After looking at their most recent utility bill, one of the questions people often ask is how can I make my home more energy efficient? This is certainly the case when you own an older home. Buying an older home allows you to live in a property with history and charm, but it also brings its share of extra expenses, particularly when it comes to energy usage.
Older homes just aren’t as energy efficient as newer ones! Building science, home performance, and technology has contributed to making new homes more energy efficient. For the owners of older homes, making your home energy efficient is a little more complicated, but these new advances can be applied to your older home. The best energy efficient upgrades for an older
home are the ones that save you the most money and make your home more comfortable for you and your family.
Where To Start:
Get a Home Energy Assessment
Before you do anything, you should get an energy assessment done on your home. Energy Assessments provide the best way to identify air leaks, the efficiency of your HVAC equipment, and the quality of your home’s insulation. This comprehensive assessment will go beyond identifying obvious energy inefficiencies in your home, it will help you build a plan on how and where to best make energy-efficient improvements in your home. This is especially important in older and historic homes because air sealing and new insulation can dramatically increase the comfort and energy efficiency of your home.
Air Seal Your Home
Years ago there was not a priority for air sealing homes. Nowadays it’s imperative to keep your home comfortable all year long and reduce air infiltration. Today, modern technology allows homeowners to do a surprisingly good job of sealing their homes and their air system to ensure maximum efficiency. The better your home is sealed, the less conditioned air will escape and your energy wasted.
“A gap of just 1/8 of an inch under a 36-inch door lets in as much air as having a 2.4-inch wide hole in the wall. Since people often adjust the thermostat and leave the heat running longer when they feel a draft, preventing air infiltration can greatly reduce energy usage. Sealing up those cracks will make you feel comfortable and keep more money in your pocket. Remember for every cubic foot of heated or cooled air (that you have paid to condition) that leaves your house, one cubic foot of outside air enters!”EPA.gov
Insulation is another area where most older homes fall short. There were not as many insulating options available when older homes were built, so chances are your home could use an upgrade. Since insulation may not have been introduced in your home or is not up to new standards, it is extremely important that it is installed properly with particular attention to ventilation. A
professional can determine exactly how much insulation you need to achieve maximum efficiency in your home, while still allowing the home to ventilate. If not properly ventilated, insulation can become damp and wet and cause mold, causing damage to your structure as well to your health.
“Simply adding insulation to the attic is one of the most cost-effective and energy-efficient steps you can take. Yet always be sure to air seal the bypasses first. Not sure where these are? Dirty insulation is the tip-off—where you see dirty insulation, the air is passing through and the insulation is serving as an (unintended) air filter.”EPA.gov
Consider HVAC Upgrades
Your older home may have a heating and/or air conditioning system already installed, but unless it was purchased in the last 8 -10 years, you are likely missing out on newer energy efficiency technology. Just like other energy efficient improvements, there is not a “one size fits all” solution to upgrading your AC and heating systems in your older home. This means a plan
needs to be taken specifically for your home. It is better to think about your home as a whole system working in conjunction with one another, rather than individual components. A whole house approach will save money and trouble in the long run.
It doesn’t make any sense to upgrade your HVAC system if you haven’t already done a comprehensive job of air sealing and adding insulation—these will reduce the heating load and allow for a smaller, less costly new system. Older homes with hydronic (radiator) heating have had to rely on window AC units for cooling. Today there are new options for cooling that do not require ductwork—these systems are called ductless mini-splits. These ductless mini-splits can also provide heat via heat pump options.EPA.gov
Upgrade Your Water Heater
A water heater is an energy-intensive system and can amount to nearly 10-20 percent of a home’s yearly energy costs. Newer water heaters are safer and more energy-efficient. They are direct vented and not connected to the furnace with the metal flue. Carbon monoxide is vented separately with a PVC vent pipe to the outside of your home. You can also consider a tankless also known as “on-demand” water heater. Rather than pay to keep many gallons of water hot all the time, these tankless systems allow you to heat only as much water as you need when you
Insulate the unit and the hot water pipes, and turn the water heater thermostat down to 120°F. You will save 3-5 percent of your energy costs for every 10°F you reduce the water temperature of the tank.EPA.gov
Keeping an older or historic home in good condition helps its energy efficiency. Regular, diligent maintenance and keeping an eye on its condition, can make a huge difference in your home’s performance over time. Make sure doors and windows close properly. Look for decay in masonry work. Make sure you have a good water (rain) barrier. Water is the most common cause of house damage. Check gutters, downspouts, flashing and chimney caps to make sure they are performing properly.
Make sure your HVAC system and water heater are checked seasonally by a professional to ensure proper operation and longevity. It is also very important to change your filter on a regular basis. Older homes can produce more dust and allergen and a good filter will help with the overall health of your home and your family.