Lowe's Home Improvement
Efficient Home

Ask the Experts

Increase your energy efficiency IQ with expert advice from US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) energy- and water-efficiency pros. Whether you're tackling a complex project or simply looking for everyday ways to conserve, the EPA's experts have answers to your frequently asked questions and tips to help you save energy, save water, and save money. From inspiration to execution, Lowe's is with you every step of the way.

Sealing and Insulating Your Home

Q:

What are some good techniques for finding air leaks in a house?

A:

ENERGY STAR recommends taking these steps to find air leaks in your home. To find leaks yourself, carefully hold a lit incense stick near a window, door, or other leak location and watch to see if the smoke moves in or out of the leak area. Catch any incense ash using a small ceramic plate or metal can. ENERGY STAR does not recommend using candles to do air leak testing since they can drip wax, blow out easily, and could light something (such as your drapes) on fire.

Also be sure to look for air leaks in the attic and basement, and crawlspace of your home — the biggest leaks are usually found there. To really nail down leaks you can hire a skilled technician to find and measure air leaks in your house using a blower door. A blower door is basically a big fan sealed in an outgoing doorway and a pressure gauge called a monometer. The technician can use the equipment to determine how leaky a house is and then find the leaks using a smoke stick (a tool that gives off puffs of smoke). Another great technique is an infrared camera. Again, in the hands of a skilled technician, an infrared camera can spot air leaks very quickly and even locate missing insulation inside walls.

For additional help, check out EPA's Do-It-Yourself Guide to Sealing and Insulating with ENERGY STAR.

Q:

I have some really bad air leaks around the doors, windows, and electric plugs in my house. What are the best ways for me to stop these air leaks?

A:

ENERGY STAR recommends sealing air leaks around doors, windows, and outlets as simple weekend projects that can save you money on your utility bills. The tools and supplies needed are inexpensive and easy to use. Start with a long-lasting indoor / outdoor caulk for small leaks (under ½ inch) around the frames. You can use clear caulk if you are worried about matching colors, and spray foam can be used for cracks from ½ inch up to about 3 inches.

Weather stripping and door sweeps will cut down on leaks where the door meets the jamb or the window meets the sill.

Finally, there are pre-cut foam gaskets that cut down on the air leaking around electric plugs and light switches. The tools needed are simple as well: a caulk gun, hammer, and small nails or screws for the door sweeps; a screw driver to remove the switch plates; and a utility knife to cut the weather stripping will complete this ENERGY STAR recommended do-it-yourself project.

Q:

I am a do-it-yourselfer and really want to reduce my home's energy bills. Where should I start to get the biggest bang for my effort?

A:

After installing ENERGY STAR qualified lighting in your home, sealing air leaks and adding insulation are cost effective things you can do to make your home more comfortable and energy efficient. ENERGY STAR suggests that you begin by looking in your attic, basement or crawlspace for air leaks.

When it's cold outside, the warm air in your house wants to rise. If you have holes in any of these spaces, warm air will leak out the top of your house and cold air will be sucked into your home through the basement or crawlspace.

When it's hot outside, cracks and holes allow cool, conditioned air to leak out of your house making your
A / C work harder. Sealing air leaks in these locations and adding insulation in your attic will help solve these problems. In the attic, seal holes around ducts, pipes, wires, and open wall tops. Caulk and spray foam can be used for most holes. Use weather stripping to help seal around the opening of the attic door or hatch. Rigid foam or fiberglass batts can also be used to insulate the door itself.

Also, remember to use metal flashing and high temperature caulk around chimneys and flues that can get hot. In the basement or crawlspace, look for holes around pipes, wires, or vents. The gap between the sill plate and the masonry foundation wall is also often a place where air can leak. EPA estimates that homeowners can save up to 10% of their total annual energy costs by air sealing their homes and adding insulation.

Home Lighting

Q:

I keep hearing that compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) save so much energy and money, but I'm skeptical. Can light bulbs really make that big of a difference?

A:

What you've been hearing is correct. CFLs really do make a big difference. Just by replacing your home's five most frequently used light fixtures or the bulbs in them with ENERGY STAR qualified models, you can save more than $70 each year.

Take it a step further and consider that an average home has about 45 light bulbs in approximately 30 fixtures. So, lighting can account for about 15% of the average home's electric bill — changes as simple as a light bulb can add up quickly if you choose ENERGY STAR. Here's something else to consider: ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs and fixtures generate about 75% less heat than incandescent bulbs, reducing your home cooling needs and keeping your family more comfortable.

Q:

I get the part about lighting products saving energy and money, but how does a more efficient light bulb or light fixture reduce greenhouse gases?

A:

This topic can seem confusing. It really is all about how much electricity we all use.

More than half of our nation's electricity is generated by burning coal. When we all use less electricity, less coal has to be burned, and we prevent greenhouse gas emissions. An ENERGY STAR qualified CFL or light fixture prevents more than 570 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions over its lifetime, the equivalent of keeping nearly 270 pounds of coal from being burned.

Q:

What would happen if every home in America replaced just one bulb or fixture to an ENERGY STAR qualified product?

A:

It may seem surprising, but if every American family replaced just one bulb or fixture with an ENERGY STAR qualified product, we would collectively save $600 million in energy costs each year — enough to light more than 3 million homes for a year. The benefit to the environment would be substantial as well: equivalent to more than 11 million tons of coal not being burned.

ENERGY STAR Qualified Appliances

Q:

What is ENERGY STAR?

A:

ENERGY STAR is a joint program of the EPA and the US Department of Energy (DOE) that was created to help us all identify energy-efficient products that save money and protect the environment. The ENERGY STAR labeling program now includes almost 3,000 manufacturer partners and labels more than 40,000 individual product models. The ENERGY STAR appears on over 60 product categories ranging from appliances to consumer electronics to heating and cooling products. Products that have earned ENERGY STAR qualification prevent greenhouse gas emissions by meeting strict energy-efficiency specifications. With the help of ENERGY STAR, Americans prevented 45 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 alone — equivalent to the emissions from 30 million vehicles — and saved more than $17 billion on their utility bills.

Determining which products are ENERGY STAR qualified is easy — just look for the ENERGY STAR. For more information, visit our What Is ENERGY STAR? page.

Q:

How much money can I save by purchasing ENERGY STAR qualified products?

A:

If you choose a dishwasher, clothes washer, and refrigerator that have earned the ENERGY STAR, you'll save about $85 a year in energy and water costs compared to non-qualified models, while helping to protect the environment. Over the lifetime of these products, you'll save around $900 while preventing over 5,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.

Q:

How can an ENERGY STAR qualified appliance save me money when it is more expensive to purchase?

A:

When buying an appliance, remember that it has two price tags: what you pay to take it home and what you pay for the energy and water it uses. ENERGY STAR qualified appliances incorporate advanced technologies that use 10% – 50% less energy and water than standard models. The money you save on your utility bills can more than make up for the cost of a more expensive — but more efficient — ENERGY STAR qualified model. For more information, visit our What Is ENERGY STAR? page.

Q:

Since ENERGY STAR qualified appliances use less energy, do they perform as well as appliances that have not earned the ENERGY STAR?

A:

Yes, they do. In fact, ENERGY STAR qualified appliances come with many advanced, high-performance features. Take clothes washers, for example: instead of twisting and pulling clothes around a turning agitator, ENERGY STAR qualified clothes washers gently flip and spin clothes to clean them thoroughly. This improved washing action lengthens the life of your clothes and leaves less lint in the dryer.

Q:

I've heard that some utilities provide rebates for ENERGY STAR qualified appliances. How can I find out if there are rebates available in my area?

A:

That's correct: You can save even more money by taking advantage of utility incentives. Use Lowe's Rebate Finder to learn about rebates that may be available in your area, or visit www.energystar.gov for more information.

Smart Water Use

Q:

What is WaterSense®?

A:

WaterSense is a program that makes it easy for consumers to identify high-quality, water-efficient products. WaterSense qualified products have been independently certified to meet water-efficiency and performance criteria. For more information on EPA's WaterSense program, visit www.epa.gov/watersense.

Q:

It doesn't seem like my area has any problems with water supply. Why should I care about water efficiency?

A:

Though it might not seem obvious in all areas across the country, our growing population is putting stress on available water supplies. Between 1950 and 2000, the US population nearly doubled. However, in that same period, public demand for water increased by more than three times. Our water supply is a national priority — a recent government survey showed that by 2013, at least 36 states are anticipating local, regional, or statewide water shortages, even when these areas are not experiencing drought conditions. By using water more efficiently, we can help preserve water supplies for future generations, save money, and protect the environment.

Q:

I'd like to do my part and save money by using less water. What can I do to be more water efficient?

A:

Small changes to your daily routine can make a big difference. Turning off the tap while you brush your teeth and checking your toilet for leaks can save hundreds of gallons of water each year. Installing WaterSense qualified bath faucets and toilets, or simply installing a WaterSense qualified aerator, will save you water, while providing the same performance and quality you've come to expect. Read the WaterSense guide on Simple Steps to Save Water to learn other easy ways you can employ smart water use in your home and save money.

Water Heater Guidance

Q:

My water heater is 10 years old but it still works. Should I wait until it breaks before replacing it?

A:

A water heater usually lasts about 10 – 15 years. When it fails, you will find yourself in a predicament with no hot water and possibly a minor flood in your basement or area of installation. Unless you don't mind cold showers, start planning for the future. If your water heater is 10 years old or more, replace it with a new ENERGY STAR qualified model, saving you money and anxiety.

Q:

I have an older home and am looking to replace my gas-storage water heater. What options do I have?

A:

Replace your old water heater with an ENERGY STAR qualified high-efficiency gas storage water heater. With minimal installation costs, you can save up to 15%, or $50 per year, in water heating costs based on average gas rates.

If you want to reduce your water heating bill by 30%, or $115 per year, consider a qualified whole-home gas tankless model. Installation can be more costly, but you will enjoy greater savings in the long run.

Gas condensing water heaters are another option that will save about 30%, or $110, per year. Always get a quote from your installer before making your water heater purchase.

Q:

I am building a new home and looking to install an efficient water heater system. What would you recommend?

A:

If you prefer to use electricity to heat your water, consider an ENERGY STAR qualified heat pump water heater. Heat pump water heater models save 55%, or $290, per year in electricity, based on average electricity rates. You can expect to recoup the larger investment these models require in about three years.

If you plan to use natural gas or propane to heat your water, install a whole-home gas tankless water heater. This technology only heats water when necessary instead of maintaining a hot tank of water at all times. Saving you approximately $115 dollars a year in water heating costs, it ensures you never run out of hot water as long as demand does not exceed capacity. You may also think about investing in a qualified gas condensing water heater. It can save you about $110 per year in water heating and has the high-performance characteristics of the tankless models.

Fans of solar energy should consider purchasing an ENERGY STAR qualified solar water heater. These models work in conjunction with auxiliary water heaters powered by electricity or gas to ensure you have hot water even when the sun isn't shining.

Q:

Which types of water heaters are eligible for the ENERGY STAR?

A:

Only the most energy-efficient water heaters are labeled with the ENERGY STAR. The label is available for five water heater technologies:

  • High-efficiency gas storage
  • Whole-home tankless gas
  • Heat pump
  • Gas condensing
  • Solar

Visit the ENERGY STAR website to learn more about qualified water heaters, including their benefits and eligibility.

The Experts

Doug Anderson
Doug can help you find cost-effective ways to seal energy-wasting leaks and cracks in your home.
Read Doug's Bio

Doug Anderson is an EPA program manager and the national project manager for the Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR effort. He has been with the EPA ENERGY STAR program since 2000 and is an expert in cost-effective techniques and processes for making existing homes more energy efficient.

Alex Baker
Alex's advice can help you incorporate attractive lighting solutions in your home that use less electricity and save you money.
Read Alex's Bio

Alex Baker manages the ENERGY STAR lighting program, which includes residential light fixtures, solid state lighting, CFLs, ceiling fans, vent fans, and decorative light strings. Alex sets performance criteria and product qualification, and marketing for all lighting products. Alex has more than 10 years of experience in the lighting industry and is a member of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America.

Katharine Kaplan
Katharine leads the team that develops ENERGY STAR product specifications and ensures specifications keep up with energy-efficient technologies.
Read Katharine's Bio

Prior to joining ENERGY STAR, Katharine Kaplan was the lead for the EPA's Plug-In To eCycling program. Also while at EPA, Katharine negotiated settlements with companies that disposed of waste at the largest hazardous waste landfill in California. Before joining EPA 15 years ago, Katharine worked for Booz, Allen & Hamilton, an international management consulting firm. She holds a bachelor of science in journalism and a master of public administration.

Kristen Taddonio
Kristen's guidance can help you understand the benefits of ENERGY STAR qualified products and how they can help you save money through energy efficiency.
Read Kristen's Bio

Kristen Taddonio is program manager for ENERGY STAR qualified appliances at the EPA, where she works with manufacturers, retailers, and efficiency experts to increase sales and improve the performance of ENERGY STAR qualified products. Previously, she served as co-director of Strategic Climate Projects at EPA's Climate Protection Partnerships Division.

Stephanie Thornton
Stephanie can help you choose stylish, functional plumbing products that won't send your savings down the drain.
Read Stephanie's Bio

Stephanie Thornton has been with EPA's WaterSense Program since its inception and currently manages partner support for the program. She works closely with retail and manufacturer partners to promote WaterSense labeled plumbing products. Stephanie has been with WaterSense since its inception and holds a degree in political science from Ohio University.

Steve Ryan
Steve's expertise will help you learn about the different types of water heaters and choose the best fit for your energy-efficient home.
Read Steve's Bio

Steve Ryan joined the sales and marketing team at EPA's ENERGY STAR Labeling Branch in June 1999 and is currently the program manager for ENERGY STAR qualified office equipment, electronics, roofing, water heaters, and HVAC products. Prior to joining EPA, he worked as operations / financial manager for an international solar electric services company with operations in Morocco. Steve holds a bachelor of arts in history from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a master of environmental science and resource policy from George Washington University.

Home Efficiency Tools

Rebate Finder

Your purchase may qualify you to receive money back. Learn about incentives to save

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Audit Your Home

How does your home's energy performance measure up? Use our Home Audit Tool to find out.

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