Posted on 02/03/2016

Saving Money: Top 9 Energy-Efficient Upgrades for Your Home Improvement Dollar

4 minute read

Considering some home improvements this winter or spring? Why not invest in some projects that will save you money in the long run. Energy-efficiency is a top priority for many homeowners whether they’re trying to whittle down high utility bills or trying to minimize their environmental footprint. Here are some of the best home improvements for the energy-conscious homeowner.

Do a Home Energy Audit

Here is a list of items you can audit yourself to make sure your home is functioning efficiently. Consider calling in a professional auditor for a more thorough check-up. Many utility companies offer free or discounted audits to their customers.


None of the energy-efficient improvements you make will matter if your home is still leaking heated (or cooled) air. While sealing leaks around doors and windows by weather-stripping helps, the majority of air loss is through your attic. In fact, the EPA estimates that the typical American home has enough leaks, holes and gaps comparable to leaving a window open every day of the

You’ll want to perform this home improvement task before adding insulation.


Attic insulation was the #1 best remodeling project to boost home value in 2016, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2016 Cost vs. Value Report.

Insufficient attic insulation accounts for nearly one quarter of home heat loss. Not only will you recoup hundreds on your utility bills, but the average cost recouped at resale for new fiberglass attic insulation is 116.9 percent.

Seal the Ductwork

The typical house leaks so much heated and cooled air into the attic, basement and/or crawlspace that having your ductwork sealed and wrapped can reduce your HVAC costs up to 30 percent.

Because most ductwork is concealed in walls, ceilings, attics and basements, this is not a recommended DIY project. Most heating and cooling contractors have expertise in ductwork repair.

Upgrade Your HVAC

Heating systems over 20 years old and cooling systems more than 10 years old are considered extremely inefficient by today’s standards. Investing in middle-of-the-road, ENERGY STAR-rated heating or cooling systems can amount to 10 to 20 percent savings.

Install New Exterior Doors

Entry door replacements also top the list of best remodeling projects for boosting home value. As far as energy-efficiency goes, a windowless door made of fiberglass offers five times the insulating value of a similar door made of wood, according to the Department of Energy.

Regardless of the door type you choose to replace with, look for an ENERGY-STAR label (rated for your region) to maximize your energy efficiency.

Install a Programmable Thermostat

In the event you’re still using a dial thermostat, it’s time to upgrade. For maximum energy efficiency, we suggest the Nest Thermostat. This smart home device boasts an average 10-12% of savings on heating bills and 15% savings on cooling bills. It’s a thermostat that programs itself based on your preferences and then pays for itself within the first year or two of installation.

The Nest automatically turns down your HVAC system when no one is home, shows you when you’re using the most energy and then tells you how you can cut down.

Blanket Your Water Heater

The annual cost of a water heater is around $300 for the average household, but wrapping your water heater in an insulating jacket (around $20) can reduce costs by 9%, meaning you’re paid back within a year.

Upgrade Your Appliances

Old appliances aren’t just an eyesore, they’re also silent money pits. Older washing machines and dishwashers use 80% or more of their energy to heat water. For instance, newer models of dishwashers have built-in heat sources that allow homeowners to turn down the temp of their water heaters.

As for washing machines, front-load machines are usually more expensive but for good reason. They clean better than most HE top-loads and spin faster, extracting more water and trimming down dryer time.

New appliances are an investment but the most energy-efficient models aren’t necessarily the most expensive. Look for the yellow and black energy rating to see the estimated yearly cost of the appliance.

To get the best deal on appliances, consider buying toward the end of the winter season. Big-box stores will be bringing in the latest appliance models and slashing prices on older models to move inventory.

Looking to make larger-scale home improvements? Download our free Rehab & Construction Guide for ways to incorporate the costs of improvements or remodeling into your mortgage.