Putting a Ceiling on Energy Bills

How to put a cap on your monthly energy bills by putting some work into your roof.

People talk about putting a floor beneath their feet or having a financial safety net, but as far as the monthly energy bill goes, most of us could use a great roof as well. Prices are projected to increase a minimum average of five percent per year. With aging infrastructure, and a fleet of low efficiency, high polluting coal power plants in need of repairs, retrofitting, or piecemeal replacement, consumers can count on energy premiums to continue their unremitting rise. A report in 2011 by USA Today indicates that since 2005, higher prices per kilowatt hour combined with increasing demand, have added more than three hundred dollars to the average homeowner’s bills. Currently the median yearly energy bill Americans pay sits at around $1,500 – most of which is literally blown away as wasted heat or conditioned air thanks to generally inefficient housing standards. One of the biggest culprits of wasted energy and wasted money is the roof. But with some relatively simple green retrofits and a little determination, those year end numbers can be slashed by as much as eighty percent.

Attic Insulation and Ventilation

One of the easiest ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency is to add more insulation period – particularly in the attic. It’s a lot easier to work with the open area of an attic, rather than ripping out walls. The type of insulation matters too. Generally spray foam insulation works better, providing a higher R-value than traditional batting thanks to its ability to completely fill in cracks, crevices, and corners. Insulating ductwork, pipes, and other HVAC components also help to reduce energy waste.

Besides allowing heat to dissipate during the winter, unimproved attics tend to also have the unfortunate habit of overheating during the summer and reducing the efficiency of many home HVAC systems. This can be avoided by simply installing an attic fan which will ventilate trapped heat and stagnant air much like a bathroom fan. When connected to a smart panel or other intelligent efficiency systems, these fans can effectively operate in the background without any user input.

However, not all attic improvement strategies work in complete synergy. Generally, retrofit strategies revolve around two approaches – either making the space completely air tight, or promoting natural or mechanical ventilation in appropriately temperate climates. While not mutually exclusive, pursuing both objectives can be difficult and more expensive. The air-tight approach, which includes such applications as spray foam insulation, works by completely separating the exterior environment from interior spaces allowing for tighter temperature regulation, and, potentially more in energy savings during both summer and winter. Attic ventilation primarily functions merely to moderate heat buildup in the summer months and does not treat the attic space as an integral part of the building envelope. Seeking the services of a trained , licensed, and experienced ecobuilder, such asNative, can help homeowners identify the best set of green strategies that fit their needs, budget, and local climate.

Green Roofing

The overwhelming majority of homes in the United States are roofed with petroleum-based, asphalt shingles of either paper or fiberglass-based varieties. While cheap and easy to install, they absorb heat, can be highly flammable, or contain urea formaldehyde, a known carcinogenic, as a bonding agent. Better alternatives include metal sheet roofing, terracotta, and more expensive, laminated, architectural shingles.

Many eco-builders, particularly in the sunny south, prefer metal Galvalume roofing for its low-cost ease of insulation, impeccable green credentials, negligible maintenance, longevity, and high reflectivity – which goes a long way when it comes to reducing unwanted heat gain. In other words, metal roofing serves the dual purposes of providing shelter and acting as a radiant barrier. In economic terms, this translates to added home value and even insurance discounts.


Unimproved roofs can result in massive energy waste, and correspondingly high energy bills. However, with some practical and cost effective retrofits, improvements, and a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of insulation, bills can be substantially reduced. Switching to a metal roofing system alone can slash bills by as much as forty percent. While retrofitting the roof is an economical and effective method for reducing energy consumption and waste, eco-warriors tired of looking at any numbers at all at the end of each month should consider going completely net-zero.