PhotoThere have been many strategies to encourage homeowners to make energy improvements to their home, to make it as efficient as possible. There have been tax breaks for high-tech thermostats, insulation and solar panel installations. And then there is the incentive of lower utility bills.

A California non-profit is now tapping into another motivation – competition. Build it Green, a non-profit promoting energy efficiency, with funding from the California Air Resources Board (ARB), has developed the Green Home Calculator. It gives users a green home score that reveals answers to four questions: 

  • How does your home's energy and water efficiency compare to similar homes?
  • Are your utility bills lower or higher than your neighbors?
  • What are a few simple home improvements that could save you money?
  • How can you reduce your home's impact on climate change?

Keeping up with the Joneses

It taps into the desire to not only keep up with the Joneses, but show the Joneses a thing or two.

"Our innovative tool is based on the understanding that a more effective way to engage people in going green is to pique their curiosity and show them how they compare to others," said Catherine Merschel, Executive Director of Build It Green. "The calculator helps people make clearer sense of energy and water information—and it's a lot of fun to play with."

The calculator poses a number of short questions to estimate energy and water usage–the square footage of their home, what type of water heater they have, etc. It then adjusts their green score in real time to show the benefits or disadvantages of various home features.

Green scorecard

PhotoLet's say you get a score of "40 percent more green than your neighbors." That should make you feel pretty good. However, that score drops when you factor in that second refrigerator in the garage. But it could improve if water-efficient bathroom fixtures have recently been installed.

When you get your final score you see your home's current projected energy use, water use, and cost savings you'll see over 30 years compared to homes of the same size and age located in the same ZIP code. With your score you also get suggested green improvements that can help raise the green score even more and save more money.

Bang for the buck

To increase your home's energy efficiency, there are inexpensive steps you can take to deliver more bang for the buck. Among the least expensive is applying caulk around the the exterior of all windows. If windows are old and in bad shape it will pay to spend the money to replace them with new, more modern ones that are much more energy efficient.

A programmable thermostat will also pay for itself quickly since it saves money all year long. In winter program the heat to be turned down at night and when no one is home. In summer you can use it to regulate the air conditioning so the house isn't kept cool when no one is home.

When renovating, take the opportunity to add insulation to attics, walls and crawlspaces. Water heaters are another big energy waster. Upgrading to a new, energy efficient unit – or better yet a tankless, on-demand model -- will save energy.


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