SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Research Efficiency Investments Before Spending
With all the talk about energy efficiency and a wide range of products and services now being offered, it can be difficult to determine which products and services will maximize the benefits of your investment. Whether your goal is to save money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support the clean-energy economy, or all three, there is one piece of advice to ensure you are getting the most bang for your buck — do you research.
New products and services are being developed and promoted every day with claims that they will make your home more energy efficient. Many of these products and services are a great investment with short payback periods and can provide true energy savings while increasing the comfort and value of your home. However, there is also a growing number of myths being circulated about reducing energy use that can lead you to make poor investments and hinder the market penetration of credible energy efficiency products.
Some time spent researching your options will help ensure you get the most energy savings from you investment. Fortunately, there is a wide network of agencies, organizations and individuals that are continually writing, blogging, or researching the effectiveness of energy efficiency products and services. It takes a little effort to determine who is out to make a quick buck and who is committed to providing useful advice to the consumer looking to make a sound investment. However, doing your research will pay off by allowing you to prioritize your investments and maximize your energy savings.
When considering energy efficiency upgrades to your home, start with an understanding of how a typical home uses energy.
Source: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2009
The above chart shows the average American home’s energy costs by category.Your home’s exact numbers will depend on the climate in which you live and the specific characteristics of your home. However, this basic information allows you to begin identifying claims of energy savings that may be exaggerated or outright false. For example, it is probably a safe assumption that 50% or more of your energy costs can be attributed to heating, cooling and water heating. Therefore, claims that a particular electronic device or appliance can cut your energy costs by 50% or more are likely exaggerated because electronic devices and appliances account for less than 20% of a typical total energy bill.
Once you understand the basics, it’s time to take a hard look at your particular home by conducting an energy audit. There are several ways to go about conducting an energy audit. Professional energy auditors are available in many communities across the country. Look for one that is certified by the Home Energy Rating Service (HERS) or that is recommended by your local utility. These professionals can come to your home and identify areas where energy is being wasted and talk to you about the potential benefits of one investment over another.
You can also do your own energy audit through any one of several on-line audit tools. One of the more comprehensive is the Department of Energy’s Home Energy Saver website. Your local utility may also provide an on-line audit. These on-line tools will ask you a series of questions about your home and how you use energy and can then identify where the largest energy savings may take place. The Department of Energy’s on-line audit also provides information on average cost and payback period for certain efficiency investments, giving you a sense of what projects you may want to tackle first.
When researching a specific product or service, always try to start with nationally recognized organizations with no affiliation to commercially available products. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), for example, has published the Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings that gives advice on how to choose products and services that will maximize energy savings. Their Consumer Resources website also offers quick tips, checklists, and information on tax incentives. The Department of Energy offers a “For Consumers” website that provides information on choosing energy efficiency products. Other organizations such as Green Building Adviser or Build it Green provide timely articles on various products and advice on lowering your energy consumption.
Another thing to look for is certification by programs such as the EPA’s Energy Star program; the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI); or even Consumer Reports. These third party verification programs are designed to ensure products performance by using specified testing procedures under strict operating conditions. If your working with contractors or service providers, ask if the products they are trying to sell you have been third-party verified in their ability to reduce energy consumption. They should have this information available.
Finally, look to you fellow homeowners for advice and lessons learned. Individuals who are going through the efficiency rehab process, such as our own Research Director, John D. Wilson, are sharing their lessons learned through blogs and other social media. Professional blogs, such as the New York Times’ Home Green Home and Sierra Club’s Green Home also provide useful, objective information for homeowners looking to improve energy efficiency.
Energy efficiency upgrades can save consumers money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and support the development of a clean-energy economy here in the United States. But just like any significant investment, achieving energy efficiency in the most cost-effective manner requires some research to weed out shoddy products and determine which products and services are right for your particular circumstances. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and get multiple opinions. Increasing the efficiency of your home can be one of the smartest investments you make, but doing it right is the key to maximizing your benefits.