Green Living Energy Savings

5 Steps to Making Your Old Home More Energy Efficient

We New Englanders love our squeaky old farm houses, Capes and captain’s houses. Making them energy efficient and reducing energy costs will make them all the more enjoyable.
front of large yellow home
Originally built in 1880's this home has undergone a number of renovations. Many windows still need replacing as well as upgrading the insulation.

We New Englanders love our squeaky old farm houses, Capes and captain’s houses, and taking care of our historic homes is nothing short of a labor of love. But it’s not just about the hard work. While the carbon footprint of maintaining and inhabiting an old home is less than building a new one, the expense of heating, cooling and lighting these beloved structures can be nothing short of menacing.

There is also our own, personal energy use to consider. All residential buildings in the US use more energy than all commercial buildings combined. While we love our drafty fireplaces and single pane windows, none of us are looking to guzzle up the resources often required to make a New England winter manageable. That said, building a new and tightly sealed home can emit up to ten times more C02e (carbon dioxide equivalent) during construction than rehabbing an old one. So, while cutting household emissions can clearly make an impact, if your goal is to be the best global citizen you can be, older is better.

Enter home performance. An energy efficient home isn’t just for new construction. There are many ways to keep the charm and originality of your historic home while also saving a little fuel, a little electricity and potentially a lot of money.

Historic Homes are Different

There are considerations to make before moving forward with creating new efficiencies in your old house. It is important to remember that your 1800s home was constructed using different techniques than what contractors practice today. For example, if your home is a pre-1850s structure, its bones are likely post and beam instead of the more modern balloon framing. This will be important to consider when updating your insulation.

Another major consideration is temperature regulation and moisture levels. Historic homes were not built with the same static, comfortable temperature expectation as today. If you were cold, you put on a sweater. If you were hot, you opened a window. Thicker walls provided some insulation, keeping the home warmer at night and cooler during the day, but in general, air was allowed to move more freely throughout the structure. Adding insulation to your old home without considering the house as a system can cause moisture to accumulate and mold and rot to form.

Thanks to south-west facing windows-the sun provides some warmth and added natural light.
Thanks to south-west facing windows-the sun provides some warmth and added natural light.

The best thing to understand about owning an old home is that you live in a structure that has served well for 100, 150 or even 200 years. The charm of your home is not only an aesthetic consideration, but also an environmental one.

Now, to improve your historic home’s energy efficiency

It is important to be considerate of your surroundings as you move towards retrofitting your home. Old homes were designed to utilize their natural surroundings for temperature control. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this project. Here are some first steps to having an energy efficient historic home:

  1. Get an energy audit. This is the first step to identifying leaks in your home. While many states offer free energy audits, it may be worth the expense of going to a professional when dealing with a 100 to 200 year old home. They will go beyond some of the more obvious energy upgrades and provide a complete roadmap for moving forward.
  2. Air seal. But not too tight! This is a one-step to significantly improving your home’s energy efficiency. Identifying and sealing the holes and cracks in your home’s exterior, doors, windows and even attic floor will make a huge difference. Sealing up these cracks can often be a DIY project. Energy Star offers a comprehensive DIY guide to get you through. During this project, keep the house-as-a-system approach in mind and work to strike a balance. The house still has to breath to avoid mold and rot.
  3. Keep it simple. Cut down on drafts by closing curtains, plasticing your windows in the winter, closing your fireplace damper and using door snakes. These methods may be simple, but they are cheap and surprisingly effective.
  4. Establish climate zones. Old homes are often comprised of many rooms. As winter approaches, identify which rooms you aren’t using regularly and consider shutting them down for the season. If you have an air-conditioned home, consider the same in the summer. Placing these rooms on separate thermostats will allow you to further control the climate.
  5. Consider a programmable thermostat. There are many options of varying cost out there, but the overall goal here is to decide what temperature your house should be at certain times during the day, and stick with it. The Nest thermostat seems to be getting the best reviews lately, but there are several options.

These are some basic, first steps you can take towards improving your historic home’s energy efficiency. Should you choose to get a professional energy audit, they will go deeper into your house’s needs and its possibilities, addressing big-ticket items like your furnace, windows, basement and attic, and even the possibility of purchasing renewable energy to power your home. There are a multitude of resources out there for homeowners with regard to sourcing contractors, DIY projects and even tax credits.

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Efficient and Economic Living In Tiny Houses

Oversize homes, oversize mortgages and oversize energy bills have been replaced by tiny homes. Living the high life and moving on up to the top while living in a tiny home.
Tiny Wooden House on Wheels
Tiny houses use less building material [...] which takes less energy to produce.

After the housing crisis of 2008, many homeowners grew disillusioned with the McMansions that had gotten them deep into debt. Aside from their super-sized mortgage, large homes typically also carry a large utility bill to heat, cool and light jumbo spaces. So, as Americans adopt a more minimalist lifestyle, it makes perfect sense that they’d also embrace tiny homes, with some as small as 196 square feet! We’re so fascinated with tiny homes that there are now reality TV shows like Tiny House Nation and Tiny House Hunters, blogs that discuss the ins and outs of tiny living and even a Tiny House Magazine.

On first glance, one might assume that tiny homes make sense for single people without much stuff. That’s one demographic that inhabits tiny homes, but believe it or not, families with children and dogs also share tiny homes. Some homeowners even use a tiny home as an in-law suite or guest cottage built on their land rather than building an addition to their home.

Tiny house interior
On first glance, one might assume that tiny homes make sense for single people without much stuff.

And while creative storage solutions and a willingness to pare down your belongings is essential, here’s a look at a few benefits offered by tiny homes:

  • Less environmental impact: Tiny houses use less building material (and oftentimes use recycled or repurposed material), which takes less energy to produce. Heating, cooling and lighting a tiny house also takes less of an environmental toll. Some tiny homes operate off the grid using a composting toilet and solar power or wind turbines. Others are connected to a water and electrical supply, but still wouldn’t draw as much water and electricity as a full-sized home.
  • Less space to clean: Dusting, vacuuming and otherwise cleaning a full-sized home can feel like a never-ending chore. But when you live in less than 200 square feet, there are fewer surfaces to keep clean and more time for other activities.
  • Less temptation to accumulate stuff: Some tiny homeowners have extra storage at a friend or relative’s place and rotate items seasonally. But without huge closets and a basement or attic right at their fingertips, most tiny homeowners don’t feel the need to buy tchotkes or other extra stuff they don’t need. Many people find it freeing when they reduce their possessions to just those items they love and use on a regular basis.
  • Less expensive to acquire and maintain: You can sometimes get a bank loan or manufacturer financing for a tiny home. However, many owners pay for a tiny home out of their own savings (often less than $100,000), which means there’s no ongoing mortgage (although they might need to pay rental fees on or purchase the land). With less money devoted to housing costs, tiny homeowners are able to prioritize other goals like paying for travel and experiences, paying down student debt or working less and spending more time with family.

Looking for a more information about tiny houses in New England?  Check out They have tiny homes for sale, designs/plans and tons more info about tiny living in New England.

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What’s New in Energy-Efficient Homes? Check Out 10 Hot Innovations Here.

Having an energy-efficient home is becoming more and more popular every day. We are constantly finding ways to conserve - here are some new devices to help with that!

The largest trade show in history, the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show, recently took place in Las Vegas. Known as the “Global Stage for Innovation,” the event showcased more than more than 3,600 exhibitors in 2.2 million net square feet of exhibit space.

And while you might think of “consumer electronics” as being items like TVs, iDevices and the like, the show actually features innovations in far-reaching categories that include automotive electronics, personalized healthcare solutions, 3D printers, gaming, unmanned vehicles and much more. But every year there is a major emphasis on our favorite category — energy-efficient advances for the home.

Here are 10 energy-efficient upgrades that caught our eye.

  1. Delta Smart Green House: Built for the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe competition, this cool model features a host of energy-efficient developments for the home of the future. We especially liked the Delta Breez Signature Series, which increases a bathroom’s ventilation by combining a virtually silent and energy-efficient brushless fan motor, LED light, adjustable humidity sensor and built-in motion sensor for automatic operation.
  2. DigitalStrom: This smart-home hub interacts with a Nest thermometer for its cues – for example, if Nest is trying to cool down the house, DigitalStrom will lower automated window shades to block out sunlight.
  3. NuBryte: This smart-lighting device from Lucis Technologies promises to learn your behavior, such as what time you tend to come home each day so it can welcome you with lights – without wasting electricity all day. Sensors can turn on the night light if you wake up to use the bathroom but switch on brighter lights during the day.
  4. Smart Vent: This device lets users remotely close heating and cooling vents in unused rooms, or rooms that tend to get excessively cool or hot to help save on your utility bill.
  5. SolPro: No outlet? No worries. This portable solar charger allows you to charge your smartphone and tablets out in the sun to earn a four-hour charge in 90 minutes.
  6. Technical Consumer Products LED smart home lighting systems: Color your world by combining Connected by TCP and ColorSpree with a smart device, to change the colors of your energy-efficient LED bulbs and sync them to music.
  7. Whirlpool® HybridCare™ Heat Pump Dryer: This smart dryer uses up to 73 percent less energy by regenerating energy during the drying cycle, using a refrigeration system to dry and recycle the same air.
  8. Honeywell wind turbine by Windtronics: Mount this turbine on your roof or a pole to start generating off-grid energy through wind power. Its optimum wind speed is 12 miles per hour to produce 15 percent of the energy your home needs.
  9. Ecobee Smart thermostat: Remotely control this thermostat with your smartphone or computer, and manage your heating or cooling by zone. It also integrates current weather information and offers detailed readouts on your energy use.
  10. The Wi-Fi-enabled Samsung A3050 wall-mounted air conditioner: The app allows you to monitor the temperature of rooms from anywhere, and monitors your unit’s energy usage including telling you when it’s time to clean the filter.

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Shopping for Energy-Efficient Appliances? We Have 5 Questions You Should Ask.

Is one of your New Year’s Resolutions to save money? It might sound counter intuitive but sometimes you have to spend to save – and that is the case with energy-efficient appliances.

Is one of your New Year’s Resolutions to save money? In the first of a two part series on home appliances we look at Energy Star appliances  and the idea of having to spend money to save money.

Homeowners hoping to take advantage of first of the year sales can often find good buys on appliances at home improvement stores.  While we favor buying local over national big box stores-consumers have a myriad of choices. And while you’re looking for the quietest dishwasher or the roomiest fridge, make sure to look for something else—the most energy efficient one.

The #1 thing to look for? The ENERGY STAR® certification.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if every appliance purchased in the U.S. was rated to ENERGY STAR® certifications, we would prevent annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 420,000 vehicles and save 25 billion gallons of water and $580 million in energy costs.

Of course, replacing an appliance in good working condition is never a smart choice. But if it’s time to upgrade your kitchen or laundry room appliances, consider an ENERGY STAR® choice.

Besides looking for the ENERGY STAR® designation, here are five other questions to ask yourself before you purchase an appliance:

  1. What size do I need? Buying a refrigerator or washer with a larger capacity than you need will end up using more energy in the long run. Carefully measure the space you have available, and then make sure you are purchasing the right size for your household needs: For example, a couple needs a smaller-capacity washer than a large family.
  1. How much does it cost to run? Each appliance will have an “Energy Guide” label that allows you to compare the typical annual energy consumption of the model you are considering with others. (Note that the Energy Guide itself doesn’t indicate the energy efficiency of a particular appliance. By law, each appliance must carry one.) Bear in mind that the overall energy cost—not just the purchase price—is an important factor in making a cost-effective choice that will allow you to save money for years to come.
  1.  Is it the most energy-efficient “type”? This is where things can get confusing. The ENERGY STAR® designation is awarded to the best-performing appliance in its class, but it only rates refrigerators that are similar makes. So for example, a top-rated side-by-side refrigerator/freezer with an ice dispenser will still use more energy than one with a top-mount freezer that might not qualify for an ENERGY STAR® designation. The issue is the same with washing machines: A front loader will only be rated against another front loader, not against a top loader.
  1.  Do I qualify for a rebate? Enter your zip code here to find out what programs you might be eligible for. Don’t forget to save your receipt and other paperwork to make redemption hassle-free.
  2.  How will I dispose of my old appliance? Many stores will offer to recycle your old appliance for you—be sure to take them up on the offer! They know how and where to dispose of it in the safest way. Having old appliances around your house is not only unsightly, but can be dangerous, as children may climb into an unused fridge or dryer and get inadvertently trapped. For more information on recycling an appliance, check here.

Predictions call for a cold winter, so when you combine that with rising electricity prices, we end up with the “not-so-perfect storm.” So while you’re cleaning up at the store on an appliance sale, remember that you’ll also be cleaning up your household’s bottom line, not to mention our environment as a whole when you make an energy-efficient choice.


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Energy-Efficient Resolutions for the New Year

This is one set of resolutions you won't have any trouble keeping. Saving money and making your home more energy efficient are likely high on your resolution list. Here are some tips and hints to keep on top of mind.

‘Tis the season for New Year’s resolutions, and while most people focus on resolutions related to work or personal growth, we’d like to suggest you add in a new category this year. While you’re working on improving your own personal world, why not work on improving the world around you?

To that end, we’re offering four energy-saving New Year’s Resolutions that will make the world a healthier place, and save money to boot! (I bet that’s on your list too!)

This year, resolve to:

  1. Get a professional home energy audit. An energy audit is the first step in energy savings.  A professional will visit and assess your home from top-to-bottom, using the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index, which is the industry standard by which a home’s energy efficiency is measured. Often they’ll do a “blower door test” and thermographic imaging to pinpoint exactly where energy is escaping. As part of the assessment, they’ll give you suggestions on which upgrades you should consider for the most benefit.
  2.   Make one energy-efficiency investment a month. Even though energy-efficient upgrades pay for themselves over time, there is typically an upfront cost. That’s why you might want to consider spreading out your investments. You can start small: why not get new power strips to help stop the ‘energy vampires’ in your home? Next, check into energy-efficient lighting, then a programmable thermostat. Every change you make will add up to significant savings over the not-so-long run.
  3.   Use less. This philosophy is so simple, yet so constructive. Using less encompasses using less electricity by turning off the lights when you leave a room; using less water by turning off the tap when you brush your teeth; using less energy by washing your clothes in cold water, rather than hot – the possibilities are endless. Several mobile apps can help you track your energy and water consumption.
  4. Champion energy savings among your family. It’s vital to get the whole family on board, but it will be more effective if you make it fun, rather than nagging them.  Monitor your progress together, and use your savings for a fun family outing. Keep a chart of small changes every family member can make – whether it’s unplugging their chargers at night, or putting on a sweater instead of cranking the heat. Make sure they know they are a crucial part of the success of this endeavor and show them how their changes – big and small – make a difference.

They say that a new behavior becomes a habit after two or three months. Stick with your new energy-saving regime – and your other New Year’s resolutions – and see how far you have come as spring starts to appear!


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Energy Efficiency at Work

Lowering your energy costs around the office can not only help the environment, but also boost your business's bottom line. Here's a look at strategies for improving energy efficiency at work.

It doesn’t matter if your office or workspace is in  luxury building in a big city or the “spare room” at your home.  Lowering energy costs around the office not only helps the environment, it also boosts your business’s bottom line.  Here’s a look at strategies for improving energy efficiency at work.

Buy energy efficient equipment:

When it’s time to replace computer monitors and other equipment, consider purchasing ENERGY STAR models. This could cut energy consumption by up to 75 percent compared to conventional products.

Power down and unplug equipment that’s not in use:

Have employees turn off and unplug their computers, printers or another equipment before they leave the office. Electronic devices that are turned off but still plugged in can still draw a small amount of power, so use an energy strip to reduce this energy drain.

Set electronics to hibernate or sleep mode:

This way, even if workers forget to power down their computers or other equipment or they walk away for a short time, they’ll consume less power. Most printers and copiers also have an energy-saving mode you could use to reduce your energy consumption.

Use energy efficient lighting:

Use natural lighting when you can and consider replacing conventional light bulbs with more compact fluorescent bulbs. Keep windows and skylights clean to maximize natural lighting.

Add motion sensors:

Installing motion sensors in storage rooms, conference rooms, or other areas that are occupied only sporadically will reduce your energy usage instead of relying on employees to flip off the switch themselves when they leave the room.

Get a programmable thermostat:

During weekends and evening hours when your offices are likely not occupied, set the temperature accordingly to reduce heating and cooling costs.

Use cloud computing to reduce local server costs:

Running a local server incurs energy costs around the clock, so some businesses have switched to cloud computing instead. Cloud computing also allows employees to work from home, another source of energy savings.

Allow employees to telecommute:

If your line of business allows for telecommuting, then having fewer people in the office running computers and printers could help reduce your energy use. If telecommuting becomes very successful, you may find that as your head count increases, you won’t need to expand your office space proportionately. Remember: a larger office space often costs more money to heat, cool and light.

Research environmental grants and loans:

The U.S. Small Business Administration offers environmental grants and loans to help small businesses defray the costs of energy efficient upgrades. If you’re planning an upgrade, these options may be worth investigating.


*Photo courtesy of Financial Times, CC / BY 2.0


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5 Smartphone Apps to Make You More Energy Efficient

You may not realize it, but your smartphone is good for more than checking email, making calls, and playing Minecraft—you can use it to help you track your energy efficiency and save on your electricity bills, thanks to a number of innovative mobile apps.

If you’re like most of the American population, you’ve probably got a smartphone in your pocket right now (or maybe you’re even reading this from your mobile screen). You may not realize it, but your smartphone is good for more than checking email, making calls, and playing Minecraft—you can use it to help you track your energy efficiency and save on your electricity bills, thanks to a number of innovative mobile apps.

Here are five apps worth checking out for help with going green around your house:

Green Outlet (iOS, $0.99)

Do you know how much you’re paying for kilowatt/hour of electricity? Just plug in that number, add the appliances and electronics you use in your house, and this app will help you learn how much you’re paying to power all of your electronic devices. It’s a great way to get a forecast of your monthly electricity bill, and learn what you can do to save.

Green Outlet
Green Outlet is just one of many apps to help you monitor your home energy use.

Leafully (iOS, free)

This free mobile app can be connected to collect data from more than a dozen regional utility companies, and provides you with weekly reports to let you know whether your energy usage was higher or lower than usual. It also helps you to measure and visualize your family’s environmental footprint, letting you know how many trees would need to be planted to offset your carbon emissions, and helping you to purchase carbon offsets.

Light Bulb Finder (iOS and Android, free)

Want to replace your conventional light bulbs with energy-saving equivalents, but not sure what to buy? This app helps you track size, wattage, and price for all kinds of energy-saving bulbs. You can even conveniently purchase your new bulbs directly through the app’s shopping interface, rather than trekking out to the hardware store.

Easy Battery Saver (Android, free)

While your smartphone is by no means the most power-hungry gadget in your home (link to Anna’s piece), if you find yourself needing to charge your phone frequently, it’s worth taking efforts to conserve electricity. This simple app can change the settings on your phone to preserve maximum battery life, enabling you to go longer between charges.

JouleBug (iOS and Android, free)

This app turns sustainable living into a game! Get access to tips (called “Pins”) on how to make your everyday actions more environmentally friendly, and gain points for completing each action. You can connect with your friends, and compete to see who’s completed the most Pins to discover who’s the greenest of them all. A “yearly impact” calculator helps you visualize the difference that you’re making in your life—and the world—with these simple actions.


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6 Tips for Renters on Saving Money on Electricity

Do you rent your home and looking to be more energy efficient and save on your power bill? Chances are you don't want to pay for pricing things like windows or insulation. Fortunately renters can still make a host of small changes to help lower their heating and cooling bills.

Most energy-savings tips only apply to homeowners—if you’re only renting, you’re not likely to pay for pricey insulation in a house you don’t own. But even if you can’t make major renovations or upgrade to energy-efficient appliances, renters can still make small changes to help lower their heating and cooling bills.

Windows are a great place to focus, as many apartments have older ones that aren’t well-insulated and allow for heat loss. And when landlords aren’t footing the energy bill, they have little incentive to pay for upgrades.

Here’s a look at several renter-friendly strategies for saving money on your electricity and heating bills.

Use insulated drapes

Insulated drapes are an inexpensive way to keep out cold air, especially in a room with lots of windows. You should be able to purchase simple insulated drapes inexpensively and move them with you to future apartments. Use tension rods if you’re concerned about leaving nail or screw holes above the windows.

Place plastic on the windows

An inexpensive plastic window insulation kit can help you keep out drafts. This video shows how to weatherize windows using plastic. Once windows are sealed, you can’t easily open them again without removing the plastic, so you may want to leave one or two windows in the kitchen uncovered case you overcook something and need to air out the room (remember to close the window later).

Weather strip doors and windows

This video shows you how to install peel-and-stick weather stripping. A few benefits of weather stripping: you can still open and close your windows and they can help keep out bugs and outside noise. You can use weather stripping in combination with plastic insulation or insulated drapes.

Get a space heater

If you need to heat a small space like a bedroom, it’s sometimes more efficient to use a space heater rather than heating the entire apartment or house. Just be sure to position the space heater away from other furniture and turn it off when you leave the room to lower your risk of fire.

Clean heating and cooling vents

When dust and other debris build up in in your heating and cooling system, it forces the system to work harder to heat or cool your home. By changing the HVAC filters (if applicable) and vacuuming the vents periodically, you’ll help the system run as efficiently as it can, even if your landlord isn’t ready to upgrade.

Remove window AC units

If you leave an air conditioning unit in your window year round, you’re likely letting warm air escape or cold air in through gaps between the unit and your window. Remove AC units at the end of the warm season and store them until the following spring. Better yet, use fans and open windows instead of running energy-sucking AC units.


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