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Thinking greener

Tweaks to make your home more energy-efficient for homeowners at every effort level

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of sustainable design? It might be a home built with environmentally friendly materials: an adobe or straw bale home in Arizona, a newly constructed earth berm home in Colorado, or perhaps a home built with entirely recycled materials. Or you might imagine a modern, high-tech apartment dressed in glass and finished with a living green roof. A few years ago, an Environmental Science professor even designed an ecologically-sustainable dumpster to call home. The fact is that green construction is all of these things, and much more.

Green building is really a practice, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It continues through each stage of a building’s life-cycle: siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction. The focus is on using efficient, eco-friendly materials throughout the process, while still satisfying “economy, utility, durability, and comfort.”1

If you’re in the market for a new house, choosing green design can offer rewards for both you and the planet. But what if you already have a home you love, or aren’t looking to invest as much time and energy upfront? The good news is that there are meaningful changes you can make to boost your home’s efficiency at every effort level.


If you’re looking to build or renovate


If you’re looking for a new home, or willing to undergo a renovation, green construction offers a host of benefits. A green building can efficiently use energy and water, while also reducing waste, pollution and environmental degradation. Beyond being safer for the environment, they can also offer consistent savings for homeowners on new home energy costs and monthly bills. In fact, according to Potterhill Homes, “Over the life of your mortgage, a Green Built home can save you up to $150,000 through improved energy efficiency, lower water bills, tax abatements and better loan rates.”2

If you are starting from scratch, you can design and build an energy-efficient home that saves you money through correct insulation, using the right materials in construction and building to accommodate the sun’s power. In the end, building a green home or renovating your current house to be more energy-efficient can prove to be a very cost-effective decision.


If you want to start small


You don’t have to build an entirely new house to reap the benefits of increased energy efficiency and sustainable materials. There are dozens of changes you can make at home to make your house greener—some of which are incredibly simple.

What makes a home more energy efficient? It starts with renewable energy systems, better mechanical equipment and a more airtight house.

Adding sustainable materials to your home can initially be more expensive, but when you consider the potential savings in the long run, it can be well worth the extra effort. For many homeowners, these changes aren’t just “nice to haves,” they can improve quality of life through energy savings and additional comfort.

Great small changes to make to improve the energy efficiency of your home include:

  • Air sealing the attic to prevent drafts
  • Installing a smart thermostat (I talk about some of the benefits in my last blog post on IoT devices)
  • Switching to fluorescent or LED lightbulbs
  • Tinting windows to keep out unwanted heat and cold
  • Adding a shade tree to the side of the home with Western exposure

The Energy Saver blog is also a great resource with quick tips to save energy.


When you’re looking to upgrade


Maybe you’ve dabbled and added a smart thermostat or tinted your home’s back windows, and want a little more. For even more efficiency, you can take the next step and invest in changes that upgrade your energy standards. While not inexpensive, the following can make a huge difference in the energy efficiency of your home:

  • Adding a higher density of ceiling insulation
  • Replacing older appliances with higher-efficiency models
  • Replacing windows with Low-E and argon-filled windows
  • Installing solar panels (If you’re considering a solar roof, check out our guide)
  • Considering a smart home system. A connected home can integrate IoT devices like your smart thermostat and lighting controls together, adding up to energy savings. (Check out my earlier post on this topic!)
  • Consider using solar-reflective paint

This last option is often-overlooked by homeowners considering updates. However, a growing number of ‘green’ solar-reflective coatings can offer both environmental and financial benefits. When used on your roof, reflective roof paints can help lower the home’s indoor temperature, limiting the need for air-conditioning. These paints are best suited for warm to hot climates that use indoor cooling for most of the year (such as Arizona, where Berkley One launched last month). According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a cool roof, which can be made with solar-reflective paint, covering, tiles, or shingles, can reduce the summer temperature of your roof by 50 degrees or more.3 The application of reflective paint on a ‘cool roof’ may also help extend the overall roof life of your home.

Reflective paint doesn’t have to be limited to use on your roof. Numerous products on the market today can be applied to many surfaces around your home. Consider using reflective paint under your roof, on your ceilings and on interior and exterior walls, too. They can lower fuel use, while also reducing wear and tear on appliances such as your furnace and air conditioner.


Time for an energy check-up


If you’re wondering where to start, one great way is to test your energy efficiency of your home before you decide what change is right for you.

The Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index is the industry standard for measuring a home’s energy efficiency. It’s also the nationally recognized system for inspecting, testing and calculating a home’s energy performance. The HERS Index considers everything from exterior wall, ceiling and roof materials, to leakage in heating and cooling systems. A lower number indicates a more energy efficient home. A home with a HERS Index Score of 70 is 30% more energy efficient compared to one built to the 2004 International Energy Conservation Code, which has a rating of 100. A typical existing U.S. home has a rating of 130. You can find a certified RESNET Home Energy Rater who can evaluate your home on the Hers Index website.


Insuring a greener home


As a risk management consultant, I’ve seen families make energy swaps and design choices that have positively impacted their quality of life, as well as reducing their environmental footprint. In some cases, having a green-certified home may even make you eligible for a discount on your homeowners insurance.

Whether you’re looking to design a greener home, or to make a few small changes to improve your energy efficiency, the energy and environmental rewards are often well worth the effort.

Jerry Forrest is a Risk Management Consultant at Berkley One (a Berkley Company).