Dreading this summer’s trade-offs between comfort and the cost of cooling your home? Instead of sticking it out through another stiflingly hot summer, consider some home improvements and upgrades that could help you.
“I think many people just accept many of their house’s issues — in particular, that there are hot and cold parts of the house,” said Asa Foss, director of residential technical solutions at the U.S. Green Building Council. “That’s nonsense — this can be corrected, often with a few easy actions.”
Here are home improvement projects that can lower your utility bills and keep you cool this summer.
1. Insulate, seal, and ventilate the attic
“Air-seal and insulate your attic — hands down, this is the most important thing to do,” Foss said. Adding an attic ventilation fan can help cool the space in summer months.
Upgrading your attic can create a more effective temperature barrier between your roof and your home’s interior. “This will keep your cool, dry air — which you are paying to condition — from getting wasted and escaping outside,” Foss pointed out. Sealing the attic air also will keep out dust and pollutants, thereby improving air quality.
This project’s costs will depend on the size of your home and how accessible your attic is. It can be as cheap as $145 to install fiberglass insulation yourself and up to $2,000 for professionally installed blown-in insulation, according to HomeAdvisor estimates in June 2018. And installing more efficient attic insulation can save you up to $500 per year in energy costs.
2. Check your air conditioner and seal the ducts
Your air conditioner is responsible for using most of the power that cools your home, so making sure it’s running efficiently can help you use less energy and money. An air conditioner tuneup usually costs around $100 to $200, Foss said, and it can help your system last longer.
But don’t stop at the air conditioner — check your whole cooling system. Around 20% of cool, dry air leaks out of ducts after being conditioned, according to Energy Star.
“If you have ducts running in the attic, garage, or crawl space, have them air-sealed,” Foss said. He estimated that sealing of ducts costs up to $1,500, and they’ll keep in the cool air.
3. Upgrade your window energy efficiency
In addition to considering window treatments, you might want to check how energy-efficient your windows and doors are. “Improperly sealed windows can negate energy-efficient temperature settings and can be responsible for 20% of energy loss in the home,” said Larry Patterson, a Glass Doctor franchisee in Dallas, Texas.
The most efficient solution is keeping window frames in place and installing “new low-emissivity (low-E) glass insulated windows,” Patterson said. Each new window can run between $300 and $700, according to HomeAdvisor in June 2018. These windows can cut your energy cost by up to a third in summer and winter, Patterson added.
Alternatively, consider applying a solar film to windows. Living in the Phoenix desert, Marcion Albert, the founder and editor of awning review site NewAwning.com, has tried plenty of home improvements to beat the heat. “One of our favorites is solar film, which is a tinted plastic that adheres to the glass of a window,” he said. It filters heat from entering your home, is fairly inexpensive, and is easy to install yourself.
4. Shade your home
Keeping your home shaded and out of direct sunlight will help it stay cooler during summer months, saving you money on electricity expenses. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to do this is to plant trees.
“Plant large shade trees on the south and west sides of the house,” Foss said. In fact, trees offer more than just shade. They release water vapor, which further cools the air around them.
Visit a local plant nursery for help with choosing shade trees that will grow quickly and thrive in your area’s climate. Each of these trees can cost $25 to $150 or more, depending on the species and maturation. “It’ll take a few years before they start shading the house, but when they do, the benefit will be noticeable,” Foss said.
Awnings are another option to shade your home. Installing an awning can cost from $400 to $5,500, according to HomeAdvisor in June 2018.
5. Install solar panels
Instead of trying to block the sun, why not harness it to generate your own energy? Installing solar panels allows you to do just that.
“It’s always a good time to install solar panels on your roof if you have a flat roof or a south-facing sloped roof,” Foss said. As solar panels generate electricity, they power your home, meaning you’ll rely less on electricity from the grid. You might even generate enough power to sell some of it back to your utility company.
Don’t wait too long to install solar panels. “The 30% federal solar panel rebate starts phasing out in 2020, so take advantage of that,” Foss added.
How to pay for summer home improvements
Once you pick a home project to tackle over the summer, you need to figure out the financial side. Spend some time researching costs and budgeting for the project. Here’s what to do:
- Plan out home improvement costs. Find out how much the improvement will cost, including labor and materials. From there, you can allocate the costs out of your available funds or save up for this short-term goal if you don’t have enough money on hand.
- Pay with cash. It can be tempting to go into debt for these summer home improvements, but resist the urge. Borrowing to improve your home adds interest and fees to costs that already might be high. Put off the purchase and save up until you can pay in cash.
- If you have to borrow, do it wisely. If you can’t delay the project and need to borrow money to cover it, look for affordable ways to pay for a home improvement. Borrowing through a home equity loan or personal loan for home improvements typically will cost less than paying for the project with a credit card, for example.
- Manage debt responsibly. If you use credit or a loan to pay for a home improvement project, you can avoid huge interest costs by paying the debt off early. If you pay with a credit card or other form of high-interest debt, see if you can reduce your overall interest charges through a credit card balance transfer or credit card consolidation.
An energy-efficient home: Lower costs and more comfort
These summer home improvement ideas hold big promise. “Many of the improvements that can lower cooling bills will also improve the comfort and indoor air quality of the home,” Foss said.
If you keep costs low and avoid borrowing, you’ll get a better return on the investment from these home upgrades.
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