The House

Interior

  • Birch, a fast-growing domestic hardwood, emits few chemicals and is very durable. It is an excellent choice for decorative trim and moulding when sealed with a water-based dispersion urethane, a low-odour finish.
  • Topping existing countertops with a granite veneer instead of disposing it in the landfill. 
  • Opt for a non-toxic-VOC paint. Semi-gloss paint is washable, durable and enhances a room’s brightness. 
  • Look to linoleum instead of vinyl flooring. 
  • Plentiful bamboo has the look and durability of hardwood for cupboard or floors.

Exterior

  • Add a layer of 1 to 2 inch rigid insulation, before the siding goes on can yield substantial energy savings.

Structure

  • If you are installing windows, choose super-efficient triple-paned, low-E argon gas filled ones. These are more expensive but they could eliminate the need for a warm-air register in front of each window. The lower heating load might mean that the size of the furnace could be downgraded, thus, saving more money. Savings also can be realized over the life of a house. Buying more durable materials saves on replacements costs in the long run. And let’s not forget that energy-efficient design translates into lower heating and cooling costs every day.
  • For new shingles, choose a lighter shade as your roof won’t heat up as much.
Air Leaks

Test your home for air tightness. On a windy day, carefully hold a lit incense stick or a smoke pen next to your windows, doors, electrical boxes, plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, attic hatches, and other places where air may leak. If the smoke stream travels horizontally, you have located an air leak that may need caulking, sealing, or weather-stripping.

  • Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows that leak air.
  • Caulk and seal air leaks where plumbing, ducting, or electrical wiring comes through walls, floors, ceilings, and soffits over cabinets.
  • Install foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on walls.
  • Cover single-pane windows with storm windows or replace them with more efficient double-pane low-emissivity windows.
  • Use foam sealant on larger gaps around windows, baseboards, and other places where air may leak out.
  • Cover your kitchen exhaust fan to stop air leaks when not in use.
  • Check your dryer vent to be sure it is not blocked. This will save energy and may prevent a fire.
  • Replace door bottoms and thresholds with ones that have pliable sealing gaskets.
  • Keep the fireplace flue damper tightly closed when not in use. Fireplace flues are made from metal, and over time repeated heating and cooling can cause the metal to warp or break, creating a channel for air loss. To seal your flue when not in use, consider an inflatable chimney balloon. Inflatable chimney balloons fit beneath your fireplace flue when not in use, are made from durable plastic, and can be removed easily and reused hundreds of times. If you forget to remove the balloon before make a fire, the balloon will automatically deflate within seconds of coming into contact with heat.
Insulation

Insulation is made from a variety of materials, and it usually comes in four types: rolls and batts, loose-fill, rigid foam, and foam-in-place.

  • Rolls and batts or blankets are flexible products made from mineral fibers, such as fiberglass and rock wool. They are available in widths suited to standard spacing of wall studs and attic or floor joists.
  • Loose-fill insulation is usually made of fiberglass, rock wool, or cellulose in the form of loose fibers or fiber pellets. It should be blown into spaces using special pneumatic equipment. The blown-in material conforms readily to odd-sized building cavities and attics with wires, ducts, and pipes, making it well suited for places where it is difficult to effectively install other types of insulation.
  • Rigid foam insulation is typically more expensive than rolls and batts or loose-fill insulation, but it is very effective in exterior wall sheathing, interior sheathing for basement walls, and special applications such as attic hatches. Foam insulation R-values range from R-4 to R-6.5 per inch of thickness, which is up to 2 times greater than most other insulating materials of the same thickness.
  • Spray Foam insulation can be blown into walls, on attic surfaces, or under floors to insulate and reduce air leakage. You can use the small pressurized cans of spray foam to reduce air leakage in holes and cracks such as window and door frames, and electrical and plumbing penetrations. There are two types of spray foam insulation: closed-cell and open-cell. Both are typically made with polyurethane. With closed-cell foam, the high-density cells are closed and filled with a gas that helps the foam expand to fill the spaces around it. Open-cell foam cells are not as dense and are filled with air, which gives the insulation a spongy texture. The type of insulation you should choose depends on how you will use it and on your budget. While closed-cell foam has a greater R-value and provides stronger resistance against moisture and air leakage, the material is also much denser and is more expensive to install. Open-cell foam is lighter and less expensive but should not be used below ground level where it could absorb water.

Insulation Tips

  • Consider factors such as your climate, home design, and budget when selecting insulation for your home.
  • Use higher R-value insulation, such as spray foam, on exterior walls and in cathedral ceilings to get more insulation with less thickness.
  • Install attic air barriers such as wind baffles along the entire attic eave to help ensure proper airflow from the soffit to the attic. Ventilation helps with moisture control and reducing summer cooling bills, but don’t ventilate your attic if you have insulation on the underside of the roof.
  • Be careful how close you place insulation - unless it is insulation contact rated - to avoid a fire hazard.
  • One of the most cost-effective ways to make your home more comfortable year-round is to add insulation to your attic, including the attic trap or access door, which is relatively easy.

Insulate your home when:

  • You have an older home and haven’t added insulation. Homes built before 1950 use about 60% more energy per square foot than those built in 2000 or later.
  • You are uncomfortably cold in the winter or hot in the summer - adding insulation creates a more uniform temperature and increases comfort.
  • You build a new home or addition or install new siding or roofing.
  • You pay high energy bills.
  • You are bothered by noise from outside – insulation muffles sound.
Windows

Windows can be one of your home’s most attractive features. Windows provide views, day lighting, ventilation, and heat from the sun in the winter. Unfortunately, they can also account for 10-25% of your heating bill by letting heat out.

If your home has single-pane windows, consider replacing them with double-pane windows with high-performance glass - low-e or spectrally selective coatings.

If you decide not to replace your windows, consider following these tips to improve their performance.

Cold Weather Window Tips

  • Use a heavy-duty, clear plastic sheet on a frame or tape clear plastic film to the inside of your window frames to reduce drafts.
  • Close your curtains and shades at night to protect against cold drafts; open them during the day to let in warming sunlight.

Warm Weather Window Tips

  • Install white window shades, drapes, or blinds to reflect heat away from the house.
  • Close curtains on south and west facing windows during the day.
  • Install awnings on south and west facing windows.
  • Apply sun-control or other reflective films on south-facing windows to reduce solar heat gain.

By installing high-performance windows it will improve your home’s energy performance. While it may take many years for new windows to pay off in energy savings, the benefits of added comfort, improved aesthetics, and functionality can offset the cost.

Shopping Tips for Windows

  • Look for the ENERGY STAR® label.
  • Choose high-performance windows that have at least two panes of glass and a low-e coating.
  • Choose a low U-factor for better insulation in colder climates; the U-factor is the rate at which a window, door, or skylight conducts non-solar heat flow.
  • Look for a low solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) - this is a measure of solar radiation admitted through a window, door, or skylight. Low SHGCs reduce heat gain in warm climates.
  • Select windows with both low U-factors and low SHGCs to maximize energy savings in temperate climates with both cold and hot seasons.