How to Make Your Home Energy Efficient & Healthy
Make Your Home Energy Efficient : It doesn’t matter whether you own your home or rent it, there are many ways that you can make your living environment more energy efficient and considerably healthier than it is.
By Michael Tobias
It doesn’t matter whether you own your home or rent
it, there are many ways that you can make your living environment more energy
efficient and considerably healthier than it is.
There are many remarkably simple solutions that will
help to reduce both heating and cooling costs, save energy, and improve the
quality of air inside so that those living in the home benefit from improved
health and comfort levels.
To help consumers make these changes as effortlessly
as possible, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office
of Policy Development and Research developed an invaluable online Consumer’s Guide to Energy-Efficient and
Healthy Homes that summarizes how homeowners and people renting can make
their homes energy-efficient and healthy.
The information can be applied to renovations as well
as new buildings but not to large buildings that house multiple families. It
includes a range of energy-efficiency home improvements that are key to a
better home. Even though those renting may be reluctant to undertake the more
expensive projects, the information supplied could help to persuade landlords
to make the improvements to increase their return on investment (ROI).
Consumers could also discuss the concept with a
professional who offers mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineering
designs in Chicago, New York, or whichever city the rented house is
Ingredients for an Energy-Efficient, Healthy House
The key elements for a healthy, energy efficient house
· Insulation and air sealing
· Indoor air quality
· Energy-efficient fixtures, systems and appliances
But, of course, there are many factors that will
effect how these can be achieved in ways that will impact positively on a
house, making it more energy efficient and healthy. For instance, the age of
the home, its location, the type of building, and the method of construction
used will all affect energy use.
1. Age of Home
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, homes built before 2000 are
about 30% smaller than newer homes which only consume about 2% more energy.
This indicates that newer homes have better building shells, and the energy
efficiency of newer heating and cooling systems as well as electronics and
appliances is considerably better.
This doesn’t mean which city or suburb the house is in, but rather the climatic
conditions of the location. There are five main climatic zones in the U.S., and
the Department of Energy (DOE) has prepared a series of guides for each region
that provides information on how to improve the energy performance of homes.
For example, in hot climates, whether they are humid or dry, houses benefit
from reflective insulation and light-colored roofs.
3. Building Type
This relates to various factors including the size of the home and the size of the
family. For example, according to official government surveys, average
single-family detached homes use double the amount of energy an average
multifamily unit uses. This is because the units in multifamily buildings
generally use less heating and cooling because they are smaller and they share
walls with other units that are also heated and cooled.
4. Method of Construction
The design, construction, and even the operation and maintenance of houses will
affect energy use and the health and comfort of those living there. In fact,
this is where it all starts! So, for instance, if a house is designed to be
energy efficient (or improved to make it more energy efficient), the use of
eco-friendly, so-called “green” building materials that have low embodied
energy will reduce environmental impacts.
One of the largest sources of energy consumption in
our homes is space heating followed by water heating and then space cooling.
The statistics available from the DOE in 2010 were 45% for space heating and
18% for water heating. So between them they make up considerably more than half
of energy consumption, which makes it sensible to discuss heating, ventilation,
and air conditioning (HVAC) issues with a qualified HVAC engineer.
Anyone wanting to improve the energy performance and
air quality of their home needs to assess where changes are needed. It’s
possible to undertake a DIY energy audit, but home owners may prefer to bring
in a professional home energy auditor who will use specialized equipment and
techniques to determine what areas need improvement.
Strategies to Improve the Energy Performance of Homes
Even without an energy audit there are proven ways
that consumers can improve the energy performance and indoor air quality of
Air sealing and insulation are undoubtedly the most
effective strategies to make a home more energy efficient, although ventilation
is also vital to minimize pollutants that find their way inside. The control of
moisture which commonly leads to the growth of mold is also very important for
maintaining the quality of air inside the house – and therefore its health.
Additionally, energy-efficient heating and air
conditioning systems as well as new fixtures and certified appliances will
1 Insulation & Air Sealing
The U.S. environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that we can save
around 20% of our heating and cooling costs and as much as 10% of out total
energy costs by insulating our homes correctly and taking steps to ensure that
all air leaks are plugged.
Insulation is probably the most effective way to save energy and reduce both heating and cooling costs in your home. Insulation also
improves comfort levels and generally makes the interior of your home more
healthy. However, the exact type of insulation material used will depend on the
factors discussed above.
Air sealing involves getting rid of gaps and openings
and literally sealing the building envelope. This is also a great way to reduce
heating cooling costs and save energy.
2. Indoor Air Quality
There is absolutely no doubt that indoor air quality is critical to our health and comfort,
particularly inside our homes. Most of the air quality problems that are found
in homes unfortunately do tend to cause health problems, especially when
ventilation isn’t adequate or there are high temperatures or high humidity
levels. For this reason, you need to be
aware of what the most common indoor air pollutants are and what can be done to
improve air quality.
The most common sources of indoor air pollution come
from building materials and home furnishings that are not eco-friendly and
various fuel-burning appliances including gas stoves, furnaces, and space
heaters. Household maintenance and cleaning products are also to blame.
Strategies to improve air quality largely hinge on
good ventilation as well as eco-friendly air cleaners.
Energy-Efficient Fixtures, Systems & Appliances
Our energy bills relate directly to fixtures, systems, and appliances in our homes.
Windows, skylights, and doors
Heating and cooling systems
Water heating systems
Water efficiency fixtures
This is a huge topic, but one of the failsafe strategies is to always use products
that are certified by ENERGY STAR because they fit the very strict guidelines
for energy-efficiency that have been set down by the EPA and DOE. ENERGY STAR
products do cost more than most other conventional types, but because they are
guaranteed to be energy efficient you’re going to save money in the long run.
Financial Incentives for Energy-Efficient Home Improvements
Because it can be expensive to make your home energy
efficient and healthy, there are a variety of financial incentives available
ranging from tax credits and energy efficient mortgages to special offers from
So, whether you are a home owner or you are renting,
make it your business to find out whether you or your landlord can benefit from
any (or all) of the financial incentives that are offered for energy-efficient
home improvements. Apart from anything else you can be sure that whatever they
finance will go a long way to making your own more energy efficient and
Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of both Nearby Engineers and New York
Engineers, an Inc 5000 Fastest Growing
Company in America. He leads a team of more than 30 mechanical, electrical,
plumbing, and fire protection engineers from the company headquarters in NewYork City, and has led numerous projects in New York, New Jersey, Chicago,
Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and California, as well as
Singapore and Malaysia. He specializes in sustainable building technology and
is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council.