Can This Home Be Greened? Readying for Retirement

A leaky house loses lots of money.

| January/February 2009


Staying with Carolyn (left), Joanna and her daughter have felt uncomfortably hot upstairs even with the air conditioner running on high.

Carolyn Tagliarino, a single woman living in a handsome little home in hot, humid Magnolia, Texas, is nearing retirement. She’s worried that her utility bills will surpass her fixed income—unless she takes action now. Carolyn’s daughter, Joanna Martini, and her family are moving back to Texas from California and staying with Carolyn while they househunt.  Staying upstairs, Joanna has noticed hot indoor temperatures, even when the air conditioner is on high. The electric bill for this 1,700-squarefoot home averages $200 to $500 a month—about twice what it should be—which prompted Joanna to call Natural Home for help.

Carolyn has about $10,000 to spend on energy-efficiency upgrades. Her home was built by a previous owner, and it appears they were not aware of the old adage “Design it right, build it tight and ventilate it right.” I offered Carolyn several suggestions for improving her home’s performance, but implementing all of them would exceed her total project budget, so I listed them by priority. If Carolyn is able to implement all of the suggestions over time, she should at least halve her utility bills and see a significant reduction in her homeowner’s insurance premiums. The home will be less drafty and significantly more comfortable, too.

Carolyn’s top priorities

Discovering and fixing the home’s most urgent efficiency issues will immediately reduce energy bills.

When I visited on an August afternoon, the house felt very humid and airflow was noticeably limited. The air conditioner was clearly having a hard time fighting the 100-degree heat.  A quick walk-through revealed a high amount of outside air infiltration and leaking attic air-conditioning ducts. 

Solution: I encouraged Carolyn to hire a home-performance contractor to perform a “blower door test” and to inspect the ducts. She followed through by ordering a thermal-imaging test for about $150. It showed excessive leaks in multiple locations, including under and around a second-floor bathtub. Several of the problems have easy fixes, such as installing new weather-stripping on all exterior doors, especially between the kitchen and garage. The test also suggested that installing insulation gaskets behind all electrical outlets and switch plates would help. These easy fixes cost less than $100 and require simple parts found at most home-improvement centers.  See Carolyn’s complete thermal imaging report below.

Cost: To complete all of the items recommended in the thermal-imaging report, Carolyn will need to spend between $1,500 and $3,500.

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