In the age of Peak Oil and carbon-intensive industrial manufacturing, it’s no surprise that Americans spend more money on fuel, electricity, water, and other utilities than they do on other goods and services.
And it’s a trend that’s been growing ever since the United States first embarked on the global energy transition in the late 1970s.
With the advent of new technologies like renewable energy and solar power, American consumers are spending more money than ever before on their homes.
Yet there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my career,” says Robert Fenton, an energy analyst at Edison Research.
“The demand for energy has never been higher, the cost of energy has been lower than ever, and there’s no end in sight.”
This trend is only likely to accelerate, experts say, as the cost and cost of alternative energy technologies, such as wind and solar, continue to drop.
But if we’re going to cut down on energy use, we need to start thinking about the costs of our energy systems.
And one of the ways we can do that is by looking at the value of our home, which is a big part of our financial future.
“If you look at how much money you could save if you replaced all of your energy with natural gas, for example, that’s about the same amount of money you’re saving now with electric power,” says Bill Fenton of Edison Research, a division of the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. “So there’s a pretty clear economic benefit for using less energy.”
The key is figuring out how much energy you could get from a home if you only spent your time in it, says Fenton.
If you can keep the energy use to a minimum, Fenton says, you could end up saving about $300,000 a year, or roughly $1,400 per year.
“That’s probably not the most attractive part of a home renovation,” he says.
“But it’s the biggest part of an energy efficiency package.”
If you could reduce your energy use by up to 50% from your current level, he says, it could be worth it.
And you might be surprised by how much you could actually save.
Fenton explains that a home built with traditional building materials, such a stone slab or concrete slab, could be about $1.60 per square foot, or about $15,000 to $18,000 per home.
“It’s about double the price of a similar home built in a natural gas-powered system,” he explains.
“And that’s probably a pretty good deal.”
And you can save a lot more money, he adds, by replacing your current energy systems with more energy-efficient, efficient ones.
For example, if you can replace the heating and cooling systems in your home with natural-gas-powered systems, you can cut your energy consumption by an average of 33% by installing new energy efficiency features.
And if you’re looking for a smaller footprint, you might also be able to reduce the amount of energy you use by installing solar panels on your roof, he notes.
If a home doesn’t have a lot going on outside, like an outdoor deck, a heated swimming pool, or a patio, you may be able, with an energy-saving installation, to save a little bit more money.
But in most cases, the big advantage of installing a natural-coal-fired system, says Bob Fenton is that you can do it on your own.
“With traditional systems, it takes a lot to build a home that is natural-looking and that’s a nice contrast to the natural-fuel systems you’re getting now,” he said.
“A natural-powered home might cost $10,000 or $20,000, but it might cost less than $100,000.
And the energy savings are even more dramatic.”
In addition to saving money on the energy bill, natural-burning energy systems also have other benefits, such the ability to lower the carbon footprint of your home, reduce your carbon footprint by eliminating or reducing the use of fossil fuels, and help you reduce your overall greenhouse gas emissions.
“What you’re doing is going to reduce your CO2 emissions, which are actually quite large,” says Fathan.
“You’re going a long way to reducing CO2, but you’re also going to help reduce your impact on the environment.”
So how do you decide whether to go with natural or natural-made?
There are several factors you can consider.
The first is whether you need the energy efficiency to live comfortably in the future.
In the case of an older home, for instance, if the new home has a lot coming up and it’s going to require some extra space, Fathan says, “there’s going a lot you’re going get out of the natural system.”
You’re not going to be able afford the new system, and the house won’t be a very efficient one.