How to make your home energy efficient

Saturday, April 24, 2010 | 8:31 p.m. CDT; updated 3:05 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 29, 2010

COLUMBIA — Looking for ways to cut back on bills, help the environment and maybe even earn a few bucks? We’ve consulted the professionals to give you tips and advice about how to improve your home's energy efficiency on a budget.

For less than $100:

There are many simple things you can do to make your home more energy efficient for under $100. While the amount of money saved varies from house to house, here are a few quick fixes:

  • Buy a water jacket heater for around $10. The extra insulation will help keep the water warmer and is especially useful if your heater is located in a cool places such as the basement or garage, according to David Mars, energy auditor for the City of Columbia.
  • Mars said to replace or improve weather stripping on doors for about $10-15. It will help trap air that seeps through the cracks, helping to save money on heating and cooling bills.
  • If you have a fireplace, invest in a fireplace plug, suggested Travis Condict, an energy auditor for and owner of Simple Energy Solutions. An open fireplace acts like an open window, allowing air to escape. For less than $50, you can trap some of that precious heating or cooling.

Have a larger budget to spend?

For those able to spend more to receive greater gains, there are improvements that will help make your home more efficient while at the same time earn you rewards with tax incentives and Energy Star Rebates.

  • Air seal your house. Home energy auditor Kevin Johnson, who installs insulation as part of his job at Meek's the Builder's Choice, recommended using a spray can of insulating foam to seal up problematic areas like the attic, preventing heat loss through cracks in the foundation. Columbia Water and Light, AmerenUE and Boone Electric Cooperative offer rebates on air sealing if a home energy auditor recommends it.
  • Buy Energy Star Appliances. Energy Star appliances use less energy and water compared to regular appliances, so they can help you save on utility bills. Mars estimates that a regular fridge running continuously costs about $23 a month. A more energy-efficient one can cut your costs to about $5 a month, he said.

Don’t have a large budget, but wish you did?

Columbia Water and Light offers its utility customers Super Saver Loans to increase the energy efficiency of their homes. The loans are financed by the Columbia Water and Light's enterprise fund. There are two types of loans:

1. The Basic Super Saver Loan:

  • Homeowners can borrow up to $10,000 to be paid back over a five-year period.
  • You must take a free home energy audit (Anyone can do this without taking out a loan. It is a free service to Columbia Water and Light customers.)
  • Mandatory insulation improvements must be made to receive the loan.
  • Covered items include air conditioner or heat pumps, furnaces and solar water heaters.

2. The Home Performance Super Saver Loan:

  • Homeowners can borrow up to $15,000 to be paid back over ten years.
  • Homeowners must hire an approved contractor to perform an audit. The cost of an audit runs about $250 to $400.
  • Also requires mandatory insulation improvements.
  • In addition to the items covered under the basic loan, the Home Performance Loan also covers ductwork sealing, air sealing, windows and doors.

Not a Columbia Water and Light customer? Johnson said he took out a home improvement loan from his bank.

And you don’t have to take out a loan to become more energy efficient. There are many inexspensive and easy things you can do. Remember, small strides lead to big leaps towards energy efficiency, not to mention extra cash.

How do the experts increase efficiency in their own homes?

We asked the experts, and they shared all of their top-secret information — except it’s not top secret at all. In fact, you can call Mars at his office at 874-7325 to ask questions or for advice.

Questions range from advice on buying a new furnace or window to tips on what to look for when shopping. Mars does not sell products, so he can provide unbiased answers for people interesting in purchasing a new product.

"We are a pro-consumer advocacy group," he said. "We want our customers to not waste their money."

Though he joked he’s not the person to call for advice on shirts, ties and shoes, he is what you might call a shopping consultant for energy related items.

“We tell them the basics of what to look for,” he said.

Mars has made many improvements to his own home. The most unique is the self-constructed sunroom. Mars built the 7-by-20 foot room out of recycled materials around 30 years ago for about $3,000.

“We used windows from an old porch and tile and slate we scrounged around for,” he said.

He estimates that the room contributes to 20 percent of his home’s heat in the wintertime and also cools the house in the summer by shading a part of the south wall.

He said the sunroom is a “nice getaway” for his wife and him to read or grow plants.

Travis Condict spent about $7,000 on improvements to his home around two years ago. He air sealed it, properly insulated it and bought a heat pump in addition to other small improvements.

“I did all the fixes,” he said.

Condict took full advantage of the tax credits from his improvements; however, the federal tax incentives were not implemented then, so he did not receive those. 

The improvements have already started saving him money.

“I cut down on my bills by half,” he said.

Still not convinced?

Missouri has $5.67 million from the U.S. Department of Energy's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Energize Missouri Appliance Rebate Program will provide one rebate per household that purchases a Energy Star Appliance. The program began April 19 and will run until all of the funds are used.

In addition to state rebates, manufacturer rebates and city rebates are available under specific stipulations. For more information, visit these links:

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