Good news on the energy efficiency front related to residential real estate: homes have become much more energy efficient!
In 1978, all residential properties consumed 10.58 quadrillion Btu.
In 2005, the number stood at 10.55 quadrillion Btu.
That may not seem like any progress at all until you realize that during that time frame:
- The average square footage of a house increased 32%.
- Only 55% of homes had central AC in 1978 and 83% had this amenity in 2005.
- Appliance use expanded massively with 2nd TVs, 2nd refrigerators and almost every home having a microwave in 2005 while practically none did in 1978.
- Computers and electronics were almost non-existent in 1978 and were ubiquitous by 2005.
A better way to see the increased efficiency is by looking at annual Btu consumption per square foot. It has fallen from 149,000 Btu in 1970 to 102,000 Btu in 2012, a remarkable 32% decline.
The term Btu means “British Thermal Unit” and is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by 1o Fahrenheit. 1 Btu is equal to 252 calories (the metric measurement of heat) and 1055 joules (the metric measurement of energy).
How can you save money on your in-home energy use? Here are our favorite no-cost and low cost strategies:
- Turn Stuff Off: Turn off lights, TVs and other energy users when you aren’t using them. It costs you nothing to do this.
- A Little Cooler – A Little Warmer: Keep your house one degree cooler in the winter and one degree warmer in the summer. Heating and cooling account for almost 50% of the energy used in a home each year. Any savings you make here makes a big dent. Again, the cost to implement this strategy is $0.
- Get a Programable or Smart Thermostat: Once again, heating and cooling is half of your annual energy consumption. How many times have you come home and found that you’ve been keeping your house a very cool 70o on a hot summer day because you forgot to adjust the thermostat before leaving for work? Let a robot handle this for you so that you don’t waste any of your cooling and heating dollars. A digital programable thermostat costs less than $100 and an electronic, smart version costs a couple hundred dollars. It will save about $200 per year for an average sized home.
- Install LED Lights: LED (light emitting diode) lights have won the technology war as the best replacement for old incandescent light bulbs. They are much better than compact fluorescent bulbs that contain mercury and are an environmental hazard. Prices for LED lights are falling rapidly. If you put one in when a child is born, it will supposedly still be working when the kid takes off for college. An LED light uses 85% less energy to produce the same amount of light as an old incandescent bulb. Plus, LED lights are programable and some can produce any light color you want. You’ll save $200 a year.
- Add Attic Insulation: Most attic insulation compacts over time and loses insulating value. Blowing in more insulation can keep your house warmer in winter and cooler in summer with less energy use. A client recently told one of our agents that he made this upgrade to his home a year ago and it only cost $400. That included the cost of the blown-in insulation and the rental of the machine needed to blow it into the attic of his 3,000 square foot, two-story home. This client said it made a dramatic difference.
Upgrading to energy efficient appliances, furnaces and hot water heaters along with installation of new windows and solar are other ways to save energy. However, all of these involve major expenses and the payback period can be quite lengthy. Does it make sense to pay an extra $1,500 for a high efficacy furnace when it will take 18 years to recoup that extra cost through lower utility bills?
For any big ticket item, talk with several providers and ask for a written analysis of the payback period.
Solar installations have additional concerns beyond just the time it takes to repay the cost of the system. In many cases, it complicates the sale of your house. Many solar companies require you to lease the solar panels. There are long term leases lasting as long as 20 years. You have to get the buyer to assume the lease when selling the house or you have to buy out the lease.