How to improve the energy efficiency of your home during a remodel

Let’s face it — nobody likes having a high electricity bill at the end of the month. Fortunately for homeowners who are already planning to remodel, it often makes a lot of sense to improve the energy efficiency of your home during the renovation process.

At Lamont Bros., our designers and remodeling experts have worked with hundreds of homeowners across the Portland Metro Area to make home improvements. While most homeowners remodel to improve their homes’ comfort and value, many also consider energy efficiency to be another important part of the process. The challenge is knowing which changes to the home will have the greatest impact on its energy efficiency, and at what cost. 

In this article, you can learn about some of the ways you can improve your energy efficiency during a home remodel. Once you’re finished reading, you’ll have a better idea of what specific changes could help bring your electricity bill down. Here’s what you can expect to learn about:

Why is energy efficiency important during a remodel?

Before we discuss how to improve the energy efficiency of your home, let’s first identify why you should care about it in the first place. Energy efficiency has wide-reaching effects on your home and, by extension, your life. Here are a few reasons to consider improving yours:

Lower Utility Bills

Energy efficiency is simply a measure of how much energy is required for your home to operate. The less power required to sustain your home, the more energy efficient it is. 

As a result, the most immediate impact of your home’s energy efficiency is on your energy bill. The harder your home has to work at maintaining its internal temperature, the more energy it will consume. Thus, by improving your home’s energy efficiency, you can reduce its energy consumption and slash your utility bills. 

Less Environmental Impact

Another good reason to improve your home’s energy efficiency is to reduce your environmental impact. By using less electricity to heat, cool, and use appliances in your home, you reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released by the power plants that produce your electricity. 

Efficiency improvements can even help the environmental health of your own community. For example, many mechanical systems in older homes burn heavily pollutant forms of fuel to operate, such as furnaces that run on coal or heating oil. By moving away from these types of appliances and towards more efficient, clean energy sources, you can help contribute to cleaner air quality where you live. 

Improving energy efficiency is one way Portland homeowners can help keep their community healthy.

Longer-lasting home

When you improve your energy efficiency, you also add years to the life of your home. Oftentimes, a home’s energy efficiency can be improved by creating a stronger barrier between the outside and inside of the home. 

Homes deteriorate over time. However, when you seal the inside home off from the elements, it’s less susceptible to weathering, rot, and mold. Protecting against the elements can greatly reduce the rate at which your home deteriorates over time. 

Also, when your home’s systems don’t have to work as hard to maintain comfortable conditions, they don’t wear out as quickly. For example, a more efficient air conditioning system won’t have to work as hard to cool the home, meaning it will experience less wear and tear over time.

What factors affect your home’s energy efficiency

For the average American home, climate control makes up the largest energy expenditure by far. This means that heating and cooling your home has a drastic impact on your overall power consumption.

Mechanical Systems

Your home’s mechanical systems are the units that control the air and water temperature in your home. This can include a furnace, air conditioner, heat pump, and water heater. 

These systems are important to consider when you want to improve the energy efficiency of your home. The energy they consume goes towards changing the temperature of your home. Therefore, an energy-efficient HVAC system is one that is able to keep your home at the desired temperature while using as little power as possible.

Throughout the 20th century, many furnaces ran on coal, wood, or oil. However, electricity and natural gas are the two most popular energy sources for furnaces today. Older homes with outdated furnaces may have low efficiency because of their age.

A coal furnace from the 20th century. Source

Water heater tanks also consume a lot of power with limited efficiency because they keep the water warm whether or not it is in use. So a tank of hot water could sit for hours, requiring constant energy to keep it warm, without anyone using it. 

Building envelope

While your HVAC systems work to adjust your home’s internal temperature, your building envelope works to maintain it. The building envelope consists of all the exterior components of the home that insulate it from the outside elements. 

The more weatherproof, water-resistant, and airtight your building envelope is, the better it will be able to act as a barrier. An inefficient building envelope allows heat to travel easily between outside and inside, so warm air gets in during the summer and goes out during the winter. 

When the building envelope is more efficient, the HVAC system doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain the internal temperature because the envelope helps keep the temperature consistent. 

How to improve your home’s energy efficiency

Here are a few common ways homeowners make the most of their remodel process by improving their home’s energy efficiency.

Upgrade your weather-resistant barrier

Any time a remodel makes alterations to the exterior of your home, it’s often a good idea to upgrade your weather-resistant barrier (WRB). This membrane goes around the exterior sheathing of your home and shields it from water, wind, and debris. 

It’s common to upgrade the WRB during a home addition or a project that involves replacing the home’s siding. Though not always necessary, it’s good to assess whether or not your WRB is in need of repair while the siding is off.  A high-quality WRB can protect your home for up to 50 years if installed properly.

Add new insulation

On the flip side, whenever the interior walls of your home are open, it’s a great opportunity to replace the insulation. Depending on the age of your home and the type of insulation you currently have, replacing your insulation could greatly reduce the amount of heat transfer between the interior and exterior of your home.

In addition to traditional insulation materials like fiberglass and spray foam, there are a handful of more natural, renewable options, as well. Cellulose, aerogel, and sheep wool are some of the most popular natural insulation options.

Switch to energy-efficient doors and windows

Doors and windows are the leading culprits of heat transfer in your home’s building envelope. This is because they don’t have the same thickness or insulation as the walls, so there’s more opportunity for heat to move freely between the outside and inside.

Fortunately, modern window and door technologies make it easier to balance allowing natural light without risking energy efficiency. For example, windows with two panes of glass can boost energy efficiency by 25%. Triple-pane windows are closer to 50%, but they also cost a lot more. Some builders argue that the cost of triple-pane windows does not make up for the amount of energy you save. In most cases, double-pane windows are efficient enough. 

In addition, some types of doors, including fiberglass and metal doors, are filled with a foam insulation layer to help prevent heat transfer.

Install an electric heat pump

Though initially expensive, electric heat pumps are a fantastic investment. Heat pumps use thermal transfer mechanics that can move heat both to and from the interior of the home. This means that a heat pump can heat and cool a home.

Using a heat pump consolidates your heating and air conditioning systems into one unit. Additionally, a good heat pump can control a home’s temperature with up to 5 times the efficiency of a conventional furnace or air conditioner. 

A heat pump can heat or cool a home. Source

Upgrade to a tankless water heater

With a traditional water heater tank, the unit heats several dozen gallons of water and then maintains it at that temperature until use. During this process, there’s a lot of wasted energy that goes into keeping the water heated. 

A tankless water heater, also known as an instant water heater, uses a heating element to heat the water on demand as necessary, eliminating the need to consume energy to keep the water hot when it isn’t being used. 

How to identify energy efficiency upgrades for your remodel

While there are several different ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency, the characteristics of your remodel will determine which improvements make the most sense. Fortunately, there are resources available to help you identify the best options for you. 

Perform an energy audit

If you want to know which areas of your home are the least energy efficient, an energy audit might be a good place to start. When you do an energy audit, a professional energy auditor will assess your entire home to determine the most cost-effective way to improve your home’s energy efficiency. 

Make sure your current systems can handle the scope of the remodel

Another important factor to consider is whether or not the current systems you have can efficiently manage the entire home post-remodel. This is most often a concern with additions. By adding space to the home, your heating and cooling systems will have to work harder. Some systems are not designed to handle homes above a certain size, so you’ll want to make sure that the scope of the remodel doesn’t exceed the scope of your HVAC system.

Work with a professional designer

When you hire a professional designer to help you with your remodel, you benefit from having the expertise of someone who understands how to incorporate energy-efficient features into a design that meets your budget, style, and expectations. 

Rather than be the one who is responsible for figuring out the solutions, you can take the challenges you’re facing in your home to your designer, who can use their expertise to help you identify practical, budget-friendly solutions. 

Ready to start exploring your remodel options?

Now that you understand some of the ways you can improve your energy efficiency during a home remodel, keep up your research. To learn more about home remodeling, check out our portfolio of full home remodels, where you can find photos and inspiration for your upcoming remodel!

Want to talk to a professional remodel designer about your project? If so, click the link below to connect with a member of our design team. We’ll help guide you through the process of your home remodel so you don’t have to do it alone.