Sustainability Now

Improve Your Home on the Cheap

Improving your home's energy efficiency, indoor air quality and water efficiency 
doesn't have to break the bank. Below, I have listed several easy options to green 
your home on the (relative) cheap that should help you to save money on your 
energy bills.

1. Buy some heavy blackout curtains for your windows and/or doors. Instead of
buying new windows with multiple panes or opting for those stylish but not 
well-insulating blinds, blackout curtains can be found for under fifty dollars 
and can reduce heat loss/gain by a quarter. That gain, of course, is when you 
draw your draperies. In addition, if there is no insulation in your walls, the 
draperies will also act as a layer of insulation trapping the cold air on one 
side and the warm room air on the other (in the summer the reverse is true).

2. Weather strip or re-do your existing weather stripping on your exterior 
doors (and windows if possible). If that door sweep is worn down or missing 
and you feel the cold wind billowing in, a quick trip to the hardware store and
an hour or so of time will make your home significantly more comfortable. 
The same goes for your attic hatch. Put some weather stripping around the 
opening and stick a layer of insulation on top. You will be surprised at how 
warm your hallway (or closet) all of a sudden feels. 

3. Buy or finally program a programmable thermostat. A programmable 
thermostat allows you to set the temperate of your home based on the time of
day. This means that you can set the temperature to increase or decrease 
based on whether you are awake, sleeping, home, at work, shopping, etc. If 
you have a regular schedule, you can set your thermostat to follow your 
schedule and then forget about it. You won’t waste money heating or cooling 
your home when you’re not there or when you’re asleep. There are even 
companies making thermostats that set themselves during a “learning” 
period. These are still somewhat experimental but if you love the “latest and 
greatest” gadgets, you might like to try one. 

4. Install a timer or photocell for your porch and/or outdoor lights so they will 
automatically turn on when dark and off when light. Then, you won’t have to 
remember to do the switching but for seasonal adaptations.

5. Upgrade your lighting from incandescent (the traditional metal filament that 
glows orange/white) to either CFL (compact florescent) or LED (light 
emitting diode) bulbs. Typically, only 10% of the electricity is used for 
lighting and the rest is wasted as heat. If that fixture is a ceiling can, the heat 
then escapes right up into the attic. The great heat potential is why those old 
Betty Crocker ovens we used as kids worked great with just a 100W bulb. 
However, when replacing lights, you now should pay careful attention to the 
new information found on the side or back of the cartons. Manufacturers are 
now packing in a lot of new information on the box, but knowing what all the 
numbers and symbols mean translates to you getting a bulb that will save you
money, and one that you’ll actually like. Stay tuned next issue for my detailed 
light bulb primer on how to understand and choose a new kind of light bulb. 

Dav Camras is the owner of HouseSmart Green Solutions (, has extensive experience in the technical aspects of green science with an MS in water and wastewater treatment, certifications as a HERS Whole House Rater, Certified Green Building Professional and BPI- Building Analyst. To promote greener living, Dav started HSGS, a home energy consulting firm.