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When Liam Murphy and his partner, Kaity, bought their first home during the pandemic, they found that the home contained something no new homeowner ever wants but frequently finds: surprises.

The house is a lovely ranch-style home with a basement built in 1974 — the kind you can find by the truckload in every town in America — but beneath its inviting facade, the young couple found that the house held some unfortunate secrets.

"It's a great house, but we quickly discovered it was really uncomfortable to actually live in," Liam said. "Fortunately, we were able to fix it with the right investments. Today, it's comfortable, energy-efficient, and certified at Pearl's Gold tier."

Here's how Liam and Kaity — with a little help from Casey Murphy, Senior Vice President of Incubation at Pearl Certification — made that happen in just six short months.

Liam Murphy Air Seal

A “Coats Indoors” Situation

One of the home's major shortcomings was its air sealing — or lack thereof — and woefully inadequate HVAC equipment. The home’s insufficient insulation was probably installed when the house was built decades earlier. The entire home also relied on electric baseboard heaters that were never capable of warming the home to a livable temperature.

"We'd turn the heaters up all the way, and even with space heaters, it was still a ‘coats indoors' situation," Liam noted. "We also closed off parts of the home during the winter. After all, we couldn't adequately heat them anyway, so after we received our first astronomical power bill, we decided to leave some rooms closed during the winter."

Liam Murphy Blower Door Test

Worse yet, the couple found that they had the opposite problem once summer arrived.

"We were relying on window air conditioning units," Liam said. "The kind that cools one room but not the ones adjacent to it. So the house was miserably cold in the winter and some rooms were boiling in the summer. And even in rooms that were kept cool by the window ACs, they are annoyingly noisy. Not really what you want to hear when you’re trying to sleep or watch TV."

Clearly, something had to give. And after some advice from his father, a building science expert, something mercifully did.

Related Post: Second Step to a High-Performing Home: Air Sealing

Liam Murphy Heat Pump

From Shivering to Snug

After learning just how uncomfortable the couple was in their new home, Casey helped Pearl Certification build a customized Home Investment Plan for his son, giving him a road map to follow on his journey to an electrified home. He also encouraged his son and partner to participate in their local utility's energy audit program.

"Once they had the energy audit and Home Investment Plan in hand, I urged them to work with qualified contractors to upgrade their air sealing and appliances and to do so as part of the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative's (SMECO) rebate program," Casey said. “Air sealing and insulation are often the very first steps you can take to improve your home’s performance. You can then get the appropriately sized HVAC system for your home.”

One contractor air sealed the attic plane and installed new insulation, while another installed ductless mini-splits (see our guide to heat pumps for more on those). In just weeks, the home was comfortable year-round and — now free of the noisy window AC units — mercifully quiet.

"It transformed our living environment. It was like living in a completely different home," Liam said. "Plus, our utility bills have plummeted across the board."

Related Post: What Is Home Electrification, and Is It for Me?

Liam Murphy ENERG Ystar

Going for Gold

The house finally felt like a home, but the young couple's energy-efficiency journey didn't stop there. After all, home improvements are part-and-parcel to home ownership! Once they made significant improvements to their home’s building shell and HVAC system, it was time to remodel the kitchen.

"People hear the words 'kitchen remodel,' and they usually think about aesthetics, but that was only part of our concern with this project," Liam said. "We wanted to update the look, of course, but we also wanted the new kitchen to be as healthy, safe, and energy efficient as possible."

The couple researched and purchased appliances rated by ENERGY STAR®, like the dishwasher and refrigerator. They also purchased an induction cooktop, which is safer than a gas cooktop and doesn’t emit harmful combustion byproducts into the air.

“The cooktop’s awesome,” Liam said. “It’s super quick, responsive, and easy to clean. I don’t cook a lot — but I do have experience with those old-fashioned electric ones, as well as gas. Induction is much better than both of those.”

Another important step he took was to vent the range hood outdoors.

“Our old range hood was one of those recirculating types. It was loud and didn’t really do anything for the smells. Our new one is quiet and effective.”

“Range hoods are very important to protect air quality in a home,” Casey added. “Cooking produces moisture and other byproducts that can impact the indoor air quality in a home. Range hoods remove those contaminants. But it’s important to do it right — properly venting outdoors will protect your home’s air and also ensure that the range hood operates at its quietest. Poor installations, on the other hand, can result in low airflow and excessive noise.”

"They live in an all-electric home, and they've earned Pearl's Electrified Home badge, in addition to being certified at Pearl's Gold tier," Casey said. Liam also received a Home Energy Score delivered by Pearl that gives them an ‘MPG-like’ score for their home, comparing it with all other homes in their area, regardless of home size.

“A score like Home Energy Score is one more piece of information that can be useful for homeowners and homebuyers,” Casey explained. “In combination with looking at a home’s actual energy usage as measured in energy bills, you can get a good sense of how the home uses energy, even when different families have different behaviors or family sizes.”

But Liam and Kaity aren't done yet. Like millions of homeowners, the couple continues to consider other home improvements to help them enjoy their home — and with an eye toward how those improvements can increase its eventual sale value.

That’s why they’re documenting their improvements in Green Door. So if or when they decide to sell this house, all these improvements are completely documented, and that's very likely to increase the home's value.

“When I was shopping for a home, I wasn’t even thinking about the day-to-day reality of how different homes have different levels of comfort or very different energy bills. And when I started the kitchen remodel, I didn’t really think about all the opportunities there were to improve indoor air quality and lower bills,” Liam noted. “Live and learn! But I’m glad I didn’t have to learn the hard way. I made the right decision to buy this home. I was fortunate to have quickly understood how to address some of its shortcomings.”

"Once you see how much of a difference the right investments — and help from the right partner — can make, there's no reason not to keep improving your home's energy efficiency."

Related Post: What are Pearl Solar and Electrified Home Badges?

Key Takeaways

If any of the Murphys’ journeys sound familiar, you're in luck! You don’t need a building scientist in your family to get advice. Sign up for Green Door, Pearl’s free app that makes it easy to identify which energy-efficiency performance improvements will deliver the most value for your home.

You can also use the Rebate Finder to identify national and local rebates and tax credits you may qualify for before starting your next home improvement project. Once your improvements are complete, you can use the app to certify your home’s high-performing features, which can increase your home's value. It's your best resource for building a high-performing home — and better still, it's completely free.

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