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Deep energy remodeling fares on the extreme end of cost and effort when it comes to making homes more energy efficient but can achieve dramatic energy savings. The process typically involves resealing the building envelope, super-insulating, upgrading systems including HVAC overhaul, and installing energy generation capacity such as solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.

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1. Worth the Cost and Disruption

a. How long will you own the home?
b. How much disruption can you tolerate?c. Will the remodel meet an immediate or temporary need?
d. How will this remodel ultimately affect your lifestyle?
e. What is your life stage?

2. Plan Your Perfect Project

a. Envision the finished project 
b. Use online sources: Houzz, Pinterest, design software, magazines
c. Research products and design choices.

3. Set Your Budget

a. Ballpark the costs and how much you can spend.
b. Identify funding sources: cash, loan, HELOC.
c. Get quotes from contractors.
d. Plan for cost overruns: add 15%–20% to bid.
e. Is it still affordable?
f. Prioritize and trim the project to fit the budget.

4. Chose Your Team

a. Meet the lead architect and contractor before you hire the firm.
b. Ask to see their recent work.
c. Check references.
d. Look online for peer reviews of contractors.

5. Map Out Your Schedule

a. Remodeling rules of thumb: Kitchen: 3–6 months
b. Bathroom: 2–3 months
c. Room addition: 1–2 months
d. Allow time for ordering materials and obtaining permits

6. Get Your Paperwork In Order

a. Contractor’s responsibilities: license, bond, liability insurance, work contract, permits.
b. Homeowner’s responsibilities: homeowner’s insurance, obtain everything in writing, don’t start without a contract, confirm that the contractor has obtained permits, make sure subcontractors are paid

7. Plan For Problems

a. Have a rock-solid contract
b. Designate a project point person both from your side and the contractor’s
c. Make a list of what could go wrong and a come up with a plan B
d. Schedule down time
e. Establish rules for workers: parking, smoking, storing gear, designated bathroom

8. Keep Your Project On Track

a. Avoid allowances—specify everything upfront
b. Establish good communication
c. Keep a project journal
d. Track all changes in writing
e. Check the work
f. Pay only for completed work

Seal Your Envelope

A smart first step in creating a high-performance home is upgrading the insulation, especially for older homes. Not only will upgrading insulation immediately reduce energy costs, it will also improve the efficiency and performance of the other home systems. The initial phase assesses the current insulation of the home. This can be done as part of a whole house energy audit. A professional Looks for

  • Where the home is, and is not, properly insulated. What the insulation is made of. The insulation's thermal resistance, or R-value, and thickness. It is best to speak with a professional to determine what best suits you needs ( WGBM)

Recommended Insulation by State

  • The Department of Energy (DOE) provides a guide to proper insulation for the different climates across the US. Click the link below to see Michigan's recommended R-values and the variety of materials to choose from. 

  • Sustatinably sourced materials have become competitively priced with those found in conventional homes. Some exciting options perfect for Michigan weather include: Mineral Wool, Loose-fill Cellulose, even Fiberglass is typically 50% recycled material with some as high as 70-90%

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Windows and Doors

Energy efficiency of doors, windows, and skylights are rated on the same factors: U-factor, solar heat gain co-efficient (SHGC), and air leakage. Models with several layers of glass, low-emissivity coatings, and/or low-conductivity gases between the glass panes are a good investment, especially in extreme climates. ENERGY STAR® rates windows and doors on U-factor and SHGC. The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) labeling provides additional information.

Exterior Doors

There are three basic choices: steel, fiberglass, or wood. Steel and fiberglass doors typically have more insulating value than wood doors, but the most important is the seal around the door frame. Most modern glass doors with metal frames have a thermal break, or a plastic insulator between the interior and exterior parts of the frame. This excludes sliders however because the glass is still a poor insulator.

Low E windows

Low-emissivity (low-e) windows are a great green choice for replacement windows. Low-e windows are coated with a microscopically thin layer of metal oxide that reduces infrared radiation transfer from a warm pane of glass to a cool plane, thus lowering the U-value of the window.

  • In hot climates, the low-e coating should be applied on the outside surface of the window.

  • For cold climates, the low-e coating should be applied to the inside surface of the window.


Sun facing windows to allow more natural light to let natural light in. When properly positioned, they let in the winter sun to heat your home while the sun is at a lower angle in the sky.

Window Replacements

Complete replacement of all windows around the home can be expensive but Window and door replacements are also very popular in the market for homebuyers. The NAR 2021 REALTORS® and Sustainability Report shows that a whopping 87% clients consider windows, doors, and siding a very important or somewhat important feature of a home.  
Vinyl windows av $22,500 with 71% ROI and for wooden windows the average is $35,000 with 57% ROI. Replacing windows can definitely have a positive impact on energy bills, but it would take several decades for the savings to offset the initial cost. The good news is that new windows recover nearly 70% of value on resale. Replacing your front entry door typically recoups 65% of the costs.

Some of the signs that doors and windows need replacement include:

  • Single glazing, Rotting sills and frames,

  • Jammed sashes and broken parts,

  • Water penetration around the frame,

  • Condensation between layers of insulated glass

  • Gaps in sashes, frames, and dividers

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Remodeling guides

Here are some of the best websites for ideas and self-discovery of trending and cost saving resource efficiency measures.


Website by Realtors for homeowners and buyers. Search Through loads of Green living and home improvement trends and articles. Or click on the Your Money section for Save On Utilities.

Home design and Remodeling

Provided by Department of Energy. Provides detail guides for Energy efficient home designs and styles. As well as Landscaping, Windows and doors. Be sure to click the links in each section for more information.

U.S. Green Building Council's Green Home Guide

Emphasis on LEED homes loads of articles around range of renovations and green topics.

Home Innovation Labs.

Market trends for new construction and remodeling features and all sorts of other materials.  Articles are more technical and provide in-depth insight. The site also provides cost estimates on common improvements and expected rates of return.

EnergyStar Knowledge Center

Energy Efficiency Guides and product information and resources.

Green Home Institue

Geared towards Green vendors and professionals. This locally-based non-profit is a great resource for education and training.

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Water Heaters

The first indication that a water heater is due for replacement is the age of the appliance. The average lifespan of a water heater is about 10 years. Other telltale signs include: Rusty water, Rumbling noises, Water leakage around the heater, and No hot water. Many local building codes now require you to upgrade the following: Water heater mount, size or type of venting system, Drain pan underneath the heater, and Supply pipes.

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On-demand (Tankless) water-circulation produces hot water instantly, instead of storing a tank of heated water for later use. It rapidly pumps water from water heaters to fixtures. The device saves water by reducing the wait time at the faucet and wasted heat from maintaining a high temperature during off-use hours. 

Tankless coil indirect heater uses the main furnace or boiler as a heat source. Because this system relies on the furnace, it is most efficient in climates with a high number of heating days.


Indirect Coil heaters still use the furnace as the primary heat source and will come with a tank so the hot water can be stored without the need to fire the furnace— every time.

Solar water heaters are also an option but are used very little in colder climates or areas without year-round sun, they can, however, be paired with an electric heater so you still get the savings during summer times. The most common options include Direct pumped and Indirect, where the direct pumped circulates the actual water while indirect circulates antifreeze solution around the tank of water in the basement. The latter is most common in colder climates.

Heat pump water heaters are also known as hybrid water heaters. Rather than generating heat itself, this water heater uses heat from the ground and the air. Air source heat pumps (ducted or ductless) These heat pumps collect heat from the air, water, or the ground outside to distribute. Geothermal heat pumps These collect heat from an outside ground or water source and typically cost more to install but have lower operating costs. A more Niche design is Absorption heat pumps This is a newer type of heat pump for residential use. Rather than using electricity, these pumps use alternate heat sources, such as natural gas, solar, or geothermal-heated water.

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