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Controlling Your Electric Bill in a Historic Home

window in a historic home

Historic homes attract homeowners for several reasons. In addition to having the desired charm that new construction lacks, there’s something exciting about living in a slice of deep-rooted history with an interesting backstory.

Depending on its age, you may also be slammed with astronomical utility bills — not entirely surprising considering the wear and tear of building materials. Thankfully, good care and some energy-efficient renovations can have your utility bills under control in no time.

Are Historic Homes Really That Energy Inefficient?

The Unied States boasts tens of thousands of historic residential structures. St. Augustine, Florida, leads the list at 11,231 registered historic homes per capita, accounting for 22% of all houses throughout the city. Meanwhile, New Orleans comes in a close second with 10,532 registered landmark dwellings.

With so many historic options on the market, you might think the housing stock is a major problem with our energy usage. It’s true that newer homes tend to be more eco-friendly, with modern insulation and energy-efficient trappings. 

However, older homes can easily be energy-efficient choices, especially if they have been designed intelligently and kept up with over the years. After all, homeowners back in the day had to worry about fuel prices and comfort too, so your historic home might only need some minor updates to meet new technology and design standards.

For instance, while 25 pounds per foot of snow and ice is a lot of weight for rooftops, historic roofs in snowy climates often included steeper slopes without an overhang to prevent accumulation. The thicker masonry walls more in vogue for well-constructed historic homes also have inherently more thermal insulation than thinner, modern walls.

Nevertheless, a few simple upgrades will help you control your electricity expenses in a historic home. 

Install a Smart Thermostat

Whether your home is historic or newly built, installing a smart thermostat can help you get a hold of your heating and cooling costs. 

Energy savings for programmable thermostats vary, but 10% is the standard savings you might see on your bill. For instance, Energy Star-rated thermostats save 8% on energy and $50 on utilities annually. 

Smart thermostats come with an algorithm that makes predictions of your home’s occupancy, switching on only when someone is there. They can also learn your heating and cooling habits to improve temperature comfortability. 

Switch to LEDs

Swapping out incandescent lightbulbs for energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs) is another modification you can make to lower your electricity bills in your historic home.

LEDs consume 75% less energy and emit far less heat than traditional bulbs — meaning your HVAC system won’t have to work as hard to cool your home. They also last 25% longer than incandescent lightbulbs, reducing landfill waste.

Considering lighting accounts for 15% of your home’s energy and costs about $225 annually, something as simple as swapping out older light bulbs for energy-efficient alternatives is cost-effective.

Buy Energy-Efficient Windows

A significant culprit of energy consumption in historic structures is window air leaks. However, replacing windows can be expensive, running an average of $850 per pane — with project expenses usually doubling or tripling in older homes.

Preservationists are quick to argue that historic windows are energy-efficient, perhaps even more so than new ones. Applying new weatherstripping and sealant might be all it takes to control your electric bill. 

Weatherstripping windows can reduce your annual bill by $83, while sealing air leaks can save up to $166. 

Insulate the Attic and Basement

Hot and cold air can escape through areas with poor insulation, such as attics and basements. A historical home might need another application of insulation to avoid air leakages. 

Adding insulation to the attic or other crawl spaces can save you up to 15% on energy bills, with the most notable savings in the north, where the weather is more varied throughout the year. 

Just be sure not to insulate the walls of your historic home. When you remove historical walls and finishes to reinsulate, you risk trapping moisture and deteriorating your house’s structural integrity. 

Swap Out the Door

You might be tempted to swap out your home’s historic wooden door for a newer model, but reducing your energy consumption is probably unnecessary — especially considering wood’s thermal conductivity.

In fact, the National Park Service’s (NPS) Technical Preservation Services recommends finding alternatives to replacing historic doors. 

Like windows, weatherstripping, sealing and caulking your door goes a long way toward driving down utility costs. Additionally, you might consider adding a storm door. However, they may not be suitable for every home. 

Only consider purchasing a storm door if you live in a colder climate or if your door has glass panels. Also, make sure it complements your historic home’s architectural characteristics. 

Create a More Energy-Efficient Historic Home for Bigger Savings

There are many ways to improve your historic home’s energy efficiency without compromising its historical integrity. Proper maintenance and sustainable upgrades can ensure it continues standing for centuries to come.

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