Tag Archives: home energy efficiency

Stretch Your Budget the Furthest

By Brad Fletcher, Energy Analyst 

When a homeowner engages in energy efficiency upgrades on their home, the list of possibilities can sometimes feel exhausting. Unlike a kitchen upgrade or the addition of a bedroom, a whole house energy efficiency plan may be designed and executed over an extended period of time. An energy professional will help homeowners find the incentives and/or rebates available for the upgrades they recommend. Homeowners, with the help of an energy professional, typically develop a hierarchy of upgrades based on the cost effectiveness of each improvement for the home. Here are a few to start with:

Air sealing and insulating the home is an investment ranging from $50-$2000. Keeping the heat in and the cold out makes practical sense and is often the upgrade that stretches the homeowner’s dollar furthest.

Replacing the lighting with higher efficiency bulbs such as Compact Fluorescent Lighting (CFL) or Light Emitting Diodes (LED) can cost between $5-$50 per fixture and result in a short payback period making this investment a no brainer.

In a typical home, the heating and air conditioning system(s) consume the most energy and cost the most to operate. Upgrades to the HVAC system can result in considerable savings. Improving the mechanical system can include duct sealing, thermostat replacement, cleaning and tuning or in some cases, replacement with a more efficient system.  These improvements can range from $50-$3000 depending on the size of the home and extent of improvements.

Replacing water fixtures may seem like an unlikely way to save energy, but installing low-water usage or aerated fixtures in your kitchen and bathroom will reduce the amount of hot water needing to be generated by a home’s water heating system. Improving the efficiency of faucets and shower heads can range from $2-$200 and save both energy and water.

Older kitchen appliances can consume much more energy than newer, Energy Star rated appliances. Replacing old appliances that have become one of your home’s largest energy hogs will not only cut your total energy cost, but improve the look of your kitchen as well! A combination of dishwasher and refrigerator replacement range from $1500-$3000.

While there are abundant opportunities to improve the efficiency of an existing home, there are even more possibilities that exist in new home construction. This is due to both the technology that can be applied during the construction process as well as the ‘blank slate’ approach where builders can utilize more stringent standards and design features to improve the energy efficiency of your house. When constructing a new home, be sure to speak with your builder about how they can help reduce the cost of operating the home.

If you’re building a new home or doing energy upgrades to your current home, an energy professional can work with contractors and homeowners to calculate which upgrades provide the homeowner with the biggest bang for their buck. Beautiful light fixtures and stunning floor coverings are amenities you are able to see every day while energy efficiency is an amenity you can also feel and see on your monthly utility bills. With a wide range of upfront investment possibilities, energy efficiency is the only investment that will pay you back!


As we head into winter and high heating bills, many homeowners will be tempted to get some help with their house in an effort to decrease their energy costs. We see contractors and utility companies advertising their ‘free’ energy analysis, … Continue reading

Attic Stairs May Be Your Biggest Energy Loss

How many readers of this blog have pull-down stairs to their attic or know someone who does? You are probably not going to believe how much energy is wasted when the stairs are not insulated to match the rest of your attic.

For illustration purposes, let’s use an attic with 1000 square feet of ceiling area. There is R-38 insulation everywhere except the 10 square feet of the attic pull-down stairs. Maybe you have some of the fiberglass batts shoved between the stairs – we see that in about half the houses we assess when conducting home energy audits. The other half of the pull-down stairs have no insulation. With the latter situation being quite common, let’s figure out the likely R-value for the 1000 SF attic. With 990 SF at R-38 and 10 SF at a generous R-1 value, the whole attic R-value drops to R-28.

Because of the 1% of attic that is not insulated, the average R-value for the attic is decreased by a whopping 27%.

Why such a huge drop, you ask? Although the attic pull-down stairs account for only 1% of the total area, the rate heat passes through the stairs is 38 times the rate it passes through the rest of the ceiling. Therefore, it’s like having 380 SF of uninsulated ceiling when 10 SF of attic stair is not insulated.

I need to mention that we are only addressing how heat passes through the attic stair surface, not the additional heat that passes through gaps around the edge of the stairs. A building envelope has both insulation (to limit heat flow by conduction through building materials) and an air barrier to stop leaks.

Attic pull-down stairs with no insulation

The learning lesson here is to find a way to insulate your attic stairs. It’s as easy as constructing or buying an attic stair cover or placing rigid foam insulation on the wood surface. Just be sure to cover the entire surface area of the wood.

The same stairs with a minimal amount of batt insulation