Energy bills are one of the largest regular bills behind mortgages, rent and council tax.
The average annual dual-fuel bill, which covers both gas and electricity, stands at more than $1,700 per household – and this is on the rise.
For most homeowners, cost is secondary to the aesthetics and milieu of the home they are creating. Can you design a beautiful home that still helps you save each month on your energy bill?
According to This is Money, it is possible to cut between more than $100 and $250 a year off fuel bills without losing warmth or comfort – simply by using energy efficiently and effectively.
As technology, materials, and installer education improves, energy efficiency options for building or retrofitting homes becomes more easily achievable for us all.
Here are ten suggestions for creating an energy efficient home, without compromising on design, or overspending.
1. Precautionary Awareness
It’s common knowledge that changing light bulbs and switching off appliances in standby is an effective method to lower energy use, but how intentional are you about getting it right?
Good habits take time to form and switching off (and unplugging) electrical items not in use really is a great way to reduce the bottom line on your power bill each month.
Switch off lights, printers, speakers, chargers and much more when they are not in use. Similarly, did you know that by just turning down your thermostat by 1 degree you could actually save up to 10% off your energy bill? Try it.
People who are still using traditional light bulbs could be spending $30+ extra a year.
The likes of LED bulbs use 90% less electricity than a standard bulb; not only saving money on energy bills, but on replacement bulbs, too.
The best lights to replace are ones that you use the most, in order to more quickly recover the investment.
2. A Window to the World
Draperies, curtains, and blinds can make a huge difference to an energy efficient home. So too will strategically placed windows (to maximize solar lighting and natural heating).
According to the Energy Saving Trust, up to 18% of all heat loss is lost through windows. Choose window covers that will help control the temperature of the inside of your home.
Single-glazed windows are notoriously poor at insulating the home, for example, but double glazed windows insulate heat and noise.
It is an extremely effective barrier for keeping warm in the winter, but reduces damp and condensation. It’s impressive because it not only keeps draughts out, but actually adds heat to the home when you need it.
3. Lower the Bar
Home décor is a great way to add efficiency and style to a space. There are a few easy ways to lower energy use inside a home like rugs, carpets, a fireplace, low ceilings and quality fixtures.
During the winter months, rugs and carpeting can help you home be more energy efficient. They trap warm air and make it feel cozy and warm, without the extra costs.
A fireplace is another perfect solution to stay warm in the winter without an excessive heating bill. It is a great way to add elegance and efficiency to any room in your home.
High ceilings are popular but require more energy to heat and cool. The lower your ceilings, the more energy efficient your home will be.
Additionally, when choosing fixtures, go for quality over price. Leaking faucets and dripping geysers waste a ton of energy.
Choose to add fans to each room, for example, instead of decorative lighting fixtures. Fans reduce the amount of energy you use to cool you house during the summer.
A key point in the energy discussion, insulation is one of the best ways to improve the efficiency of your home.
Without proper insulation more than half your home’s heat will escape through the roof and walls. Not only will insulated walls mean lower energy bills but it is environmentally friendly too.
Depending on where you live, it may be possible to insulate your home at no or little cost, and in the process save thousands in energy costs over the years.
Choose quality insulation products when designing your home. Fiberglass, cellulose and most foam materials, when installed properly, are all cost-effective enough to reduce energy costs and keep your home comfortable.
Effective insulation means less tinkering with the thermostat, fewer uncomfortable fluctuations in temperature, and less energy needed to sustain a comfortable living space.
What’s more, loft insulation is such a simple, cheap and basic solution to excessive energy consumption that government grants are often available to help pay for it. The attic is one of the most overlooked areas of any house but it’s definitely worth investing in, especially if it’s unfurnished.
Proper insulation will help bottle up the heat in the winter and keep it out in the summer.
5. Building Greener
Appropriately colored bricks and roofing shingles are another aspect essential to energy efficient building.
Dark roofing shingles attract heat and cause your energy bill to soar during the summer months. Metal or light colored shingles are the better option when designing a home that is energy efficient.
The same applies to bricks – lighter colors promote cooler homes in summer.
A properly ventilated home is healthier and more adaptable against extreme temperatures, too. Try adaptable ventilation options, which won’t work against the insulation factors in the long run.
6. Toned glass, wider eaves and skylights
If you are in a warmer climate, where summer heat requires continuous energy-sapping air conditioning, consider tinted or toned glass to help keep the heat out.
Large eaves or window awnings also help block out the sun and improve your home’s efficiency.
If, however, you live where the winters are harsh, you may want to use the power of the sun to warm your home (a large window, perhaps).
Sky lights add natural lighting to your home during the day, curbing the need to switch on lights during daylight hours.
You will use less electricity with light coming in from the ceiling, especially during blissfully long summer days.
7. Green Piece
People overlook the possibilities landscaping brings to the table.
To create more light inside, eliminate obstructions that prevent light from reaching into the building. Trees and hedges can be attractive, but if they leave your home in perpetual gloom you’ll be forced to use artificial lighting more than you need.
If light isn’t part of the problem, on the other hand, try planting trees. If you plant a tree on the west side of your house, the leaves will provide shade and protect the house from infrared radiation, which would otherwise overheat the house in summer.
During the winter, after shedding its leaves, the bare branches will let the same light through, which helps warm the house naturally.
If you’ve already taken care of the insulation and upgraded your windows, the effect here will be minimal, but every little bit helps.
At the very least, you’re planting another tree, which is a great way to go green.
Other environmentally friendly methods are composting and rain collection.
Composting reduces the amount of trash you might otherwise throw in a landfill. It contributes better to your garden than fertilizer and is simple to set up. Learn what you can and can’t compost to keep the pile (or bin) healthy.
Collecting rainwater is also ridiculously simple. Set up collection apparatus to “feed” off of your home’s gutter system to collect as much rainwater as possible.
This is water that you can use to in the garden, to wash cars or even to do laundry. It is also reduces your dependency upon municipal water supply.
8. Water Wise
A tankless hot water system can heat and cool water cheaply. While they may be slightly expensive in initial installation, they will certainly save money over time.
Set your hot water heater to around 120 degrees. This should be in the “warm” range on your unit. This way your hot water doesn’t get too hot.
If you want to go the extra mile you could even insulate your hot water lines to retain heat between uses, or you can even install low-flow fixtures in showers and bathtubs.
If your boiler is more than 15 years old, it may be time to start looking for a new one. By law, new boilers must be of the high-efficiency condensing standard.
It could help you save up to one-third on your heating bills and even more if you upgrade to modern controls.
A washing machine, too, is a huge energy and water sapping appliance. It accounts for 7% of your energy bill. By instead washing at 30C, you could use 40% less electricity over a year; and save on energy bills.
Maybe the ‘Tiny House’ movement isn’t for everyone, but a smaller home requires less lighting, heating and cooling. Even the most innovative and efficient large home will require more energy to heat and cool than a typical home half the size.
If there are rooms that aren’t used throughout the day, every day, design those areas to be easily cut off so that you’re not heating and cooling unused spaces. Minimalism is on the side of the environment.
The less lawn space there is, the less mowing needs to be done – a power saver.
The more food you grow, the fewer trips to the store you make (and the less you need to drive that environmentally-hazardous car). It will also save you money on groceries in season.
10. Energy Generation
While you don’t want to let a lot of it soak into your skin, you can use the sun to power your home and devices.
Even so, solar panels cost far less now than they used to and are easier to install than ever. You can buy portable solar chargers for keeping smaller devices and appliances charged (smartphones and tablets) without having to resort to A/C power sources.
By working renewable energy generators into your new home (or retrofitting an existing home) you can significantly reduce your reliance on power from the grid.
Any home can be fitted with a small turbine to take advantage of the wind, and your roof is an ideal location for a bank of solar panels.
As an aside, it is good to find other small ways of using energy more responsibly.
If your home is fitted with radiators, for example, you can make a simple change. Simply place heat reflectors (essentially a sheet of tin foil) between the radiator and the wall to channel heat back into the room.
This small hack alone will reduce energy consumption considerably.
Don’t forget the practical applications of sunlight either! Arrange your home to take advantage of natural light as much as possible. Put chairs and sofas near windows so that you can use natural light for reading and family time.
From choosing the right light or fan fixtures to adding trees to the garden or larger eaves to the architecture, energy efficiency should always be an important consideration in the home.
How energy efficient your home will be is completely up to you. Choose wisely.