Straight Talk Articles
Your 7 Step Efficiency Upgrade Checklist
Dear Pat and Brad: The newer home I used to live in was very energy efficient. I just moved into an older one and would like to make it energy efficient as well but I’m not sure how much work to do or what steps I need to take. Do you have any advice? – Katie
Dear Katie: Making your home more energy efficient can be done a step at a time or you can take it on all at once, as a single project. Either way, it’s helpful to have a plan before you dive in, so you don’t end up doing unnecessary work or having to re-do steps along the way.
Here’s a little checklist we’ve put together to help make sure you cover your bases.
STEP 1: Set goals and constraints
Start by setting your main goal. Are you mainly looking to save money on your home’s energy bill, make it more comfortable, increase its resale value, or help the environment?
Then, set a deadline when you need the project completed. This may affect whether you do any work yourself and which contractor you choose.
Last, set your budget. How much is it worth to you to live in an energy efficient home? One way to look at this is to look at your annual energy bills. If they’re around $2000 per year, you might ask yourself how much you’d be willing to spend if you could cut that expense in half. Maybe you’d be willing to spend $10,000 to save $1000 each year? That would be a 10% rate of return on your investment.
Or if your home is drafty and cold, how much are you willing to spend to make it more comfortable?
STEP 2: Educate yourself
This step is crucial, so you can weigh the costs and benefits of each possible improvement.
There are many helpful online lists of small and large energy efficiency upgrades.(1) There are also some great general resources such as the Department of Energy, ENERGY STAR, Consumer Reports, and our past columns. Your co-op may have a home energy expert on staff, or literature available, or a home efficiency section on their website.
STEP 3: Order an energy audit
A good energy audit will help you prioritize so you can spend your money on the measures that will bring you the most benefit. And an energy auditor can help in other ways. My neighbors hired a contractor to do some major energy efficiency work. 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 3 or 4 return visits for the contractor to get the work up to the promised level of efficiency. The energy auditor saved the day!
STEP 4: Plan your projects
Now that you have set your budget and priorities and have a sense of the work and costs involved, make of list of the items you want to include in your energy efficiency upgrade.
STEP 5: Are there pieces you can take on yourself?
Some work, like caulking windows, is easily learned by a handy homeowner with online tutorials. Other work, like insulating an attic, can require special equipment or know-how or even be dangerous.
STEP 6: Identify and select contractors
This can be challenging. You want a contractor who really knows how to do energy efficiency work. And you may need two or more contractors, such as one for your heating system and another for insulation. Maybe you’d like to find one who can do air sealing or duct sealing. In rural areas the contractors are often small and may not specialize in the energy efficiency measures you are interested in. Are they willing to learn what they don’t know?
Be sure to get several quotes if possible, and 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. See links on our energy tips website(3) to our March 2018 article and April 2018 article on finding and managing a renovation contractor.
STEP 7: Oversee the work
The quality of the energy efficiency 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. Remember – it’s your home and you’re the one paying the bills!
This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on a 7-step upgrade checklist, go to the February 2020 More Information Page.