Q: I recently moved into an older home that’s definitely not efficient. What upgrades should I consider?
A. Making your home more energy efficient can be done one step at a time, or you can take it on all at once. Either way, it’s helpful to have a plan before you dive in so you don’t end up doing unnecessary work or repeating steps along the way.
Here’s a seven-step checklist to help you get organized.
Set goals and constraints
Start by setting your primary goal. Are you mainly looking to save money on your home’s energy bills, make it more comfortable, increase the resale value or help the environment?
Then set a deadline to complete the project. This may affect whether you do some of the work yourself and which contractor you choose.
Last, but not least, set a budget. How much is it worth to you to live in an energy-efficient home? One way to look at this is to review your annual energy bills. If they’re around $2,000 a year, ask yourself how much you are willing to spend to cut that expense in half. Maybe you are willing to spend $10,000 to save $1,000 each year That would be a 10% rate of return on your investment. If your home is drafty and cold, how much are you willing to spend to make it more comfortable?
This step is crucial so you can weigh the costs and benefits of each potential improvement. There are many helpful lists of small and large energy-efficiency upgrades available online. There are also some great resources such as the Department of Energy, Energy Star and Consumer Reports. Your electric utility can be a great resource, too.
Schedule an energy audit
An energy audit will help you prioritize spending on the measures that will bring you the most benefit.
An energy auditor can help in other ways. My neighbors hired a contractor to do some major energy-efficiency upgrades. They asked an energy auditor to take a look at the work before they paid for it, and the auditor found it wasn’t even close to the level agreed to in the contract. It took three or four return visits for the contractor to get the work up to the promised level of efficiency.
Plan your projects
Now that you have set your budget and priorities, and have a sense of the work and costs involved, make a list of the items you want to include in your efficiency upgrades.
How much DIY?
Some work, such as caulking windows or weatherstripping, can easily be done by the homeowner, especially with the help of online tutorials. Other work, such as insulating an attic, can be dangerous and may require special equipment or knowledge.
Identify and select contractors
This can be challenging. You want a contractor who knows how to do energy-efficiency work. You may need multiple contractors, such as one for your heating system and another for insulation. Maybe you want one who can do air sealing or duct sealing. In some rural areas, contractors may not specialize in the efficiency measures you are interested in.
Get several quotes if possible, as well as references from past clients. Create and sign a contract with guaranteed work and completion dates, with payments due only as work is completed and inspected.
Oversee the work
The quality of the work makes a big difference in the amount of energy savings and added comfort you desire. Keep an eye on the project and don’t be afraid to ask questions—lots of questions. Remember, it’s your home. You’re the one paying the bills.