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According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average Pennsylvania family consumes more than 10,000 kWh of electricity annually and spends more than $2,000 per year on energy bills. Half of the energy consumed in Pennsylvania homes is for heating. Air sealing and insulating your home is often the best first step to a comfortable home and saving energy and money. Also, you can take steps to make your home more energy efficient at little or no cost, such as adjusting your programmable thermostat or making lighting changes. These energy efficiency improvements can save you money and help reduce climate change.

Whole House

Think of your home as a complex energy system where adding people or a change in the weather impacts the entire system. Each of these affects the performance of the entire system. Rather than focusing on a single problem, like an old heating or cooling system, not enough insulation in the attic, or leaky windows, look at how improvements throughout your home can work together to give you the best results. For more information, or to find a certified auditor to schedule a home energy audit, visit Home Performance BPI and Energy Star.

Uniform Construction Code

Most homes built prior to 1990 are at least 50% less efficient than homes built to the current 2015 national residential energy code. The Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code provides minimum requirements for efficient design and construction for new and renovated residential and commercial buildings. Pennsylvania homes are currently required to be built to the 2009 energy code. Building homes to more efficient energy codes help to:

  • Save money
  • Protect from high utility bills and shoddy construction
  • Ensure safety
  • Provide quality and comfort
  • Reduce pollution
  • Increase reliability
  • Help consumers make informed decisions
  • Are a cost-effective investment
For more information, visit Building Codes Assistance Project.

Air Seal

Unconditioned air can leak into your home and conditioned air can leak out of your home through lots of places such as windows, doors, plumbing vents and attic hatches, costing you money and wasting energy. Homes can be sealed with weather-stripping, caulking and door sweeps to improve your home's energy efficiency. For more information, visit DOE Energy Saver.

Insulation

Heat flows from warmer to cooler places until there is no longer a temperature difference. In your home, this means that in winter, heat flows directly from all heated living spaces to adjacent unheated spaces, even to the outdoors. During the cooling season, heat flows from the outdoors to the interior of a house. Properly insulating your home not only reduces heating and cooling costs, but also improves comfort. For more information, visit DOE Energy Saver.

Home Cooling

If your central air conditioning unit is more than 12 years old, replacing it with an ENERGY STAR qualified model could cut your cooling costs by 30 percent. ENERGY STAR certified ductless heating and cooling systems are an increasingly popular, cost-effective solution to replace inefficient baseboard electric heating and window air conditioners in older homes. Ductless split-system air conditioners and heat pumps, sometimes call mini-splits, are air conditioners or heat pumps that do not use ductwork for an air distribution systems. They’re used in new construction, home additions, multi-family (condo or apartment) housing, and to improve comfort in poorly heated or cooled rooms. ENERGY STAR qualified central air conditioners have higher seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) and energy efficiency ratio (EER) ratings, making them over 15 percent more efficient than conventional models. For more information, visit Energy Star.

Home Heating

Certified gas furnaces in the northern half of the U.S. are up to 16 percent more energy efficient than baseline models and can save an average of $94 dollars in energy costs per year. Certified oil furnaces are up to 4 percent more energy efficient than baseline models and can save an average of $66 in energy costs per year. ENERGY STAR qualified boilers have annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) ratings of 85 percent or greater, making them 6 percent more efficient than models that simply meet the federal minimum standard for energy efficiency.

For more information on heating and cooling energy star products, visit Energy Star.

Reduce Radon

Pennsylvania has one of the most serious radon problems in the country. An estimated 40 percent of Pennsylvania homes have radon levels above the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency's action guideline of 4 picocuries per liter. Smoking, radon, and secondhand smoke are the leading causes of lung cancer. Radon is a health hazard with a simple solution. Testing your home is the only way to know if radon levels are high. If they are, reducing them could save your life.

DEP's Radon Division

DEP’s Radon Division helps to ensure public health and safety from radon by increasing awareness of its health risks and through the administration of a certification program for individuals or companies performing radon testing, mitigation and laboratory analysis. DEP provides an extensive amount of expert information to the general public on all matters related to radon. For more information, click here.

Radon Testing

Testing for radon is the first and most important step. It’s also easy. You can buy test kits at many home centers, or from a state certified laboratory. You can also hire a state certified radon tester to do the testing for you. This would be particularly useful during a real estate transaction. The do-it-yourself type test kits typically cost about $25 to $35. Hiring a certified tester will be more expensive. DEP recommends that all homes, schools, and businesses test for radon. For more information, visit DEP Radon Monitoring.

Radon Mitigation

If your test results show elevated radon levels, the next step is to have a radon reduction system installed in your home. A typical radon reduction system employs a fan and some PVC piping that draws the radon from below the basement floor and exhausts it through the roof to the outside air. These systems can range in cost from about $800 to $1200. A list of state certified radon mitigation contractors can be found on the DEP/Radiation Protection/Radon Division web site. For more information, visit DEP Radon Mitigation Standards.

Radon Resistant New Construction

Installing a radon system during new home construction prepares the home for increased radon removal. There is no reliable way to test the ground in advance for radon. The cost of installing the radon system during construction should be less than installing one after the fact. Building the radon system internally should keep aesthetics of the home intact. For more information, visit DEP Radon New Construction.

Save Energy

The best source of energy is the energy we don't use, or the negawatt. Conserving energy is easy and the right thing to do. From flipping off the switch to programming your computer or TV to shut-off automatically, these habits avoid wasting energy use when not needed.

Programmable Thermostat

Also sometimes referred to as a "setback thermostat," a programmable thermostat lets you customize the heating and cooling of your home to your needs, ensuring the heat and air-conditioning aren't running when you don't need them.

LED Lights

Light emitting diodes or LED lights, are a type of solid state lighting that produces light when an electrical current is passed through a semiconductor material. They produce light very efficiently and the heat produced is absorbed into a heat sink.  An incandescent bulb releases 90 percent of its energy as heat.

Energy Efficient Appliances

For energy efficient appliances, search for Energy Star Products on the Energy Star website. ENERGY STAR products are independently certified to save energy without sacrificing features or functionality. Saving energy helps prevent climate change. Look for the ENERGY STAR label to save money on your energy bills and help protect our environment.

Build Green

Utilizing green building materials in your home is a smart approach to conserving resources, reducing the impacts of climate change, and improving health. Reclaimed wood flooring and carpeting made from recycled content helps conserve our material resources. Bamboo and cork are considered rapidly renewable materials, because they grow much faster than typical hardwoods, making them wise choices for flooring. Products such as porous paving and rain barrels help manage stormwater on your property. For more inspiration on remodeling and renovating your home in a green fashion, check out the links below. They’re just a fraction of sustainable building materials available today. To read and receive advice from green building professionals on your home renovations, refer to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Home Guide.

The list below contains links to stores in Pennsylvania that specialize in high-quality, green building materials for your home.

WaterSense® labeled products:

WaterSense® is a labeling program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that makes it easy to find and select water-efficient products that can help your wallet and the environment. WaterSense® labeled products are backed by independent, third-party testing and certification, and meet EPA’s specifications for water efficiency and performance. Toilets, bathroom sink faucets, showerheads, and weather-based irrigation controllers are examples of products that can carry the WaterSense® label.

IceStone countertops:

These colorful countertops are manufactured locally in Brooklyn, N.Y. and contain 100 percent recycled glass, Portland cement, and non-toxic pigments.

Cork flooring:

Cork flooring is made from the bark of the cork oak tree, but the process doesn’t kill the tree. Cork trees can produce the bark for 100 to 150 years, so it is a rapidly renewable material.

Bamboo flooring:

Bamboo flooring is made from a grass that takes significantly less time to mature than hardwoods, which makes it a rapidly renewable material.

Marmoleum flooring:

Marmoleum® flooring is natural linoleum that comes in a rainbow of colors. Unlike typical vinyl floors, Marmoleum® has no chemicals that off-gas into your home. It is made from all-natural materials such as linseed oil, cork, limestone, and tree rosin. It’s also biodegradable. This manufacturer’s headquarters is based in Pennsylvania!

FLOR® carpet tiles:

Carpet tiles from Interface are made from renewable and recycled content. Their Fedora line is made from 80 percent post-consumer recycled face fibers. They are also recyclable at the end of their useful life by shipping them back to the manufacturer. If you spill something on these tiles, they can be hand washed in your sink to remove stains. Or, you can replace individual tiles, instead of having to remove wall-to-wall carpeting.

Insulated concrete forms (ICFs):

ICFs form the wall structure of a building AND provide insulation. In our Pennsylvania climate, you won’t need additional insulation installed. ICFs have high insulation values and use about 44 percent less energy to heat and 32 percent less energy to cool than wood-framed homes. ICFs contain up to 45 percent recycled materials. They withstand earthquakes and a 3 second gust of 150 mph wind.

EcoStar™ recycled rubber roofing shingles:

These shingles contain up to 80 percent recycled post-industrial rubber and plastic. The post-industrial materials include waste like car bumpers and baby diaper production remnants. Manufacturing the shingles prevents these materials from ending up in landfills.

Low to no VOC paints:

Paint that is low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) don’t give off as many harmful chemicals as traditional paints. There are numerous brands of low VOC paint on the market, including Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore.

Permeable pavers:

Permeable pavers allow water to pass through a solid stone core, which prevents stormwater runoff, reduces flooding and recharges groundwater.

Rain barrels:

Rain barrels collect water from the roof through a gutter system. The water can be used to water gardens, but rain barrels also conserve water and reduce stormwater runoff. Rain barrels should always be protected from mosquito infestation by using BTI, a soil bacterium that kills mosquito larvae.

Solar Technologies:

Solar thermal (hot water) systems use sunlight as the heat source, eliminating the need for fossil fuels. Photovoltaic (PV), or solar panels convert sunlight directly into electricity. While solar seems attractive, it is important to first make your home more energy efficient via insulating and air sealing, before adding photovoltaic panels. For a list of certified solar thermal or solar PV installers in your area, refer to the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). There is a federal tax credit currently available for homeowners that install renewable energy systems, such as solar PV and solar thermal.