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Homeowners (and renters) are increasingly interested in making green home improvements, and they’re particularly interested in knowing which improvements have a clear payback—i.e., a decent Return on Investment (ROI)—and can be made with minimal investment.
Here are some commonly agreed upon suggestions for relatively easy and low-cost home retrofitting projects that reap surefire savings (in energy, water, and dollars):
- Switch to LED and/or compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs. (Note: When buying CFLs, look for low-mercury products. Also, because CFLs contain mercury, they cannot be disposed of in the trash; they must be recycled by a hazardous waste facility. Some stores, such as Home Depot, collect used CFLs for recycling. You can find other places to take used CFLs near you on Earth911.com.
- Switch to WaterSense plumbing fixtures (e.g., dual-flush or other high-efficiency toilets, and ultra-low-flow faucets and showerheads).
- Switch to Energy Star appliances and electronic equipment when it’s time to replace old units. Install an Energy Star ceiling fan(s), to reduce or eliminate your use of air conditioning.
- Insulate your hot water pipes and water heater; and add insulation to your attic (and/or walls and basement).
- Have a home energy audit done to check for air leaks and identify other inefficiencies; a home performance contractor should then make the needed improvements. More and more companies are springing up to offer these services. (One experienced company in California is Advanced Home Energy, formerly called Recurve.) You can search here for a contractor near you who has been accredited by the Building Performance Institute.
For other ideas and helpful cost/benefit assessments, check out this recently published book: Green Sense for the Home: Rating the Real Payoff from 50 Green Home Projects, by Eric Corey Freed and Kevin Daum (Taunton Press, April 2010). Here’s the publisher’s description of the book: “When does a green home project make financial sense? The authors of this book provide the answer to this and other questions relating to the cost (and relative value) of environmentally friendly home improvements. They evaluate a wide array of projects, including insulating pipes, weatherizing doors and windows, composting and recycling trash, installing a solar hot water heater, installing green countertops, upgrading appliances, building with reclaimed materials, and installing radiant heat.”
Other recent books include Green Home Improvement: 65 Projects That Will Cut Utility Bills, Protect Your Health & Help the Environment by Daniel Chiras, PhD (RS Means) and This Green House: Home Improvements for the Eco-Smart, the Thrifty, and the Do-It-Yourselfer by Joshua Piven (Abrams).
A number of federal, state, and local environmental tax credits, rebates, and other financial incentives are available for installing energy-efficient equipment or renewable energy (e.g., solar) technologies at your residence.
For additional information and tips on green home improvements and retrofits, these are some useful online articles and websites, most of which feature lists of improvements that make especially good investments:
- Best Home Energy Improvements (by Greg Pahl, Mother Earth News)
- 15 Green Projects for Under $500 (GreenHomeGuide.com / This Old House)
- The Energy Efficiency Pyramid: A guide for energy retrofit work (GreenBuildingAdvisor.com)
- 10 Tips for Energy Savings and Healthy Living [PDF] (Global Green USA)
- 16 Ways to Green Your Home [PDF] (U.S. Green Building Council)
- EnergySavers.gov (Department of Energy)
- Energy Star: Home Improvement information
Miriam Landman is a sustainability advisor with expertise in green building and green living strategies. She provides email and phone consultations to clients throughout North America. You can learn more about her and her services at her website: M. Landman Communications & Consulting.