Buying a home for the first time can be exciting and overwhelming. With so many things to keep track of it’s easy to overlook some pretty basic stuff. On the list of things new homeowners should do, I’ve covered Preparing For The Repair: knowing where your utility shutoff switches are in case of an emergency. I’ve also written about the Essential Tools That All Homeowners Should Own. The next item on the new homeowner checklist is making sure your home is at maximum efficiency. Something that people often overlook is the handful of little things that make your house run more efficiently. These things are very simple and can cave you a lot of money over the time you live there.
Check Attic Insulation
The insulation in your home is going to account for a large part of your home’s energy efficiency. You won’t have a way to check the insulation the walls and the process for adding insulation is pretty involved. One thing you can check easily is the level of insulation that’s in your attic. The insulation in your attic is probably the most important in the house anyway. Just pop your head up into the attic access and measure the level of insulation. If you need more insulation, you can have it blown in using a machine. Depending on access, you can also roll batts out over your current insulation to add R value. This is great for colder areas. In warmer areas you might want to also make sure you have a working fan that pulls hot air out of your attic to keep it cooler. If your attic is hot, it will take more energy to keep your house cool (imagine wearing a 100 degree hat in the summer). These things will improve your home’s energy efficiency and lower your utilities bills.
Install LED Bulbs
I used to tell people that the initial cost of buying LED bulbs for your home would be made up in savings on your electricity bill. It’s almost unnecessary these days as LED bulbs have become so much cheaper. You can buy bulk packs of LED bulbs pretty affordably at your local hardware store or here on Amazon. You can replace all the bulbs in your house: standard incandescent, halogen, and flood lights. I did this on my house and noticed an immediate, noticeable reduction in my electricity bill. Also, LED bulbs use so little power that you can leave your porch lights on for security purposes and not working about your energy bill or the environment.
Order a Water Conservation Kit
Most people don’t know that their kitchen and bathroom faucets allow a certain amount of water through at a time. Your bathroom sink might be at 2 GPM (gallons per minute) and your shower head might be 2.5 GPM. You can replace your showerhead with a head that puts out 1.5 GPM (you won’t even notice the difference). You don’t even need to replace your kitchen or bath faucet. You can get new aerators for them. The aerator is a small ring on the end of the faucet that screws on and it can be easily swapped out with one that puts out 1.2 GPM. There are devices that you can install in your toilet tank that will make the toilet refill after flushing in the most efficient manner. You can also put a brink in your tank to reduce the amount of water each flush uses. The best part of all of this: your local water company may offer conservation kits for free. You can also buy this stuff on Amazon.
Lower the Temperature of Your Hot Water Heater
It’s not uncommon for people to have their hot water heater set for a temperature that is unnecessarily high, sometimes as high as 140 degrees. You can bring the temperature of your hot water heater down to 115-125 degrees and that is hot enough for most people. There should be a metal cover on the side of the hot water heater that you can remove with a few screws. Inside there will be a tiny plastic screw that you can turn to adjust the temperature. Make sure you add insulation to any hot water pipes that are exposed in a garage or crawlspace. You might need your hot water heater’s temperature set higher because the water is cooling down as it travels in copper pipes through a cold garage. Making sure the water stays hot will allow you to turn down the temperature and not have it colder by the time it gets to you. This will make your hot water heater work less because it doesn’t have to keep the temperature so high. This should bring your utility bills down.
Insulate Your Hot Water Heater
The other reason your hot water heater might be working more than it needs to is because the water in the holding tank is cooling down. If your hot water heater is out a garage or even worse, outside, you need to make sure the tank is insulated. You can buy a hot water heater blanket that you put over your hot water tank like a warm sweater. You can find these at your local hardware store or here at Amazon. Make sure you get one that fits the size of your hot water tank. If your hot water heater is outside, you might want to build a small insulated shed around the tank. The heat generated by the tank will keep the shed warm and increase the time it takes for water to cool down. The slower the water cools, the less time the heating element will be working which will lower your utility bills.
Clean Ducts and Air Filters
When you first move into a new house, most sellers have had the house cleaned. At least the stuff you can see has been cleaned. You probably want to go to the furnace and check the filter. If the filter is dirty it causes the furnace to work harder to push hot air throughout the house. You should also have the ducts checked as well. If the ducts are clogged, you won’t be getting hot air distributed properly throughout your house which will make your home less energy efficient. A good home inspector should check these things if you have an inspection done prior to buying the house, but sometimes it gets missed. You can usually get an HVAC company to clean your ducts pretty inexpensively. It will be worth it for the energy savings and so you aren’t living in the previous owners filth.
Close Any Air Gaps
One commonly overlooked thing that people should do regularly to maintain their home is to check the caulk around windows and doors on the outside of their house. Even good caulk will eventually shrink and crack over time so you need to go around the exterior of your home and touch up the caulk. This will keep water front getting into your home and close any air gaps that may be lowering your homes energy efficiency. Check all your entry doors and make sure they shut tight. Get some extra foam weather stripping to put in the jamb if you close the door and feel a draft or see daylight. Get door sweeps for your entry doors, make sure windows close tight and check the seal around any access doors to crawlspaces or attics. You can get a stick of incense and slowly walk around your house, holding it near doors and windows to see if any air gusts blow the smoke. Closing up air gaps will make it easier to heat and cool your home, lowering your utility bills.
Install a Programmable or Smart Thermostat
If you move into a home and notice it still has an old on/off thermostat with zero programming capabilities, do yourself a favor and get a decent programmable thermostat or even a smart thermostat. You can constantly turn the simple thermostat up and down as you get up, go to bed, go to work, come home. How often are you going to forget though? A programmable thermostat is inexpensive and will automatically keep your home’s heating and cooling system working at it’s bare minimum. Even better, you can grab a smart thermostat and it can start programming itself and learn to be as efficient as possible. It can also hook up to smart lights to make sure they get turned off, saving you even more money. You can grab a programmable or smart thermostat at your local hardware store or right here on Amazon.
Let The AC Unit Breath
If you live in a warmer environment and have a high AC usage, you want to check that your condensing unit is working most efficiently. The condensing unit is the metal box on the outside of your home that has a big fan in it. Some people think they are an eyesore and will try to cover them up with bushes and plants. Having plants up against the condensing unit will restrict the amount of air that is pulled in, making the unit work harder. You will be getting less cool air into your home which means the AC has to be running longer which will cost you more money. Cut back the bushes and if you want to disguise the ugly metal box, you can build a shroud out of lattice that will camouflage the unit while still giving it maximum air flow.
Install Blinds and Curtains
One way to help cool down your house in the summer time is to close the blinds or curtains. If you just moved into a new home and don’t have any window coverings, the cost to add them will save you enough money in the long run to pay for them. You can make your own curtains with some pretty simple instructions online. You can also have custom blinds made and shipped right to your home. Blindsgalore has custom blinds, drapes and shutters that you can order online and install on your own. The blinds come with installation instructions or you can hire a local handyman to do it for you. Being able to control when the sun is shining into your home will help keep your heating and cooling bills down. Remember, when the sun is out in the winter, open those curtains up and let the sun naturally heat your house.
For tons of other money saving techniques that you can implement at your home or office, pick up my book Going Green: The Most Comprehensive Guide to Green Home Upgrades for All Budgets. It’s available in paperback or for Kindle! It will save you far more money than it costs!
If you have any other tips for new homeowners that could save them money in the long run, leave them in the comments.