What are the best sustainable upgrades to do for your house? We have recently started a new design project and as part of the early stages of design we were coming up with a list of what upgrades we were going to budget for the project. We have yet to do an energy model comparing the different upgrades below, but as we do them I’ll update our assumptions. Look over my list below and let me know what you think.
1) Insulation – I think this is by far the best upgrade for the money. Insulation will seal cracks and provide a thicker barrier to the outside. This will help keep the interior temperature of the space. The best insulation is the blown in insulation or the expanding insulation sprays but they are expensive. As long as you have insulation in all exterior walls and in any attic space you will have a dramatic improvement in the energy efficiency of your building. I’m following the Passive House discipline of limiting the amount of outside air inside and inside air that escapes. This will lower your utility bills because your mechanical system will have to work less to heat and cool the space.
2) Windows – since windows are holes in the exterior skin of the building it is important to spend the money to get high efficiency windows and install them correctly so they are correctly sealed to prevent air leaks. I would recommend double paned windows with argon filled glass with a low e coating. Again, I am following the Passive House philosophy.
3)Mechanical Systems – the first two on the list are there because by investing in increasing the exterior skin of the house hopefully you will have to use the mechanical systems less. However in most climates you need an HVAC system and its important to invest in an efficient one. An energy star rated forced air mechanical system is a good place to start. If you’re interested in something different I would suggest radiant floor heating or using a geothermal pump.
4) Lighting – I wasn’t sure whether to put appliances or lighting next. I chose lighting because most homes use more energy with lighting than appliances just because there are so many more lights. Lights also produce heat which affects your mechanical systems. Buying a highly efficient compact fluorescent will reduce your electrical consumption because they are much more efficient. Compact fluorescents are made with harmful chemicals and if used, should be handled with care and disposed of correctly. An LED fixture is more expensive then a compact fluorescent but uses less electricity produces less heat and is not produced with harmful chemicals.
No matter what fixture or bulb you choose to use, motion sensor or timers should be used so that when lights are not needed they are turned off. This does not require a large investment and will provide a great reduction of electricity used.
5) Appliances – while you only have a couple appliances they all use a lot of energy either in short bursts like a washer and dryer or oven or constant draining like a refrigerator. The first step is to buy energy star appliances. Something else to think about is the size of your appliances. If you are designing or building a smaller apartment that will probably be used by only one or two people thinking about using smaller refrigerators, dishwashers and other appliances.
Large Appliances are generally better especially with Energy Star products. Smaller appliances like televisions, microwaves, coffee makers, toasters, ect use a disproportionate amount of energy. These items should be unplugged when not in use. In my house I started unplugging my smaller appliances and saved about 15% on my electric bill just by reducing the “vampire load”.
Please let me know if you disagree with anything on my list or can think of something that I missed.