When people think of “energy efficiency” they often think of behind-the-scenes, big-ticket changes that aren’t so much attractive as effective. While there’s no way to make adding insulation to your attic more appealing, there are some changes you can make that can help ramp up your home’s style and efficiency.
Energy efficient home design ideas
Ceiling Fans — Ceiling fans come in an ever-widening array of sizes, shapes and styles — and can have a significant impact on your heating and cooling bill. By creating a wind-chill effect, ceiling fans can allow you to turn up the air conditioning setting by about 4°F in the summer while maintaining the same level of comfort.1 Set your fans to counterclockwise in the summer to create the wind-chill effect. Set them to clockwise in the winter to pull heat down from the ceiling. Turn off the fan when no one is in the room.
Landscaping — Using landscaping to provide shade and a windbreak for your house can impact your home’s comfort. Choosing the right landscaping will depend on the climate and terrain in the area immediately surrounding your home. Use plant species that are adapted to the local climate for the lowest maintenance, highest-efficiency landscaping. Deciduous trees (trees that drop their leaves in winter) planted on the south side of your home will shade the roof or house in summer while allowing the sun to reach it in the winter. Groundcover plants and shrubs can shade the pavement around the house and help cool the air before it gets to your home’s walls and windows. Landscaping that uses plants that don’t require a lot of water also helps you keep your water bills down.
LED Lights and Efficient Fixtures — Changing light fixtures is a chance to add style and efficiency to your home. The average U.S. house contains about 70 lightbulbs. ENERGY STAR® certified LED (light-emitting diode) light bulbs save you money by using up to 90% less energy than old incandescent bulbs. They also last 15 to 25 times longer. That translates into saving you more than $80 in electricity costs over each bulb’s lifetime.1
ENERGY STAR® certified light fixtures use 70% to 90% less energy, produce about 70% less heat than traditional models using incandescent light bulbs, and last about 15 to 25 times longer.1 They also distribute light more efficiently and evenly than standard fixtures. While replacing all of the dozens of light bulbs in your home may be cost-prohibitive, starting a program where incandescent light bulbs that burn out get replaced by LEDs can slowly build your home’s efficiency.
Flooring Materials — If you’re putting in new flooring, the best insulation properties come from wood, bamboo, cork and vinyl.3 Vinyl options are almost endless in terms of color, shape, and texture. Vinyl can be made to mimic other types of flooring including stone or hardwood and be just as attractive as the more expensive options. Vinyl is also eco-friendly because it’s often made from recycled materials. Bamboo has become increasingly popular. It has good energy efficiency properties and is very sustainable because it can be grown in a variety of climates. Carpet is in the majority of American households. Carpet and pads add to insulation value which helps in cold-weather months.
Low-Flow Plumbing Fixtures — Heating water is one of the leading energy expense in typical homes. Installing stylish low-flow plumbing fixtures is a way to conserve energy and water without sacrificing comfort or aesthetics.
Showering accounts for up to 20% of the average home’s indoor water use. Switching to an ultra-low-flow showerhead can cut shower water use by as much as 70%4. Continuous improvement has made the ultra-efficient showerheads capable of giving a strong stream. It’s the same story for faucets. Replacing a 2.5 gallon-per-minute (gpm) faucet with a stylish, high-efficiency faucet with a flow rate of no more than 1.5 gpm can save both energy and water.4
Window Treatments — There’s no doubt installing efficient windows is a great way to save energy but don’t overlook window treatments. Here are a few ideas:
Awnings can reduce solar heat gain in the summer by up to 65% on south-facing windows and 77% on west-facing windows.5
Interior blinds, whether vertical or horizontal slat type, are more effective at reducing summer heat gain than winter heat loss. When completely closed and lowered on a sunny window, highly reflective blinds can reduce heat gain by around 45%.5
Draperies with light interiors (that face the window) can help reflect light and aid cooling in the summer. Studies show medium-colored draperies with white-plastic backings can reduce heat gains by 33%.5 In the winter, most conventional draperies can reduce heat loss from a warm room up to 10%.5 Close all draperies at night as well as draperies that don’t receive sunlight in the day. Install draperies as close to the window as possible, and let them fall to the floor or onto the windowsill for maximum efficiency. Overlap the inside edges of the draperies when closed if possible.
Pleated or cellular shades with dead air spaces in the center help increase insulating values.
Other options include window films, shutters, exterior blinds, meshes, insulated panels and more. Get more detail on energy efficiency of window treatments at http://aercnet.org/
SEE ALSO: CHOOSING THE RIGHT WINDOW TREATMENTS
Replacement Windows — One of the most impactful things you can do to add style and efficiency to your home is replace old windows with energy-efficient models. Inefficient windows are among the leading causes of high energy bills and low interior comfort. Look for ENERGY STAR® certified windows and review ratings from the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC).
SEE ALSO: CHOOSING ENERGY EFFICIENT WINDOWS
Two important numbers on replacement windows are U-factor (the rate a window conducts non-solar heat flow) and SHGC (Solar Heat Gain Coefficient), the amount of solar heat gain that enters the building through the entire window. In general, you want both these numbers to be as low as possible, especially in areas of temperate climates (cold winters, warm summers). Another category on the label, Visible Transmittance (VT), indicates how much light is transmitted through the window. While VT is theoretically between 0 (no light gets through) and 1 (all light gets through), most values among double- and triple-pane windows are between 0.30 and 0.70.
Also look for Low-E (low emissivity) glass. It has a coating that helps block out a substantial portion of ultraviolet and a substantial portion of infrared light (reducing heat transfer) while allowing most of the visible light to pass through.