In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, what would be more appropriate than an article about “green” home improvements?
If, over the last few years, you have made some green home improvements and were hoping for lower energy bills and a quick recovery of your initial investment, you were probably disappointed. Your monthly bottom line has likely been steady—or worse, gone up.
Before you rule out green, change your thinking. Instead of expecting large returns, understand a new bottom line: Smart retrofits help you hold your ground against rising energy costs.
Energy prices as a whole have gone up over the last decade, especially in certain regions of the country. Although natural gas prices have dipped a bit since 2008 and electricity prices have stayed level, the trend line goes up for both from 2011 forward.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates an average annual increase in residential energy costs of 2.3% through 2035. So if energy cost projections hold, and assuming an average annual American energy bill of $2,200, you’ll pay 2.3% more each year (that’s $50 the first year) if you do nothing to reduce your consumption. Your bill could inch closer to $4,000 by the year 2035.
If the only reason you’re making retrofits is to manage energy costs, look for projects with maximum bang for the buck. Try to beat the 2.3% annual average with green home improvements that reduce your energy consumption by 5% or more but have a modest initial investment. And don’t forget to ask whether your utility or state government offers rebates or tax credits for these improvements.
1. Seal and insulate ductwork that runs through unheated spaces—the attic, a crawl space, a garage. It’s not glamorous, but it can improve the efficiency of your heating system by 20%—a 5% bill reduction overall. If you hire an HVAC pro for this job, you’ll invest a few hundred dollars for labor and materials.
2. Buy a programmable thermostat. For just $25 to $250, you can save, on average, around 8% on energy bills simply by programming it properly.
3. Add attic insulation and seal air leaks. One of the best energy-saving improvements out there, because insulating and sealing your home can reduce your energy bills by 10%. Upgrading your attic insulation to the recommended R-value costs anywhere from $.25 to $1 per square foot, including materials and labor; it’s less if you do it yourself.
But you won’t get the maximum savings if you don’t seal air leaks, so plan this as a combo job. Caulking and weather-stripping typically costs from $50 to $350, depending on the size of your house.