Energy Secretary sets example through energy efficiency in own home

Homeowners who are skeptical of converting their properties to energy-efficient homes for cost or aesthetic reasons should be aware the secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy has been able to overcome both challenges as he enhances his own home.

In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Secretary Steven Chu said that he had been able to cut his energy bill in half by making simple repairs related to heating and insulation. The most difficult challenge in achieving home energy efficiency, according to Chu, is closing off any air leaks in the home. This includes sealant gaps in windows and doors, in addition to any leaks in the ducts of HVAC systems. But, heating and insulation can be improved with some minor repairs.

Chu recommends using a special sealant, not duct tape, to repair compromised HVAC ducts. In his own home, Chu went as far as to seal off the mail slot on his door.

"I take this very attractive little quilt that I nail onto the mailbox door on the inside, so when the mailman slides the mail through, it's this quilted blanket, if you will, that … keeps the mailbox closed," Chu told the newspaper. "[My wife] thinks it's ugly. I think it's beautiful."

While homeowners may not choose to go to this extreme to make their homes more green, they should consider hiring a local home inspection service that can help them determine strategies for improving energy use.

Chu estimated that like most home energy enhancements, new energy-efficient insulation will cost a homeowner about $1,000 in materials and labor, but the energy savings will surpass these upfront costs in about one year. But, even more marginal changes, such as replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFL bulbs, can save homeowners money – in this case about $25 annually per bulb.