As a longtime resident of Arlington, Virginia who is passionate about sustainability, I’ve undertaken many projects to increase the energy efficiency of my home. Many of the homes in Arlington, including mine, are older and need extra care and attention to improve their energy efficiency. Through some straightforward analysis Arlington home owners can determine which investments make the most sense.
Update your Arlington home for better energy efficiency
My first steps in examining my Arlington home were to look at what is wasting energy the most and determine what approach is cost effective for mitigating that loss. Below you will find, in order of importance, areas to consider for improving energy efficiency for your residence.
- Old appliances – Often a large consumer of electricity and producer of heat. Old appliances that predate the Energy Star program are common in our older homes and will consume more power. Heaters, air conditioners, water heaters, kitchen appliances are the biggest consumers (in respective order). The average U.S. household spends about $2,200 annually on energy — approximately half of which goes to heating and cooling, according to Energy Star and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It’s best to start with your furnace and air exchanger and then work your way through the list. Check each appliance’s age and energy efficiency.
- Insulation – Start by examining your attic. When I moved in to my older Arlington home the attic had very old insulation that was not properly installed. If your Arlington home has older and/or incomplete insulation then it is very important to replace it. A lot of energy from heating and cooling our home escapes through the attic and causes significantly higher energy bills. Other areas may include unfinished basements, around doorways, outlets and vents. Consultants are also available to help measure areas where air may be leaking in or out.
- Consider solar – Using solar powered water heaters can help to save energy and reduce energy costs by using power from the sun. Solar panels are also becoming more cost effective and attractive options for significantly offsetting home electrical energy usage. Many homes in Arlington have enough solar exposure that it may be worth considering. In some situations one may even be paid by their power utility for excess power generation.
- Windows – The portal to the outside world. Air can leak out in winter and back in during summer. In effect your home’s windows may be one of the areas where drafts are diminishing the effectiveness of climate control. Single pane windows are the biggest offender, but even some of the older double pane windows may not be sealed well or not be efficient at deflecting sunlight. My Arlington home had single pane windows in the basement and upstairs. We replaced them with newer double pane windows, which tend to be air tight. Many offer an argon air filling to improve energy efficiency and a UV coating on the outside to deflect harmful sunlight. If new windows aren’t in the budget this year, consider heavy duty curtains as they may be able to provide some of the same benefits at a lower cost.
- Lighting – Keeping the lights on creates about 12% of U.S. household energy expenses. Many homes in Arlington use inefficient incandescent light bulbs. If you’re like me, you probably don’t like the spectrum of light that the CCFL bulbs produce. That’s where LED lighting comes in. It’s efficient, but best of all the spectrum of light is much more pleasing to the eyes. There are warm, neutral and cooler light spectrum bulbs depending on your setting and the ideal color of light for it. Another energy improvement may be through considering the use of motion detectors to turn lights on and off. Many motion detectors automatically turn off the lights after a certain period of inactivity as well.
Perform your routine repairs to prevent lost energy
Every few months to every year there are several steps to perform that are important to the energy efficiency of your home.
- Maintenance – Replace your air filters regularly to improve air circulation and energy efficiency of cooling and heating your home. This includes the air exchanger for your furnace/air conditioner, any window unit A/C, air filters and dryer filters. Have your major appliances checked if they are older or acting up.
- Repairs – Replace broken window seals or door closers that don’t work properly. It’s also productive to regularly check for any holes, cracks or leaks of air or water and seal them immediately.
Unplug electronics to reduce wasted energy
It seems strange that we should need to do this, but unused electronics will consume power. Whether it’s an idle phone charger, external hard drive, sleeping computers (that could be shut off), game console or other electronic devices, these items will consume power even when they appear to be shut off.
Most people I know in Arlington have an abundance of electronics. Mobile phones, tablets, computers, home entertainment equipment. Much of the time these items remain connected to electricity. And it adds up.
Every single connection creates a draw on power that in combination can add monthly costs to your power bill for energy that was never properly utilized. This alone can add up to $10-30 per month to an average home’s power bill. Consider connecting your devices to surge protectors and shutting off the surge protectors when they are not in use.
Energy efficiency is an investment that pays dividends
Much of our energy is wasted which is why efficiency of energy utilization is a critical subject to consider when investing in our home. Many energy efficiency projects will pay for themselves over time in saved energy costs as well as provide a higher quality of comfort by removing drafts, variations in home temperature other issues.
Some energy efficiency projects may also qualify for Federal and/or State tax credits or grants. Check with your accountant for details.
More Arlington-based advice to come!
As time permits I plan to post more useful information about sustainability and projects specific to Arlington, VA. I hope that this article has proven useful and look forward to providing more information in the future.