01/20/2012 10:55 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Five Ideas For Building Better, More Efficient Homes

It's winter and you're probably realizing how awful your insulation is -- I'm looking at you, Seattle -- and also starting to rethink that last addition to the house where you used single-pane windows that now render the room useless.

When faced with this dilemma, building owners wonder how to become more efficient at little cost. Last week, Planet Forward, a community of energy experts and concerned citizens, crowdsourced ideas for a church in New England which was looking for a way to 'go green.' The recommendations we received ran the gamut -- from 'retrofit' to 'here's how to get a rebate' to 'start all over and here's how.'

The winning idea for Katherine, the member who posted the request, was to start a university competition that would solicit design plans for their new Parish Hall, which will house a school, offices and other facilities. We also like the idea of creating an educational program for parishioners to help engage their community in the work. It's not just about going green, it's about inspiring people to rethink our energy choices.

Some practical tips to save energy are always good in frigid times like these:

  • Hang plastic sheeting on windows to reduce drafts
  • Caulk around windows and doors
  • Install door sweeps to keep out cold air
  • Create a vestibule at your front door using two thermal curtains
  • Switch off your electric water heater breaker until you're going to use it (it takes about 45 minutes to heat up the water)

But Planet Forward's members have been looking into much more interesting and innovative ways to increase a building's efficiency. We reached through our archive and came up with a few ideas of our own for how they could retrofit their sanctuary and ideas for rebuilding the Parish Hall:

Insulate with Greensulate

Ecovative's insulating material is grown from mushrooms and is completely recyclable -- when you're done with it, just put it into the garden and let it compost. But the best thing about it is that it wont burn and it doesn't use petrochemicals.

Reuse your waste: Year-Round Gardening

Any school is going to generate a lot of waste. Learn from the students at Clarkson University and convert that waste into food. They've developed a system to support year-round greenhouse gardening that will save you bucks, deliciously.

Harness Solar Power for Hot Water

Solar hot water is one of the most cost-efficient ways to use solar energy. It has been used around the world, with Israel and Cyprus being the per capita leaders in the use of solar water heating systems -- over 30 to 40 percent of homes using them.

Energy Efficient Landscapes

Using trees, shrubs and landscape features can help homeowners reduce their energy costs and create a healthier, more beautiful environment. These time-honored tips from the American Society of Landscape Architects can help you make smarter use of your outdoor spaces.

Solar or Water Innovations? University of Maryland's Solar Decathlon House Has it All

Take a look at the winning house from the Solar Decathlon, which uses innovative technologies like solar hot water collectors, a liquid desiccant waterfall, and sustainable materials.

See more green building ideas here.

Do you have an energy problem that should be crowdsourced? Let me know in the comments below.