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Say you are already mindful of your day to day energy consumption, but you still aren’t seeing the savings you want. By following the tips in this section, you can take your home’s energy efficiency to the next level. Although some of these suggestions require a bit more time and money, with a little diligence and a few hours on the weekend, you can start to see incredible energy savings results. So throw on an old t-shirt and grab your toolbox — it's time to get down and dirty. 

These home improvement projects are more involved than our quick fixes, so please exercise caution when entering your attic or other spaces with limited visibility and potential hazards.

For the difficulty, cost and energy savings ranking legend, see the efficiency guide overview page.

Proper insulation to reduce waste of energy

It’s no secret that every energy efficient home starts with proper insulation. From reinstalling attic insulation to filling in around doors and windows, proper insulation will ensure your home doesn’t waste energy as it compensates for shifts in temperature, humidity and other environmental changes. Insulation comes in many different forms, and improving insulation can sometimes be an endless chore. We will highlight a few areas where insulation is often lacking to help you decide where to zero in on your efforts.

Tip: Insulating your attic 

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One of the most effective ways of improving your home’s energy efficiency, both in terms of cost and results, is to add insulation to your attic space.1

Common Attic Air Leaks

Source: U.S. EPA via ENERGY STAR® (PDF, page 4)

Above, you can see some of the most common locations where attic air leaks occur. Some of these potential issues can be combated with some DIY handiwork, while others will likely require the help of a contractor or insulation professional. 

Before you do anything, you’ll want to check the current condition of your attic’s insulation. If you are experiencing drafty rooms, uneven temperatures throughout your home or high heating and cooling bills, then it’s already likely that your attic insulation could use improvement. One easy way to tell if your attic insulation is lacking is if the joists are showing.2 Exposed joints mean you should probably top off your current insulation. You can use a tape measure to check the depth of your insulation and then calculate the thermal resistance, known as the R-value, which measures how effective the insulation is. Use the table below from ENERGY STAR® to measure the R-value — just plug in your measured depth.

Calculate the R-value of your insulation
What you see when you look at the insulation What it probably is Depth (inches) Total R-value
Loose fibers Light-weight, yellow, pink or white Fiberglass ______ 2.5 x depth
Dense, gray or near white, may have black specs Rock wool ______ 2.8 x depth
Small, gray, flat pieces or fibers (from newsprint) Cellulose ______ 3.7 x depth
Granules Light-weight Vermiculite or perlite ______ 2.7 x depth
Batts Light-weight, yellow, pink or white Fiberglass ______ 3.2 x depth

Source: ENERGY STAR

Once you know the quality of insulation you have in your attic, if you have any at all, you will then want to factor in your location and climate to determine how much insulation you need to add. These guidelines from ENERGY STAR are a good place to start.

  • For states with hot climates, such as the region stretching from the southeast across the south and into southern California, you will want an R-value of 30 to 60 if you don’t have existing insulation and an R-value of 25 to 38 if you already have an existing 3-4 inches of insulation. 
  • If you live above the southernmost states, such as parts of the Midwest, you would want an R-value between 38 and 60 for uninsulated attics and an R-value of around 38 if you already have attic insulation. 
  • As you move further north, into the upper Midwest and the Northeast, an R-value from 49 to 60 is best for uninsulated attics and an R-value between 38 and 49 for attics with several inches of pre-existing insulation. 
  • If you are unsure about you need or specific climate, consult energystar.gov for specific details. 

So you know what you need — now what? Different types of insulation have different R-values and different price points. Simple batting and rolls are the most traditional type of insulation and can be applied by any weekend warrior over the course of a day or so — just make sure you use the proper safety equipment! Otherwise, professional contractors can apply spray foam and other more efficient types of insulation. 

In the chart below, based on information from Home Advisor, you will see that the more insulation you put down upfront, the more you will save in the long run. These numbers are based on a 1,500 square foot house. The cost will also go up considerably if you hire professionals to do the work, so it's worth considering whether or not you can handle doing it yourself. 

DIY Insulation Cost Analysis

Source: Home Advisor

No matter how much of a project you want to take on, ensuring that your attic is properly insulated is guaranteed to deliver amazing energy saving results and greatly boost your home’s energy efficiency.

Tip: Insulating walls 

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Improving the insulation in the walls of your house can be a much more difficult task, but that doesn’t mean the importance of proper wall insulation should be overlooked. You can easily check the type of insulation you have in walls by shining a flashlight behind an electrical outlet, but make sure you turn the power off first. You can pull out a bit of insulation, too, if it needs a closer inspection. 

Once you know which kind of insulation is hiding between your walls, you have a few options available.

Pros, cons and cost of different insulation materials
Type Where applicable Installation method(s) Advantages Cost R-value
Blanket: batts and rolls, fiberglass -Unfinished walls, including foundation walls
-Floors and ceilings
Fitted between studs, joists and beams -Do-it-yourself
-Suited for standard stud and joist spacing that is relatively free from obstructions
-Relatively inexpensive
30 cents per square foot 3.0-4.0 per inch
Loose-fill and blown-in cellulose -Enclosed existing wall or open new wall cavities
-Unfinished attic floors
-Other hard-to-reach places
Blown into place using special equipment, sometimes poured in -Good for adding insulation to existing finished areas, irregularly-shaped areas and around obstructions 30 cents per cubic foot 2.2-2.7 per inch
Sprayed foam and foamed-in-place (open cell) -Enclosed existing wall or open new wall cavities
-Unfinished attic floors
Applied using small spray containers or in larger quantities as a pressure-sprayed (foamed-in-place) product -Good for adding insulation to existing finished areas, irregularly-shaped areas and around obstructions $1.2 per square foot 3.5-3.6 per inch

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

If you are hoping to update your existing home and improve your energy efficiency, you will most likely need to hire a contractor. Spray foam and blown-in insulation are really the only options when you need to insulate behind existing walls — at least, if you want to avoid serious renovation.3 Although a bit more expensive, spray foam and blown-in insulation are very effective at getting into small spaces and creating complete barriers. 

Tip: Weather stripping and caulking 

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Air sealing trouble spots

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Even with sufficient insulation throughout the structure of your home, there are almost always cracks, fissures and gaps that need to be filled up and closed. The chart above lists the variety of different places where weatherstripping and/or caulk should be applied. The air-tight seal you can create will ultimate help reduce how hard your home has to work to maintain heating and cooling temperatures. 

Weatherstripping is best suited for areas where moving parts are involved, most importantly around doors and windows.4 Weatherstripping will ensure a tight seal when you close doors and windows, where gaps are otherwise bound to exist. Weatherstripping comes in a variety of different shapes, sizes and varieties. The type you go with isn’t particularly important — most types are fairly durable and relatively cheap. However, like most things, weatherstripping will get worn out over time. Be sure to check and make sure that any existing weatherstripping is doing its job, especially if you start feeling drafts. 

Caulking performs a similar function, but is best suited for stationary areas. Again, areas around windows and doors are the biggest culprits for leaks and drafts. Caulking around door and window frames and trim will help keep your home leak-free. 

By keeping your home well insulated and tightly sealed, you can make your home exceedingly more energy efficient. When you limit the amount of work your heating and cooling systems have to do, you can potentially see big savings on your next energy bill. 


Energy-efficient landscaping

You have probably discovered by now that improving a home’s energy efficiency primarily has to do with heating and cooling. Running heaters and air conditioners throughout the year can take a massive toll on your energy bill if you don’t adequately fine-tune your home. One of the many ways to curb the energy needs of your home involves landscaping, for which there are several different options to help improve energy efficiency in every region and climate.

How to landscape and save energy in different regions
Climate/Region During cold months During warm months
Temperate -Use the sun's warming effect
-Block winter winds with windbreaks (trees and shrubs) to the north and northwest
-Shade home from the hot sun
-Channel summer breezes toward the home
Hot-Arid -Use the sun's warming effect -Shade home from the hot sun
-Naturally cool home with winds
-Cool air around home with plants
Hot-Humid -Use the sun's warming effect -Shade home from the hot sun, but use trees that still allow penetration of low-angle winter sun
-Channel summer breezes toward the home
-Avoid putting gardens or plant beds near the home if they require frequent watering
Cool -Block winter winds with dense windbreaks
-Let winter sun reach south-facing windows
-Shade south and west from the summer sun

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Tip: Planting trees 

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Energy savings: Lighting IconLighting Icon

Planting trees in key areas is one of the best ways to create shade and windbreaks for your home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, shaded areas can be up to 6 degrees cooler during the summer, and air conditioning costs can be reduced by 15% to 20%. Likewise, windbreaks can lower fuel costs by as much as 40% during the winter. Together, if utilized correctly, trees can have a huge effect on your home’s energy efficiency. 

Choosing the type of tree to plant is equally as important. Deciduous trees shade during the summer and then allow sunlight through during winter, making them perfect for temperate and hot regions.5 Planting deciduous trees to the south of your home will provide excellent shade while still allowing cooling breezes through. Planting trees to the side of your house will also create natural wind channels to further cool your house. 

Evergreen trees, especially camphor trees which can grow up to 30m high, are better suited for cooler regions that need continuous shade or windbreaks. Evergreen trees to the north and northwest of your home will help stop chilling winds during the winter months.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Tip: Planting shrubs and other plants 

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Placing certain plants and shrubs in key areas will also help protect your home from harmful environmental effects. You can plant plants around your home to cool the air, and you can also use them to bolster windbreaks.6 Shrubs and groundcover can cool the air before it reaches your home, and can also prevent snowdrifts from building up next to your home in regions with heavy winters. Trellises and fences can be added to further enhance the shade and windbreak opportunities around your home. 

Tip: Trimming 

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Let’s say you already have landscaping in place, or maybe you prefer the existing landscaping around your home. Another way to get the most out of your trees and plants is to trim them back seasonally to allow the sun to reach your home during cold months and cool winds to reach your home during warm months. In the summer, be sure to water in the morning when the temperatures are cooler and evaporation rates are lower. You can also raise your lawn mover cutting height in the summer to allow longer blades of grass to shade each other and retain more water.7


Pools and lowering your energy bill

If you own a pool, then you probably know how much work they can be. What you might not know is how much work your pool is doing all by itself — especially if you heat your pool, which requires lots of energy. We detail below how you can make your pool, and home, more efficient, with tips and suggestions that will allow you to keep enjoying those summer swims without footing an excessive energy bill. 

Tip: Pool habits 

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Effect of pool energy efficiency upgrades
Condition Energy Use (kWh/year) Cost of Energy ($/year) Energy savings
Standard pool 3,000 240 ----
Installing smaller pump 1,800 140 40%
Reduced time (60%) 1,200 100 60%
Combined effect 720 60 75%

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

When it comes to saving energy with your pool, a few small habits will go a long way. One is to use a pool cover — which we will get into further down in the guide. Another option is also fairly obvious: simply run your pool pump for a shorter period of time. Although it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that less runtime requires less energy, many people still run their pool pumps way longer than needed. As you can see in the chart above, using a smaller pump and running it for a reduced time can result in energy savings of up to 75%!8 Considering how much energy a pool can drain (no pun intended), that is lot of money back in your pocket. Another easy energy saving solution is to simply lower the temperature you keep your pool at, if you keep your pool heated. All of these simple habits together will help save you tons of money and energy in the long run, with hardly any sacrifice. 

Tip: Choosing gas vs. electric 

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Choosing the right pool heater can have huge energy-saving results down the line, and you may even want to replace your outdated system. As is the case with a lot energy saving tips, shelling out a little extra cash upfront can help you reap awesome savings in the future, in terms of both money and energy. Although electric heat pump pool heaters are generally more expensive to install, they offer tremendous benefits. The biggest benefit is that they are much more efficient than gas pool heaters that can waste tons of energy.9 Furthermore, heat pump pool heaters last much longer. And if you really want to go above and beyond, you can spring for a solar-powered heater. 

Annual savings: gas vs. electric pool heaters*
Efficiency Annual cost Cost w/5.0 COP Heat pump savings
Gas pool heaters
55% $584 $200 $384
60% $535 $200 $335
65% $494 $200 $294
70% $459 $200 $259
75% $428 $200 $228
80% $402 $200 $202
85% $378 $200 $178
90% $357 $200 $157
95% $338 $200 $138
Electric resistance heaters
100% $1,000 $200 $800

*Based on an electric resistance heated pool, which costs $1,000 per year at an electric cost of $.085/kWh, and using a natural gas cost of $0.80/therm. A seasonal average coefficient of performance (COP) of 5.0 was used to determine heat pump savings.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Tip: Pool covers 

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Energy savings: Lighting IconLighting IconLighting Icon

Outdoor Pool Energy LossThere are several ways to make heating your pool a more energy efficient process. As you can see in this chart from the U.S. Department of Energy, the vast majority of energy loss with pools is due to evaporation. A simple, easy solution is to use a pool cover. There are several different varieties, each with its own cost and benefits, but really any option will greatly reduce energy loss and save you money. Simply open it up when you are ready to swim and close it when you are done — it’s that easy! 

In hotter, more humid climates like Houston's, you may want a pool cover with a reflective option that will prevent the pool from getting too hot during the summer but still protect it from evaporation in the cooler winter months.


Improving air circulation to reduce energy usage

If you have followed the advice in this guide or your home already adheres to environmentally-conscious design principles, it’s likely that your home has a tight air seal free of drafts and air leaks. With this is mind, it is especially important to ensure proper ventilation and air flow. This will help prevent stagnant air from building up inside your home and will also support the heating and cooling efforts of your HVAC system.10 As such, proper ventilation and air distribution in combination with appropriate insulation is a critical aspect of any energy efficient home. 

Tip: Proper ventilation 

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Pros and cons of different ventilation systems
System Pros Cons
Natural ventilation Indoor air pollutants are dispelled with natural air flow through leaks and cracks Inefficient; heating and cooling efforts are leaked out of the home
Spot ventilation Handles indoor air pollutants at the source, such as with localized exhaust fans and vent hoods Doesn't handle air pollutants in other areas of the home; only treats a few isolated areas
Whole-house ventilation  
Provides controlled, uniform ventilation throughout the home Requires more energy to run these more complicated systems

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

There are several types of ventilation systems in any given home, and many homes use a combination of these systems. What many homes are moving away from, however, is the use of natural ventilation. Although many older homes might rely on the natural ability of leaks and cracks to boost air quality, this leads to uncontrolled air flow.11 When your home has uncontrolled air flow, you are letting expensive air conditioned and heated air seep out of your house, thereby wasting precious dollars you could have saved. 

Whole-house ventilation is therefore the natural choice for any energy efficient home. It may require more energy upfront to run ventilation throughout a home, but ultimately, the ability to control the air flow will help you save plenty of energy and enjoy lots of savings on your energy bill. 

Tip: Controlling air distribution 

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Air distribution is the forced movement of cooled or heated air throughout a home, whereas ventilation is just the entry and exit of air through the building. Both of these elements are related and both must work together in order to provide optimal heating, cooling and ventilation in the most energy efficient way possible. Part of the issue with air distribution handlers, such as air conditioners, furnaces and duct work, is that they themselves are often major culprits of air leaks and negative air flow.12 These air handling units are often placed in unventilated and uninsulated areas, such as attics and basements, where outside air is mixed with the warm or cool air flow. This puts a strain on the air handlers and on the entire HVAC systems, as they are essentially working against themselves. 

Of course, every home is different — but by creating a tight air seal, with proper ventilation and well-controlled air distribution, you can minimize the strain on your HVAC systems and thus increase your home’s energy efficiency.

Source: Smarter House

Tip: Air filters

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In case you haven’t figured it out yet, minimizing the work that heating and cooling systems have to do is a major part of creating an energy-efficient home — and every little bit counts. As mentioned earlier in this guide, regularly changing your air filter is an important habit to develop if you want to maximize your home’s energy efficiency. Not only will your HVAC systems not have to work as hard, but it will also protect the air quality of your home.13


1U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR. https://www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/publications/pubdocs/Seal_and_Insulate.pdf
2ENERGY STAR https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_inspections
3U.S. Department of Energy http://energy.gov/energysaver/types-insulation
4U.S. Department of Energy http://energy.gov/energysaver/air-sealing-your-home
5U.S. Department of Energy http://energy.gov/articles/energy-saver-101-infographic-landscaping
6U.S. Department of Energy http://energy.gov/articles/energy-saver-101-infographic-landscaping
7U.S. Department of Energy http://energy.gov/articles/energy-saver-101-infographic-landscaping
8U.S. Department of Energy http://energy.gov/energysaver/installing-and-operating-efficient-swimming-pool-pump
9U.S. Department of Energy http://energy.gov/energysaver/heat-pump-swimming-pool-heaters
10U.S. Department of Energy http://energy.gov/energysaver/ventilation
11U.S. Department of Energy http://energy.gov/energysaver/ventilation
12Smarter House http://smarterhouse.org/home-systems-energy/ventilation-and-air-distribution
13U.S. Department of Energy http://energy.gov/energysaver/maintaining-your-air-conditioner

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