4 ways to help older homes meet new energy goals

Lining the underside of a home’s roof with “radiant barrier” foil or insulation will greatly reduce heating costs in the summer, a green building guru says. (Photo courtesy of AtticFoil.com)

New energy standards adopted in early May requiring all new California homes have solar power by 2020 will cut fossil-fuel pollution substantially, state energy officials say.

State officials say it would be the equivalent of removing 115,000 gas-powered cars from the roadways, they say.

But that’s just 2 percent of the homes in California, where some 4 million owner-occupied homes are 40 years old or older and pre-date the state’s earliest energy-efficiency rules for homebuilders.

So what can owners of existing homes do to help curb global warming while saving a few greenbacks along the way?

Meritage Homes’ green-building guru C.R. Herro has four simple tips that are surprisingly low-tech and low cost.

C.R. Herro, vice president of environmental affairs for Meritage Homes, the nation’s eighth-largest homebuilder and the first to build net-zero production homes in 2011. (Photo courtesy of Meritage Homes)

“I can give you three (things) to do right away and one to do as things fail,” said Herro, Meritage’s vice president of environmental affairs.

Some suggestions call for old-fashioned measures from the energy-crisis days of the 1970s. Others have a space-age feel. All will help old homes meet new energy guidelines:

1. Install energy-efficient window film: These clear films filter out ultraviolet light, keeping homes warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

“That will greatly improve your air conditioning costs,” Herro said. “It has additional benefits, since UVs bleach-out floors and break down fabrics. So it will improve the durability of things that get direct sunshine.”

The window films are available in most home-improvement stores and are relatively cheap, he said.

This is one example of a do-it-yourself installation of radiant barrier foil. (Photo courteous of AtticFoil.com)

2. Install radiant-barrier foil in your attic: Radiant barrier foil and insulation are installed on the underside of the roof inside the attic.

The barrier reflects heat from the roof in the summer, cooling attics and reducing air conditioning demand.

“It’s basically fancy tinfoil,” Herro said. “If you place that radiant barrier at the bottom of the boards holding up your roof, …(it) will reflect the heat back up into your roof and not allow it to heat your ceiling and your ducts.”

This photo from the ABC Greenhome demonstrates what radiant barrier foil looks like in a new home. (File photo by the Orange County Register/SCNG)

3. Plug leaks: The goal is to keep inside air in and outside air out.

Leaks, Herro said, can displace air-conditioned air in as little as 20 minutes.

Weather stripping, caulking around windows, caulking leaks and generally sealing everything will greatly reduce heat loss and heat gain in your home. And, said Herro, “it’s not expensive to do.”

Another example of a do-it-yourself installation of radiant barrier foil. (Photo courteous of AtticFoil.com)

4. Install Energy Star appliances: As old appliances break down, gradually replace them with energy-efficient equipment.

When you have to replace an air conditioner or a refrigerator, look carefully at the total cost, he said.

“Often you can spend $20 or $30 more to save hundreds of dollars in operating costs,” Herro said.

It’s important to take these measures before installing solar panels on a home, Herro added. As with new homes, the goal is to “tighten the envelope” — that is, reduce the amount of energy the homes use so you can install a smaller solar system and save even more money.

Jeff CollinsOrange County Register