charlottesville-based nonprofit that since 2010 has helped more than 1,500 homeowners with their home energy makeovers. www.leap-va.org