The Green Home

Mapping a path to lower bills

Posted October 28, 2009 5:52 p.m. EDT

Everybody wants to save money. With energy costs rising all the time, improving the performance of your home is a great way to do it. But it’s amazing how much money people will spend on new windows and doors in the interests of energy efficiency – not realizing that there are plenty of low and no-cost options that will save them much more. In fact, while there are plenty of situations where new windows make sense for aesthetic or comfort purposes; it’s very rare that they would provide a return on investment in terms of energy savings.

Changing habits costs nothing

Before investing in expensive improvements, the first thing to address is usually the way you use your home. Do you run ceiling fans effectively? (By dispersing warm air from the ceiling, a ceiling fan can help make a room feel warmer.) Do you have a programmable thermostat, and do you use it? Do you have family members who turn the thermostat up and then lounge around in their shorts? A new sweater for the holidays might be a good idea...

Once you’ve addressed behavior (good luck if you have teenagers!), in most situations I usually recommend that people take a long hard look at their duct work. Improperly sealed or poorly maintained duct work is one of the most common sources of poor energy performance – and it’s one of the cheapest to fix too!

Next most important is attic insulation and air sealing. Until recently, building codes only specified R30 insulation. While the Energy Star program recommends R38 to R60 rated insulation levels. Before adding insulation, you must make sure you seal all the unwanted connection points between the attic and your home. With generous government subsidies for energy efficiency, you could see a return on your investment in just a few years.

The home as a system
But before embarking on any big projects, consider this. Homes, like cars, are a complex system of related components – replacing one component or feature may not yield the results you’re looking for if other elements are under performing. You can put the most efficient HVAC system in the world on a home, but if that home is poorly insulated or leaky, you’ll just be heating and cooling the yard.

An energy audit is a great way to map out a cost-effective set of priorities – assessing your home’s specific performance, from heating systems to insulation to the tightness of the building envelope. The result is a unique report on what measures will most effectively cut your bills – allowing you to prioritize your investment accordingly.

Setting priorities
My partner and I are regularly contacted by clients who want me to put in a new HVAC system, or insulate their crawl space - but when we conduct an assessment, we’ll find that a simple overhaul of their ductwork or air sealing will bring them the improvements they need at a fraction of the cost! So before you spend big money on energy efficiency, make sure you have a plan to spend that money itself efficiently. Savings could come cheaper than you’d think.

About this Blog:

Bobby Ferrel, founder of Green Horizon oversees The Green Home blog. Ferrel is co-founder of Green Horizon, with offices in the Triangle and Charlotte, offering home owners and builders a one-stop shop for energy efficiency and green building. Services include home performance assessments, weatherization, closed crawl spaces, all types of insulation, HVAC and geothermal installation and maintenance. Reach Bobby directly at or visit him online at