How to cut a home (energy bill) in half

If renovating an existing home is greener than building a new, über-efficient one from scratch, what’s the best — and most effective — way to go about it?

That’s what research teams taking part in the US Department of Energy’s “Building America” program are working to find: the smartest strategies for improving home efficiency. While it’s not surprising how many strategies are involved — everything from lighting and ventilation improvements to better insulation and windows — it is amazing to see what a difference the right combination of steps can make to the bottom line.

It’s also impressive to see how well those strategies stand up to a challenge … for example, the challenge of retrofitting a six-person family home built in the heart of hot, humid Florida.

The result, in this case, is the “Cool Energy House.”

Built in 1995, the home in Windermere was chosen as a testing ground for a wide range of the newest energy-efficiency  improvements. The result, a  house that’s 50 percent more efficient than when it started, made its debut during this year’s International Builder’s Show in Orlando.

So what sort of improvements were made to this “cool” house in Florida? Based on a cost/performance analysis conducted using BEopt, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s building-energy optimization software, they included the addition of Energy Star appliances, sealing of leaks and gaps in ducts, the attic and other parts if the building, a new heat pump, replacement doors and windows, solar panels and a smart home-energy management system.

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