7 Home Efficiency Improvement Projects That Don’t Break the Bank


Homeowners and other residential living owners are often searching for ways to increase the value of their homes.

In honor of May being National Home Improvement Month, here are seven home efficiency improvement projects that will not only enhance the functionality and value of your house but will also help lower your electric bill with minimal upfront costs. Included are approximate expenses and extra resources that go into greater detail on each project.

1. Install A Programmable Thermostat

Utilizing a programmable thermostat is one of the fastest ways to reduce your electricity usage. Another great benefit to this improvement is that once you install and program the thermostat, you don’t have to worry about it again.

For maximum efficiency, note that the recommended temperatures in Texas are:

  • Hot months: 78°F when you’re home, 80°+ when you’re away
  • Cold months: 68°F when you’re home, 64° or less when you’re away

Each degree of extra cooling or heating will increase electricity usage 6 percent to 8 percent.

It is important to know that you shouldn’t turn your AC or heating completely off while you’re gone. When you come back, your HVAC system could use more electricity than it saved while it was off to get the air to your desired temperature.

Further Reading: Energy.gov

Cost: Starts at $20

2. Plug Leaks

Check all your windows and doors for air leakage. Do you see any light coming through around the edges? Is your door difficult to open and close? If so, you could be losing valuable air that you’ve already paid to heat or cool, and new weather-stripping or caulk might be just the thing you need.

Weather-stripping is primarily used for moving parts like your doors or windows, while caulk seals cracks around stationary components like your doorframe.

The best part about this home efficiency improvement project is that it doesn’t take a lot of time or money, making it a cost-effective option.

Further Reading: Sealing Air LeaksCaulkingWeather-stripping

Cost: Starting at $5 for door weather-stripping; starting at $3 for caulk

3. Seal Your Ducts

Roughly 20 percent of air moving through a duct system is lost because of leaks, holes or poorly connected ducts, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Avoid using cloth-backed duct tape to fix this problem, as it tends to quickly break down. Instead, use mastic, butyl tape, foil tape, or other heat-approved tapes. You’ll always want to look for the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) logo, which means that the global, independent safety science company has tested and approved the product.

Further Reading: Energy Star, Sealing Ducts DIY

Cost: $25

4. Install Lighting Controls

Do you always forget to turn off the lights? Instead of tying a string around your finger to remind you to flip that switch, install light switches with motion sensors. Many models will let you choose how long to leave the lights on, which can help maximize the life of your bulbs depending on the bulb type (i.e. incandescent vs. CFL).

Cost: Starting at $20 each

Or maybe replace a nightlight with a traditional on/off switch with one that has a photo sensor, so it only turns on when it’s dark inside your house or apartment.

Cost: About $4 each

But as we discussed last week, you’re not limited to home improvement projects indoors. You can also install lights with a motion detector and/or a photo sensor outdoors as well.

Many outdoor lights on the market now have photo sensors so the light stays off when it’s sunny or they have motion sensors so that the light doesn’t stay on all night if no one is near it. Plus, you can elevate the curb appeal of your home by installing an elegant fixture.

Make sure you look for fixtures that use a CFL or LED bulb, as those bulbs are 70 percent to 80 percent more efficient than traditional incandescents.

Cost: Starts at $35

Further Reading: Lighting Controls on Energy.gov

5. Replace Burnt Out Bulbs With CFLs


Speaking of light bulbs, start investing in CFLs if you haven’t. You don’t need to replace every bulb in your house right away – even though the Department of Energy estimates that replacing 15 traditional incandescents will save you $50 a year.

An Energy Star-certified CFL uses about one-fourth the electricity of a traditional incandescent bulb that puts out the same amount of light and lasts 10 times longer, according to the DOE. Because of the large difference in energy use, CFLs can typically pay for themselves in nine months.

When you’re at the store, buy a 4-pack so the next time your incandescent burns out, you can replace it with a much more efficient CFL. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can purchase an LED, which lasts more than 20 years, to go in those hard-to-access areas like above the stairs.

Further Reading: CFLs on Energy.gov, How To Shop For Light Bulbs, Differences Between Incandescents, CFLs and LEDs

Cost: $8 for 4-pack of CFLs

6. Install Storm Windows

To reduce drafts and help your HVAC system work less, you can install storm windows. While they are not as efficient as new Energy Star-certified windows, storm windows reduce air movement in and out of your house or apartment. Plus, they are much more affordable.

There are exterior and interior storm windows, but the latter is especially useful for historic homes or for places where homeowners prefer not to alter the outside appearance.

Further Reading: Storm Windows on Energy.gov, NAHB Research Center

Cost: $70 for 32-in x 47-in window

7. Add Insulation

“It turns out that about half of the homes in the United States are underinsulated,” Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, reportedly told U.S.News & World Report. “If your home was built before about 1980, you should really look at it to see if you have got the proper level of insulation.”

After determining where you have insulation, what type it is, its R-value and the thickness or depth, you can then use an insulation calculator to help you estimate how much material you will need to purchase.

Further Reading: Insulation on Energy.gov, Adding Insulation To An Existing Home

Cost: $8 for 40-square-foot bag of blow-in insulation, call a local hardware store for insulation blower rental prices

A Helpful Tool

One thing that can help you determine the energy efficiency of your home is by using Energy Star’s Home Energy Yardstick. Follow the link and enter your ZIP code, your home’s square footage, the number of people living in your house, and the information requested that’s located on your latest electric bill.

Have you done any home improvement projects that have made your residence more energy efficient?

Product links are not endorsements of the products or the companies that manufacture or sell them and are used only for educational purposes.

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