How To Make Your Home More Energy-Efficient, Whether You Own Or Rent
While it requires some upfront cost, making your home more energy-efficient can pay dividends for your health, the environment, and your wallet down the line. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the average household can earn $723 to $1,182 a year by doing things like sealing air leaks and weatherstripping windows. And even if you're a renter who can't make these large structural fixes, there are still plenty of ways to make sure you're not wasting energy at home, according to Asa Foss, a residential director at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Since Foss started working at USGBC—the nonprofit behind the LEED certification program—in 2009, he's seen building codes, appliances, and fixtures evolve to become more energy-efficient than ever, making it a great time to be an eco-minded home dweller. Here are a few changes to make at home that he says will get you some major energy savings, whether you're a buyer or a renter:
How to make your home more energy-efficient if you rent:
1. Get clean energy.
You might be scratching your head thinking this belongs in the "owner" section, but no! It turns out, renters can easily sign up to run their houses and apartments on clean power. As long as you pay your utility directly (versus having a building that pays for you), you should be eligible to sign up, depending on where you live. "In most markets, especially on the coasts, you can buy [clean energy] through third parties and pay on your normal utility bill," says Foss. "It may increase your rates by 5 to 10% based on how clean you want your electricity source—but it's easy. You spend a few minutes, and you're done."
This relatively low lift can majorly reduce your home's carbon footprint and support renewables as a whole. "It sends a message to the market that there is a demand for clean power, which is really important right now. Now is a really good time to do this," reiterates Foss.
2. Change out your light bulbs to LEDs.
It's actually pretty incredible how much of a difference one little bulb can make. Energy-efficient light bulbs can use up to 80% less electricity than traditional incandescent ones, and they'll last you up to 25 times longer. Not bad for something that takes two seconds to screw in. Be sure to look for bulbs that don the Energy Star stamp of approval. That way, you'll know that their life span, quality, and energy savings have been verified.
3. Swap out your faucets.
"For faucets, you can put on a lower flow faucet aerator," recommends Foss. "You basically twist off the cap of the faucet and then put in a new aerator that has less flow. That uses not just less water but less hot water, and it takes a tremendous amount of energy to make water hot." Just as Energy Star does for lighting and appliances, WaterSense1 verifies faucets that are actually low-flow, so look out for that label when you're shopping.
How to make your home more efficient if you own:
1. Make sure your home isn't leaking energy.
If you're ready and able to make more sweeping changes to your home, making sure your insulation is up to snuff is the first place to start. Hire a professional to come in and seal any cracks as well as insulate your walls—especially if you have an attic. (Foss says it's "very rare" that a home will have a properly insulated attic unless it's a new build that followed codes closely.) "Not only is that the best way to reduce your heating and cooling cost, it also makes your home more comfortable because it keeps that conditioned air in your space, and it keeps your indoor air cleaner because you're keeping all these contaminants out of your home," Foss explains.
2. Swap out these appliances first.
Unsurprisingly, large appliances tend to gobble up a fair amount of energy at home—but some use more than others. Foss says that dishwashers don't tend to be huge energy sucks, while laundry washing machines do. If you're in the market for a new one, he recommends looking out for the Energy Star certification (these LG and Samsung models both won top marks from Energy Star this year) and prioritizing a strong spin cycle that can wick a good amount of moisture out of clothes so they won't require as much energy from the dryer afterward.
Refrigerators are also pretty energy-intensive, though they've gotten much more efficient over the last decade or so. Again, you'll want to look out for the Energy Star certification as well as dig into a fridge's Energy Guide label. Those are those bright yellow signs that you'll find on appliances in stores, and you can also download them online (just look for the available PDFs in the description of the product, and it should be there).
The Energy Guide label tells you an appliance's energy use and cost per year. For example, this swanky new LG fridge that has glass doors for easy food viewing and makes giant ice cubes for professional-looking drinks costs $86 a year to run. This more basic model costs $60. So the price difference may not be super dramatic, but it's another thing to reference to help you make your decision.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.