How to figure out your best energy upgrade plan without making a mistake
Let’s face it: we all have things we can improve in our homes in terms of energy efficiency. Maybe you look at your energy bill and think, “I really should do something about getting my costs down,” or, maybe you are waiting for your boiler to finally stop working (hopefully not in the dead of winter!). In this article, we’ll explore a tried and true method for how to figure out your best energy upgrade plan.
Think about big impact
There are many ways to make incremental improvements from changing habits and making a lot of small changes that really add up. Hey, every little bit helps, right!
But, when you are thinking of a strategic plan, you’ll want to think about where you can make the largest gains first because that’s likely where you can get a return on investment for your efforts.
For example, for most homeowners, up to half of their energy bill will go to heating or cooling their home. Doing strategic improvements that reducing energy use in major areas like heating and cooling can make a big dent in your bill.
How to avoid being overwhelmed
The tendency is for homeowners to do piecemeal upgrades, usually when there is an impending problem that needs addressing. You track the life of your 30 year old boiler and figure you’ve got another five years left to do something. Been there, done that. 🙂
These days, there are so many options for improving energy efficiency, from smart devices, to solar energy appliances, to new heating and cooling mechanisms. It can be overwhelming to keep up with new technology and also see how everything might fit together.
Should you switch entirely to solar? Do you need a high SEER rated AC system? Should you invest in geothermal? Should you replace all of your appliances with Energy Star appliances?
Energy efficiency improvements can have a technical learning curve and can be hard to figure out how it all fits together. You can get a little lost in the weeds. If you are a researcher and love technology, indulge your interests and do as much reading and investigating as you enjoy. But when it comes time to pull the trigger, it may be best to take a strategic route where you think globally about what you are trying to achieve first, while taking stock of your existing situation. Don’t get too hung up in the world of gadgets until have a sense of an overall plan.
How to make an effective plan
Now, I’m a huge fan of anything DIY. But most of us don’t have the chops to keep up on both the physics of home energy consumption, the realities of our particular building and how it affects cooling and heating, and the wide variety of technical solutions available to us.
But there are people who do have the chops. And those people are professionals who work with homeowners every day in sourcing and installing energy efficient upgrade plans. Professionals like builders, contractors and design professionals have intimate and extensive knowledge and experience with strategic energy improvement.
Whenever I don’t know something that I don’t want to make a mistake on, I find the person who has the absolute most knowledge on the subject and see if I can learn from them. The same strategy is relevant here. If you pay a professional $300-$1,000 to help you think about an overall energy plan, depending on area and type of professional, you could save yourself so much money in the long run. Heck, that’s only as much as a couple of Nest thermostats.
Too many moving parts to go it alone
Something that seems most effective to you ultimately might not be the best use of money.
For example, it may seem on the surface that improving the performance of your air conditioning would give you the most gains, when what would actually be more effective is to replace your roof and roof insulation.
By speaking to an actual contractor, builder or design professional who is licensed and very knowledgable about home energy considerations, you may find that the generic solution won’t solve your problem.
You may think: “I need a high SEER rated AC system” when what would really move the needle for you is to get R30 insulation, and you don’t need a new air conditioning system at all.
There may be too many moving parts often to guess on your own.
Consider this list potential, common upgrades:
- Install or replace insulation
- Replace or improve roof
- New boiler
- New heating and cooling system
- Renewable energy system, like photovoltaic, geothermal
- Solar energy
- Replace windows
- Change appliances
That’s a long list! Making upgrades in the wrong area or without knowledge of overall strategy can cost you more than you would otherwise spend.
Start before you have to
Sometimes we wait until we have an emergency to make a major component replacement. But, major components are typically very expensive, and emergency purchases usually cost more as you don’t have time to shop around. Read this post on how to plan for strategic upgrades.
Then, consider engaging a professional to come up with an overall energy plan. It can save you both money in lower energy costs, and you can avoid spending on the wrong areas.