Do Older Homes Waste More Energy Than We Realize?
Many homeowners wonder if their older houses are less energy efficient than newer homes. After all, building standards and construction methods have improved dramatically over the past few decades. I investigated this topic in depth to find out if older homes really do waste more energy than we realize.
Why Older Homes May Be Less Efficient
There are a few key reasons why older homes often use more energy than newer constructions:
Outdated Materials and Design
- Older homes were built with less insulation in walls, ceilings, and floors. Some very old houses have no insulation at all. This allows more heat transfer between the inside and outside.
- Older windows are usually single pane with lower quality frames. This results in more air leakage and heat loss.
- Older homes often have less airtight construction overall, leading to drafts and energy waste.
- Outdated heating and cooling equipment is less efficient. Older furnaces, boilers, and air conditioners use more energy to heat and cool the home.
Lack of Modern Energy Saving Features
- Newer homes often have energy efficient appliances, smart thermostats, and LED lighting. These features help reduce energy waste.
- Newer constructions utilize more efficient building techniques like advanced framing, raised heel trusses, and 2×6 exterior walls.
- Many new homes have upgraded windows with low-E coatings to reduce heat transfer and UV damage.
Changed Lifestyle Patterns
- Modern homes are larger on average which requires more energy to heat and cool.
- Today’s homeowners tend to keep their thermostats set lower in winter and higher in summer.
- More household electronics and appliances are in use now compared to decades ago.
Estimating the Energy Impact in Older Homes
So how much extra energy do older homes really use? Here are some key statistics:
- Homes built before 1920 are estimated to use 50% more energy per square foot than homes constructed after 2000.
- Homes built between 1920 and 1950 use approximately 20-30% more energy than contemporary homes.
- Houses constructed between 1950 and 1970 are about 15% less efficient than new models.
- Homes built between 1970 and 1990 are only 5-10% less efficient on average.
The energy savings from newer construction diminishes for each passing decade. But homes over 70 years old generally use far more energy than recent builds.
Steps to Improve Efficiency in Older Homes
While older homes are at an inherent disadvantage, there are many steps homeowners can take to reduce energy waste:
- Conduct an energy audit to identify problem areas.
- Add insulation in walls, attics, and crawl spaces.
- Install storm windows or replace windows entirely.
- Seal air leaks around doors, windows, and openings.
- Upgrade heating and cooling equipment to newer, high-efficiency models.
- Switch to LED lighting and ENERGY STAR appliances.
- Consider renewable energy additions like solar panels.
With proper upgrades and maintenance, older homes can become much more energy efficient. The energy savings will usually offset the upgrade costs over time.
The Bottom Line
It’s clear that older homes generally use more energy than comparable new houses. However, the extent depends heavily on the home’s original construction and the upgrades made over the years. With smart improvements, older houses can get quite close to the efficiency of modern homes. Home age alone does not predestine a home to energy waste. But upgrading dated and inefficient features should be a priority for owners of older houses.