Invest in a Cleaner, Healthier Future: Upgrading Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

John F. Neville
The SEA Group

If you have the resources and are going to stay in your home for a while, you may want to invest some time and money in upgrading your home to improve its energy efficiency. Over time, investments in energy conservation return big dividends in reduced costs and improved indoor living; such changes may pay for themselves in energy savings alone.

1. Schedule a home energy audit.

Minnegasco-Reliant Energy and Xcel Energy can help arrange an energy audit of your home. An energy auditor will use special equipment to pinpoint where your home is inefficient and help you develop a comprehensive energy efficiency plan.

2. Improve your insulation.

  • Make sure you have enough insulation in your walls and ceilings. Many older homes may have little or no insulation. In other homes, the insulation may be compacted and have lost some of its insulating capacity.
  • Make sure the attic or crawl space is well insulated and well ventilated.
  • Install new storm windows or replace old single-pane windows. Old aluminum storms do not offer much insulation value. The newer wood and vinyl-clad windows can reduce infiltration and provide great energy savings.

3. Upgrade your lighting system.

  • Replace old, wasteful incandescent fixtures with efficient fluorescent fixtures. They come in many different lighting colors to suit individual needs. You can improve the quality of your light while reducing your energy use.
  • If you have to keep some incandescent fixtures, install energy-saving dimmer switches.
  • Think about occupancy sensor light switches in certain areas of the house such as the basement. The lights turn on when the switch senses movement and turns off when it does not detect movement.
  • If you need outdoor lighting, install solar lights. These lights have small solar panels that draw energy from the sun during the day and store it in batteries. At night, they provide light for many hours – free.

4. Upgrade your appliances. Many utility companies will offer a rebate.

  • Replace your old furnace, water heater and air conditioner with new energy-efficient models. Have them installed with direct air intakes and vents.
  • Install a programmable setback thermostat to make sure you heat and cool your home only when you need it.
  • Today’s refrigerators use much less energy to cool food than refrigerators built just 12 years ago.
  • If you buy a new clothes washer, buy an efficient front loader. They use far less water and energy than the old-style top loaders.
  • If possible, replace electric water heaters and ranges with natural gas. Natural gas is more efficient and less environmentally harmful.
  • Whenever you buy any new appliance or energy-powered equipment, look for information on its energy efficiency. Really efficient computers and other equipment will have an Energy Star symbol.
  • Install a natural gas fireplace insert. It will provide the joys of a fire without all the heat loss. You may be able to reduce the use of your furnace, too. A gas fireplace will also eliminate the costs for firewood and the hassle of clean-up.

5. Think new, clean technologies.

  • Solar. If you have the opportunity and the right orientation for your home, you might investigate installing solar panels on your roof. An active hot water solar system can preheat water before it goes to the water heater. Even in Minnesota, a solar system can reduce your energy costs. Photovoltaic roof panels provide electricity directly to your home. If you are having your roof replaced, you may want to look into a photovoltaic system. Put in a skylight to brighten a room and add warmth during the day. Properly installed, it should not allow much heat loss at night.
  • Geothermal. If you have the yard space, investigate installing a geothermal heat pump to replace both the furnace and the air conditioner. Geothermal energy uses the relatively stable temperature of the earth to heat and cool indoor spaces efficiently.
  • Wind. In some situations, a small wind generator might meet your needs for efficient electrical energy. A single home installation can be costly – unless it is compared to running power lines to a remote home location.
  • Fuel cell. Fuel cell technology creates electricity by fusing hydrogen and oxygen molecules. The only emission is water vapor. Today, fuel cells can be costly to install. But it is only a matter of time before they, too, become a competitive solution to our quest for clean, efficient, sustainable energy sources.

Tax Benefits of Efficiency

As you consider these options for upgrading your home’s energy efficiency, keep this in mind: the 2001 Minnesota Legislature passed a tax law exempting energy efficient products from the state sales tax. This includes natural gas water heaters with an energy factor of at least 0.62, natural gas furnaces with an annual fuel utilization efficiency greater than 92% and all photovoltaic devices that convert light into direct-current electricity. This law will be in effect from August 1, 2001, through August 1, 2005. To learn more, contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Read Up

Homemade Money: How to Save Energy and Dollars in Your Home, Richard Heede, 1995.

Act Locally
Minnesota Department of Commerce – Energy Division
85 7th Place East
Suite 500
St. Paul, MN 651-296-5175
Home Energy Efficiency

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