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Energy Efficient Interior Design Tips

Use Thermal Mass, Paint Color, Window Treatments, Suspended Acoustical Ceilings, and Ceramic Tile for Energy Efficiency

© 2011 by Kelly R. Smith

Photo of Kelly R. Smith

White honeycomb energy-efficient blinds

White honeycomb energy-efficient blinds

This article was updated on 05/23/21.

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Interior design doesn’t have to just be about good looks. It can also be about energy efficiency and functionality at the same time! And if you don’t mind making some incremental capital investments in your property that will pay off big-time, read on for some tips.

Energy efficient interior design reduces the energy consumption in a home by using fiberglass insulation, passive solar heating, and thermostat set-back. New and older homes alike can benefit from energy efficient design measures.

Here are some interior design tips to make your home more energy efficient:

  • Use thermal wallpaper on the interior of exterior walls for added insulation. Cork flooring tiles are also effective and double as noise suppressors. Also, paper-backed wallpaper and fabric provide muck better insulation than paint. Art textiles such as tapestries and quilts placed on interior walls will beautify and insulate.

  • Use interior window shutters or blinds with a white backing or other neutral backing color to reflect the sunlight back outside. If you prefer dark colors for blinds, you can still select a product that is backed with light colors. Attractive light blocking curtains are also available.

    In cool and hot climates, honeycomb or cellular shades are a good choice. The air pockets in their layered-fabric construction trap interior air and prevent it from escaping through windows. For the best results, get them custom made rather than off the shelf.

  • Consider using ceramic tile, quarry tile, or brick veneer to add additional mass on thermal mass walls and floors.

  • Use large decorative wool area rugs to prevent heat from escaping through the floor. You can remove them in the summer. This is especially effective with older homes that have hardwood floors. In sunlit areas, these will also keep the UV rays from fading your flooring.

  • Increase the amount of windows on the south side of the home in order to collect heat. This is one key consideration architects use when employing passive solar concepts.

  • During winter, use an attractive, reversible ceiling fan to pull the air up and circulate the warm ceiling-level air. Reverse the fan during the summer to push the cool air down to allow the air to flow across the room.

  • Install insulated, decorative ceiling tiles. If you have sufficient room height clearance you can install a suspended acoustical ceiling. In tighter spaces the method is to install level batten strips and staple tongue-in-groove foam tiles to them. Either way, you can hide your outdated popcorn ceiling.

  • Patterned and dyed concrete floors can be utilized as thermal mass and are less expensive than tile floors.

  • Wool carpet with a thick pad is a good insulator that prevents heat loss during winter and gain during summer.

Thermal Mass for Temperature Control

Thermal mass is any solid or liquid material that absorbs and stores warmth until it’s needed. Recall that "cold" is just a term that means a relative lack of heat. Floors and walls are examples of thermal mass. Brick, concrete, natural stone, and ceramic or porcelain tile floors absorb the heat of the sun during the day and release it in the evening.

During the cold winter, during the daytime, thermal mass absorbs heat from direct sunlight. Then, they warm up the interior of a house by releasing the heat when a room’s air temperature decreases after the sun does down. This takes some strain off your heater, resulting in a lower power bill.

During the summer, you should shade thermal mass so it gathers the warmth from the surrounding air and cools the room. Use light shaded paint on the walls and ceiling reflect light down to the thermal mass.

The Use of Color

Lighter colors, such as beige, reflect heat from a lightweight thermal mass, such as that ergonomic couch, to an efficient heat storing mass, such as a brick wall. Use dark colors on efficient heat-storing masses. The darker the color, the greater the heat absorption. I never have understood why some people here in the south buy black vehicles.

Those living in hot climates would be well-advised to consider pale colored interior walls so as to reflect the light and reduce the need for air conditioning, again, saving money. These folks might think about avoiding dark blue, gray, and brown colors since they absorb more heat from the sun. Otherwise, they will likely be running their air conditioners around the clock.

Speaking of air conditioning, many larger and multi-floor homes benefit greatly financially from setting up a heater and air conditioner zone control system. Only run the HVAC in areas that benefit the home’s occupants.


To further reduce energy consumption, place some floor lamps in corners to reflect light off of two walls. Light colored shades are the best choice, as dark ones will hold the light in.

Be sure to use energy efficient light bulbs all around the house. Linear florescent bulbs are a good choice for a kitchen since one fixture will light a large area. Also, attractive LED chandeliers are available.

Furniture Can Increase Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

Use dark colored furniture and tile floors for energy efficiency Shiny, polished colors and surfaces reflect heat back to walls or floors where it is stored more efficiently. Think about using light colored slipcovers for couches during the summer and dark colored slipcovers in the winter. Skirted furniture is a good choice for drafty rooms.

Space furniture further apart during summer to promote ventilation. During the winter, make sure the furniture doesn’t block the sun’s rays from reaching the thermal mass. To reduce drafts in northern rooms use high-backed, overstuffed furniture. To increase heat absorption and release, place furniture so it shades the walls and floor as little as possible.

There are plenty of interior design strategies you can use to increase the energy efficiency of your home. Do you have any tips of your own? Share them with our readers in the comment section below.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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