Sprucing up your house and yard this time of year may involve cleaning out closets, planting flowers and scrubbing cobwebs off the barbecue. But it can also be a prime time to undertake energy-efficient projects that ready your home for warmer temperatures and spring rains.
Even if purchase and labor costs seem high on the front end, in many cases, you can get a good payback over time. You can also shave expenses with rebates and tax credit incentives, too.
Seattle’s biggest utilities—Puget Sound Energy and Seattle City Light—offer many, but check the guidelines before you buy. PSE, for instance, provides a rebate of 50 percent of the cost of attic insulation with an R-19 or R-49 value, up to $200. City Light also offers energy audits, where professionals inspect your home to identify opportunities for efficiency improvements, for $95 to customers in single-family houses.
Even if you’re not planning to be in your current home for the long term, consider that many buyers ask to check heating and cooling bills these days. Here are six energy-saving home improvement projects you might consider this spring:
Heating is the largest energy consumer in the typical Seattle home, according to City Light. So, one of the quickest projects you can take on is minimizing heat loss by caulking, sealing and weather-stripping all seams, cracks and openings to the outdoors. Energy.gov recommends focusing on windows, doors and areas where plumbing, electrical wiring or ducting come into your home.
If they’re single-pane windows (or even old aluminum double-pane models) that let in cold air this past winter, they’ll also allow in heat come summer. City Light says state-of-the-art, high-performance windows can significantly increase comfort and can also reduce noise levels. The downside, of course, is cost. A typical 3-by-3-foot double-hung window with installation may run $800 to $1,000, according to contractor Ron Rice, who runs Your House Matters in Lynwood. But the retained value on the project at resale, according to Remodeling magazine’s latest “Cost vs. Value” report for the Pacific region, is significant— 82.5 percent for vinyl windows and 88.6 percent for wood in a mid-price range.
Start where rising heat collects—in the attic. According to the WSU Extension Energy Program, there should be at least a foot of insulation in the attic, and about six inches to a foot in a crawlspace for area homes. PSE offers instant rebates for insulation to eligible customers, and even coordinates contractor referrals.
City Light says 40 percent of the electricity consumed in residential homes in its service area goes to water heating. Know that the utility offers rebates for heat pump water heaters, if you’re considering a new water heater. (The Department of Energy recommends shopping for a new one if yours is seven or more years old.) Otherwise, your options here are to use less hot water (installing low-flow faucets and shower heads and fixing leaky fixtures may help); turn down the thermostat on your water heater (the Energy Department recommends a setting of 120 degrees); and insulate your water heater and the surrounding pipes to prevent heat loss.
Replace those that fail with Energy Star models, which are awarded for significant energy savings that don’t sacrifice performance. Consider the following to help you prioritize: City Light reports that residential homes in its service area allocate 16 percent of their energy use to refrigeration, 12 percent to cooking and 10 percent to washing and drying. Try switching those appliances out first.
Although LEDs are pricey (the technology is in its early stages), they are said to last much longer than incandescent bulbs, and they use less energy: an Energy Start-qualified LED offers 75 to 80 percent energy savings over traditional incandescents. Lighting makes up about 10 percent of home energy costs, says City Light, which offers a rebate of up to $10 on qualified LED bulbs.
If the warmer weather has you thinking about home improvement, consider prioritizing your efforts to those that can help curb energy costs. It can help you make the most of your home’s energy savings with the least impact on your budget this spring.