5 ways to make your old house the greenest on the block

Maryalene LaPonsie | Improvement Center Columnist | December 14, 2015

Eco-friendly old homeWhen your house is older than your grandparents, you may assume you're destined to live with high energy bills. However, with the right updates, an old house can be just as efficient as newly constructed homes.

These updates range from quick fixes that can be completed in a day to major projects that require more time and a greater investment.

Here are five ways to make your house the greenest one in the neighborhood.

Replace lightbulbs and light switches

If your home is still lit with incandescent bulbs, the easiest and cheapest way to make your house more energy efficient is to swap those out for CFL or LED ones. They are only a small investment upfront but can save you plenty of dollars in the long run.

Consider this analysis by Xcel Energy. Assuming you have 47 bulbs in your house and pay 11.88 cents per kilowatt hour, your monthly energy costs for the bulbs would be as follows:

  • Incandescent: $50.25
  • CFL: $11.73
  • LED: $7.97

To save even more, install motion sensor switches that will automatically turn off lights when no one is in the room.

Swap out toilets, faucets, and showerheads

Older homes are notorious for having leaky faucets and water-guzzling toilets and showerheads. Fortunately, it doesn't cost much and it isn't hard to replace those with more efficient, low-flow models.

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority says if you replace a pre-1980 toilet that uses seven gallons per flush with a low-flow toilet, you'll save 77 percent on your water usage. That could add up to a lot of money in your pocket, depending on your water and sewer rates.

If you're envisioning an icky mess with toilets that don't flush properly, rest assured today's low-flow models are a far cry from the early entries to the market.

Update windows and doors

Windows and doors are another major source of energy leaks in old houses. Single pane windows simply can't compete with today's replacement windows. Plus, old doors may be drafty and lack the insulation of newer models.

Replacing single pane windows with ENERGY STAR-qualified windows can save $126-$465 per year in energy costs, according to the Department of Energy. Those in New England will get the biggest benefit while those in California save the least.

If installing replacement windows and doors isn't in the budget this year, caulking and adding plastic installation to windows can also help reduce costs, although not as dramatically.

Add insulation and seal the attic

Many older houses are seriously lacking in insulation, and adding either blanket insulation or blown-in insulation to the attic and walls could save you hundreds of dollars each year. Actual savings will depend on the type of insulation and how much you add.

Having an energy assessment or home energy audit can be a good way to have your current level of insulation evaluated. An auditor can also recommend the best type of insulation to add for your home and climate.

In addition to adding insulation, you'll want to seal gaps and holes in the attic which could let air seep into living spaces and create drafts.

Rethink your energy source

If you have a bigger budget, replacing your furnace or installing a green energy source can be both good for the environment and good for your wallet. Furnace manufacturer Rheem says a Chicago home with a circa-1988 70,000 BTU furnace could save $436.80 per year by updating to a 95% efficient furnace, assuming natural gas costs 80 cents per therm.

Or you could think even bigger and add solar panels or install a geothermal system. Solar panels may not work in states where the sun remains hidden much of the year, but geothermal systems can be installed almost anywhere.

Alternative energy sources can be money-savers, but they often also come with a hefty upfront price tag. Do your homework to learn which energy source is best for your region before investing in a system. Even better, seek out others in your area who are already using green energy to see if they've been satisfied with their experience.

An old house doesn't have to be an inefficient house. Use these five tips to bring costs down without sacrificing the character or charm of your home.

About the Author

Maryalene LaPonsie has been writing professionally for more than a decade on topics including education, insurance and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from Western Michigan University.