Best Energy Efficient Upgrades For an Older Home

How to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient

How to Make an Older Home More Energy EfficientOne of the questions people often ask is how can I make my home more energy efficient. This is certainly the case with an older home. Buying an older home allows you to live in a property with history and charm, but it also brings its share of extra expenses, particularly when it comes to energy usage.

Older homes just aren’t as energy efficient as newer ones, at least when it comes to modern heating and cooling systems. For the owners of older homes, it only make sense to increase the energy efficiency of their properties. The best energy efficient upgrades for an older home are the ones that save you the most money! Keep reading to learn more about energy efficiency.

You can also learn about other great tips on how to save energy around your home, especially in the winter. Many of these upgrades and improvements don’t necessarily require you to spend a lot of money either!

Understanding How Older Homes Were Designed

Before we start listing the improvements you can make to your older home, it is worth remembering that many older homes were actually built to be quite efficient at keeping owners cool in the summer months and warm in the winter months. They were built before air conditioning or central heat were available, so they had to offer the owners some control over internal temperatures. You can take advantage of these features yourself if you own a home that has them.

Older homes often have thicker walls, vents to control airflow, windows and shutters that can be used to control airflow and sunlight, porches and awnings for warmer months and light reflecting finishes. They may also have trees strategically placed to shade the home in the summer and drop their leaves to allow sunlight in the winter months.

When you start upgrading your older home for energy efficiency, you can approach the improvement process with an approach that takes the whole house into consideration. You can improve the already existing features using better technology that is available today.

Improvements For Energy Efficiency

One of the things you should keep in mind is how to get the best return on investment when making home energy efficiency upgrades. Going for the things that will give you the biggest bang for your buck is the wisest choice. Besides energy efficiency people often ask what are the improvements that increase a home’s value. There are many things that can be done especially in older homes that have not been updated.

Here are some of the best ways to increase your older home’s energy efficiency, including:

Get An Energy Audit

Energy Audit Older HomeBefore you start running out and buying the latest and greatest energy efficient upgrades, you should first get an energy audit. Many municipalities and power companies offer energy audits for free, but even if there is a cost, getting an audit is well worth it. In fact, if you want the most comprehensive audit you can get, you are probably better off hiring a professional company that charges for their services. Avoid companies that sell products, such as energy efficient windows, if you want the most accurate assessment of your home.

When you request an energy audit, an auditor will come through your home and identify all the areas where you can improve your energy efficiency. One area in particular that he or she will look at is how well your house seals. The auditor will provide you with a report that will show you different areas and options you can tackle to improve your older home.

Here in Massachusetts there is a program called Mass Save. It is a fantastic program that allows home owners to have an energy audit done on their home. In conjunction with that they will do a whole host of improvements to the home and cover 75% of the cost! Yes you read that correctly. Mass Save will make a ton of improvements to your home that will help save you money and they will foot most of the bill. I did this to my own home here in Hopkinton Massachusetts a few months ago. It will be interesting to see how much money is saved this upcoming winter.

If you live in another area of the country I would highly recommend seeing if there are any programs such as this one. You could end up saving yourself a lot of money, especially if you own an older home.

Seal, Seal, Seal

Before the air in homes was conditioned using air conditioners and heaters, having a home that sealed perfectly was not a priority. If the home is old enough, creating a complete seal would have been practically impossible anyway. But modern technology allows home owners to do a surprisingly good job of sealing their homes and their air systems to ensure maximum efficiency. The better sealed the home, the less conditioned air will escape and energy wasted.

You can seal your air ducts, doors, windows, foundation, attic, pipe inlets, etc. A reputable contractor can help you seal up every point in your home where air can escape and cause heat or cooling loss. This will certainly be one of the best energy efficient upgrades you can make for your money in an older home. HGTV has a nice guide explaining how to go about sealing a drafty house. In the article they take you through the process of how one home owner shaved a ton of money off of his energy bills by sealing the walls in his home.


Insulation is another area where most older homes fall short. There were not as many insulating options available when older homes were built, so chances are your home could use an upgrade. A professional can determine exactly how much insulation you need to achieve maximum efficiency in your home, while still allowing the home to ventilate. The amount of insulation used will depend on the construction of your home and on the climate in your area.

One of the best ways to increase the energy efficiency of an older home is through insulating walls. Many older homes have really poor insulation in the walls or even none at all. Take a look at the excellent information provided from This Old House on improving your home.

This is not to say that insulating your attic well isn’t important. Not only can you save money by having a well insulated attic, you will also be putting yourself in better position to prevent ice dams which can be a major headache in cold weather climates.

Upgrade Your HVAC System

Upgrade Heating & Cooling SystemsYour older home may have a heating and/or air conditioning system already installed, but unless it was purchased in the last five years or so, you are likely missing out on newer energy efficiency developments. HVAC manufacturers are constantly trying to outdo themselves now that energy efficiency has become a desirable selling point, which means newer HVAC systems are worlds better than older ones.

On average, an HVAC system is expected to have a life expectancy of about 20 years. If your current system is anywhere near that age, you should start shopping for a new, energy efficient option. An upgrade in your heating and cooling system will save you money over the years by making your bills less expensive.

Upgrade Your Water Heater

According to Consumer Reports and other reputable sources a water heater can amount to nearly 20 percent of a homes yearly energy costs. Given the fact there are new efficiency standards, water heaters under 55 gallons will see about a 4 percent boost in efficiency, while water heaters over 55 gallons could cut your utility bills by 25 to 50 percent depending on the technology used. Consumer Reports has a great guide for buying an energy efficient water heater. They also explain the different types of water heaters that can be purchased very well.

Add A Programmable Thermostat

Even if your home is not very old, you may still have an old-school thermostat that offers you very little control over the temperature of your home. Adding a programmable thermostat will allow you to change the temperature in the home when it needs to be changed, such as when you go to bed, or when you are at work. There are limits to how much you can alter the temperature without causing extra energy use from your furnace, but just changing the temp a few degrees regularly can make a noticeable difference on your monthly energy bill.

Some people however, make the mistake of making a drastic change from their normal temperature while in the home to something much different when they are not. For example, if you normally have your home set to 72 degrees because you like a warm home, do not drop the setting to something less than 68 when you are not home. Why you wonder? When you have your homes temperature set at a certain amount the furniture and walls are also near that same condition. It takes far more energy to get the home and it’s contents back up to where you are normally comfortable when there is a big swing in temperature.

What About Windows?

This one may surprise you but replacing older windows is not one of the best investments you can make unless you plan on being in your home for a very long time. While there is certainly a decent amount of money that leaves your home via drafty old windows it is certainly not anywhere close to the money you will spend on replacing them. High quality replacement windows are very expensive. It will take many years for you to re-capture the cost of what you spend on new windows vs the energy savings you will realize.

If you are going to replace your windows do it because of other things like aesthetics, easy operation, ease of cleaning (tilt-in) and potential improved re-sale value somewhere down the road. If you think you will be potentially selling your home in the near future it does not make a lot of sense in most cases to replace the windows.

There are also other home improvement projects that offer low return on investment. Stay away from these kind of projects if you don’t want to potentially lose money when selling a home.

Increasing Your Comfort And Satisfaction

The upgrades listed here vary in cost and in the overall difference in energy usage you will see, but all of them are proven ways to make at least some improvement. Beyond the benefits of a lower utility bill and being kinder to the environment, increasing the energy efficiency will give you more comfort and enjoyment from your home. Any change you can make in this direction is well worth the initial costs. Use these tips for making an older home more energy efficiency wisely!

Additional Energy Saving Resources

These additional resources will surely help to make smarter home selling and improvement decisions. Keep in mind some improvement offer a terrific return on investment while others not so much.

About the Author: The above Real Estate information on the best energy efficient upgrades for an older home was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 508-625-0191. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 28+ Years.

Thinking of selling your home? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise!

I service Real Estate sales in the following Metrowest MA towns: Ashland, Bellingham, Douglas, Framingham, Franklin, Grafton, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hopedale, Medway, Mendon, Milford, Millbury, Millville, Northborough, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Sutton, Wayland, Westborough, Whitinsville, Worcester, Upton and Uxbridge MA.


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  1. says

    Great article Bill! It’s ALWAYS a good idea to get an independent energy audit as you mention by a certifed contractor. Great points all! Especially about windows ROI. Great points!

  2. says

    We just added insulation in our attic and it’s night and day different. It’s not just the energy savings (of course there is that) but also the general comfort of the house. There are no more hot spots as you walk through the house. It’s a more even temperature everywhere so it just feels more comfortable…

    • says

      Ryan I just went through the Mass Save program which is fantastic. They come and do an energy audit at your home and provide numerous energy saving upgrades. The best part about it is the fact they take care of 75% of the bill. The home owner only has to cover 25% of the cost!

  3. says

    You stated that one of the things you should keep in mind is how to get the best return on investments when making home energy efficiency upgrades. My mom has decided that she wants a small her house and needs to sell her current house. Are there certain upgrades that are more efficient than others? Hiring a contractor to help install energy-saving upgrades to her house might be very beneficial.

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