Q: Our home was built in the 1970s, and we’re considering serious renovations. Do you have any tips for making our home greener and more energy-efficient in the process? 

A: Remodeling or retrofitting existing homes is as important as building new sustainable homes. The greenest homes on the block are often the ones that have already been built, and a green remodel can greatly improve their performance.

Undertaking a major renovation, remodeling project or addition presents the perfect opportunity to make your existing home healthier, more energy-efficient and more comfortable. You can slash your bills, reduce your carbon footprint and breathe easier with the following remodeling tips.

Take a step-by-step approach

When remodeling or restoring, you need to carry out the project in a systemized order. This will save you lots of time and money, and result in a superior final product.

Make sure to air seal before you insulate; clean out all your heating ducts and air seal them before you hook up a new furnace; change out your old galvanized water lines before installing a new energy-efficient hot water tank; and pull out all the old knob and tube wiring and non-grounded receptacles before you update your electrical panel.

By doing things in the right order, your home’s new systems will work more efficiently, saving you time, money and future repairs.


Improve insulation

Major retrofitting tasks usually include air sealing, adding insulation, and upgrading heating and cooling systems. Fortunately, many of these projects are fairly inexpensive. Air sealing is especially affordable — a homeowner can do a lot with caulking and weatherstripping for around $100.

Adding attic insulation is frequently recommended by home energy raters, and in many cases, you can install your own for about $300. Older homes often have little or no insulation in the walls. A remodel offers a perfect time to add new insulation to help keep the heat inside. Insulation will also keep you home cooler in the summer months, and even help with noise reduction.

Utilize efficient lighting

A typical house uses 15% of its electricity for lighting. While retrofitting one room may not net significant savings, simple lighting efficiency adjustments throughout your home can greatly reduce energy bills while enhancing your home’s overall ambiance.

One of the cheapest and easiest ways to upgrade is by swapping out your incandescent light bulbs for LED, or light-emitting diode, bulbs. This can reduce your energy load by approximately 3%. In addition, an LED can last 10 times longer than a typical incandescent bulb, and with smart-bulb technology you can program your lighting from your phone or tablet.

Switch plumbing fixtures

Changing kitchen and bath fixtures to WaterSense certified fixtures is an essential part of any green remodel project. These fixtures, along with low-flow toilets, can reduce water consumption by as much as 60%. This switch will not affect your comfort and will save you a ton in monthly water bills. Not only that, it will also reduce your sewer bill as your home produces less wastewater.

Upgrade appliances

Most old appliances require more electricity than you would expect. Some of them even draw energy and burn money when they’re not in use. Upgrading to Energy Star-certified appliances can save homeowners hundreds of dollars every year. For example, Energy Star washing machines use 40­–50% less energy and 50% less water than their less-efficient counterparts


Replace old windows

This is one of the most important things you can do to improve comfort, reduce noise and save big on your heating and cooling bills. Upgrading to triple-pane windows will ensure that heating stays inside your home. It will also help keep your home cool and comfortable in the summer months. Ultimately, this upgrade will cut your heating bills by as much as half. It will also add to your home’s resale value.

Every step you take to reduce your energy use is a step toward a greener future. With a few changes and a little elbow grease, remodeling can net you lower utility bills and a more sustainable lifestyle. It’s well worth the extra effort.


Anthony Maschmedt is the principal of Dwell Development, a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of MBAKS’s more than 2,700 members, write to homework@mbaks.com.