16 home upgrades to reduce your carbon footprint

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

green home upgrades


Making your home more energy-efficient can have great benefits for both the earth and your wallet. Many homeowners who want to reduce their carbon footprint are taking a close look at the energy they use — and often waste — each day. While using renewable energy is ideal, it might not be financially viable for most Americans.

As we wait for renewable energy to become more accessible, homeowners can conserve fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse emissions by optimizing their homes for energy efficiency.


Low-cost, easy changes to make right now


1. Use a smart plug 

According to the US Department of Energy, the average American household spends over $100 each year on energy for devices that are turned off. Across the country, that amounts to more than 100 billion kWh of electricity and $10 billion wasted. You can conserve energy by unplugging devices and appliances when they are off or using a smart plug, which automatically cuts off energy when a device is not in use. 

2. Buy a pressure cooker

Pressure cookers use pressure from steam to cook food faster. A pressure cooker uses up to 66 percent less energy than an oven or stove. It also keeps your kitchen cool, eliminating the need to crank the AC in warmer months, furnishing further energy and cost savings. 

3. Install solar-powered lights outdoors 

You can light the outside of your home at no energy cost by using solar lights, which are powered by the sun. Because they don’t require electricity, solar lights can be installed anywhere without having to consider access to electrical wiring. 

4. Buy an energy-saving hairdryer

Hairdryers are not thought of as energy offenders because they are only used for a short amount of time each day. You can still cut your energy use by 50 percent and lower your chances of blowing a fuse by purchasing a low-wattage model. 

5. Seal air leaks 

Caulking and weather-stripping draughty places in your home can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling energy costs each year. You can identify the air leaks in your home by paying attention to which places seem draughty or having an energy audit performed. Familiarize yourself with the most common trouble spots here

6. Use a low-flow showerhead 

According to the Department of Energy, installing a low-flow showerhead can achieve water savings of 25 to 60 percent. Low-flow fixtures also reduce the amount of energy used to heat shower water. If every household in the United States installed showerheads that use less than two gallons per minute, we could collectively save more than 260 billion gallons of water and $2.6 billion in heating costs per year.

7. Install ceiling fans 

Overhead fans improve cooling efficiency by creating a wind-chill effect that allows homeowners to raise the temperature on their thermostats by 4 degrees while keeping the same level of comfort. Look for energy-efficient ceiling fans and remember to turn them off when you leave the room since fans cool people, not rooms. 


Long-term investments 


8.  Install energy-efficient windows 

In the summer, heat from windows can significantly raise the temperature of your home, and in the winter, heat can escape through windows, requiring more energy use to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature. Replacing old windows with new ENERGY STAR-certified windows can save you 25 to 30 percent on heating and cooling costs. The most efficient window type will differ depending on your climate. You can find a detailed guide to selecting windows in your state here

9. Upgrade your kitchen appliances

Federal standards require a certain amount of efficiency for dishwashers and refrigerators, but you can find appliances that exceed the requirements and save 15 percent on energy costs every year. Look for ENERGY STAR labels and the bright yellow EnergyGuide label that is required by law and displays the appliance’s annual energy consumption and operating cost.

10. Add a layer of insulation in the attic

Properly insulating your home can save you an average of 20 percent on heating and cooling costs or 10 percent on total energy costs per year, according to the department of energy. The easiest and most effective place to add insulation is in the attic. You can tell if your attic needs more insulation by looking to see if the joists — the boards running parallel across the floor — are visible. If the insulation is well above the joists, adding more might not be cost-effective. 

11. Install an energy-efficient door 

Most newer doors are insulated and can be made more efficient by weather-stripping to limit air leaks and ensuring the door is installed correctly. If you have an old, uninsulated door, it may be worth upgrading to steel or fiberglass, the most energy-efficient materials. Keep in mind ENERGY STAR classifies doors made of glass as windows and rates them as such. 

12. Upgrade to a tankless water heater 

On average, heating water accounts for 18 percent of home energy use. You can limit energy use by 25 percent by switching to a tankless water heater and cut usage by as much as 50 percent by installing a tankless unit at every hot water outlet. The initial cost of a tankless water heater is greater than that of a conventional storage water heater, but tankless water heaters typically last longer. 

13. Buy a water filtration system 

Bottled water is expensive and bad for the environment. It requires 17 million barrels of oil to produce the plastic for one year’s worth of the bottles in the US alone. You can conserve energy and save on average $100 per person by installing a house-wide filtration system and drinking from the tap. 

14. Install a whole-house fan 

If you’ve ever been in a house with a whole house fan, you’ve probably been amazed at how effectively and quickly they cool a space. A whole house fan pulls air in from open windows and exhausts it through the attic and roof, meaning your home gets plenty of fresh air. These fans can be a substitute for A/C units in most climates and can save you up to 90 percent in cooling energy costs. 

15. Invest in geothermal heating and cooling 

A popular option among homeowners looking to reduce their carbon footprints is a geothermal HVAC unit. These HVAC units are installed underground and use the earth as natural insulation. 

Geothermal HVAC is the most energy-efficient form of heating and cooling, offering energy savings of up to 80 percent. 

16. Install a cool roof

Cool roofs reflect sunlight and absorb less heat than traditional roofing. They can keep roofs up to 50 degrees cooler and cut down on air conditioning costs. Cool roofs also keep areas of your home that are not cooled by air conditioning, such as the garage and attic, cooler.


green home upgrades infographic


Making energy-efficient upgrades can significantly lower the carbon output of your home, reducing your footprint and saving you money. Some upgrades require large upfront investments but pay for themselves over time while making your home — and the earth — a greener, better place to live. 



Energy.gov (1, 2) | Efficient Windows | Energy Star | Pacific Institute | Green Building Advisor


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