Green Living

Home Efficiency

By Tom McCann

”Hot enough for you?” We all heard that common greeting as the temperatures soared last summer. It was about as welcome as another humid 95-degree day.

Sure, the summer before last was warm, too, and so was the one before that. The big difference for me was that I recently bought an older home, and like most excited homeowners, set out to prioritize improvements. The drafty old windows are near the top of my list, but plenty of lower-cost fixes will keep cool air in and warm air out in summer (and reverse that come winter).

In researching home energy efficiency, I found a few simple and free practices that could help keep your house cooler in the summer: Skip the heated dry cycle on your dishwasher, turn off electronics not in use and use a drying rack instead of the clothes dryer. All made sense, but I wanted to go further.

Your water heater is a big user of energy. While moving to a new tankless model may be the best longer-term plan, this year for about $25 - $30 and a trip to one of those big hardware stores, you can buy an insulating jacket. These come in different models and insulation values, but the concept is the same: keep the hot water warmer and use less energy.

And while you’re in the basement/utility closet, add some insulation to the pipes for another $10 - $20. Be sure to check the air filter and service records for the air conditioner, too. Having it serviced regularly helps efficiency and extends the life of the system.

Ready to learn more about your own home? Many cities offer free or discounted energy audits to help you keep your electric bill in check. In Washington, DC, you can visit, or check with your own city government website to see if they offer a similar program.

In my case, a consultant found several places where I could add caulk to seal air leaks, and he offered other insulation tips – all at a very low cost. He also suggested drawing the shades during the summer to block heat from the sun and keeping them up during the winter to let sunlight warm the house.

Bigger projects are good investments that will increase the value of your home and improve energy efficiency. A lighter color roof will reflect heat from the sun. Efficient appliances in your kitchen and utility closet will cut down on water and energy waste. And adding insulation will improve your comfort and save you money.

My windows are on order, but for now I’m caulking some of the leaks and picking up some additional insulation. For more green living tips, visit

Green Living: Ideas for People and Nature is written by Nature Conservancy staff exploring ways to live greener every day.  Join us at

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