How do you choose from among the many things you can do to improve the energy efficiency of your home? How do you decide which upgrades are most cost-effective? There are probably several ways to answer the question, “What are the five most important energy-efficient upgrades for my home?”
The five most important energy-efficient home upgrades to make, either because they determine how effective other upgrades can be or because they will earn the biggest rebates, tax credits, or other incentives, are:
  1. Seal the Building Envelope: Identify and seal all openings of any size that allow air to move from inside the house to the outside or from the outside to the inside. This includes any cracks in the siding or masonry, seams around doors and windows, any spaces or openings where pipes, vents or power lines enter the house, hatches or stairways into the attic, roof soffits, crawl spaces, and outdoor faucets. Then seal all duct work and major ducts opening into the living area of the home for heat, ventilation, etc. Finally upgrade all insulation to current standards. This is the most important first step in making your home more energy efficient. Until you stop air leaks, you will not be able to achieve the energy efficiencies promised by other improvements. If you want to do this yourself, you will probably want to review the DIY Guide to Sealing and Insulating with ENERGY STAR.
  1. Upgrade your windows and doors. Old and inefficient windows can account for as much as 30% of the total heat loss and up to 75% of the heat gain in your home. Whether you add storm windows over your existing windows or you choose to invest in highly efficient windows and doors, 30% of your cost to bring your windows and doors up to current specifications of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) can be claimed in a federal tax credit, up to an annual maximum of $1,500. Virtually all window manufacturers have qualifying windows available at this time. Your new windows will need to meet a U factor of ≤0.30 and SHGC of ≤ 0.30. Exterior doors must also meet IECC specifications. Well insulated windows and doors, and windows with UV reflective coatings will significantly reduce the demand on your heating and cooling system.
  1. The best roof you can afford. A surprising amount of heat exchange occurs through the roof of your home. Some roofing materials absorb more of the sun’s heat than others. Installing a new energy-efficient roof will qualify for a tax credit of 30% of the cost of the roof, up to a total maximum of $1,500 per year. Regardless of the roofing material you choose, keep in mind that light colors reflect more sun than dark colors. They also tend to last longer. Qualifying roofing materials include some tile, spray-on thermal reflective membrane (for flat roofs), some insulating asphalt roofing shingles, and many metal roofing materials, some of which contain foam insulation. Ask your roofing contractor about materials that qualify for the tax credit, or review the product list at
  1. Upgrade your water heating system. Keep in mind that water heating accounts for 16% to 28% of your total heating and cooling bill. Installing an efficient water heater or localized instant water heaters, will save money and make your home more energy efficient.
  1. Upgrade your heating and cooling system. Whether you act immediately to take advantage of the tax credits or you decide to wait until you actually need to replace your system, energy efficienct and renewable energy systems are a good investment in the future. When shopping, ask about the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating of each system. And when choosing the best system for your location, keep in mind that there is no cap in the amount of the tax credit you can claim for systems that use renewable energy (wind, solar, geo-thermal). All of these renewable energy systems will cost between $25,000 and $45,000. But be sure to calculate all of the rebates, tax credits and other incentives available from the Federal government, state and local government, and your utility company. Special low-interest loans are also available to finance the purchase and installation of these systems.
These five energy-efficient upgrades for your home will move you well along the path to an energy efficient home. You will be able to enjoy the benefits of energy efficiency in level of comfort, reduced energy costs each month, and the knowledge that you are reducing the size of your carbon footprint.