In an era where sustainability has become a top priority, making your home more energy-efficient is not just a trend but an environmental imperative. Energy-efficient upgrades not only contribute to a greener planet but will also give you a more functional and enjoyable living space, while helping you save money in the long run.
In an era where sustainability has become a top priority, making your home more energy-efficient is not just a trend but an environmental imperative. Energy-efficient upgrades not only contribute to a greener planet but will also give you a more functional and enjoyable living space, while dramatically cutting your energy costs.
As we step into 2024, let’s explore 12 cutting-edge home upgrades that will enhance energy efficiency, ranging from simple DIY upgrades to comprehensive deep energy retrofits.
1. LED and smart lighting
One of the simplest and most cost-effective energy upgrades you can make is replacing traditional incandescent, halogen or compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) light bulbs with LED lighting. LED bulbs consume significantly less energy, have a longer lifespan, and are available in various colour temperatures to suit your preferences.
Smart LED lighting systems allow you to control your lighting with a smartphone app or your home’s Smart panel. Smart automation can adjust lighting levels in your home based on need, providing brighter task lighting for people working in the kitchen, studying or working at a desk. Ambient or general lighting can automatically be turned on when you enter a room, with accent lighting for features like works of art or collections, then dim when the television is turned on or by voice command, and then switch off when the last person has left the room.
2. Smart thermostats for intelligent heating and air conditioning
Smart thermostats can learn your individual temperature preferences and habits and adjust room temperatures based on your family’s schedule. They automatically adjust to energy-saving temperatures when you’re asleep or away, and can be monitored and adjusted remotely. With wi-fi enabled thermostats, you can let the system know when you plan to return, so your ideal temperatures will be waiting for you.
Smart thermostats not only ensure that your home is comfortable when you’re home but also prevent unnecessary energy consumption when the house is empty. ENERGY STAR certified smart thermostats are compatible with most of the recent HVAC systems, and they quickly enter a low-power standby mode when inactive.
3. Energy-efficient windows and doors
Professionally installed ENERGY STAR windows and doors help eliminate thermal bridging, significantly reduce heat loss and drafts, and minimize condensation. You’re looking for double-, triple- or even quadruple-glazing, with low-emissivity (low-E) glass, and argon or krypton gas inside the sealed units.
Aluminum and wood are popular front door materials, but, fibreglass is the most energy-efficient front door material. It’s an excellent material because it’s durable and it doesn’t conduct heat well. Wood absorbs heat and is a poor insulator, but it can be applied as a thin veneer to fibreglass doors, often delivering the best of both worlds. Woodgrain fibreglass is also available, which offers the appearance of wood textures like cedar, mahogany, and oak.
Window units and doors are mounted with low conductivity or warm-edge spacer bars, with insulated frames and sashes, and they offer exceptional air tightness. Investing in energy-efficient windows and doors can significantly reduce heat loss or gain, depending on the season, with impressive savings in heating and air conditioning costs.
4. High-efficiency HVAC system
Replacing outdated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) components with an energy-efficiency HVAC system means you’ll use far less energy to provide the same level of heating or cooling as a traditional system. This should result in significant savings on your hydro or gas bills over time. Using less energy also means your home will produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions and have a smaller environmental footprint.
Energy-efficient HVAC systems typically provide more even heating or cooling, which can help eliminate hot or cold spots in your rooms. Features such as variable-speed fans, zone control or smart systems can provide greater control over the temperature and comfort level in different areas of the house.
5. Solar power integration
Solar panels convert energy from the sun into direct current (DC) electricity. Inverters convert the DC electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity, which is what your home and BC Hydro’s distribution system uses.
BC Hydro encourages households to become self-sufficient and generate electricity for their use. They offer a net metering program that allows you to power your home with renewable energy, but with the flexibility to rely on their power grid if you need it. Your home solar power system will generate more electricity than you need when the conditions are ideal, and your control panel will feed the surplus back to the grid. You’ll get a generation credit towards your future electricity use. Then, when your system doesn’t generate enough to meet your needs, you’ll buy power from BC Hydro.
6. Smart appliances for energy conservation
If your home appliances are more than five years old, you’ll want to consider upgrading them to smart, energy-efficient models. More and more appliance manufacturers are adding smart features to their products. ENERGY STAR certified cooktops, refrigerators, dishwashers, washers dryers, and room air conditioners use significantly less energy. Wi-fi enabled smart appliances offer consumers new functionality that can provide added convenience and even more savings.
An app alert can tell you when your refrigerator door has been left open. The app also enables you to look inside your refrigerator without opening the door and wasting energy every time someone wants a snack. You can schedule your laundry or dishwasher cycles to begin when your electricity rates are lowest, and your dryer can automatically shut off when the clothes are dry, rather than continuing for a full pre-programmed cycle, thereby reducing your dryer’s energy use. And you’ll be able to turn off your room air conditioner by remote from your smartphone if you forget to do so before leaving the house.
Smart appliances deliver features like energy consumption tracking, remote operation, and optimized usage schedules. They come with future-oriented “smart grid” capabilities that could support a more reliable, less polluting electric grid. Look for appliances with ENERGY STAR certification, indicating compliance with energy efficiency guidelines set by the ENERGY STAR Canada.
7. Energy-efficient water heating solutions
There are two main types of energy-efficient water heaters to consider. Tankless water heaters, also known as demand-type water heaters, deliver hot water only as needed, heating water instantaneously without the use of a storage tank. When you turn on a hot water faucet, cold water flows through a heat exchanger in the unit. There’s no need to wait for a storage tank to fill with enough hot water. Tankless water heaters will typically last longer and have lower operating and energy costs because you’re not having to keep a large tank of hot water at the ready.
Heat pump water heaters are another energy-efficient option. Most homeowners who have heat pumps are using them to heat and cool their homes, but they can also be used to heat their water. Heat pump water heaters use electricity to move heat rather than generate the heat directly, making them two to three times more energy efficient than conventional water heaters. They are essentially a refrigerator working in reverse. Your refrigerator moves heat from inside the enclosed box into the surrounding room, while a heat pump water heater (HPWH) pulls heat from the surrounding air, and then moves it to heat the water in an enclosed tank.
8. Advanced insulation materials
Retrofitting an older home with proper insulation provides benefits like increased energy savings, improved indoor air quality, and enhanced comfort. Installing advanced insulation materials prevents heat transfer, reducing the workload on your HVAC system while maintaining a comfortable temperature indoors. Insulating your attic, walls, and floors is key to upgrading to an energy-efficient home.
Rigid insulation panels provide outstanding thermal resistance, offering high R-values while ensuring excellent thermal resistance and minimizing heat transfer. Another option, spray foam insulation, is applied on-site so it conforms to the surface where it is applied. Spray foam is exceptionally versatile and can seal wall cavities, exterior walls, attics, crawlspaces, and small gaps and cracks throughout a house. Spray foam products help achieve a sealed building envelope, which reduces energy usage, while limiting air infiltration and the intrusion of pollutants and allergens.
Natural mineral wool insulations are also popular in energy retrofits, with a 22-37% higher R-value per inch when compared with fibreglass.
9. Efficient landscaping for climate control
Strategic landscaping can contribute to the energy efficiency of your property, adding beauty to your home, while reducing your heating and cooling costs. Planting trees on the south and west sides of your property provides shade, reducing the cooling load on your home during hot seasons, with potential savings of up to 25% on your energy costs. Similarly, well-placed windbreaks can minimize heat loss during colder months, helping to maintain a more stable indoor climate.
A microclimate is a local set of atmospheric conditions that differ from those in your surrounding areas. Your microclimate may receive more sun, shade, wind, rain, snow, moisture, or dryness than average local conditions, so it’s important to factor in the microclimate when landscaping for energy efficiency.
10. Smart energy monitoring systems
ENERGY STAR Smart Home Energy Management Systems (SHEMS) require a minimum of an ENERGY STAR certified smart thermostat, lighting and monitor/control plug loads. Other products and services such as solar panel system net metering, ENERGY STAR appliances, EV chargers, smart security and fire alert systems, and smart landscapes can be added to the system.
A comprehensive energy monitoring system can track the energy usage of individual appliances and systems in your home. Real-time data and insights allow you to identify energy-hungry devices and adjust your usage patterns accordingly. Smart monitoring systems can also help you optimize your energy consumption for additional cost savings.
11. High-efficiency water fixtures
Upgrading your home to high-efficiency toilets, low-flow shower heads, faucet aerators and tub diverters significantly reduces your household’s water consumption. Toilets before 1994 typically used more than 6.06 litres of water when flushed. Today’s high-efficiency toilets (HETs) have a maximum flush volume of 4.8 litres, saving about 20%. Low-flow shower heads can reduce water consumption by as much as 70%, while still providing a strong spray of water.
These upgrades not only conserve a precious resource but also lower the energy required for water heating, contributing to your home’s overall energy efficiency.
12. Deep energy retrofit for holistic improvement
A deep energy retrofit (DER) is a home energy upgrade that reduces the energy usage of your home by 50% or more, reducing your home’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while lowering your monthly energy bills. A deep energy retrofit plan bundles upgrades in three primary steps: 1) upgrading your home’s building envelope, 2) updating your home’s mechanical systems, and 3) adding a renewable energy system to your energy-efficient home.
In step 1, your home’s building envelope is inspected for its air leakage rate and insulation. Based on the findings, upgrades may include adding insulation to the walls, basement, exposed floors and attic. Doors and doors may also be upgraded, and the envelope will be sealed, by draft-proofing any cracks and gaps.
In step 2 your home’s space heating, ventilation and cooling systems, water heating system, lighting and appliances are checked and upgraded as needed. The size of your HVAC system is matched to your home, reflecting the sealing of the building envelope and upgrading of your insulation. In most cases, a new heat pump system is installed, with a heat-recovery ventilator.
In step3 your energy needs are assessed, based upon the improvements that were made to the building envelope in step 1, and mechanical systems in step 2. A renewable energy source such as a roof or ground-mounted solar panel system is installed, and integrated with BC Hydro’s net metering. While it requires a substantial upfront investment, a deep energy retrofit can lead to dramatic energy savings and a more sustainable home in the long term.
As we navigate the challenges of environmental sustainability and rising energy costs, upgrading your home to be more energy-efficient is a proactive and responsible choice. Whether you start with simple changes like LED lighting or embark on a comprehensive deep energy retrofit, every upgrade brings you closer to a greener, more sustainable future. Stay informed about the latest technologies and incentives, and take steps to make your home an energy-efficient, future-proof haven in 2024 and beyond.