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6 Ways to Cut High Energy Bills

cut high energy bills

Just the other day I got a phone call from the owner of a 1930s Dutch Colonial home who was complaining about her high energy bills. Paying over $500 a month to cool a 2,000 SF home is understandably not enjoyable to anyone.

While I listened sympathetically to her plight and how she had gotten quotes from window replacement companies for north of $100,000 with promises of lower energy bills, the whole time I was thinking “It’s not the windows!”

For some crazy reason we have all been conditioned to think that the primary reason for high energy bills is inefficient windows. The ads are everywhere promising big savings of 25%, 35% or more on your high energy bills by replacing your drafty old windows with new energy efficient windows. They have become so ubiquitous that most of us just accept the claims as fact.

Windows Are Not The Biggest Energy Loser

Before you get too far down the path of spending $100,000+ on replacing your windows you should do more research then simply listening to marketing madness because there are better and cheaper ways to reduce your high energy bills than by replacing your windows, especially considering that the lifespan of most replacement window is only 15-20 years before they need replacement again. Let’s look at some high ROI options to save you money.

#1 Energy Efficient Shingles

Let’s start at the top. If you have a black or dark grey colored asphalt roof then one of the best ways you can bring energy costs down is to replace that roof with a more energy efficient option. I’m not talking about a Tesla roof or solar panels, though if you can then by all means go for it.

What I’m talking about is simply changing the shingles from a dark color to a light color which will reflect more heat rather than absorbing it. Some of the best color options for this are below.

  • White
  • Light gray
  • Light tan

Maybe your house would look silly with a white roof. Fair enough, so there are options by most of the major manufacturers that help you find cooler shingles than the cheaper options out there. The way you can compare the cooling ability of an asphalt shingle is through a measure called the Solar Reflectance Index (SRI).

SRI is calculated on a scale of 1 to 100 that is a measure of a roof’s combined thermal properties. It is defined so that a standard black is 0 and a standard white is 100. The higher the number the more efficient the roof is. Some manufacturers have SRI ratings on their shingles though they may be hard to find without a bit of digging.

Your best option is to check with a local roofer and select a EnergyStar rated shingle for your house. From personal experience I can tell you that even a slight change from black to a mid-gray color can make a big difference in energy costs.

Or an even better option would be to go with a highly reflective metal roof which can reduce cooling costs by about 25% and last 50+ years.

#2 Insulate the Attic

According to EnergyStar.gov the number one place to start insulating and air sealing is the attic. The energy savings are incredible in this area. Begin with air sealing around light fixtures, electrical and plumbing penetrations in the ceiling and then insulate that attic as much as you have room.

The typical attic in America has just 1-2 inches of old insulation on the floor, but it really could fit closer to 1-2 feet of blown-in insulation as well as adding batts to the underside of the roof. If you install insulation correctly the savings can be huge and the payback is almost immediate, especially if you do it yourself.

Even when paying a professional to insulate your attic you’ll make your money back in just a few years rather than a few decades with window replacement, which is one of the last options EnergyStar recommends for energy savings.

#3 Plant Shade Trees

This one is a long game and won’t yield any savings for quite some time, but the effectiveness cannot be ignored. Having a roof that is shielded from the afternoon sun by a towering oak tree can cut energy bills by 50% in my experience. It’s crazy!

This is something you do for the next guy though. Unless you’re young and living in your forever home, you likely won’t get much benefit from this, but pay it forward and give the next resident a glorious shade tree close enough to provide them with a little bit of cooling help. Your energy bill won’t be any better, but your mood will be much improved and so will your home’s future.

#4 Add Window Shades

Before you start writing checks to the replacement window companies let me challenge you to think about adding energy efficient window shades. First, they are FAR cheaper to install than replacing your windows which means you start realizing the savings sooner.

Second, if they don’t provide sufficient savings or comfort for you then you can always replace those windows later and get the benefits (and beauty) of the shades with your new windows as well. Chances are you’ll see enough payback from the shades alone.

There are multiple kinds of window shades and blinds you can choose from. I’ve written a more in-depth post about energy efficient window treatments that you should read if you’re unsure which direction to go.

#5 Upgrade Your AC

How long does your AC system last? Most live about 15 years before giving up the ghost, and during those years they become less and less efficient with each passing season. A 15 SEER unit from 2013 is probably functioning like a 10 SEER due to all the dirt and wear and tear it has suffered through. a 20-year old unit, if it is still alive, is probably working at a stunning 4-5 SEER rating.

Is it expensive to replace an AC unit? Darn skippy! Is it cheaper to replace 1 or 2 AC units compared to replacing 20-30 windows. Heck yeah! Plus, you can get major rebates and tax credit for upgrading to a higher efficiency AC unit that are better than the credits available for window replacement.

Not sure what SEER rating you should get? Read this post all about SEER ratings to help you make the right choice.

#6 Seal Your Ducts

You’ve got that new AC unit churning out ice cold air super efficiently, but it doesn’t really make much difference if you’re blowing all that air into the attic due to leaky ducts. As a part of air sealing that attic or in conjunction with the replacement of your AC unit you may be well served with new ducts or at least air sealing your ducts to prevent wasted air.

Critters can wreak havoc on your ductwork as well as poor installation resulting in leaks and missing insulation around the ducts so a through inspection is definitely called for to determine the best course of action and bring down the high energy bills.

If you implement some of these options you’ll start seeing savings far quicker than replacing windows regardless of how old or in what condition your windows are. And the great thing about several of these 6 options if that they are something you’ll likely need to do in the near further anyway.

Roofs are replaced about every 15-20 years just like AC units and so if you are approaching that replacement time then simply choosing a more energy efficient option will cost you only marginally more than you would have been paying anyway.

The point is, don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Make sure there is a return on your investment for any energy efficient upgrades you. They should save you money in the end, not end up costing you more than the energy savings will be.

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4 thoughts on “6 Ways to Cut High Energy Bills

  1. Good tips! Thank you!
    One more suggestion we would like to offer for saving energy and money is to insulate your water heater tank. If your tank is an older model, check to see if it has insulation with an R-value of at least 24. If it doesn’t, you should consider adding insulation. This could reduce heat loss by up to 45% and save you around 10% on water heating costs.

  2. I have so many stories about our ( 1928 built ) Dutch Colonial. Pros, cons and what I have changed. What I’ve kept / repaired over the prvious 25 years, and what I’d like to change but can’t afford to.
    We just had the homes original cedar roof and 2+ layers of asphalt replaced several years ago with off white asphalt singles and it does make a difference although it’s not really that notiable in the summer.
    I’ve reroofed our 20×20 ft detached garage with white metal and that makes a significant difference in the summer. I would have loved to have a metal roof on the home, but with the original skip deck under the cedar singles and all the compound angles of the Dutch Colonial style roof, being able to do the job correctly might have taken some of the original roofers of the house. Instead I found a contactor that had re-roofed other Dutch Colonials in the neighborhood and had them do the work. Thjey finished the tear off in one day (three layers of asphalt and the 90 year old cedar shakes) and installed the deck and white asphalt singles the next day. I was amazed at how fast the crew got our new roof on. Plus adding metal now with a proper deck underneath will be much easier.
    Understanding the thermal dynamics of ventilation and how it affects the R value of any other insulation in that space, always helps when figuring out what to expect from a repair of remodel.
    With our 1928 Dutch Colonial styled home I’ve learned alot about how the house was meant to work when it was built, which has helped me better understand what I can change and or adjust to make thing more comfortable for us and also save on utilities.
    Over the last 100 years our house has changed, through daily expansion and contraction and both the outside sheathing and inside lath and cement no longer keep the air space between them, free of drafts which significantly reduces the air space insultation and provides clues about how drafts find there way through into the home living spaces with both hot air in summer and cold air in winter.
    Having a way to close off unused spaces in the home that get both much colder in winter and much warmer in summer is the first step I took to reduce utilites. It took a while to figure out which spaces were the worst, but than it was easy to fine tune the hones ventilation and energy savings on a season basis. All homes are different, but with a 100 year old home that has original air gap insulation adding extra layers to the original siding and interior walls can provide temporary savings and esthetics to the home but can make future remodeling for efficiency and comfort all that much more difficult.

  3. Hi Scott. Another excellent blog! Your right on with the energy savings. I might add that a lot of energy companies will come out and evaluate your home, some free of charge to the resident. Here in the Texas panhandle the local energy company had a third-party come out and install led lights, look at your ac/heater and the ducts for any problems (loose ducts, etc.).

  4. For roof colors, there’s a group in CA called the Cool Roof Rating Council. They have an index of shingles they have tested and rated, SRI after X amount of time being one of their metrics. Can filter by brand, etc. Super helpful! Guided us in choosing a roof color last year.

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