I love old houses.
Nearly everything, from tall ceilings to gorgeous woodwork, to the love and life that has happened in the spaces between old walls makes me feel like I am part of a continuing timeline that started long before me and will end long after I’m gone.
Old houses are a mixed blessing, though. Drafty windows, inefficient insulation, and so many other factors make conscious living to reduce energy dependence exceedingly difficult. Often, we are torn between stepping into the beautiful legacy that old houses bring, and making mindful choices about energy consumption. While we often want to lower our bills and be more kind to the environment, old houses can come with so many barriers to making this happen.
From quick fixes to lifestyle changes, here are seven suggestions that can align your lifestyle and the functionality of a home that has been around since long before your parents were born.
1. Replace your energy wants with energy needs. This is the most important change you can make. It is much simpler to use less energy than it is to replace energy with a cheaper or more environmentally friendly source. Ask yourself if you really need television sets, computers, large and small appliances and other gadgets that, on an everyday basis, drive up your energy costs. Unplugging appliances when they aren’t in use and turning off lights when you leave a room are obvious fixes, but you can also line-dry clothing, take shorter showers, and make other adjustments to your habits that add up to big savings.
2. Replace light bulbs. Changing out old incandescent light bulbs for CFL or LED bulbs will save more money and use less energy than you may imagine. Sure, you may pay a little more up front, but the overall savings will more than make up for the initial cost. To give you an example of just how much you can save, check out this calculator by Cree, an LED bulb manufacturer (there are other manufacturers with calculators, as well). Input your state and, on the next page, the number of each type of light bulb you can replace in your home (count them all!) and you’ll see your potential savings.You can save even more by replacing your switches with motion sensors that will turn lights off when you leave the room.
3. Eliminate drippy water sources. From runny faucets to toilets and showers that waste gallon upon gallon of water, there are plenty of efficient replacements that will conserve water and cost less. According to the EPA, toilets are the source of, on average, 30 percent of a home’s annual water consumption. Using a WaterSense toilet, for example, can save nearly 13,000 gallons of water per year. That’s a lot of water, and that’s a lot of savings.
4. Swap out your windows and doors. Drafts create significantly higher heating and cooling bills than you need to pay, but keeping new windows in character with the original ones can be tricky. It’s not impossible, though—here’s a guide. Replacing single pane windows with EnergyStar-qualified windows can result in significant savings, but even the best windows can’t do as good of a job as better planning, according to Realtor Green, Ecobroker, and solar expert Thomas Bruns. If possible, reconfigure the windows of your house or choose a home with windows primarily on the south side so that the sun’s natural arc across the sky passively heats your home in the wintertime. Add awnings and screen shades to windows to keep the sun from adding to your cooling costs during the summer.
5. Shore up hidden drafts. Adding insulation and caulking can reduce costs, too. According to the EPA, common places where drafts tend to hide are:
>> Between foundation and rim joists
>> Crawl spaces
>> Around the attic hatch
>> Between the chimney and drywall
>> Chimney flue
>> Electrical and gas service entrances
>> Cable TV and phone line service entrances
>> Window AC units
>> Mail chutes
>> Electric outlets
>> Outdoor water faucet entrances
>> Where dryer vents pass through walls
>> Under the garage door
>> Around door and window frames
>> Cracks in bricks, siding, stucco and the foundation
>> Mudrooms or breezeways adjacent to garages
6. Work it out in the attic. Many older houses are seriously lacking in insulation, and adding either blanket insulation or blown-in insulation to the attic and walls could save you hundreds of dollars each year. Actual savings will depend on the type of insulation and how much you add. If you live in an historic house, everything from corn cobs to trash to bricks may be inside your walls. Fortunately, today there are much more effective insulation options. If installed properly, the EPA says, the addition of insulation can reduce energy costs by as much as 50 percent in some cases, and make your house more comfortable. You may be surprised, once you are up in the attic, to find gaps and holes that are letting outside air in and creating drafts. If you see dirty insulation, air is getting through, and that air flow is costing you money.
7. Make systemic changes to your energy consumption. If you have a bigger budget, there is quite a bit you can do to see long-term savings. Replacing an old furnace with a new, more efficient one; replacing appliances with EnergyStar-rated versions; adding solar panels; installing a geothermal system; installing on-demand hot water heaters; zoning your HVAC system; and replacing poorly insulated plaster walls with well-insulated ones can be costly, but the long-term paybacks and kindness to the environment often make these changes worthwhile. Depending upon the state you live in, you may even qualify for rebates and tax credits for making some of these changes.
Old homes do pose challenges to energy efficiency, but you can live a green lifestyle and still live in harmony in a house that is part of history. With a few tweaks, some worthwhile investments, and some changes to your own lifestyle, old homes can be renewed to provide eco-friendly living for many more years to come.
Author: Amanda Christmann
Editor: Catherine Monkman