Green Remodel Payback
If your existing home is in need of some remodeling in order to "green it up" and increase it's energy efficiency, there are literally hundreds of ways to do it, from replacing aging appliances or windows, to installing more insulation in walls and attic spaces. In a perfect world, there would be unlimited amounts of money available to conquer all of these major projects at once. But we don't live in a perfect world, and although doing green upgrades will typically pay for themselves in the long run through reduced energy usage, it's not always possible to do everything we'd like.
The goal of doing green remodeling is two-fold: to reduce energy usage, and to save money through these reduced energy costs. Fortunately, you don't always have to tackle big expensive projects to see quick energy and money savings. There are many things you can do right now today to save a lot of money without spending much at all. The estimate of how long it will take to save enough energy to pay for the cost of a green upgrade or remodel is called payback.
Calculating the payback on projects or upgrades will help you decide which things to prioritize. For example, sealing up air leaks and ducts are very inexpensive projects, and are usually at the top of the list for quick payback. Air infiltration can often account for up to a third of a home's heating costs. Installing insulation in walls or basements that may have none is a more expensive project, but due to the huge reduction in energy usage that results, is an excellent early investment to make.
Steps that Save Lots of Energy and Have Little or No Cost
The following steps have a very quick payback, often under a year. We recommend completing these improvements first, since they are 'low-hanging fruit' that cost the least (sometimes even free!) and will save you the most energy and money.
- Keep your home at or below 68 degrees. (The lower you set your heat in winter or A/C higher in summer, the more you'll save)
- Lower your heat 10 degrees at night or when you're away from home.
- Replace furnace air filters regularly.
- Lower the temperature on your hot water heater to 120 degrees.
- Insulate hot water pipes and install heat trap fittings at flex connections. Insulate the first five feet of cold water line.
- Install low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators.
- Install insulating gaskets behind electric outlets and switch plates on exterior walls to reduce air infiltration.
- Caulk and weatherstrip windows and doors. Fill any visible cracks or holes.
- Turn off lights, electronics, and appliances when not in use.
Steps with an Estimated Payback of One to Two Years
This list of items have an increased up-front cost to you, but will typically pay for themselves in energy savings within a one to two year period.
- Install a programmable thermostat.
- Install do-it-yourself plastic storm windows over older single pane windows.
- Replace inefficient incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent or LED bulbs.
- Install dimmer switches, timers and motion detectors to turn off lights or devices when not in use.
- Pay to have your heating and cooling system professionally inspected and tuned-up for optimal performance.
- Repair or replace the damper seal on your fireplace.
Steps with an Estimated Two to Five Year Payback
Now we're starting to get into projects that are going to have higher up-front investments, resulting in longer payback periods. You may consider hiring a professional contractor to complete some of these items to ensure the job is doing properly. After tackling the higher payback items above, start planning these measures to reduce your home's environmental impact.
- Insulate walls in a heated basement, and the rim joist of an unheated basement or crawl space.
- Install attic insulation to a minimum of R-38.
- Install underfloor insulation to a minimum of R-30.
- Install items on fireplace to reduce air infiltration and heat loss, such as glass doors and a flue top damper.
- Install insulated window shades or shutters.
- Install insulation in uninsulated or under-insulated exterior walls.
- Replace older toilets with new ultra-low flush models.
Steps with an Estimated Payback of Five or More Years
These are large-scale projects with significant up-front investments, with payback periods of five years or more. Many of these projects have tax credits or rebates available that will help reduce costs. Most companies and contractors will have all the information you need to research and apply for any available credits or rebates.
- Replace existing single-pane windows with new Energy Star double or triple-pane windows.
- Replace older furnace with a new unit with a 90% + efficiency rating.
- Install a fireplace insert into an existing fireplace.
- Replace tank-type hot water heater with either a new energy efficient model, a tankless on-demand heater, or solar hot water system.