Best Home Energy Efficiency Improvements

PV panels and wind turbines might have a lot of sex appeal, but they can also be pricy. If you're on a limited budget, here are some recommendations for affordable home energy efficiency upgrades that will pay for themselves in short order.

| August/September 2010

  • home before remodel
    Jefren Olson’s home in Madison, Wis., before the energy upgrades.
    KATHY RASMUSSEN
  • home energy efficiency - retrofitted home
    Energy upgrades to Jefren Olson’s home in Madison, Wis., have made it much more efficient to heat and cool. Some of his recent home improvements include adding insulation and replacing the windows.
    KATHY RASMUSSEN
  • adding insulation
    Adding insulation is a great way to make a home more energy efficient. If you’re not sure where or whether your home needs more insulation, a home energy audit can help you figure that out.
    ISTOCKPHOTO/GEORGE PETERS
  • remodel in process
    Jefren Olson’s home in Madison, Wis., in the process of getting new insulation.
    KATHY RASMUSSEN
  • infrared photo
    This is an infrared photo from an energy audit — the red areas show where the most heat is escaping.
    FOTOLIA/ULRICH MUELLER
  • CFLs
    Changing your light bulbs is one of the easiest things you can do to save electricity. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) use far less electricity than the older incandescent bulbs, and they come in a wide variety of styles. If you search, you can find CFLs for almost any type of light fixture.
    ISTOCKPHOTO/MATHIE UKOR
  • wind turbine
    A home wind turbine is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, but will it save you money? You’ll need to do some research to find out. The answer depends on a number of factors specific to your situation, including how much wind your site can produce, how much you pay for electricity and the tax credits and rebates available where you live.
    DOE/NREL
  • home energy efficiency - dollar bills
    In general, home energy efficiency improvements involve spending money now to save on your energy bills later. For big-ticket items, you really can save big, but you’ll want to calculate payback periods carefully.
    PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO/TOMISLAV FORGO
  • solar house
    Solar-electric panels and solar water heating systems are other items that make great environmental sense and may lead to big cash savings, depending on the specifics of your situation.
    JOHN IVANKO
  • pennies
    Don’t overlook the simple things you can do to make your home more energy efficient. Some of the best green home improvements will cost you little or nothing!
    ISTOCKPHOTO/KEITH WEBBER JR

  • home before remodel
  • home energy efficiency - retrofitted home
  • adding insulation
  • remodel in process
  • infrared photo
  • CFLs
  • wind turbine
  • home energy efficiency - dollar bills
  • solar house
  • pennies

Have you thought about making energy retrofits to your home? It’s a great way to make your home more energy efficient and reduce your carbon footprint. Home energy efficiency improvements are good for your bank account, too, because money you invest in energy efficiency or renewable energy systems will pay off over time in reduced energy bills. That’s especially true right now, because the federal government currently offers big financial incentives for purchasing solar panels, wind turbines, efficient windows, added insulation, woodstoves and more. It’s also possible to finance home energy upgrades with a loan specifically designed for energy conservation. These loans are usually called energy improvement mortgages (see “Resources,” below). However, it’s not always easy to determine what energy improvements you need. Which projects make the most sense for your home? Which are really worth the money? And if you can’t do all of them, where should you start?

Imagine You Had a Little Extra Dough …

Each home is different, and how much you could benefit from a particular project depends on many variables, including the age and design of your home, your financial situation, and your personal priorities. To help focus on what you really need and want, consider this hypothetical scenario: You have been given $5,000 to spend on home energy improvements. What would you do with the money?

Some of the projects that may come to mind first, such as solar-electric (photovoltaic) panels and wind power systems, are outside that budget. For example, if you were to purchase a residential wind turbine, you could expect to spend at least $10,000 and easily as much as $50,000. Solar panels usually fall into a similar price range. Energy-efficient windows come with a big price tag, too. They can cost between $200 to $800 per window. Add the cost of installation, and depending on the size of your home and the number of windows, you could easily spend $10,000 or more.

Can you make significant energy improvements to your home on a more modest budget? Absolutely! You could add insulation, buy a new, high-efficiency furnace, or purchase a new energy-efficient refrigerator. The big question is how to decide which of these energy improvements will provide the biggest benefits for you.



Regardless of your home’s age, most residential efficiency experts recommend a home energy audit as a first step. An energy audit costs about $300, although low-cost or free audits are sometimes offered by local utilities. George Twigg, the deputy policy director at Efficiency Vermont, a state organization that connects homeowners with qualified auditors and contractors, explains how this process works: “The contractor will help guide the homeowner through the most cost-effective things that can be done to save energy. Often it’s sealing air leaks and other ways to tighten up the house. Those strategies have a reasonably fast payback, as opposed to windows, which have a fairly long payback time.”

A “payback period” is the time required for the improvement to save enough fuel or energy to pay for itself, and it’s a useful tool in determining which high-dollar home improvements will yield quick results. For example, for home insulation upgrades, a payback of three to five years is not unusual, while for energy-efficient windows, a payback period of more than 10 years is common. One thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t rely too heavily on payback period estimates from product manufacturers. Look for estimates from sources that don’t have a vested interest in the results, such as a state energy agency or an energy auditor (especially an energy auditor who isn’t also proposing to do the repair work he or she recommends.)

Adriana
3/5/2015 2:38:51 PM

Green Home Improvement projects are not as difficult as one may think. Here are some easy ideas that will make an impact right away http://workwithadriana.com/?p=1321


GetGreener
9/21/2013 10:22:45 PM

If you are looking for a low cost, energy saving product (especially for hot and humid areas), you need to check out the products from the Larson Fan Company. They are on-line.


Christine
4/27/2013 8:42:22 AM

Stevanamber...look up the "Queenslander", traditional Australian airy weatherboard house up on stilts, for hot , humid climates! (Should be the norm for Houston and similar places!)







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