Believe it or not, improving your home’s energy efficiency doesn’t require an advanced energy science degree. It’s really just a matter of being more aware of choices and recognizing whether they save or waste energy. Individually, some energy-wasting practices might not amount to much, but when you add them all together, you’ll gain a better picture of how how much you could save. To help you live Live Brighter, our “Energy Efficiency ‘Round the Home” series will showcase ways you can lower your home energy usage and possible reduce your monthly energy bill..
How Can I Make My Garage Apartment More Energy-Efficient?
Garage apartments (including the “carriage house” option) usually aren’t very large. They typically consist of one or two bedrooms, a combined living / dining / kitchen area, and a single bathroom making them perfect for young renters or even one-child families. While this might be a drawback from some, the compact size of such dwellings makes it easier for you to be more energy efficient. The reason is pretty obvious – there’s less living space for you to heat and cool.
If you’re thinking of building or renovating a garage apartment to rent, increasing the energy efficiency saves you money and improves its marketability.
- Since the apartment’s energy needs will be lower than the average home, this makes it a good candidate for solar roof panels.
- The compact floor plans provide plenty of ways to incorporate energy efficiency and compact appliances, such as an efficient on-demand or hybrid tank water heater.
- Save space and energy by installing compact appliances like dishwasher, refrigerator, and washer/dryer combinations.
Other considerations are largely the same for a house:
- Windows and doors should close snuggly and seal.
- The HVAC system should be properly sized for the living space so that it works efficiently.
- It should also have sealed and insulated ductwork and a programmable thermostat.
Insulation and Air Sealing — the Key to Comfort
Whether you’re building a new garage apartment or renovating an old one, properly insulating and air sealing the space has the same essential requirements as a home. The attic space must be properly air sealed and insulated as should walls to minimized drafts and condensation problems. Any attic space should also have adequate ventilation to help cool the roof in summer and to help vent excess moisture during the winter, which keeps the living space dry and free of mold.
Probably the most important factor for air-sealing a garage apartment is to keep out car exhausts and volatile fuel vapors. Make sure the ceiling of the garage is is air sealed. All holes for pipes for plumbing and electric wiring need to be sealed with caulk or expanding foam to prevent dangerous fumes from entering the living space above.
Likewise, the ceiling should be insulated with between the flooring joists with high R-value insulation using snap-in wire holders. This reduces heating and cooling cost and noise levels in the apartment above.The garage itself should at least be air sealed to reduce drafts and moisture.
As we covered in our last post, insulated garage doors are a thing-ish. While they might not benefit most homes, they will enhance the energy efficiency of the garage apartment overhead. All doors, including the big ones for the vehicles, should have gaskets and weatherstripping applied around their edges to block infiltrating outside air. Vinyl door jamb kits are available. These can be cut to length and screwed into place. And don’t forget to put down threshold gaskets.
As a renter, you might not have too many alternatives when it comes to insulating or air sealing your garage apartment. However, there a few things you can do to reduce your energy usage and improve your comfort:
- Install foam gasket switch and outlet covers. These are inexpensive and do reduce drafts that come through light switches and outlet. They’re not the perfect solution by themselves, but they assist with the overall energy efficiency of your space.
- Replace all incandescent lights with energy-efficient LED bulbs. They use less energy, make less heat, and last longer than other light bulb technology – all of which saves you money.
- Use blinds and curtains. By blocking out sunlight in the summer, you can keep your apartment cooler. Drawing curtains closed at night in winter helps keep it warmer.
- Don’t overfill your freezer or refrigerator. Frost-free refrigerators work most efficiently when air can circulate freely. Blocking vents can cause ice dams to form during defrost cycles.
- For clothing and dishwashers, wash only full loads. Doing multiple smaller loads frequently means you use more energy.
- Replace the furnace filter every three months. Clogged air filters restrict the airflow and make HVAC system to run longer.
Feeling jolted by energy costs at your work desk? Stay tuned for Energy Efficiency in the Office. Our enterprising ideas will really light up your spreadsheet like nobody’s business!