Winter is one of the hardest times of the year for homes, and often families. While we have all the modern amenities that make it easy to actually survive in comfort, it’s often the budget that really takes a hit these days. Some homes are more efficient than others, but at the same time, there are more than a few older homes out there that aren’t really up to spec. For new families who might have bought an older home that is bereft of basics like insulation or more significantly efficient appliances like heat pumps and in-line water heaters, it can be incredibly difficult to discern what should be done to make the home more efficient ahead of the arrival of old man winter.
As with anything, there is an order that really should be followed, and let’s assume that the house we’re talking about was built in 1930, and has never been updated. Know what that means? There’s probably newspaper inside the walls for insulation, if anything at all, and the furnace, hot water heater, and possibly even the windows are desperately out of date! Sure, yours is likely nowhere near that bad, but if you’re plunking down $200-$350 per month for energy costs (As does happen in some parts of the world, though the United States has a relatively tame price average of around $107.) Then your home has got some improvement that needs to happen.
First up is insulation. It seems like an obvious answer, but fiberglass insulation as we have it today is actually a relatively new invention. How new, you ask? That particular trivia question’s answer is 1938, when Owens-Corning came out with the first usable fiberglass insulation for homes. That means that many homes that were built before then have had to be retrofitted with insulation. Besides, there was less need for insulation then- think about it- who stayed inside in the summer? There was no air conditioning, and fuels for furnaces that burned coal, oil, and wood were plentiful and cheap. Why bother with insulating to save energy? In recent years, it’s clear that some folks don’t insulate these homes because of the expense involved, and they may not want to rip out walls. It needs to be done, however. Door jams, window gaps, and other smaller places can be filled with expanding insulation found at home improvement stores. Blown-in insulation can then be used to fill the walls for less than you might think. Besides, over the course of ten years’ worth of home ownership, saving thirty to forty bucks per month or more in energy costs can really add up!
The next item that’s a bit more expensive than insulation, but that provides as much benefit, is having a new high-efficiency furnace installed. Clearly, a lack of insulation is going to blunt the impact of this particular update, but put together, don’t be surprised to see your energy bills this winter cut in half, particularly if your existing furnace is one of those old-school deals that came out before the gas crisis of the 1970s, when all energy prices skyrocketed!
Finally, the windows are another place that money can be both saved and spent. Great windows not only look good, but they can save you thousands of dollars over the course of your home ownership. Of course, they can also be the most expensive thing you do, energy-wise, to improve your home. It all depends on how efficient and stylish you want the windows to be. The sky is literally the limit.
It is possible to save hundreds of dollars every year on energy costs, but it isn’t cheap to do so. Of course, when you weigh the current cost of high-efficiency improvements against the likely price of energy in the future, you might find those investments paying off much sooner than you thought they would.