In 2021, Americans paid 25.1% and 6.5% more for gas utilities and electricity, according to data from the U.S. BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics). This matches the rise in prices in other areas of our lives—gas, food, rent, medical care, you name it. Interestingly, the only other major component index to decline in the past year was airline fares. So, what’s the solution to rising home utility prices? Lowering our bills by lowering our energy consumption.
The good news is as homeowners we can save on our home-energy bills by making home-energy upgrades. In fact, in a report released at the end of last year, the ACEEE (American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy) suggests deep retrofits can cut a home’s energy use by anywhere from 58-79% and its emissions by 32-56%, depending on the home’s age and regional climate. So, how then can we retrofit our homes to be more energy efficient? Well, it’s time to take a deeper dive into how we can do it.
Make Simple Changes Count
Small changes can make a big difference in the long run—and we have shared a number of them here on the blog already. Consider measures like switching to LED light bulbs or buying insulated shades. Consider the simplest things such as just unplugging your computer and other appliances you are not using so those vampire devices aren’t sucking up all your energy. They really do add to the energy consumption and thus your utility bills at the end of the month. You can take advantage of your lights with a connected switch to turn off your lights or to use dimmers. These are just a few small changes that can make a big difference in your overall energy consumption.
Consider Deeper Retrofits
Longer-term carbon reductions require a bigger shift. A home can be upgraded with thicker insulation, efficient heat pumps, air sealing, duct sealing, window replacement, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment) upgrades, water heater upgrades, and other measures. Such retrofits improve indoor air quality, reduce contaminants, manage temperatures overall, and reduce noise, but can also come with some have hefty price tags as much as anywhere between $42,600 to $56,750, to the homeowners, according to ACEEE. But drilling down even further, there are pieces of these systems that allow a homeowner to improve the quality of life, for instance by reducing contaminants in the air or water, at an affordable rate.
To address the costs and meet customer needs, ACEEE suggests addressing retrofits in two stages. The analysis shows that completing retrofits in stages can be an effective strategy for scaling deep retrofits and achieving energy and carbon savings. The stages will depend on age of home and region. For example, older homes in cold-mixed-humid and marine climates might first benefit from envelope upgrades while newer homes in hot-humid and hot-dry climates might need new HVAC first.
The biggest bang for your buck—just about anywhere—is high-efficiency heat pumps and heat pump water heaters, which ACEEE says present the best opportunity for electrification when heating loads are smaller.
Technology also exists for deep retrofits, which we have talked about in depth here. Smart thermostats and lighting are just two examples of how we can gain greater control of our home, leading to increased energy efficiency for all.
Now is the time to make some of these substantial changes. A 2021 IEA (Intl. Energy Agency) report projects that existing residential buildings require to be retrofitted at the rate of 2.5% each year to reach the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. But even more important than the 2050 target, you should be asking yourself what is your personal target? We all should be considering personal targets for how we want to achieve these goals if we ever hope to even hit the 2050 bullseye.
So, with this in mind, I encourage you to consider making small steps today in the hopes you will make bigger steps tomorrow. Looking at small efficiencies will lead to even greater gains and bigger successes and the target will seem less far away. It will seem more attainable and certainly more achievable.
Start by putting your big toe in the preverbal water. Get a feel for what it’s like. Once you have that buttoned-up, go to the next level. I am excited to hear your greatest victories and missteps. Trust me, it won’t be all glorious. You will get frustrated. But it’s learning and growing that will lead to more energy efficiencies. Just like riding a bike. So again, I ask, what will you be doing?
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