1. Conduct a home energy audit and make a list of potential projects to reduce your household energy use. Many utilities will send out a technician, often for free, to assess your home’s efficiency—from basement to attic—and provide a report and recommendations for efficiency upgrades. Some utilities even offer rebates to offset the cost of certain projects, like replacing windows or installing a new furnace. If your utility offers blower door and duct blower tests, use that opportunity to find and seal all the locations where air is infiltrating.
If you’re off the grid, or your utility doesn’t offer audits, you can perform an energy audit yourself, using the online Home Energy Saver program (see Access).
2. For each project, estimate the cost, energy savings, time and degree of difficulty, and greenhouse gas reduction. For insulation upgrades you can use the Insulation Upgrade Cost Saving Calculator (see Access). Simply enter a few figures, and the calculator will determine your first-year and projected 10-year savings, and CO2 emissions reduction.
For this article’s projects, financial savings in fuel in the first year are based on the projected kilowatt-hours (KWH) saved, and multiplied by 10 cents per KWH—my cost for utility electricity. The projected 10-year fuel savings assumes a 10 percent rise in fuel prices each year. Converting all nonelectrical forms of the energy to KWH will allow you to compare energy savings for electricity, transportation, and heating projects on the same basis. Some handy conversion factors:
1 KWH = 3,412 Btu
1 gal. of propane = 92,000 Btu or 27 KWH
1 therm of natural gas = 100,000 Btu or 29.3 KWH
1 gal. of gasoline = 125,000 Btu or 36.6 KWH
1 gal. of heating oil = 139,000 Btu or 40.7 KWH
To estimate greenhouse gas savings for each project, I used the calculator at www.infinitepower.org. For transportation-related energy and greenhouse gas savings, I recommend the www.hybridcars.com calculator. (See Access for more resources.)
3. Using the results of your evaluations, list all the projects that have good payoffs—both economic and environmental. Prioritize projects according to CO2 savings, and budget, time, and skill constraints.
4. Keep a file of your utility bills to review, so you can see what progress you are making. The bills can also be used to demonstrate your home’s improved energy efficiency, if you plan sell it, and may be needed to claim rebates or tax credits.
Investing in energy-saving projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a win-win situation—you can do something that is good for the planet and also earn a good economic return.