Energy Efficiency for Green Living
There are many factors that contribute to greening a building. Of these, energy is an extremely important part of the equation. The US Green Building Council (USGBC) recognized this fact when they named their green building program LEED: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
Energy costs can be a surprisingly large part of the cost of owning and operating a building. As a hypothetical example, a home with average energy bills of a $300/month (heating, cooling, and electricity) will cost the owners $3600/year for the power it uses, which adds up to over $100,000 over the span of a 30-year mortgage, and approaches half a million dollars if the building stands for more than 100 years. In many cases, the cost of the energy used over the life of a building is more than the cost of the materials used to construct the building in the first place.
In order to reduce these energy costs, it is important to first identify the major energy uses. The needs and energy uses at your particular location can be a major factor in determining the best strategies for improving efficiency and reducing energy use. Additional attic insulation is much more necessary and effective in a cold northern-climate location, where heating is a major component of the building's energy use, than it is in a hot southern-climate location, where cooling is responsible for much more of the energy needs.
In some parts of the United States, homeowners can find home performance contractors working with the Home Performance with Energy Star program to evaluate the existing conditions of the house and provide upgrades to increase its performance. There are case studies from different parts of the country that explain how these contractors work with the program to improve not only the energy efficiency, but also the comfort of homes.
For the more DIY-inclined homeowner, the USGBC also offers a list of 16 Ways to Green Your Home, including simple steps such as installing a programmable thermostat, tuning up your heating and cooling system, sealing air leaks, and using Enrgy Star appliances.
Whether you adopt a whole house approach or just target known sources of energy use, like getting a new, energy efficient refrigerator (particularly if your current model is over 15 years old) or replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents, the benefits of a greener approach to your power use will pay itself back through lowered energy bills.