Sustainability is all the rage these days. While food brands and clothing companies are often credited as being some of the leading innovators in this area, another industry is also embracing the idea of eco-friendly, sustainable products and services—the home services industry!
But, there are some important things to know when it comes to improving home performance and reducing your house’s carbon footprint.
Dive into this home performance guide, where we’ll debunk some common sustainable home myths, talk about why insulating your home properly is so important, and provide some actionable tips so you can create a healthier, cleaner eco home for your family.
Ch. 1 The Problem: Homes Today Are Not Efficient or Eco-Friendly
It’s important to preface this chapter by going over what exactly it means to be sustainable—as we’ll be discussing this term throughout this guide. While many people associate sustainability with being environmentally friendly, it’s much more than that.
Sustainability generally refers to the ability to be maintained at a specific rate or level. But today, the definition has expanded to include three main “types” of sustainability—the three pillars. While this framework is often applied to businesses and organizations, it relates to homes quite well.
- First, there is the environmental pillar, which is all about reducing the carbon footprint. A home that would receive high marks for this pillar would be very energy efficient and doesn’t need much electricity or power to stay up and running.
- The second pillar is social, which revolves around ensuring that everyone affected by a particular action or business operation supports and approves of the decision. This one is a little trickier to define in terms of what it means for a home, but you can relate it to ensuring that the products and materials are sourced ethically and that the contractors who constructed the home were paid fairly for their labor.
- The third and final pillar is economic. For organizations, this means that you need to be profitable to be sustainable (a business that is losing money will not be around for long). In home terms, this pillar is all about how sustainable features in your home can save you money (we’ll be talking about some of those later on in this guide).
The Rise of Sustainability-Focused Products and Services
Consumers are looking to be sustainable and eco-friendly now more than ever. According to a recent survey of over 1,000 consumers in the U.S. and U.K., 88% of them answered “yes” when asked if they would like brands to help them be more environmentally friendly and ethical in their daily lives.
As a result of this growing appreciation for sustainable brands, we’re seeing A LOT more of them. In fact, 50% of consumer packaged goods growth from 2013 to 2018 was from sustainability-marketed products.
But how does this translate to the home industry? Are we seeing this same rise in prioritizing eco-friendly, efficient products and services in the home industry as well?
The answer: Yes! But it still might not be good enough, and here’s why:
- Statistica reported that the number of LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) projects in the United States rose from 296 certifications in 2006 to over 67,200 in 2018.
- That is an extremely impressive increase and has led many to call the green building market one of the fastest-growing industries worldwide.
So, what’s the issue? It sounds like we’re just a few years away from living in a world where every new home built has integrated sustainability in some shape or form.
As you may have guessed, the problem is that there are still millions of homes throughout the U.S. that were built before this movement began. In other words, if your home was built before the push for sustainable construction came about, there is a very good chance your home is lacking in the energy efficiency department and in sustainability overall.
According to this Harvard Business Review article, old buildings throughout the United States are the biggest sustainability challenge we are currently facing. So what’s the solution? Greg Hanscom, a senior editor at Grist, a publication dedicated to raising awareness of the need for sustainability, wrote a piece in 2012 on how fixing up old homes is greener than building new ones, with a study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation backing up his claims.
The study illustrated that remodeling an old building is greener than building a new green home in nearly every instance. In addition, reusing old buildings provides immediate results in terms of being environmentally friendly, while relatively energy-efficient new buildings won’t pay dividends in that area for decades.
So, homes with outdated siding or lacking insulation could simply be repaired and upgraded instead of rendered entirely useless and abandoned without hope. Instead, you just have to consider the materials used and opt for an energy-efficient model for your modernized eco home.
Why You Should Want to Reduce Your Home’s Carbon Footprint ♻️
According to the United Nations, the world has backed itself into a corner regarding the global greenhouse gas emissions we emit each year. While it is up to governments to step up around the world to fight this, we can also do our part, which starts with:
- The clothes we wear,
- The food we buy, and
- The homes we live in.
Taking a more granular approach to creating a more eco-friendly, sustainable home will allow you to save money. While many home performance initiatives are initially an investment, they will pay huge dividends in terms of lowering your utilities, as well as dramatically increasing your home’s resale value and improving your home’s indoor air quality.
By crafting a more sustainable home and improving our home’s performance, you can also create a cleaner, safer environment for your family.
Ch. 2 How Efficient Is Your House: 6 Steps for Self-Diagnosing Your Home
When it comes to finding out how efficient your home is, there are numerous methods you can use. Here are six simple ways to self-diagnose your home’s performance:
#1 – Check For Areas Where Air Leaks May Occur
If you have a lot of air leaks in your home, it may be costing you a pretty penny, which means that fixing them could save you a lot of cash. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, of the $2,000 the average American spends paying for energy each year, $200-$400 could be going to waste from drafts and air leaks around openings.
If you find any air leaks—such as near your windows or doors—make sure to plug or caulk the holes to help reduce wasted energy.
#2 – Inspect Heating and Cooling Equipment
One of the biggest mistakes homeowners make when it comes to their home efficiency is not regularly checking out their heating and cooling equipment. This should be done at least once a year or as often as the equipment manufacturer recommends.
If your home uses a forced-air furnace, the filters need to be changed at least every two months and even more often during periods of high usage. With outdated units (15+ years), you should strongly consider replacing the system with a newer, more energy-efficient one.
#3 – Make Sure You’re Using Energy Efficient Lighting 💡
It wasn’t long ago that energy-saving light bulbs were all the rage. However, plenty of homes could use a refresh in terms of the lights that homeowners are using.
While there are many different types of energy-efficient light bulbs, here are three of the most popular:
- Halogen Incandescents – Inside these bulbs is a capsule that holds gas around a filament, which increases the bulb’s efficiency.
- Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) – Because CFL bulbs use much less electricity than traditional incandescents, they usually pay for themselves in less than a year.
- Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) – Once upon a time, LEDs were only found in traffic lights. But today, they are one of the most energy-efficient and growing technologies available for homeowners today.
#4 – Inspect Your Appliances and Electronics
Sometimes, the little things can add up, and this is especially true for your home’s performance. See if you have any appliances or electronics throughout your home that may be outdated and are guzzling up too much energy. Replacing those items and investing in newer, more efficient products can help save you money on your utilities.
Energy.gov has an awesome tool that you can use to quickly estimate your appliance and home electronic energy use. If your energy use is too high, consider unplugging items that are not in use to prevent what is known as “phantom loads.”
#5 – Take a Look at Your Windows 🪟
A lot of these tips involve inspecting the features of your home and making sure that they aren’t too outdated, and this tip is the same. According to EnergyStar.gov, replacing windows can result in considerable cost savings. If your windows haven’t been replaced in quite some time, it may be time to swap them out for new ones.
There are some great window suppliers out there who are transforming the way we think about window performance. One of those companies is H Window, whose windows offer superior performance.
#6 – Assess Your Attic and Siding Insulation
Two other areas to check out to ensure you’re not losing energy through are the attic and your home’s exterior siding. Adequate attic insulation will help regulate your home’s temperature and keep hot and cold air from escaping through the roof, and well-insulated siding will essentially do the same, just on the sides of your house.
Your home will be particularly susceptible to poor energy efficiency and high utility bills if your siding and attic insulation fail, whether from age or overt damage, or you don’t have any installed at all. In those cases, it’s crucial to contact a local contractor or roofing and siding company to get recommendations for the right insulation for your home.
You have a few options when it comes to high-performance home insulation, but we’ll touch more on those in chapter four. For now, just complete a basic assessment to get a better baseline understanding of the state of your home’s attic and siding insulation.
Ch. 3 Debunking the Myths: What Homeowners Are Getting Wrong About Reducing Their Carbon Footprint 👣
When it comes to reducing a home’s carbon footprint, more and more homeowners are turning to pretty drastic measures.
For example, the number of homes installing solar panels on their roofs is growing. Even Elon Musk’s Tesla has gotten in on the solar panel craze, as they offer solar paneling that can be added to an existing roof—similar to other products in that market. Tesla also recently unveiled its solar roofs and announced they’d sell them for about $35,000 (pretty spendy, but they look pretty cool!)
With all that being said, even regular solar panels can cost a lot (owners of an average-sized may need to pay as much as a car for panels on their roof). While many homeowners think they can just slap solar panels on their roof and watch the savings come their way, this isn’t the case.
The amount of solar energy your home needs depends on how much you use. So, if you have five people in your home, you’ll need more solar panels than a home with only two people because you use more energy (more showers, more lights on, more dishwasher use, etc.). That’s simple enough.
But, where people who integrate solar panels into their homes make a mistake is by not trying to improve their home efficiency before buying all those panels. Large-scale projects like solar panels on your roof should almost be considered a “cherry on top” when it comes to improving your home’s performance.
In fact, you may find that by doing these six things that will increase your home’s performance and reduce your carbon footprint, you may not need to invest in solar panels at all.
Ch. 4 Taking Action: 6 Things You Should Actually Be Doing to Increase Your Home Performance
Instead of shelling out tons of money for solar panels, here are six things you should actually be doing if you want to reduce your carbon footprint while increasing your home’s performance.
1) Have a Professional Conduct a Home Energy Audit
First and foremost, it is imperative to have a professional contractor who can conduct a complete and accurate home energy audit. During this audit, several areas will be covered and inspected for the potential to increase performance, reduce energy waste, and improve indoor air quality.
Here are the areas that will likely be looked over:
- The Outside of Your Home – While we tend to place a lot of emphasis on the inside of our homes when it comes to our home’s performance, the outside is just as important. An energy auditor should look for issues on the exterior of your house, such as cracks in your windows, walls, and eaves that could be causing leaks into your home.
- Your Attic – If you do have an attic, the auditor will likely scope that section of your home as well. In particular, they’ll be looking to ensure your insulation is correctly installed and applied evenly between your walls. They’ll also look at your electrical lines and the holes they run through to see if they are correctly sealed.
- Your Furnace – The auditor will take a look at your furnace and may recommend that you upgrade if they are on the older end. They’ll also peek at your filters if you haven’t done that yet.
- The Lighting in Your Home – While we mentioned that you could easily diagnose your lighting efficiency on your own, the energy auditor will also take a look at your light bulbs too. They’ll have some recommendations for alternatives if your bulbs are wasting energy.
2) Conduct a Blower Door Test
Most professional audits will also involve a blower door test. For those who aren’t familiar with these tests —or if you need a refresher—they help to identify where you may have leaks in your home.
Using a blow door device, a professional will ensure all windows and doors are closed before the device depressurizes your home. The tester will then use an infrared camera to see where the air is potentially leaking into your home.
3) Properly Insulate and Seal Your Home Based on Test Results
Conducting these tests and having a contractor or auditor look at your home is only half the battle. You also need to act on their recommendations and ensure that your home is adequately insulated and sealed.
But what is the best way to seal your home? Which materials are most effective?
For the answer, let’s turn to a study done by a university way back in 1989 that is still very much relevant today:
From December 1989 to January 1990, the University of Colorado at Denver School of Architecture and Planning decided to test two popular insulation materials. To do this, they studied the conservation efficiency of two buildings.
The first building, or building “A,” was insulated with 5.5 inches of sprayed-in cellulose into the walls and R-30 of loose-fill cellulose in the ceiling.
Building “B” was insulated with R-30 kraft-faced batts in the ceiling and R-19 unfaced fiberglass batts in the walls.
During the two months, several tests were conducted, and measurements were performed to figure out which option was best for insulating homes.
Here are a few of their key findings:
- While initial tests showed that building “B” was 12% tighter than building “A” prior to the team insulating it, building “A” was far tighter than “B” after the insulation was installed (Calculations showed that cellulose tightened the building 36% to 38% more than fiberglass).
- An overnight heat loss test found that after nine hours, the cellulose-insulated building was 7 degrees warmer than the fiberglass building.
- Perhaps most significant, after three weeks of monitoring, the cellulose-insulated building had used 26.4% less heat than the fiberglass building.
The university released a statement of their findings, noting that results suggest cellulose performs nearly 40% better than fiberglass. Either way, you’ll want to install some kind of insulation to ensure you remain energy efficient throughout all seasons.
4) Plant Shrubs and Trees Around Your Home 🌳
Planting foliage like shrubs and trees around your home can have multiple benefits to both your home’s performance and the reduction of your carbon footprint.
In terms of reducing your footprint on this earth, trees and shrubs absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow, which reduces greenhouse gases. In addition, trees will provide a habitat for wildlife and allow you to add some nature to your surroundings.
As for your home performance levels, planting trees and shrubs close to the exterior of your home can help with your home’s insulation—especially for older homes. Planting deciduous trees at the right distance from your home can provide shade, which aids in cooling your home during those hot summer months.
5) Install a Smart Thermostat 🌡️
Smart thermostats are relatively popular today, but unfortunately, many homeowners are investing in them but not using them to their fullest power. In other words, they are wasting a golden opportunity to dramatically increase their home’s performance.
For those unfamiliar with these thermostats, they allow homeowners to create automatic and programmable temperature settings based on their daily lives and schedules, heating and cooling needs, and weather conditions.
For example, let’s say that you and your family are out the door pretty early and gone for most of the day during the week. You can program your thermostat to automatically change your home’s temperature after you leave. Then, you can program it to change again when you and your family come home.
So, if it’s a hot, humid summer, your smart thermostat will reduce the A/C in the home while you’re gone, but it can turn back on a few minutes before you come home to get your interior cool and comfortable again.
According to Nest, a smart thermostat provider, you can save 15 percent on cooling costs and 10-12 percent on heating costs by using their smart thermostat. Ecobee, another smart thermostat brand, claims that customers can save a combined 23 percent on heating and cooling costs with their product.
But, you have to be willing to sit down and program your smart thermostat to actually take advantage of these potential cost savings!
6) Update Your Water Heater
During your energy audit, the auditor may look at your water heater, and for good reason, as upgrading to a new water heater is one of the best ways to attain greater heating efficiency.
Most water heaters are given what is known as an Energy Factor rating, where the higher the number is, the more efficient they are. Gas water heaters score around the .5 to .7 mark, whereas electric models are more efficient at .75 to .95.
During the audit, the auditor may advise you to swap out your current water heater for a newer one. Or, they may tell you that the water heater you currently have installed will suffice for a few more years.
Ch. 5 Eco-Friendly and Money Savvy: How to Make Your Home More Sustainable While Being Money-Conscious 💸
While many people think that investing in sustainable home features is too big of an investment, this isn’t necessarily the case.
If you’re considering a home performance project, there is a solid amount of rebates, incentives, and financing services for projects of that nature. Depending on what you’re local utility or state agency offers for rebates and incentives, you may be able to add other measures to your project to make your home even more sustainable.
Energy Star has a list of some great resources you can use to find some incentives in your area:
- The EPA has an interactive map for energy benchmarking data, programs, and policies that will efficiently determine which utilities offer energy data for benchmarking. It will also show you which national, state, or local-level efforts have benchmarking programs.
- The Department of Energy’s Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) is the largest and most up-to-date listing of state, federal, local, and utility incentives and policies that support renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. If there is an incentive to take advantage of in your area, you’ll find it there.
Energy Star also recommends you contact your utility and ask if they offer free or inexpensive energy audits or rebates for energy efficiency upgrades.
We touched on this earlier, but it’s essential to understand how undertaking home performance and sustainable projects on your home will significantly benefit you in the long run by helping you reduce your utilities and dramatically improve your home’s resale value.
When it comes to deciding whether to improve your home’s performance, choosing yes provides so many benefits in the long run.
Ch. 6 The Home of the Future: What It’ll Look Like
So, taking all of this into consideration, what will the home of the future look like?
While it’s difficult to predict the future, there are definitely certain details and features that will continue to be more and more commonplace in homes as the years go on.
First, there will no doubt be a continuation in the push to create more new homes where suitability and performance are implemented during the design phase. We can point to the rise in LEED-certified new builds over the past decade as evidence of this.
As more and more home builders and contractors start to work sustainable features into their services—as propelled by the demand for such homes—the rise in eco-friendly builds will continue.
We’ll also see a lot of homes with gadgets installed that are often called smart homes. These houses will have tools and technologies within them that allow for more transparency when it comes to monitoring energy consumption. This will allow us to find areas of improvement where we can reduce our energy use, ultimately reducing our carbon footprint and utilities.
We already mentioned solar panels and their role in home performance, and they will no doubt continue to become more and more popular as the years go on. But, as of now, there is a shortage of suppliers creating solar panels that don’t look, well, unsightly.
However, a growing number of solar panel suppliers are starting to prioritize not just the functionality of their panels but how they look. In the future, we’ll see many, many roofs with solar panels that are not as obvious and have a lower profile while being better-looking as well.
Some folks believe that there is a high possibility that prefabricated homes will continue to grow in popularity. Pre-fabricated homes are made in a factory setting on a conveyor belt system. While that may sound like a cheap option for a home, they are actually quite the opposite, and most pre-fabricated homes can be completed within six months.
As more and more homeowners emphasize the ‘design’ aspect of their new homes, pre-fabricated homes allow for modern architecture and design to be more financially accessible.
For an inside look into these homes, check out this excellent video series courtesy of The Verge, titled “Home of the Future.”
Last, we’ll see a lot more homes that are green. Not just in terms of being sustainable, but actually green. Whether it’s green roofs, more gardens in the yard, or more plants inside, look for more and more homeowners to continue the trend of integrating nature into their homes.
Parting Thoughts (+ Get Professional Help Improving Home Efficiency)
We created this guide to offer insight into the world of sustainable homes and give you tips on improving your own home performance. We highly encourage you to take some of the information you’ve learned here and apply it to your home and lifestyle, not just for the sake of reducing your monthly bills but also for the environment around you.
So, how can you do that? The easiest way to make your home more eco-friendly is to find a trusted contractor or home remodeling company to help ramp up your insulation and make any necessary repairs to boost home efficiency. And that’s where we can help!
Here at First American, we specialize in roofing, siding, and so many other services that can modernize your outdated home and make it more sustainable. Whether you want to install high-efficiency insulated siding or need repairs for a failing gutter system, we’ve got you covered with nearly two decades of experience improving home efficiency.
Contact us now to get started on the path toward a more sustainable, efficient, and high-performance eco home your family can thrive in for years to come.