Many people have financial plans for retirement that are implemented over many years, sometimes even decades. Making a long-term remodeling plan for your home is a great way to gradually implement measures that will keep you on the path to zero without over-taxing your budget. A “towards zero remodeling plan” involves implementing the lowest cost measures first and then estimating the lifetime of appliances, heating and cooling systems, roofs, siding, windows, and doors, and putting those estimated lifetimes into a replacement timeline. Include a budget for each item so you can renovate “towards zero” in a gradual, affordable way.

Most people wait to replace big-ticket items, like appliances, water heaters, furnaces, air-conditioners and heat pumps, until the existing equipment fails. Doing research ahead of time will help you make a wise choice when you need a replacement quickly. Because these items change every few years, you can’t always plan on a specific model. But you can identify key efficiency metrics, such as energy factor (EF) for a water heater. And you can gather information sources that list the most efficient products, such as the ENERGY STAR Products website. Being prepared with this important information will allow you to quickly locate the most energy efficient and suitable replacement.

The following energy saving steps are listed roughly in order from least to most costly depending on the specific circumstances in your home:

  1. Turn off and unplug all electronics, including TVs, game consoles, and cable boxes, when not in use. Use energy strips for all electronics, so they can easily be disconnected when not in use.
  2. Seal and tighten all obvious air leaks around windows and doors with transparent caulking and weather stripping. If there is a forced-air heating system in place, thoroughly seal the ducts.
  3. Gradually replace all the light bulbs with compact florescent or LED light bulbs, as existing bulbs need replacing. Install LEDs first for the light fixtures that get the most use.
  4. Add low flow showerheads and faucets to reduce hot water use.
  5. Dry clothes on clothes hangers, drying racks, or clothes lines as often as possible.
  6. Add motion detector switches in high use rooms such as teen bedrooms and bathrooms where lights tend to be left on.
  7. Air tighten the shell of your home (the floors, ceilings, windows, doors, outlets and walls) with transparent caulking while a blower door is running to seal all air leaks in order to lower your Air Changes per Hour to near 4 ACH@50 Pascals, or even lower if possible.
  8. Have an electrician size and install an inexpensive ventilation system, such as the Panasonic WhisperComfort Spot ERV, to provide a continual supply of fresh, filtered air in any home that is tighter than ACH 4.0.
  9. Replace any energy inefficient electronics with energy efficient models.
  10. Install low-e storm windows, or interior storm windows, which can save up to 20% of the heat lost through the windows.
  11. Install tight fitting insulated shades with an approximate R-value of 3 to 4, which could more than double the R-value of the existing older windows.
  12. Add loose fill fiberglass or cellulose ceiling insulation or have an insulation contractor blow it in.
  13. Install floor insulation or basement wall insulation.
  14. Have your plumber install a heat pump water heater to reduce hot water costs.
  15. Follow your appliance upgrade plan as older inefficient appliances near the end of their useful life. Be sure to consider a new heat pump clothes dryer.
  16. When your old heating system is near its useful life, have an HVAC professional size and install the most efficient heating system available. This will likely be a ductless heat pump, which is very energy efficient and easy to install. If there is already a relatively efficient forced-air or hot water heating system in place, enclose the equipment and ducts or pipes so they are within the conditioned space.
  17. Have an insulation contractor install added insulation in the existing walls by blowing it into the walls, or by removing the siding and adding rigid insulation to the outside of the wall before re-siding.
  18. Purchase or lease a solar PV system. If available in your state, using Sun Run or another similar leasing system, minimizes the cost of the solar PV.