Whether you are concerned about climate change, your family’s health or saving money, the solution is the same: Invest in sustainable changes to your home.
Get an energy assessment
The first step in understanding your home’s energy use and environment is getting a comprehensive home energy assessment (audit) by a professional company. Most states have Energy Star programs that offer free or reduced-cost assessments, and help you contact certified professionals (contractors credentialed by the Building Performance Institute - BPI).
First they will evaluate how much air is leaking from your home. (You’ll be amazed at the sneaky, invisible ways heat and cold can get in and out.) They will also check the amount of your insulation and other home environment aspects including air quality.
You’ll get a detailed report about how energy efficient and environmentally safe your home is as well as a prioritized list of potential improvements. Armed with the knowledge provided by the assessment, you can begin making smart changes.
Here are a few of the best ways to get environmental bang for your buck:
- Air Sealing: Caulk and weatherize to reduce conditioned air from escaping and outside air from getting in.
- Insulation: Improve and increase the “blanket” around your home.
- Lighting: Change to energy efficient light bulbs (fluorescents and LEDs).
- Low flow: Change your plumbing fixtures to conserve water and energy.
- Thermostats: Use programmable thermostats to use energy only when you want.
- Appliances: Upgrade to high-efficiency appliances, including a boiler or furnace.
- Behavior changes: Turn off lights when you're not in a room; bundle up in winter to keep the thermostat low.
What’s your power plan?
Now that you’ve started taking steps to reduce your energy needs, you can also start thinking about the type of energy you consume.
The most popular renewable source is solar energy. In many places, you can get a state or local rebate for installing solar panels on your house, along with federal tax credits. Your specific house and location will determine if you can benefit from installing panels. Buying green energy is also a great option, especially if installing on your home is not. Many electric utility companies offer green energy solutions (solar, wind and hydro).
Various financing options exist if you don’t want to pay out of pocket. In addition to traditional financing like home equity lines, many state programs offer low interest loans specifically for these kinds of home improvements. Several solar companies such as Solar City offer leasing options with no upfront cost. (Remember, the energy savings should be greater than the financing payments, so you will be cash positive the whole time.)
It’s all connected
People integrating various sustainable improvements, have reduced their utility bills by 20 to 50 percent. Just like the actions you take to increase your happiness, your sustainable choices have a ripple effect. With time and effort, it is possible to save money while also creating a healthier, more comfortable home and helping the planet.
Brian Kaminer is the founder of Talgra, a consulting firm focused on sustainable, responsible and impact investing. His educational website Invest With Values (investwithvalues.com) helps people interested in aligning their money and values.