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As 2022 draws to a close, ’tis the season to reflect on the past year and look ahead to the new one. As you’re setting goals for 2023, we hope you’ll take the time to think about your energy use and utility bills. Yes, we know thinking about utility bills probably doesn’t fill you with cheer — but what we’re about to tell you will!

In this post, we’ll cover immediate, mid-term, and long-term strategies for saving energy and water in your home. To gather this information, we sat down with Casey Murphy, Pearl’s senior vice president of business incubation and a home performance expert.

So go ahead, make a resolution to lower your utility bills. With this strategic advice, it will be easier to accomplish than quitting junk food — and even more satisfying.

No-Cost, Immediate Step: Conserve Energy and Water at Home

“Conserving energy and water means not being wasteful in your behaviors,” Murphy says. “It means lowering your energy or water use by not using a device as much. For instance, turning off light bulbs when you leave a room. By altering everyday actions, you can see utility bill savings without having to fork out a penny. The degree of savings depends on your home and on how much room for improvement there is in your current routine.”

Conversation begins with self-awareness of your habits and asking whether your current habits are unintentionally being wasteful in how you use energy. “Ideally, conservation doesn’t require any sacrifice in terms of comfort or convenience,” explains Murphy. “For example, taking cold showers is technically a conservation measure, since it saves on the energy that heats your water. But I would never recommend that you stop taking hot showers. But if your shower takes 30 seconds or a minute to get hot water, do you start the shower, then brush and floss your teeth, and before you know it, the shower has been on for 2-5 minutes? If so, change your routine so you get in the shower as soon as the water is hot enough.”

It’s helpful to engage your whole household in conservation. Talk about where you keep your thermostat set, for instance — test your set point and see if keeping it a degree or two lower in the winter or higher in the summer impacts comfort. Murphy also recommends installing a smart thermostat, which can help do the conservation work for you, without having to learn and manage complicated scheduling features like on traditional “programmatic” thermostats.

Two big energy-wasters during both winter and summer holidays: keeping the fridge open for minutes at a time and keeping the front door open as people come and go.

And, Murphy adds, be aware of the numerous “miscellaneous energy loads” in your household, like game consoles and appliances that draw power 24/7, even when they aren’t in use. Smart strips can turn off devices when they aren’t being actively used. “And don’t forget about simply unplugging some items when they are being used. That includes holiday lights when you go to bed.”

Low-Cost, Mid-Term Step: Get a Home Energy Audit And Install Smart Home Devices

In contrast to conservation, being energy- and water-efficient doesn’t mean you’re using something less. “Efficiency means the devices themselves use less energy or water to perform the same function,” says Murphy. “You still want to turn the lights off, but if you have LED bulbs instead of incandescents, they use a fraction of the energy when they’re on.”

When it comes to water, switching out plumbing fixtures — showerheads, faucets, and toilets — with WaterSense models is the first step. This program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certifies products as being more water-efficient without sacrificing performance.

From an energy-efficiency perspective, replacing heating, cooling, and ventilation systems (HVAC); hot water heaters; lighting; and kitchen and bath appliances can lower your bills significantly. While they require a larger up-front investment, rebates and tax credits can help defray installation costs. Before you commit, Murphy advises starting with a low-cost energy audit and installation of smart home devices that will help you make educated decisions over the next few months.

“The most helpful energy audit is one done by a certified energy assessor and includes what’s called a ‘blower door test,’” Murphy says. A blower door test is a diagnostic tool for learning how much outside air sneaks into your home and how much conditioned air leaks out. Assessors typically review your past utility bills, examine each room of your home, use infrared photography, and pinpoint leaks using the blower door test.

“Knowledge is power,” Murphy says. “The audit puts measurable results in your hands by identifying the best opportunities for your specific home to save energy.”

Energy audits are typically low cost, and you may qualify for a rebate through your utility or the Inflation Reduction Act’s rebate programs. Murphy cautions that some utility programs don’t include a blower door test, so read the details before you sign up. You can find qualified energy assessors and Pearl Network Contractors in Pearl’s Green Door app.

Related Post: What’s a Home Energy Audit and When Do I Need One?

Understanding your home’s energy usage isn’t a one-and-done thing. “Smart home devices, like energy consumption monitors, give you better visibility into where you’re using energy every day,” Murphy says. “You’ll be able to see if your energy conservation and efficiency measures make a difference, before getting your bill.”

Other relatively low-cost devices, like smart thermostats, smart LED lighting, and smart plugs, can immediately help you save energy and money.

Related Post: How to Improve Home Health and Lower Energy Bills with Smart Home Technology

Moderate-Cost, Mid-Term Step: Seal Your Building Shell

“Depending on what part of the country you’re in, about 50% of your energy costs are related to heating and cooling,” Murphy says. “At Pearl, we consider how all the systems in your house affect one another. That’s why, instead of telling you to replace your HVAC system first, we say make sure your building shell — the barrier between conditioned indoor air and hot or cold outside air — is as tight as it can be. This reduces the load on your HVAC.”

An energy audit (see above) can show you where there are gaps in your building shell. For many people, it starts with the attic — it’s estimated that about 25% of your home’s heat can escape through the roof. Insulating and air sealing your home is a moderate-cost improvement depending on the size and structure of your home, says Murphy.

Next comes insulating wherever your ductwork runs — for your home, that might be the attic, the crawlspace, the basement, and/or the walls. Murphy stresses how important it is for a qualified contractor to make these improvements to truly impact your energy savings and utility bill.

Related Post: Step-by-Step Guide to a High-performing Home: The Ins and Outs of Insulation

Moderate-to-High-Cost, Long-Term Step: Install High-Efficiency Equipment

After addressing the building shell, it’s time to tackle your home’s largest energy user: heating and cooling. “If your system is operating but is nearing 10 years old,” Murphy says, “consider early replacement. Don’t wait for it to die and make an urgent decision. As soon as you install a new, high-efficiency system, you’ll start saving money on your utility bills. And depending on your financing plan, the amount of energy you save each month might be greater than the cost of your loan payment.”

Whether you opt for a highly efficient heat pump or a modern, high-efficiency furnace, you’ll want to make sure you’re only paying for the heating you need. You may even be able to downsize your HVAC system, thanks to a tighter building shell. Murphy reiterates the value of engaging a qualified professional: they know how to properly size and install your HVAC system for the greatest energy efficiency and comfort.

After heating and cooling, your water heater is the next biggest energy consumer in your home — gobbling up about 20% of your total energy. “You can make a significant difference in your costs with a new heat pump water heater, whether you’re switching from gas or currently have a traditional, all-electric (but not very efficient) water heater,” says Murphy. You can conserve water, too — no wasting a gallon while you wait on the water to heat.

Related Post: Heat Pump Versus Furnace: How do they stack up?

“You can’t forget about solar energy and home batteries,” Murphy says. “Energy efficiency needs to come first; then, when your home is performing well, these are great options to keep lowering utility bills.”

While high-efficiency equipment and solar are likely to be the largest investment on this list, with a little bit of research and a smart conversation with your contractor, you may find your upfront costs aren’t as big as you thought. Rebates and tax credits are already available through the federal and many state governments and utilities for high-efficiency equipment. And the first of the Inflation Reduction Act tax credits launches in January of 2023, with billions of dollars in rebates to follow. Murphy recommends preparing now with an energy audit and picking out the equipment you plan to invest in as rebates are finalized and rolled out.

Related Post: Homeowner’s Guide to Energy-Efficiency Rebates and Tax Credits

Make 2023 the Year of Lower Utility Bills

Lowering your utility bills now and in the future is possible — and Pearl is here to help at every step.

“The most important thing is to work with that well-qualified contractor who will help you think about everything and take advantage of your opportunities,” Murphy says. Finding those qualified contractors starts inside our Green Door app. There, you can create a custom Home Investment Plan, receive personalized efficiency recommendations, and connect with local, vetted, professional experts.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, energy-efficient New Year!

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