Going green for less
Then there's that whole better-for-the-earth reasoning too, of course.
Increasing the energy efficiency of a building is a fairly straightforward action. Not having enough upfront money to do the job, however, stops a lot of people from taking the leap.
According to Meagan Forney, membership and outreach manager with the Colorado Green Building Guild, the first steps to green up a building won't cost a cent.
"Many modern appliances like TVs and computers draw just as much energy in standby mode as when they're in use," she said, referring to the standby mode as an electric vampire.
Computer-related equipment such as printers, routers and modems; DVD players; cable or satellite television boxes; and any items in your house that maintain a clock (think microwaves and programmable coffee makers) are included in the vampire category.
"Turn off some of these or use a smart power strip to power appliances down," Forney suggested, "especially if you're gone for the weekend."
Smart power strips shut down power to products when they go into standby mode. Standby consumption in the average home ranges from 5 percent to 10 percent of the household's energy consumption, according to figures from Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory.
Unplugging devices when not in use is another way to plug the energy leaks.
Other inexpensive energy savers include installing low-flow showerheads, weather stripping around doors and sealing around light fixtures and windows.
"The most economical thing that people can do from there is to air seal the attic space and insulate," Forney said. "Start at the top even though it's not something you can show off. It's very effective."
The draft you feel in your house could be a result of inside air leaking out from the attic, she said, which in turn lets outside air in.
Sealing air escape routes in the attic without insulating the attic and crawl space is like changing the oil in your car without changing the oil filter, Forney said.
In addition to her work in the community through the Colorado Green Building Guild (previously the Boulder Green Building Guild), Forney has firsthand experience with greening her home without breaking the bank.
"I live in a small condo — about 900 square feet — and my electric and utility bills were $80 to $120 a month," she said.
By recently combining incentives offered by Boulder County, the cities of Boulder and Longmont and Xcel Energy, Forney has reduced her utility bills by about 10 percent.
It only cost her $25.
"It cost about $1,300 to insulate and air seal my home, and I got $1,275 in rebates to do it," she said. "My home is more comfortable, and there aren't as many hot and cold spots as before."
Forney recommends that people do what she did before she made the investment: Find out where your house is leaking power.
"Any homeowner can get an energy audit that pinpoints the most critical areas of concern by contacting EnergySmart," she said. "It's a federally funded program that offers rebates and assistance in choosing contractors as well as in prioritizing tasks and measure to take."
EnergySmart offers three different services to help homeowners save energy. For $120 (currently on sale for $50 to Longmont residents), it will do a home energy assessment and pair you with an energy adviser. That person installs free energy- and water-saving items and helps determine the most cost-effective improvements you can make.
For just a consultation with an energy adviser, the cost is $30. If you've already had a home-energy audit from another source, such as Xcel Energy, EnergySmart offers free adviser consultation and information on rebates and financing.
The organization works with commercial properties as well.
EnergySmart helps homes and businesses in Boulder County be more comfortable and energy efficient. It is funded by a $25 million grant from the Department of Energy's Better Buildings Program, combined with contributions from the city of Boulder's Climate Action Plan tax and the city of Longmont.
The Colorado Green Building Guild, a nonprofit trade organization, is an association of building professionals that focuses on promoting healthier, resource-efficient homes and businesses. It does that through education, lobbying, market development and member resources.
"We have an 'ask the expert' forum where members answer (do-it-yourself) questions," Forney said, referring to the guild's website, coloradogreenbuildingguild.org. "And we're currently building a homeowner's tip library and will have a tip of the day by the end of summer with information on resources."