Some home energy upgrades take only a few minutes but can net healthy savings. That was our takeaway reading Eric Corey Freed's Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies. Although the book's focus was on promoting greener, more responsible building practices, Freed shared many small home improvement projects that anyone could do in an existing home.

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1️⃣ Become a Wrap Star

Since heating accounts for the largest slice of the home energy pie, insulation keeps your money from floating away. For instance, in those couple of months every winter and summer when you won't be opening your windows, shrink-wrap can turn regular windows into energy-efficient ones. Freed says you could save 15%-20% on your power bill.

Insulation is valuable all over the house, including some areas people forget, such as the following.

Water heater.

Even when you don't need hot water, the heater is working, consuming nearly 20% of all energy the home requires. Newer units come with timers so the heater can take a break during your family's downtime, but all ages of heaters benefit from insulation. Buy a wrap blanket at any hardware store, and envelop the heater. This, plus turning down the thermostat to 123°F (which is still high enough to sterilize), can slash your water-heating expense in half.


Hot water pipes are fast and easy to wrap too. You could avoid up to 4 degrees of heat loss by sliding polyethylene or neoprene foam sleeves around the pipes of an electric water heating system. If you have a gas-powered system, wrap fiberglass around the pipes. The Department of Energy provides DIY instructions here.


Now, nobody forgets to insulate the attic—it's what we picture when we hear the word insulation. But older homes usually have insufficient insulation there, so the attic deserves a rethink. Insulation should be placed between both the floor joists and roof joists, said Freed.

"Although any insulation will do, spray-in natural cellulose made from recycled newsprint is the best choice for the attic floor." For the roof, he recommends formaldehyde-free or recycled cotton batt insulation. "Be sure to install the insulation with the foil side facing the sun."

Fact: Insulation "can significantly reduce heating and cooling bills throughout the year," said the U.S. Department of Energy. "On average, you can save up to 20% on your home's heating and cooling costs or up to 10% on its total energy costs by adding insulation to attics, floors, crawl spaces, and accessible basement rim joists, and by reducing unwanted air leaks all around your house." Source:

2️⃣ Buy a Water Filter, Not Bottles

Most bottled water is tap water. There, the secret's out! It is drawn from municipal pipes, sent through a process or two for flavor, bottled, trucked, stocked on the shelf, and sold to folks who have the same water flowing into their home already.

"The average American consumes about 23 gallons of bottled water every year," wrote Freed. "The plastic bottle and the energy required to ship it all take their toll on the planet."

And the markup is astonishing. If your tap water cost the same as the cheapest bottled water, your monthly water bill would be about $9,000.

Filters are greener and so much cheaper. Freed said, "A freestanding pitcher with a built-in filter will cost you about $12 to $15; one that attaches directly to your kitchen faucet will cost about $20 to $30."

5 simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint

3️⃣ Close Your Fireplace Flue

We pay too much to heat and cool the air in our homes to let some of it escape through the chimney. "Attach a small metal hanger in your fireplace to indicate when the flue is open," he advised. "In most homes, the flue is left open, which results in huge energy loss." Be sure to close the flue when you are not using the fireplace.

Farmers Insurance estimates the energy bill savings of keeping the fireplace flue closed could be as much as 10%, or $18 a month.

4️⃣ Go on a Crack Attack

"If you added up all the cracks in a typical home, it would be equivalent in size to leaving an entire window wide open all winter long," wrote Freed. "You can fill these cracks with caulk, sealants, and weather-stripping."

Set out to attack the cracks in your home. "This job is one of the easiest and quickest things you can do to improve the energy use in your home."

Going green saves green: tips

One-third of the heat in your home is leaking out of ducts. Seal the joints in ductwork with low-toxic mastic compound, he advised. Avoid duct tape—"ironically, duct tape is not good for ducts."


A Kindle edition of Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies might be available to borrow from your library; link your library card to Libby to borrow e-books without ever leaving home. Also available at Amazon.

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