Yes, of course an efficient home is worth more than the same, less “green” house.
The big question is which home efficiency and comfort measures are smartest? We did say efficiency and comfort because they go hand in hand. For example, leaky duct work wastes lots of energy compromises comfort. Many issues such as “it is always cold in that room” result from poorly installed, disconnected or leaky duct work. The fix is inexpensive and the improvements can be dramatic.
So, how does a homeowner know where to start? What improvements will provide the biggest bang for the buck? Of course the answer varies depending on the home. Nonetheless, there is a definite hierarchy of opportunity.
Since heating represents the single biggest energy (and comfort) factor in most homes it is a smart place to start.
• First – make sure the furnace is properly maintained. Failure to keep air filters correctly fitted and clean will reduce efficiency and result in health and safety concerns.
• Second – ensure duct work is tight and sized correctly. This includes ensuring adequate return air ducting (really important). Pressure test performed by a qualified heating contractor should cost less than $200.
• Third – replace older furnaces. Typical furnace life is 10 – 15 years and most existing furnaces are less than 80% efficient. Modern furnaces are 95%+ efficient and include features such as variable air flow for improved comfort and efficiency. New furnace costs range from $2,500 to $4,500 depending on size and features.
• Fourth – use a programmable thermostat – typically provided as part of new furnace installation. Be careful attempting this yourself. Thermostats from big box retailers can be inexpensive, of poor quality and tricky to install properly.
• Fifth – consider a heat pump. They are much more efficient that furnaces only and provide air conditioned comfort in summer.
• Sixth – insulation. Seattle area homes built before 1990 did not require modern level of insulation and should be reinsulated. Even homes built after 1990 can improve efficiency by upgrading.
Water heaters also represent opportunity. They have become more efficient over time. Water heaters have a life of 10 – 12 years and should be replaced prior to failure. Many homeowners are opting for “tankless” which can cost less to operate since they don’t waste energy keeping water hot when not in use.
While window replacement can save energy the payback is frequently too long for many homeowners.
Other more sophisticated measures such as solar and geothermal heat pumps are exciting for some homeowners but do have longer paybacks.
Carefully selected home efficiency improvements can pay off – now and when you sell.