Homeownership comes with a lot of responsibilities, and one of the most important is ensuring the energy efficiency of your home. But what exactly is an energy-efficient home and why does it matter? We spoke with local home builder, Accredited Master Builder and Master Certified Green Professional Chad Collins with Collins Design-Build to explore these questions and outline the top six most worthwhile energy-efficient home improvements.

What is an Energy-Efficient Home?

Chad Collins
Chad Collins

An energy-efficient home is one that reduces unnecessary energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and its demand for non-renewable resources. Chad points out that "it's more than just light bulbs." He believes that for new homes, it starts with design and carries through to incorporating energy-efficient elements throughout. For existing homes, it's incorporating various features and technologies and using different strategies that reduce energy consumption and promote sustainable living.

Why Does Energy Efficiency in Our Homes Matter?

Energy efficiency matters for a couple of primary reasons. For one, it's cost-effective. By reducing your home's energy use, you can significantly lower your energy bills. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), "Of the $2,000 the average American spends paying for energy annually, $200 to $400 could be going to waste from drafts, air leaks around openings, and outdated heating and cooling systems1."

Additionally, energy efficiency is essential for the environment. By using less energy, we can reduce the demand for non-renewable resources and lower greenhouse gas emissions. This not only helps combat climate change but also leads to cleaner air and water, which is better for our health. Chad sums it up with these few words, "Smart, stewards of the earth, and fewer emissions - that's why energy efficiency in our homes matters."

Two Government-Backed Programs That You Should Know About

When it comes to making your home more energy efficient, there are two government-backed programs that you should know about.

Energy Star

Administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Energy Star is a program that partners with thousands of organizations and businesses "to deliver cost savings energy efficiency solutions2." Its blue Energy Star label gives consumers and businesses a way to know that the products they're buying are energy efficient.


WaterSense is another EPA education and consumer awareness program that helps to save water and protect the environment. "WaterSense labeled products are backed by independent, third–party certification and meet EPA’s specifications for water efficiency and performance3."

Most Worthwhile Energy-Efficient Home Improvements

When considering what the most worthwhile energy-efficient home improvements are that you can make, Chad recommends the following.

** Indicates that you should speak with a licensed professional first about your specific situation.

1. Seal or close your crawl space **

There are several reasons why sealing or closing your crawl space is a good idea. These include preventing outside air from entering and conditioned air from escaping. This reduces the load on your heating and cooling systems, which lets you save energy. In addition, unsealed crawl spaces allow moisture and humidity to seep in, which can lead to issues like mold, mildew, rot, and potential structural damage to your home's foundation. None of these are healthy for you and your family and simply put additional stress and strain onto your home and its systems.

2. Spray foam in the roof deck in the attic **

Spray foam insulation helps to create a tight seal that prevents outside air from coming into your home. Chad says this creates an envelope for your mechanicals such as your HVAC unit. "Imagine how hard that HVAC system has to work just sitting up in your attic, running cold air to a room, versus if I spray foam the roof deck, and I put that unit inside an envelope. That unit doesn't have to work as hard, does it?"

3. Replace your windows

Replacing old, drafty windows with ones that are energy efficient is one of the first things that you should do when making home improvements. New windows can significantly reduce heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer, leading to lower energy costs. Chad says that unless you live in a historic district or your homeowner's association requires it, don't assume that you have to replace wood windows with wood windows. Even when he builds multimillion dollar homes, he uses wood windows, but they're fiberglass or aluminum clad on the outside. In more moderate-priced homes, he recommends vinyl replacement windows because they are both energy efficient and affordable.

4. Use energy-efficient lighting

If you're not already using LED lightbulbs, now is the time to make the switch. They don't typically run as hot and they don't use as much energy. They also tend to last longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.

5. Use WaterSense products

WaterSense products include low-flow toilets, faucets, showerheads, spray sprinkler bodies, and irrigation controllers. Chad says these products come with restrictors that reduce the amount of water being used and that limit waste. According to WaterSense, toilets are the main source of water use in the home. "By replacing old, inefficient toilets with WaterSense labeled models, the average family can reduce water used for toilets by 20 to 60 percent—that's nearly 13,000 gallons of water savings for your home every year! They could also save more than $140 per year in water costs, and $2,900 over the lifetime of the toilets4." You can find WaterSense products at most home improvement stores. Just look for the WaterSense label.

6. Change your filters

When we think of changing filters, we often think of air filters. Chad reminds us that there are other types of filters in our homes, and they need changing too! These include the dishwasher filter, the inline filters for our water system, and the aerators for our faucets. In addition to air return filters, he says these all get forgotten and can have a big impact on whether our home's systems are working as efficiently as they can and should be.

Financial Incentives for Making Energy-Efficient Home Improvements

There are several financial incentives for homeowners to make energy-efficient home improvements. For example, the federal government offers a tax credit for certain energy-efficient home improvements, most of which fall under the Energy Star Home Upgrade Program5. Additionally, many states and local utilities offer rebates and discounts for energy-efficient upgrades. These incentives can help offset the cost of making the improvements and make it more affordable for homeowners to create a more energy-efficient home.

Energy-Efficient Home Improvements as a Worthwhile Investment

As we've seen here, making home energy improvements is a worthwhile investment. Not only can it lower your energy costs and reduce your environmental impact, but it can make your home more comfortable and potentially increase its value.

Chad also reminds us that energy efficiency requires that we take a holistic approach. Some savings and impacts will be more noticeable than others at the individual level. But, "if everybody switches out their lightbulbs, it will reduce the carbon footprint globally."

So why wait? Start making energy-efficient home improvements today!

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  1. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Why Energy Efficiency Upgrades.
  2. Energy Star. About Energy Star.
  3. WaterSense. WaterSense Products.
  4. WaterSense. Residential Toilets.
  5. Energy Star. Energy Star Home Upgrade.