Green for Greenbacks: The Cost of 10 Home Improvements

By BJ Lutz
|  Monday, Nov 23, 2009  |  Updated 3:40 PM CDT
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Green for Greenbacks: The Cost of 10 Home Improvements

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Changing personal habits is a great, inexpensive way to start going green, but making eco-friendly home improvements often means opening up the wallet, sometimes with painful results.

Before you make the leap for the latest green gizmo, arm yourself with knowledge.

Here's our list of 10 green home improvements, what you can expect to pay, and how long it'll take to see a return on your investment:

1. Install a Tankless Water Heater
Cost: About $1,000
Return: Up to 50% annually on heating costs; Unit will pay for itself in about 20 years.

Why it's green:
Having a big water heater tank in your home wastes energy, as the tank constantly tries to keep its contents at a preset temperature. A tankless water heater will only heat water on demand, when you need it.

Caveat:
Keep in mind: a tankless water is a big, expensive investment. A traditional tank water heater can cost hundreds of dollars less upfront. The tankless heater is a good option if you plan to stay in your home a long time. In the long run, you can see savings of $2,000 - $4,000.

2. Use a Water Heater Blanket
If your tank water heater is warm when you touch it, it's losing heat and you're losing money. Drop $30 for a water heater blanket. The savings you'll see will pay for the blanket within a year.

3. Install Solar Roof Panels
Cost: About $8/watt.  A system that can provide about 50% of the energy in an extremely energy-efficient home can cost $16,000-$20,000.
Return: 50% reduction in energy costs, an immediate increase in the value of your property and a possible property tax exemption.

Why it's green:
Grabbing energy from the sun can save hundreds of tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.

Caveat:
Solar panels are a long-term investment, but a 30 percent federal tax credit and $10,000 state rebate will ease the pain on your wallet. The cost can vary widely, depending on how much energy you use, and how much energy you want to derive from the sun. Several Web sites will help you calculate the cost of the system that's right for you

4. Install Dual Pane Windows
Cost: Varies widely... $300 - $1,000/window
Return: 10-40 years, depending on project

Why it's green: Dual pane windows are twice as efficient as single-pane windows. The energy loss from single pane glass windows can be as much as 30 percent of a heating bill.

You should know: Many dual pane window models qualify for the Energy Efficient Tax Credit. And having them installed will likely immediately increase the value of your home.

5. Install a Programmable Thermostat
Cost: About $30
Return: Can save about $180/year in energy costs.

Why it's green: Why heat the house when you're not there, or when you're sleeping soundly in your bed? A programmable thermostat can be programmed to adjust your home's heating and cooling system several times a day, to provide comfort when you need it. By keeping the temperature of your home 15 degrees cooler while you're away, you can save about 10 percent on your heating bill.

6. Fix Seals & Leaks
Cost: A few dollars
Return: Immediate

Why it's green:
If you have forced-air heating and cooling, you could be losing up to 30 percent of the air through leaks. Duct tape or duct mastic will help keep the air moving to where you need it. Also check the vents around your washer and dryer, any recessed lighting, and especially around doors and windows. Inexpensive caulk, foam or weather stripping can save as much as 10 percent annually on your energy bill.

You should know:
A home energy audit will help you identify if you have any leaks that need attention.

7. Use Compact Flourescent Lighting
Cost: $3-$6/bulb
Return: Bulb will pay for itself in six months

Why it's green:
Traditional incandescent bulbs are mini heaters, converting most of the energy they consume to heat and very little to visible light. Compact Fluorescent bulbs use up to 75 percent less electricity, and they last up to 10 times longer.

Caveat:
Don't use a CFL bulb in a dimmer switch/outlet unless the box specifies it's safe.

8. Install Low-Flow Aerators
Cost: $5 - $50
Return: Can reduce home water consumption as much as 50%, and reduce energy cost of heating water also by as much as 50%.

Why it's green:
Low-flow aerators can cut your home's water consumption by half, thereby also reducing the cost of heating the water.

9. Install a Low-Flush Toilet
Cost: As low as $100
Return: Can save about $100 year in water/sewer costs, paying for itself in about a year.

Why it's green:
A standard toilet can use about 20 gallons of water per day per person. A low-flush toilet can cut that by more than half, saving money on your water bill, preventing water from being needlessly treated and ultimately saving you tax money.

You should know:
Have an old toilet and hesitant about springing for a new one? There's a free alternative that will help cut your water usage. Put a plastic bottle filled with gravel in your toilet tank to take up some volume, perhaps saving you up to one gallon per flush.

10. Install an Energy Star-rated Ceiling Fan
Cost: As low at $75
Return: About $15/year in savings, paying for itself in about 5 years

Why it's green:
Energy Star ceiling fans are 50 percent more efficient than convential fans and use less energy. By moving air around, they help you feel more comfortable, reducing what you need to spend on heating and cooling.

Caveat:
A poorly-installed ceiling fan, or one that's the wrong size for the room can be an energy waster.

You should know:
Blades should turn counter-clockwise in the summer and clockwise in the winter.

Buy Local.  Be Green.

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