It is possible for a homeowner to be energy efficient, save money and be conscientious of the environment at the same time by taking a few small steps to be energy smart.
The investment put into improvements in energy efficiency can return quickly in the form of lower energy bills.
"Paying high energy bills is foolish. You don't have to pay high bills," said James "Jake" Henry, owner of Jake's Drafting Service, a company that does area energy audits and designs energy-efficient remodels and new buildings for its customers.
Some people can pay thousands of dollars each year for their gas or electric bills, but with a few modifications, those bills can shrink to a few hundred dollars each year, Henry said.
The least expensive way to make a home energy efficient is to design efficiencies into the house before it has been built. Building with energy in mind even can help homeowners get discounts on building permits and on their mortgages, Henry said.
Most energy-efficient homes have some basic features: they have a well-built and tightly sealed "thermal envelope," which refers to the wall, roof, insulation, windows, caulking and more; they have controlled ventilation; they have efficient and appropriate heating and cooling systems; and they have energy-efficient doors, windows and appliances.
Insulation is crucial to energy efficiency because it keeps heat in during the winter and keeps homes cool during the summer. There are various types of insulation, from hay bales to structural panels, Henry said, and homeowners can look online or talk with companies to learn what best fits their needs.
Good windows also are important, because homes can lose more than a quarter of their heat through windows. In designing a new home, plan more windows where there is a southern exposure, and fewer on the northern, eastern and western sides. Some windows can be glazed to take advantage of passive solar heat.
Investing in something as simple as window coverings, such as shades and draperies, can add to the beauty of a home and can result in big savings on energy bills.
Proper ventilation is important in energy-efficient homes, which are tightly sealed. Heat recovery ventilators, which can transfer heat from exhausted air to fresh air, are becoming more popular. And energy-efficient appliances, windows and doors may cost a little more up front but can save money in the long run, especially as energy prices increase.
"Ventilation is absolutely crucial," Henry said. "You have to have proper ventilation to get the moisture out of your house before it molds, mildews and rots wood. The tighter you can make your house, the better," he said.
To increase the energy efficiency of existing homes, a good first step is to have an energy audit, Henry said. The auditors can figure out where heated air is leaking to help the homeowner focus retrofit efforts.
In older homes, re-caulking can help prevent leakage, and a good quality caulk can last as long as a decade, Henry said. It's also important to make sure things such as burners and air filters are clean, and boilers are working well: similar to a car running on fuel, a home that is running correctly will use less energy, Henry said.
Henry said he recently did a remodel of a home in Craig where the boiler was more than 60 years old, a big no-no for those concerned with being energy efficient.
Henry advises his customers and those who are using outdated and malfunctioning equipment to update their appliances.
Although the upfront cost may be more, in the long run the customer will save money.
"It was worthwhile for them to look into a new boiler. It definitely was worth getting a new one to save money down the road," he said.
For remodels, new insulation can be put in where it's lacking, windows can be optimized and more efficient appliances can be installed, among other improvements.
Henry said insulation often is to key to conserving energy and saving money.
"The more insulation, the better," he said.
Henry also said there has been a growing trend of people investing in solar panels for their homes to utilize energy from the sun.
Although most homes don't come with solar panels, Henry said they may be worth checking into.
"The federal government now gives certain credits to people who use solar energy," he said.
Benefits of solar energy include conservation of energy and reduction of maintenance costs, both areas where consumers potentially spend the most.
In Routt County, the energy code follows the state's minimum standards, which means most buildings do not have to follow strict energy-efficiency rules. But for homeowners who want to be prepared for possible stricter codes, such as those implemented in nearby Eagle County, or for those who want some extra money in the bank, energy-efficient improvements are a must to consider.