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What kinds of energy-saving projects have you completed?

The editors of This Old House want to hear all about your energy-saving upgrades. Tell us about installing your tankless hot water heater, replacing your old drafty windows, or whatever else you did to conserve energy and lower your monthly bills. We need to know:

  • What was your project?
  • How long did it take?
  • How much did it cost?
  • How much money is it saving you?
  • [*]Any tips or advice you have to share for homeowners who want to do the same project.

Share your tale here and it may be featured in the next issue of This Old House.

Re: What kinds of energy-saving projects have you completed?

Have done considerable work during the past year on a 1 1/2 gambrel house having blown-in insulation in all the exterior walls to R19.

Also have installed vents in soffits & ridge vent to exhaust hot air from attic in summer & prevent ice dams in winter.

Also have installed 3-speed whole house vent fan in attic gable to introduce cool nite air in summer to vent lower floor along with attic & save on AC expenses.

Total cost ~$1.5k.

Savings have been considerable on summer electric rates which have been .14 cents/kwh @ 850 kwh in summer months & 30% drop in winter heating expenses.

Re: What kinds of energy-saving projects have you completed?

I replaced a very bad cedar shake roof with nice architectural shingle and added a ridge vent.

Put on new siding (formerly had cedar batten board siding. they removed the battens, kept the boards, put up insulation around the house and hung top line new vinyl siding). Sofits and vents for air flow up through the attic.

Replaced the large double 'barn doors' in the garage to the back yard. old ones were wood, broken in places and leaky.

Now my house uses less electricity (all electric), though with the increases lately, it's not so much money-wise anymore, but without the work, would be so much more. The garage is now so insulated that it holds heat so well that i had to cover the garage door windows and put thick curtains up on the south windows (great for plants in the winter, just take the window coverings down), and open the doors to let the hot air out.

Re: What kinds of energy-saving projects have you completed?

While I have many larger projects to increase energy saving, money is tight in today's economy, so many will have to wait (blown in insulation, etc). So I believe in starting small, getting done what is affordable.

The first thing I did was replace all the incandescent bulbs in the house with GE Reveal bulbs, for a whiter light. These allow running them at a lower level than normal yellowish bulbs for the same visible light output. I then installed dimmers on EVERY fan/circuit that was practical, and usually run them at 1/2 output, running them at full only when needed. Some day, when dimmable CFLs are more affordable, all the incans will go away.

The next thing I did was put 2 track light tracks horizontally on the wall behind our sofa, as that is where we spend a lot of the evenings. The tracks use GU-10 bulbs, and came with 50W halogens. I stepped them down to 35W, which was still more than enough to read by, since they are targeted at each sitting position. I tried 25W halogens, but due to their yellowish cast and lower light output, they just weren't enough. As an experiment, I bought some 3W bright white GU-10 bulbs, and they are working perfectly. So now instead of running the ceiling fan lights at 1/2 strength or more, leading to eye strain due to the ceiling fan being in front of the sofa, I can now run 6W total output targeted to the 2 seating positions. Future plans are to install GU-10 can lights in various parts of the house, and use 3W (or higher by then) LED bulbs in them. As LED bulbs come down in price, I may replace most incans and CFLs with LEDs.

The next major project is to install vent fans in the attic. I will be using 2 gable fans with solar panels on the house. All the sheds in the back yard will also receive solar vent fans in the roofs so they aren't ovens when accessed during the day.

The most important future planned project is to install a whole house vent fan in the hallway into the attic to vent the air out of the house at night when temps are lower outside - currently, due to heat soak, the house can stay warmer than the outside for several hours, leading to the AC running unnecessarily. The whole house fan will allow me to open the windows and cool the house several degrees in minutes, then close the windows and let the AC work less.

Re: What kinds of energy-saving projects have you completed?

The question is what have my wife and I not done to increase the energy efficiency of our home?? Well, within reason we do have a budget after all.

You can see some pictures and follow our progress of what we have done at www.symhome.net. My wife and I have been keeping track of all the progress of all our renovations. However it has been a little difficult to track the energy savings because when we first started my wife was working full time in an office, then during the fall and winter she was working two days a week from home and now with a second kid, they have been home full time for the past 4 months. So, the overall daily habits are way off from when we started all of these projects.

We first started off by replacing all of the old aluminum single pane windows with double pane wood windows with a Low E coating and argon fill. That alone made a huge difference in not only the thermal comfort, but acoustics as well. This project was done by hired contractors.

We added R-19 insulation to the attic on top of the 3" of existing blown in insulation as well as used the Energy Star guide to air sealing as a reference to seal up the attic. An additional R-30 has been purchased and is waiting to be installed. This is a DIY project.

We installed a programmable thermostat.

We replaced our 19 year old water heater with a tankless system. We saw a huge drop in our natural gas usage with this project.

The next big undertaking was the roof replacement. Over one very hot Memorial Day weekend last summer, two of my good friends since high school (both of who are contractors) took some time off and helped me replace the roof, sheathing an all. We purchased an Energy Star rated shingle by Elk. Even though the cost of the shingle alone was almost double the cost of a standard 40-year warranted shingle, we were able to save a considerable about of money by doing the installation ourselves. We determined this cost savings based upon the estimate that we received from a local roofing contractor. As for energy savings, it has been a little hard to track with the house being occupied during the day more this year than last year. However during the roof replacement there was a noticeable difference in ambient air temperature while standing on the roof with the new shingles.

The next big undertaking, which is in the final stages of paint and trim, is the basement remodel. With a walk out basement that had un-insulated exterior block walls and no insulation in the band boards insulating those has made a huge difference in the thermal comfort of the home. Most of the work I have done myself, except for plumbing, electrical and insulation and drywall. We used an expanding foam insulation to make it much easier to insulate the band boards. And at a cost of $1500, it is projected to give us a 3.5 year payback as determined by the energy audit that we had conducted of our home.

Re: What kinds of energy-saving projects have you completed?

When we bought our 1906 house, we knew we'd be putting a lot of time and money into it. We decided that we'd rather pay more up front for energy efficiency and save money later.
We gutted the house, replaced the old blow-in grey fluff with Rockwool, foam board, and sprayfoam insulation. We - or rather, I - taped every single joint on every single foot of duct. We - or rather, my old fella - replaced the 70s cheap vinyl windows with aluminum interior/wood exterior double glazed windows. We put so much insulation in the crawl space above the attic that we pray we never have to go up there, we won't fit. We put in a gas Rinnai on-demand water heater, which also heats the entire house. We decided on Bosch appliances (gas dryer, front load washer, dishwasher) because they're energy efficient and should last longer as well. Where we live it can get really really cold in the winter and just as hot in the summer, so we installed two air conditioners - a conventional one for the first two floors of the house and a little wall-mount with upright outdcor compressor for the attic (which we converted to living space) so that we could chill out cetain zones of the house and not have to cool the whole place; we've only turned on the big AC a few times in four years. We replaced the old gas fireplace in the addition with a new energy-efficient one and then removed the electric baseboards in that room, so the gas fireplace provides the only heat and only when needed. Same in the attic - we installed a gas 'woodstove' and that's the only heat source up there, so we don't have a stupidly long duct run to the attic, losing heat all the way, making us box out corners and all that stuff. Um, what else... we're having the roof done next week, yay! in a lighter colour, which should help reflect heat.
I don't know how much this all cost - we told ourselves long ago 'no budget, no schedule'. My old fella and I did everything but the plumbing and the electric.
Next is putting in a three-pond system with swales from the house that will capture runoff; we'll use the ponds to irrigate our big vegetable garden and many flower beds, and hopefully I'll build myself a swimming pond in there as well.

Re: What kinds of energy-saving projects have you completed?

Last year I had new wood aluminum-clad Kolbe casements installed. They replaced drafty and inefficient steel casements. Now they are tight and energy efficient. They have all the bells and whistles: argon gas, LowE II, everything. Our energy costs just went up by 70% last year and I'm actually paying much less for energy now. Since I was refinancing, I figured the added amount on my mortgage payment would reduce my gas and electric bill dollar for dollar. If I'm not there now, I'm pretty darn close. The project cost about $25K.

As I move around the house caulking and painting the new windows and the woodwork around them (interior), I'll put an end to some of the tiny air leaks that travel through walls.

Last year I needed a new water heater and wanted to go tankless, but couldn't because my gas service capacity wasn't great enough.

My next project is a bit easier. I need to tighten and re-weatherstrip my front door.

These new windows are so tight, I don't want to eliminate every leak because I need some fresh air coming in in the winter. (Hot water heat.)

Re: What kinds of energy-saving projects have you completed?

We save energy by using a clothesline. To us that is the only smart way to dry clothes.

There is no such thing as an energy effecient dryer.

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