GO-GREEN Tips for consumers

As painfully underscored in my own personal experiences, it is not easy to zero-out one's energy-related carbon footprint from home and cars. That said, you don't have to be an expert to make similar progress. This is doable!  Here are some tips for for everyday homeowners and renters. I'll give you some useful links at the end.

Here, in sum, are some principles to go by. More on each below.

Break the process into smaller pieces and patiently chip away

There is no need to do it all at once. Be opportunistic: when an appliance fails, shop intensively for the most energy-efficient unit you can find. These "windows of opportunity" only open briefly, then closing again for many years before the next replacement. Similarly, many remodels offer the opportunity to upgrade insulation and such. 

Some of the most boring measures are the most impactful

Many homes lose 1/4 of their heating energy through air leakage around windows, doors, electrical outlets, etc. A similar amount can be lost through leaky ducts. Replacing lights with LEDs and old appliances with premium-efficiency appliances ones.

Size does matter ... at least when it comes to heating and cooling systems

The sad truth is that contractors have a conflict of interest: larger units generate more profit and lower risk of complaints, and it takes them less time to do "curbside sizing", meaning educated (?) guessing. Oversizing also means more pressure on your electrical panel (a tight constraint in many cases)  In the US, there is a very straight-forward sizing process called "Manual J" that you should insist your contractor do.  If they don't know about it or how to do it, they shouldn't be touching your house. 

Electrification doesn't have to be excruciating

The only way to zero emissions is through the power lines carrying renewably generated electrons (unless you're off-grid altogether). The first obstacle most people run into in existing homes is claims from the electrician that major panel upgrade is required.  There are lots of interesting strategies for eliminating the need for costly panel upgrades. For example, the 120v/15A washer/dryers and heat pump water heaters, "dimming car chargers", prioritized circuit--sharing devices, etc., are cost-effectively helping  people avoid having to do panel upgrades. If electricians tell you need a panel upgrade, ask them to first determine your actual peak demand and to identify what measures you could take to have the changes you want within the capacity of your current panel. With methods shown in this useful document, most homes can actually fully electrify on a standard 100-amp panel.

Choose contractors carefully

As with any home-improvement project, there are too many workers running around who are not qualified, don't communicate well, and aren't really interested in improving homes' performance. Interview carefully. Ask if they have experience doing the types of energy improvements you're seeking. Ask if they can tell you about available incentives in your area. Ask if they have any specialized trainings and certificates relevant to your project needs like those offered by the Building Performance Association or the LEED program. Rinse, repeat.

Home energy efficiency improvements will save you more money than you think (or that your contractor tells you)

You'll probably find that utilities, carpenters, and others are poor at best in giving you a concrete idea of how much energy (and money) you can save. Push them. In addition to simple factors like gallons of gas x $/gallon, there are many more subtle sorts of savings you can capture.

Particularly importantly, look for whether you qualify for a more advantageous utility rates. Most utilities give lower rates for all-electric homes or owners of electric vehicles. These often result in giant savings on your bills!  And, if you are on an increasingly common "time-of-use" rate, simply shifting your use (think clothes-drying or car-charging) to "off-peak" periods can save you 30% to 50% on that energy use.

Electrify your ride to save money and emissions

Don't fall for the culture-war spin that EVs emit more carbon to make and drive than gas cars. Your EV will "pay back" its emissions within the first year or two, and fastest if your home is solar or you live in a cleaner grid.  Much better than Plug-in Hybrids.  And, did you know that preferential electricity rates for EV owners can reduce electricity costs for your entire home?

Solar last, not first

Prioritize saving as much energy as possible (appliances, lighting, heating, etc.) because that will mean (a) a smaller/cheaper solar system if you do indeed go that route or (b) you'll have minimized the amount of clean power (and thus $) you need to buy from the utility. Beware that solar system designers typically size your system to match your current electricity use, which means it will be oversized if you later improve energy efficiency ... or it could be undersized if you later add electricity uses, like electric car charging. Our home did not have solar access, so we are buying a the small amount of power we now need from our utility instead.  Same kinds of panels, just located elsewhere. 

Grab the large and abundant cash incentives available in many areas (no one will tell you about them)

In many parts of the country, utilities are offering very significant financial incentives in the form of rebates. The "professionals" helping your will usually be unaware of them. Sometimes a certified installer has to be used in order for you to qualify, so check into that before signing contracts!  There are significant federal tax incentives, too, which can also amount to many thousands of dollars that you can discount from your annual tax bill. And, starting in 2024, electric vehicle incentives (up to $7500) can be deducted from the car's sales price -- no waiting for tax refunds!

How you live is just as important as how your house is built and what kind of cars you buy

Many lifestyle factors impact energy use as much as "tech" does. Think about the temperatures you keep your house at (while home, while sleeping, while away). Lights on when no one is in room?  Driving when you can bike or walk?  Lots and lots of little ways to save.  

Trust but verify

There are well-refined tests you can have done. A "blower door test" will quantify your home's leakage, and, so cool, once it's running, workers can more easily find and seal those leaks and see in real time how much it helps. Similarly for ducts, find a provider who offers "duct blaster" testing -- again, they can find and seal leaks while on site and actually measure how effective their efforts are. 

But, remember, it's not all about the money

Many energy-efficiency measures have non-monetary benefits. Your house will probably be more comfortable after upgrading cold windows. Your LED lights will last way longer than the old incandescents or fluorescents. Your new, efficient fridge will be quieter than the old one. Your induction cooktop will eliminate dangerous indoor pollutants.  Your EV will be more responsive and feel safer, and "filling up" at home while you sleep beats standing around a stinky gas pump instead of having a latte.

And, since homes and cars are responsible for about one-third of national greenhouse-gas emissions from energy, doing your part does, actually, make a difference ... and that means profit for the planet.

Learn more: Here are some helpful resources