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Low-Cost, High-Efficiency Home Improvements that Pay Off

| 1/25/2011 1:47:24 PM

Photo by Pixabay/marsjo

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):

  1. 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
  2. Switch to WaterSense plumbing fixtures (e.g., dual-flush or other high-efficiency toilets, and ultra-low-flow faucets and showerheads).
  3. 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.
  4. Insulate your hot water pipes and water heater; and add insulation to your attic (and/or walls and basement).
  5. 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.

Dorin Reed
2/4/2011 9:44:46 PM

I have found that if you place a timer on your water heater and program it for the times you would use it, AM PM, you could save thousands of dollars. The timers for a 220 watt outlet are about $30. Soalr water heaters are 4 to 5 thousand, plus hurricanes and freezing weather can damage them and your roof. I have had 2 solar water heaters and the timer makes sense. I'd also like to warn people to check out things like the Solar Generator that is advertised online..It cost app. $1600. It will power a 100 watt light bulb for 3 hours only. I am still trying to get reimbursed for this mistake. It is purely false advertising. I want to be prepared to protect my family but I get discouraged when I come across scams like this.

Miriam Landman
2/4/2011 2:17:35 PM

Ah, I just found info on tax credits for efficient appliances. These tax credits go directly to the appliance manufacturers (not directly to consumers): Consumers may see special promotions for the eligible appliances.

Miriam Landman
2/4/2011 1:53:22 PM

Thanks for your comments, everyone! Here are some figures on savings from toilet replacement, from the EPA's WaterSense website: "Over the course of your lifetime, you will likely flush the toilet nearly 140,000 times. If you replace older, existing toilets with WaterSense labeled models, you can save 4,000 gallons per year with this simpler, greener choice. WaterSense labeled toilets are available at a wide variety of price points and a broad range of styles. EPA estimates that a family of four that replaces its home's older toilets with WaterSense labeled models will, on average, save more than $90 per year in reduced water utility bills, and $2,000 over the lifetime of the toilets. Additionally, in many areas, utilities offer rebates and vouchers that can lower the price of a WaterSense labeled toilet." As for financial incentives for buying energy- and/or water- efficient appliances (including washers), some local utility companies will provide rebates for such purchases. I'm not aware of federal tax credits for appliances, but here's a summary of the other types of equipment that is covered by current Residential Energy Tax Credits: I hope this info is helpful.

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