When it comes to investing, there aren’t many sure things, especially in our current economic climate. Playing the stock market, while always a bit risky, seems like the place money goes to die, more than ever before. While Wall Street has been a roller coaster ride lately, investing in efficiency upgrades in your home isn’t subject to the mood swings of nervous investors, and, done properly, will always save you money.
Like any investment, it’ll take some cash up front, but each of these steps will earn you a return; some will take a few months, while some will require a few new desk calendars before paying you back. Either way, added together, they can combine to put thousands of dollars back in your pocket while improving the value and environmental health of your home, with a tip of the cap to Mother Earth, too. Let’s get to it.
1. Get a home energy audit
Do you know the R-value of the insulation in your walls, or attic? Or the air exchange rate for your home? If you’re shaking your head at either of these questions, it’s time for a home energy audit. Investing a few bucks in this service has the potential to net huge energy and monetary savings, depending on the efficiency of your current home; if you’re willing to follow the rest of the tips below — depending on the results of your audit — there is really no limit to how much you’ll save over the long run.
Potential savings: Many thousands of dollars.
2. Add insulation
You can almost never have too much insulation. The attic is a good place to start — it’s often overlooked a bit when a home is built, because it isn’t common living space, but if you aren’t up to R-50, you’re losing money (not to mention cool air in the summer, and heat in the winter) out of the top of your home. Not sure where to start? Check in with our Green Materials Guide for Building Insulation to learn more about which material might be best for you.
Potential savings: $300 per year, per project, if you divide up attic, walls, and basement; all three will pop that number up to $900.
3. Seal up windows and doors
Caulking and weather-stripping windows and doors has a great bang for your green home buck. While brand-new windows have a long return on investment — they can be really expensive! — sealing up leaky windows or adding Low-E glazing and storm windows will earn you a cash return in a hurry. Add weather stripping to doors and windows that need it — like double hung windows and others that may not seal as tightly as they used to — and it won’t take long to earn a couple hundred bucks each year. Take a peek at the Green Materials Guide for Windows to learn more about which retrofits and efficiency upgrades are right for your home.
Potential savings: $15 per window or door per year; do 10 windows, and you’ll have an extra $150 per year in your pocket.
4. Increase the efficiency of your heating and cooling
Once you get everything sealed up, you can earn back some bucks on your heating and cooling systems. If you have a forced air furnace, sealing and then insulating the exposed ducts is a good place to start — you’re looking for about R-6. You’ll likely spend a few hundred bucks now, but since about 40 percent of your home’s energy costs go to heating and cooling, you’ll earn that back pretty quickly, and take the rest of the savings over the years to the bank. And, for goodness sake, absolutely add a programmable thermostat ($180 in savings per year!!) to the mix. Our Green Materials Guide for Heating and Cooling can help you step up your efforts to maintain efficient climate control in your house.
Potential savings: $180 – $360 per year, depending on the size of your home and whether or not you started with a programmable thermostat.
5. Save water, save money
Despite being one of the earth’s most precious resources, we literally flush hundreds of gallons of the stuff down the drain every day. So, while conserving water is awesomely important for the planet’s health, it can improve your bank account’s health, too. Start with a low-flow showerhead ($65 per year) and add a water efficient toilet ($25 per year), step up with a dual-flush toilet ($23 over a water efficient toilet), or go big-time with a more efficient water heater ($48 per year) or even a whole house water filter ($312 per year). Stop flushing your money down the drain, and get more tips for water conservation with our Green Materials Guide for Bathrooms and
Green Materials Guide for Kitchen Design.
Potential savings: Up to about $450 per year.
6. Cover you flooring and walls with cash
Well, not literally. But, if you’ve improved the thermal envelope of your home, that means less fresh air gets in, and less inside air gets out. Depending on how poor your indoor air quality is, that can be a real problem. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are in everything from furniture to toys, but two of the big culprits are paint and other wallcoverings, and the adhesives and finishes on flooring and in carpets. By choosing low- or no-VOC paints or wallpaper adhesives, and formaldehyde and polyurethane-free flooring finishes, you can significantly improve your poor indoor air quality. Consider this: If one person in your family has to go see a doctor with a respiratory problem, you could be spending unnecessary money — a few $25 co-pays will add up quickly. By investing in better indoor air quality, you’re investing in your health. Read up on finding safe choices for walls and flooring in our Green Materials Guide for Wall Coverings and Green Materials Guide for Flooring.
Potential savings: $25 per doctor visit.
7. Invest in green appliances
Your appliances are the biggest electricity hogs in your home, from your fridge to your clothes dryer. Upgrading to more efficient models will save lots of energy, and quite a few bucks, too; a new clothes washer will earn you about $70 per year, a more efficient dishwasher can earn you $13 each year, and a greener fridge can even save up to $10 per year.
Potential savings: $100 per year, give or take.
8. Design for super savings
Already checked off items 1 – 7? Wow, awesome job. You’re ready to get really serious. There’s only so much you can do with retrofits and technology upgrades. The best green systems are the ones that are designed from the ground up to be so, so if you really want to save, starting from scrach can really accomplish some awesome green feats. Think solar-powered heating and air conditioning, or a house without utility bills — pretty interesting-sounding stuff, eh? It might take a whole new heating and cooling system, or a whole new house, but, depending on your current situation, investing now for the next 50 years of green living might be the right call for you. Dig in to the Green Materials Guide for Building Blocks to start putting the pieces together.
Potential savings: The sky is the limit.