In Multnomah County, the energy used in buildings accounts for about half of total carbon emissions, more than transportation and waste disposal combined. The energy that you use at home has a real impact, both on your energy bills and carbon footprint.
Robert Hamerly, Principal at GreenSavers, offers advice for improving the way homes use and lose energy. Based in SE Portland, GreenSavers recently earned the ENERGY STAR® Contractor of the Year Award for the fourth consecutive year in a row. They were selected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from more than 1,450 contractors across the country.
If you are not sure where to start, Hamerly advises a home energy audit. He explains, “An audit takes two to three hours and includes a full set of diagnostic tests, like a blower door test and infrared camera scan. What you get is a full report on priorities, costs, and available cash incentives.”
According to Hamerly, insulation and air sealing are likely to be top priorities if your home was built before the early 1990s. He consistently recommends attic and wall insulation in Portland:
- Add attic insulation. When there is minimal or inconsistent insulation in an attic, adding insulation is the most cost-effective energy upgrade you can do. Insulation should consistently cover the floor of your attic at a depth of more than a foot.
- Make sure your walls have insulation. Most homes built before the mid-1970s have no wall insulation. Insulating walls is typically the upgrade with the biggest impact on the energy efficiency of a home. You can add wall insulation without making any alteration to the appearance of your home.
“In addition to insulation, it’s really important to prioritize the equipment you use for heating and cooling as well as water heating,” says Hamerly. Combined, space heating and water heating account for nearly two thirds of the energy used in the average U.S. home. Two of Hamerly’s top recommendations:
- Consider a heat pump. Heat pumps provide both heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. According the U.S. Department of Energy, heat pumps deliver the same level of space conditioning as conventional systems while cutting energy bills by up to 75%. A heat pump can replace a gas furnace or supplement an existing furnace by heating and cooling a specific area of your home, like an upper floor.
- Heat water efficiently. The second biggest energy expense in most households, heating water costs an average of $400 to $600 each year. If you currently have a gas water heater, Hamerly recommends a tankless system, the most efficient option available. Anyone with a standard electric tank water heater should consider a heat pump water heater, which saves a family of four about $330 a year or $3,470 over the life of the system.
Since 1990, residential energy use in Portland has dropped by 11% overall and an impressive 32% on a per person basis. Hamerly reports that in 2018 alone, homeowners who worked with GreenSavers saved enough energy to power 81 homes for an entire year. The savings result from home energy projects completed by the company, such as adding insulation, upgrading heating and cooling systems, replacing water heaters, and installing new windows. “We couldn’t be prouder of the impact our clients are making, now and for the future,” says Hamerly.