Ask Eartha: Remodeling with an energy-efficiency edge

If you’re remodeling, energy-efficiency analysts from High Country Conservation Center can perform home energy assessments to let you know what work should be done as you tackle improvements.
High Country Conservation Center/Courtesy photo

Dear Eartha, I’m planning a home remodel this spring, and I want to make sure I’m considering energy efficiency, too. Do you have any advice to help my project be the best it can be?

’Tis the season for home improvement projects! The warm months are a great time to plan and complete that work you’ve always wanted done on your home — or even the upgrades it needs to keep you and your family cozier and happier next winter and beyond. Remodel work, such as renovating a kitchen or building additions, can add a lot of value to your home. And as you plan these projects, it’s an excellent time to consider energy efficiency, too.

Why? Because you might already have walls opened up — or even torn down — during a remodel project, and it’s a cost-effective time to add in some energy-efficiency improvements. Not only will you benefit from energy savings, but it’s generally more convenient and less expensive to improve efficiency while you’re tackling other projects.



How to plan with efficiency in mind

The key is to work in building performance upgrades early in the planning process, when small changes to the work scope can make a big difference with minimal effort. Below are a few common retrofit measures that incorporate this concept. Every project is unique, so use these examples to help guide your own renovation goals:

  • If the project involves opening up walls, ceilings or floors, or replacing roofing, consider consider integrating insulation and sealing air leaks to levels recommended for our cold climate. The same can be said if the project involves building an addition or finishing a previously unfinished space.
  • If the project involves replacing light fixtures, switches or outlets, you can once again consider sealing air leaks, the time around electrical boxes and light fixtures before replacements are installed. You can maximize efficiency by using LEDs if you don’t already have them.
  • If the project involves upgrading kitchen or other large appliances, look for Energy Star-certified appliances, especially for the big energy users like refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers.

Bring in the experts early

Wondering how to get started? The best way to understand how to work efficiency into your remodeling project is by getting a home energy assessment first. This process will identify the opportunities for improvement. Through in-depth testing and diagnostic procedures, a home energy analyst will locate where there air leaks out of your walls or around your windows (wasting a lot of energy — and money — in winter), where insulation may not be enough to hold in warmth (or where it might be missing altogether), along with other important safety and durability checks.



After the assessment, your analyst will talk with you about their recommendations and provide a detailed report with tons of useful information about your home’s performance. Even better, completing the assessment makes you eligible for local and utility rebates for qualifying energy-efficiency improvements, helping to make them more affordable. Who doesn’t love getting paid to save energy?

Once you’ve got these recommendations in hand, chat with your contractor about incorporating them into the projects you’ve got planned. You’ll likely end up paying a bit more upfront, but you’ll reap the benefits in the long run: energy savings, more comfort and durability, and a safer home.

Ready to get nerdy about how your home uses energy? During the month of April, the High Country Conservation Center is offering bonus rebates on home energy assessments to the first 35 folks who sign up. Assessments usually run $99 after rebates, but the added cash back this month will make them totally free for homes under 2,500 square feet. Larger homes will incur an added cost per square foot. These spots are going quick, so sign up now at HighCountryConservation.org to snag the deal.

Here’s the big takeaway: Whether or not you’re planning a remodel this year, there is a good chance your home could use a little TLC in the energy-efficiency department. Working with a building performance expert and following through on the recommendations will make you more comfortable while using less energy, and that’s pretty darn energizing.

Taylor Magnus