One of the biggest benefits of buying a newly built home is that today, more than ever, homebuilders are adopting green building techniques to make homes more energy efficient and better for the environment.
In fact, there are now numerous agencies and programs put into place to help monitor and rate builders and products to help first-time homebuyers like you make at-home energy conservation possible.
To name a few: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program for home products and appliances; the LEED certification for building construction; and the HERS Index, the industry’s standard by which a home’s energy efficiency standards are measured.
“Simply put, some of the best features that help homeowners meet energy standards are Energy Star-certified HVAC systems and appliances, energy-efficient lighting, effective insulation, high-performance windows and water-saving measures,” says Kristi Mailloux, CMO at GoodCents and AM Conservation Group, two organizations focused on boosting at-home energy conservation.
Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or an experienced homeowner, it’s worth learning more about features like these and how to practice appropriate maintenance routines to keep them and your green home running efficiently for years to come.
Here are a few tips you may want to adopt to make sure the green in your home doesn’t fade:
Green Home Maintenance Tips
Keep up with your HVAC system.
A new home’s HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system is one of the top items touted as “energy-efficient.” But to keep it running that way will take some manual maintenance.
“Homeowners should have regularly scheduled HVAC tune-ups with a local contractor to make sure their unit is performing at top capacity,” says Mailloux. “Some utilities will even provide you a rebate for having this service done.”
While you’re at it, it’s also important to clean or replace your air filter regularly for best performance and better air quality. Some experts suggest monthly, while others suggest biannually depending on the filter and system.
“Consider having your HVAC system serviced before each heating/cooling season in order to avoid surprise spikes in your energy bills,” adds Hunter Albright, senior vice president for new Markets at Tendril, the globe’s largest independent energy services company.
Regularly check for air leaks.
As the seasons change and temperatures go from high to low, certain aspects of your home’s structure may shift accordingly, sometimes allowing the exchange of indoor-outdoor air.
“As joints and seals expand and contract with warming and cooling weather, it’s smart to say on top of this,” says John Oppermann, founder of GreenRealEstateNYC.com and executive director of the Earth Day Initiative. “Making a seasonal habit of sealing any air leaks in windows and doors can save money and energy.”
Practice green landscaping.
There are even ways you can add to the energy savings through maintaining a proper landscape. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy notes that the right landscape plan can save up to 15 percent to 50 percent of the energy use on air conditioning alone.
Cassy Aoyagi, LEED-certified president of Los Angeles-based FormLA Landscaping, offers the following landscaping tips for starters:
• Plant deciduous trees to the south/west, where they can shade your home in summer while letting heat through in winter.
• Avoid gravelscaping. What you save in water, you will lose in higher energy costs and the potential loss of trees.
• Opt for native lawn grasses over synthetic lawns, which also amplify heat.
• Minimize hardscapes (paved areas and other hard materials) in favor of planted spaces.
• Incorporate bushy plants, which, like trees, create shade and absorb heat to reduce heat islands.
Another simple way to save energy on landscaping is by installing an efficient irrigation system. With efficient hose nozzles and moisture meters, Mailloux says, these can promote healthier lawns and eliminate loss from improper watering,
Adopt smart home technology.
There are many great and innovative gadgets that allow for energy efficiency in the home, sometimes automatically.
“Using smart devices to automate the basics can be a great way to increase energy efficiency. Devices such as smart thermostats or smart lightbulbs learn your behavior and automate simple, everyday efficiency tasks like turning off unused lights and adjusting your thermostat while you’re away,” says Albright.
Request regular energy reports.
Finally, after putting into place all your new energy conservation techniques, request an energy report or audit online or through your local utilities service.
“You can check your electric utility’s website to see if they have these services available for free or for a nominal fee,” says Mailloux, adding that each audit is personalized for each household based on actual energy use.
By entering information about recent power bills, your home and family, these reports can help you figure out things like which appliances are using the most energy, which techniques you adopted are working and can provide behavioral and product recommendations on how to save money.
Checking your regular reports and bills can also help you identify spikes in usage, which could indicate an issue with your system or a leak.
Additional At-Home Green Habits
There are also plenty of small things you can do daily to create big energy savings. Try these on for size:
• Unplug energy-intensive appliances when they are not in use. These include TVs, computers, printers, video game consoles, microwave ovens and cell phone chargers. A power strip with an on/off switch is another great solution — switch it to the off position when the appliances are not in use.
• If you don’t plan on using an automated energy-efficient thermostat system, raising the thermostat two degrees higher in summer and two degrees lower in winter is a good rule of thumb, Oppermann says.
• Keep the lights off in unoccupied rooms. Also, switching to LED or CFL lighting when possible is a great energy saver.
• Use low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators and other water-saving measures, remembering to clean regularly to remove buildup.
• Only wash and dry clothes and dishes when the loads are full. Avoid washing dishes by hand and use cold settings.
• Seek utilities that offer renewable energy options.