The most cost-effective energy efficiency investments you can make – and how the new Inflation Reduction Act could help

Energy efficiency can save homeowners and renters hundreds of dollars a year, and the new Inflation Reduction Act includes a wealth of home improvement rebates and tax incentives to help Americans secure those saving.

It extends tax credits for installing energy-efficient windows, doors, insulation, water heaters, furnaces, air conditioners or heat pumps, as well as for home energy audits. It also offers rebates for low- and moderate-income households’ efficiency improvements, up to US$14,000 per home.

Together, these incentives aim to cut energy costs for consumers who use them by $500 to $1,000 per year and reduce the nation’s climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

With so many options, what are the most cost-effective moves homeowners and renters can make?

My lab at UMass Lowell works on ways to improve sustainability in buildings and homes by finding cost-effective design solutions to decrease their energy demand and carbon footprint. There are two key ways to cut energy use: energy-efficient upgrades and behavior change. Each has clear winners.

Stop the leaks

The biggest payoff for both saving money and reducing emissions is weatherizing the home to stop leaks. Losing cool air in summer and warm air in winter means heating and cooling systems run more, and they’re among the most energy-intensive systems in a home.

Gaps along the baseboard where the wall meets the floor and at windows, doors, pipes, fireplace dampers and electrical outlets are all prime spots for drafts. Fixing those leaks can cut a home’s entire energy use by about 6%, on average, by our estimates. And it’s cheap, since those fixes mostly involve caulk and weather stripping.