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Energy Efficient Home Improvement Ideas That'll Lead to Savings

How to make your house more energy efficient with smart products, appliance upgrades, and other energy saving (and money saving!) home renovations.
Lights hanging from the ceiling inside a rustic kitchen.

The main goal of any home renovation project is to create a more comfortable, beautiful home while increasing resale value. Home improvements don't always have to cost a fortune—and some renovations can even save you money on month-to-month utility bills.

Improving home energy efficiency is a smart way to not only boost your home's resale, but lower your carbon footprint, too. New options for energy saving home improvements hit the market daily, from small- to large-scale. Below, we’ll cover some of the very best to make the most of your home renovation budget.

Energy efficient lighting: LEDs for the win

Easily one of the fastest and most cost-effective home improvements is to add energy efficient lighting. LED light bulbs not only last much longer than traditional incandescent bulbs (about 25 times longer!), but they use much less electricity while still providing the same amount, if not more, light. Compared to an incandescent bulb, LED light bulbs use about 75% less energy. Plus, LED bulbs are made with more environmentally friendly materials than CFL bulbs.

While the original LED bulbs had a stark white color that was cold and off-putting, modern LEDs come in various colors, offering the same warm-white tones as traditional incandescent bulbs. LED bulbs come in contemporary styles to fit any lamp, and designs to suit recessed lighting, vanity lighting, or under-cabinet lighting. You can even find LED bulbs designed in older, antique-style bulbs that bring a fun retro vibe to your lighting fixtures.

LED bulbs aren't only meant for inside your home, either. There are plenty of exterior LED lighting options. Consider adding LED bulbs to your landscape lighting, porch lighting or lamp post. Holiday lights and string lights in an LED bulb are also available to allow you to save money on your electric bill all year long.

Upgraded appliances: ENERGY STAR is the gold standard

Home appliances are costly to run and even pricier to replace. If you are undergoing a renovation, or an existing home appliance has reached the end of its life, consider upgrading to a modern, energy efficient model. Upgrading your refrigerator, dishwasher or washing machine may be a significant expense, but the long-term savings are worth it in the end.

Old appliances tend to draw more energy to run than new, high-efficient designs. An old refrigerator may use up to five times more electricity to keep the temperature inside the appliance cool. Plus, switching to energy efficient products for home use can not only help save you money every year on your electric bill, but maintenance and repairs will be cheaper on new models.

We’ve put together a helpful guide on what appliances use the most energy in your home. Additionally, ENERGY STAR is the leading government-backed agency that accurately tracks and monitors the energy consumption of various appliances. You'll notice the ENERGY STAR sticker on devices when you go shopping for your new upgrades. Their website has valuable information and comparison calculators to help homeowners determine their cost savings across various appliances and models.

A smart thermostat on a wall.

Smart devices: Thermostats, power strips, sprinklers and more

Adding smart devices is a super cool way to automate your home while saving energy. Smart devices help make our lives easier with automated lighting, programmable appliances, light bulbs that turn on when we enter a room and more. Despite the “cool” factor, they also help significantly lower monthly energy bills by only allowing energy use when you need it.

Every day, new smart devices are hitting the market to help make lives easier and homes more efficient. Most smart devices are easy to add to your home and immediately bring down your energy costs. Some of the best and most popular devices to add to your home include:

Smart thermostats

Many smart thermostats can learn your family's habits and adjust the home temperature to make the most energy efficient heating and cooling cycles. Thermostats have energy savings modes and can even be set to vacation mode when you are out of town. While many manufacturers make smart thermostats, some of the most respected names include Honeywell, Amazon and Nest.

Smart appliances

Similar to how a smart thermostat will manage energy efficiency while heating and cooling your home, smart appliances will manage energy efficiency while they run. Smart appliances range from small microwaves to refrigerators, washers, dryers and more. Many smart appliances can even connect to your home's WiFi and work through an app to give users even more automation options and energy control.

Water leak detectors

Water leaks can be a nightmare not just to your cabinets, walls and floors but your wallet, too. Installing a leak detector can help alert you to a potential problem. The Flo Smart Water Monitor and Shutoff by popular faucet manufacturer Moen is on such device that helps homeowners literally stop sending money down the drain with ongoing but potentially unnoticeable water leaks.

Smart power strips

Adding just a single smart power strip to your home is an easy upgrade that will give you some convenient automation. Many smart power strips will connect to your home's WiFi and work through an app, allowing you to control when the outlet is turned on or off. Plus, many smart power strips, like the models from Kasa, will allow you to monitor the power draw. Unusually large or small power draws can help identify a malfunctioning device, potentially saving you money.

Smart sprinkler system

Keeping your lawn green and lush can really help show off your home, but constant watering can be wasteful and expensive. Smart sprinkler systems manage the amount of water used on your lawn to reduce your consumption. The smart sprinklers will only water when your lawn needs it and won't water when it is raining or exceptionally windy. Save money on your water bill and help the environment? That's a win-win!

Upgraded HVAC and plumbing systems

If you notice your current HVAC system is running on its last leg, it may be time to consider an upgrade. Recent technology has allowed high-efficiency designs to enter the realm of whole-house systems. Homeowners are delighted to find efficient furnaces, water heaters, heat pumps and central air conditioners.

A tankless water heater, for instance, uses up to 34% less energy to heat water by providing on-demand heat rather than storing gallons of unused but heated water like a traditional water heater. There’s also solar water heaters as a way to heat your home's water with a renewable energy source (the sun!).

Installing a high-efficiency HVAC system can really impact yearly utility bills. Homeowners will see drastic energy consumption changes, which can spell big savings. Depending on where you live, installing high-efficiency electric heating and cooling systems can cut nearly 50% of your energy usage. Comparatively, high-efficiency gas systems can cut up to 10% of your energy usage. These savings translate to an average 10%-30% reduction in yearly utility bills. Less energy consumed means less annual expense and a smaller carbon footprint.

A home with solar panels across the whole roof.

Solar panels: Big expense, but potentially big payoff

While it’s not always possible for a home to go entirely off the grid with solar panels, it may be possible to reduce your carbon footprint and lower your monthly utility bills. In recent years, solar panel technology has improved significantly, making this renewable energy source a viable option for homeowners across the country, regardless of the amount of sun your area sees each year. (Did you know solar panels can still work on cloudy days? They’re just slightly less efficient.)

Solar panel installation can be a big project but ultimately worth the initial investment. Savings will vary depending on a lot of factors like your current utility rates, the size of your home and solar array, average weather in your area and your household energy—but tax credits and incentives can help supplement the initial installation cost. In some cases, it may also be possible to install a grid-connected renewable energy system and send excess energy production back to the grid for a monthly utility bill credit.

If installing a complete solar panel array isn't in the scope of your current home renovation project, consider the various areas in your home where you can add small solar panel-powered lighting. Small exterior landscape lighting powered by solar panels is readily available and incredibly reliable.

Insulation: The invisible energy saver

While not one of the most aesthetically noticeable home renovation projects, changing and upgrading your insulation is one of the most significant impacts you can make on your home. Insulation is designed to help keep cool air outside during the summer and warm air inside during the winter. Older houses can be drafty, and even the best insulation can break down over time. When your home has trouble maintaining temperature, the heater and air conditioner run more frequently, leading to spiked utility bills.

Adding newer, more efficient insulation is one of the easiest ways to lower your monthly utility costs—and you'll notice significant savings when the weather is particularly hot or cold. When choosing insulation, look for the R-value listed on the packaging. A higher R-value means it's more effective. Some of the best insulation types are incredibly efficient with a high R-value and safe for the environment.

Replace windows: Lighten the load on your HVAC

Ultimately, windows are giant gaping holes throughout your house that allow cold winter air to come inside and hot summer sunlight to heat your home. While windows are great for letting in plenty of natural light, they can be a significant cause of heat loss during the winter, accounting for up to 30% of your home's energy usage. Replacing old windows with energy efficient windows can lighten the load on your HVAC system.

When choosing new windows, look for windows that feature an ENERGY STAR certification. Be sure to also take a close look at the NFRC label to understand how the windows compare with air leakage and solar performance.

Are energy efficient home improvements tax deductible?

Adding energy efficiency products and improvements to your house will ultimately help you save money on your utility bills. Additionally, several tax incentives could spell even more savings.

There’s the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit, also referred to as the Residential Energy Efficiency Property Credit, for those who install certain certified ENERGY STAR renewable systems—like geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters, biomass fuel stoves or even a small wind turbine on your property. You could get a credit of between 20%-30% depending on when you installed the system. The IRS’ website has more information on which systems qualify.

Tax incentives, policies, and regulations change every year and may vary based on where you live, so be sure to check with local and state agencies to know what’s may be available currently in your area.

Use these home energy improvements to lower your monthly costs

Home renovation projects are the perfect way to add personality and style to your home, all the while creating a comfortable living environment.

No matter how large or small your next renovation project, consider ways to make your house more energy efficient. Some projects can be as simple as adding new LED lighting, while others are more intensive such as replacing existing insulation or windows with more energy efficient models. Regardless of the size of your investment, the outcome will be the same: lower energy costs and a lower carbon footprint.

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