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6 Key Energy Saving Home Improvements

Save energy at home, stop wasting money, and make your home more comfortable with these high-return energy-saving home improvements.

Not only will you be doing your family (and your pocketbook) a favor, you’ll be helping the planet by reducing your home’s carbon footprint. The first five of these are important for both summer and winter; the last one will help you save energy at home in the summer, when controlling solar gain in your house is critical.

save energy at home high performance glazingMarvin Windows

High-performance window glazing saves energy and helps prevent heat gain. Photo: Marvin

1Hang up thermal curtains. Thermal curtains, solar shades, and window films are a good start. Solar shades and window films will minimize heat gain and ultraviolet radiation in the summer. Thermal curtains or curtain liners will help keep your rooms warm in winter, cool in summer, and—as a bonus—can also perform as black-out curtains to darken a room at night. All of these products are inexpensive and readily available from online vendors.

2Switch to Low-e windows. Okay, this is a major improvement that will cost thousands of dollars and repay you over many years in savings. We understand that this may be outside of your budget, and—if it is—just skip down to the next step to save energy at home. If you’ve been considering new windows, however, be sure to choose high-performance ones. Unlike the single-pane windows of old, today’s low-e (low- emission), double-glazed, argon-filled, so-called “smart” windows can save a tremendous amount of energy—and you can customize them to suit your climate. If you live in a cold climate, you can purchase a window that in winter will maximize solar gain while reducing heat loss out of the home. Or in hot climates, you can have the reverse, a window that allows only 39% of solar gain into the home during sunlit days. For a professional window installer, see: Local Pre-Screened Window Installation Pros.

3Insulate. Insulation is the gift that keeps on giving. A well-insulated house is warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer, and quieter year-round.

Whenever given the option to insulate more or less, the savvy energy-saving homeowner will always choose more. The most effective area to insulate (and usually the easiest) is the attic.

Save energy at home by insulating©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

When it comes saving energy at home, insulating a home’s attic is a primary target. © HomeTips

Make sure your attic is well insulated with at least 6 inches of fiberglass batt insulation or loose insulation on the floor. If you have a pull-down staircase to access the attic, put a wide band of weatherstripping around the edges as well. Take care not to compress the insulation.Fill in any gaps you find but be careful to keep the insulation from crowding electrical sockets, recessed light fixtures, and roof vents—keep it at least 3 inches away from them. For step-by-step coverage of this topic, please see How to Insulate Your Home.

If you want help with insulating, please see this helpful resource: Find a Pre-Screened Local Home Insulation Contractor.

4Caulk and seal. Proper and liberal caulking of joints and seams can tremendously reduce the amount of a home’s energy consumption.

Besides reducing drafts and heat loss, a bead of caulk can also thwart moisture and pest infiltration.

Be sure to use the right caulk for the application and take your time. A rushed job can not only create a mess but also leave gaps, defeating the purpose.

Caulking compounds come in a wide variety of formulations, from simple latex caulks to sophisticated silicone mixtures and expanding foams. When buying caulking compound, study the label to make sure you buy the right type for the job. Pay special attention to the warranty.

5Wrap heating & cooling appliances. Wrapping your hot water tank and freezer are effective ways of helping these appliances reduce the amount of energy they need to maintain their functionality. Kits for installing insulation wraps are sold at most home improvement centers.

Warning: With hot water tanks, make sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions—in some cases, wrapping the appliance could void your warranty.

Sleeping bags or blankets work well for covering your chest deep freezer. This will help reduce the cooling demand of the freezer and also buy your frozen food some more time during power outages. But be sure the wrap does not block air flow.

Also, build a shelter for your air conditioning unit. By keeping the unit shaded and protected from leaves and debris, you will not only extend its life but also improve its energy efficiency.

Installing an awning is a inexpensive way to reduce solar heat gain. Photo: © HomeTips©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Installing an awning is a inexpensive way to reduce solar heat gain through windows and doors. Photo: © HomeTips


6Reduce cooling needs with trees awnings and trees. A more permanent passive solution to reducing solar gain is to install shade-providing awnings over your southern- and western-exposed windows. Unlike the hulks of aluminum common a few years, most of today’s window awnings are made from long-lasting canvas. New designs are streamlined, attractive, and can provide cooling shade without destroying your view. Do-it-yourself kits are available and most can be put up in a weekend.

You do not have to know much about trees to realize that they can provide value, shade, and beauty to your home. Deciduous trees like maples, oaks, and walnuts shed all their leaves every year, which means they can provide shade for your home, driveway, and patio during the hot summer months and then allow the sun to warm your home during winter. Pine trees and hedges can block cold winds as well as noise from the street and offer backyard privacy. When selecting trees, make sure to plant ones that are appropriate to your climate, native to your area (and therefore more pest- and disease-resistant), and require no additional precious resources (like water) to thrive.

About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years, as Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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