Building an Energy Efficient Home: How to Lower Utility Bills

Tips from experts on how to lower utility bills by making your home more energy efficient. With the rising cost of energy, making your home more energy efficient is no longer simply an admirable goal, it’s a necessity.

| October/November 2008

Discover how to lower utility bills. Energy-efficient windows play a big role in reducing home energy consumption.

Energy-efficient windows play a big role in reducing home energy consumption.

Photo by Istockphoto/Oleg Prikhodko

Here’s expert advice to help you learn how to lower utility bills by making your home more energy efficient.

How to Lower Utility Bills

A few years ago, one of my neighbors said, “I really admire what you do, Dan, but I couldn’t live like that.” She was referring to my super-efficient home powered by wind, sun and wood. Many other individuals I’ve met have reacted similarly, thinking that living on home-based renewable energy necessarily means doing without.

But the fact is, my children and I enjoy virtually all the amenities of modern life, including two televisions, a stereo, a microwave oven, a blender, a computer, power tools and more. We don’t leave lights on day and night, but we live well using only a fraction of the energy most households use. You can, too.

Energy conservation doesn’t mean living an austere life. It means eliminating massive amounts of waste in our homes and lifestyles. It means staying warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Energy conservation will slash your energy bills and help create a sustainable lifestyle. Not only that, but if you are seriously thinking about installing a solar or wind system in your home, energy conservation needs to be your first step. You’ll be able to buy a smaller renewable energy system, which would be much less expensive and integrate more easily with your existing home.

Be Frugal and Efficient With Home Energy

Energy conservation entails two separate but complementary strategies: frugality and efficiency. Frugality involves behaviors or actions that reduce energy use — turning off lights, televisions and stereos in unoccupied rooms and taking shorter showers to reduce hot water use are good examples.

molly blenkhorn
1/3/2010 6:07:43 AM

Here in the UK we have a paint additive called 'Paint Saint' which mixes with your own paint and forms a vacuum seal on the wall when it dries. As heat can't pass through a vacuum (just like a thermos flask)it can't get to the wall in the first place and is kept in the house. We thought it was too good to be true, but we tried it in one room first and could actually feel the room warming up as we painted! We saved about 25% on our heating bill last year just by painting the walls.

gordon henry
12/27/2009 2:40:03 PM

Continued 5. During the spring thaw water would drip on the inside of the windows and during the winter the door jams would buckle enough to make the doors hard to open and close. I had to remove the trim from against the windows and drywall and caulk them before replacing the trim. 6. They mounted a sill plate to the concrete footing walls then mounted the house to that. Problem is they didn't use a foam gasket in these places, instead they used expanding foam. and did a poor job at that, as I could see daylight through quite a few places. 7. At the kitchen sink, the drain vent went through the drywall of the exterior wall with no caulking. 8. Drier vent same as #7 and the insulation pushed back 3 to 5 inch's from the pipe. 9. While we're at it check your roof. The plastic I mentioned earlier to seal the house for transport and storage. Was run up over the peak of the roof and 2 x 4's nailed to the roof to hold the plastic in place!!! Care to guess what I found in the shingles? Yep 18-20 16 penny nail holes on each side of the peak!!! There's more, But I'm getting mad as hell thinking about it again!!! Gordy

gordon henry
12/27/2009 2:03:58 PM

Valerie I just tested several power strips with a multimeter, set to the most sensitive Ohm's setting. With the switch off no power flows through the plug end. To others with modular homes I can tell you a few things I found wrong with mine. 1. The house arrived with plastic nailed to the middle sections, to seal the opening from the weather. The problem was that when I got home the house was put together on the foundation with an inch gap between the two sections of the house. The installer did NOT remove all of the nail's (double headed 16 penny's) that were driven through 3/4 inch furring strip's to hold the plastic. The foam gasket they installed was not quite enough to seal the gap. The siding guy's used expanding foam on the out side to seal it. But I had to do the crawl space and attic. 2. While in the attic I noticed the cardboard rulers stapled to the rafters, as reference points for blowing in the insulation. Instead of the R-44 that was supposed to be up there I found R-20 to R-30. 3. Also in the attic was about 6 foot of that large black insulated plastic ducting, for the air return to the furnace. Though insulated it's only R-5. 4. Smaller insulated plastic ducting exits the top of the furnace and goes through the ceiling and attic to the eve of the house, for fresh air in. I didn't spot this as a problem till after a number of snow falls, when I noticed that ONE spot on the roof always melted first even at 10 degree's. Ops character limit, Gordy

12/26/2009 3:24:48 PM

I never understood saving money using power strips. You plug in your tv or microwave into a powerstrip and turn the strip off - Doesn't the power strip use energy as well??? How does this save energy?

12/25/2009 1:08:10 PM

Great article. External walls themselves could possibly be another area of improvement. I see some ads about ceramic insulating paints claiming insulating properties equivalent to several inches of conventional materials. Is there a past article on the subject ? Any other sources of information ?

12/25/2009 11:23:27 AM

This is great. Problem is when you live paycheck to paycheck (or don't have a paycheck). I've changed the light bulbs, I plastic'd the windows, I turn off unnecessary items but my house is old (my Mom owns it-- fixed income. I keep the heat between 64 and 68 degrees. Sometimes it's just too cold! I don't have AC in summer (use fans). Can't afford an energy audit. What or who can I talk to?

b knight
9/4/2009 8:43:50 AM

Great article, lots of ideas. Like the idea of an energy audit to start the process. As Mark mentions, air leaks can add up. Not only do they cost you money, but the comfort level goes down - drafts. Here's an article showing you how to do a home air-leak test: Enjoy.

lee cotten
10/3/2008 9:51:34 PM

I really liked this article. I was disappointed to see that the author did not elaborate on the use of thermography but showed a thermal image of a home. I own a business that helps people to make their homes more efficient. I would have liked to hear more about thermography. I believe that we need to make our homes as efficient as we possibly can. When you seal a home that tight it is necessary to install a HRV (heat recovery ventilator) to bring fresh air into the home while exhausting the stale air.

mark tyrol
9/19/2008 6:10:46 AM

How To Reduce Your Energy Bills / Energy Conservation Begins at Home Imagine leaving a window open all winter long -- the heat loss, cold drafts and wasted energy! If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan or AC Return, a fireplace or a clothes dryer, that may be just what is occurring in your home every day. These often overlooked sources of heat loss and air leakage can cause heat to pour out and the cold outside air to rush in -- costing you higher heating bills. Air leaks are the largest source of heating and cooling loss in the home. Air leaks occur through the small cracks around doors, windows, pipes, etc. Most homeowners are well aware of the benefits caulk and weatherstripping provide to minimize heat loss and cold drafts. But what can you do about the four largest “holes” in your home -- the folding attic stair, the whole house fan or AC return, the fireplace, and the clothes dryer? Here are some tips and techniques that can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes. Attic Stairs When attic stairs are installed, a large hole (approximately 10 square feet) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only a thin, unsealed, sheet of plywood. Your attic space is ventilated directly to the outdoors. In the winter, the attic space can be very cold, and in the summer it can be very hot. And what is separating your conditioned house from your unconditioned attic? That thin sheet of plywood. Often a gap can be observed around the perimeter of the door. Try this yourself: at night, turn on the attic light and shut the attic stairway door -- do you see any light coming through? These are gaps add up to a large opening where your heated/cooled air leaks out 24 hours a day. This is like leaving a window open all year round. An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add an attic stair cover. An attic stair cover provides an air seal,

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