Are you always looking for new ways to learn how to manage your money? Look no further than making improvements to your home if you’re after great budgeting benefits.
Whether you live in a chillier climate or call the tropics home, you might be able to save money on your monthly bills or overall living expenses by implementing energy-efficient home improvements.
If you're not making some of these energy-efficient home improvements, this could be considered an easy-to-avoid money mistake. So, which home improvements are more likely to result in energy savings? Let's find out.
Start with an energy audit
Consider getting an energy audit or assessment to learn exactly how your home consumes energy. Doing so can help you plot a roadmap to make your home more energy-efficient.
An energy audit can cost a few hundred dollars, depending on the amount of work involved, but many utility companies offer customers discounted audits or free assessments. Pinpointing which energy-efficient home improvement projects might make sense for your situation helps to eliminate the guesswork.
Solar panel efficiency depends on the amount of sunlight that strikes the panel surfaces and is converted into electrical or thermal energy. Current photovoltaic technology has increased conversion efficiency to over 20%, compared to 15% in previous years.
Solar panels cost quite a bit of money upfront, which might give you pause. According to the Center for Sustainable Energy, installing solar panels can cost between $15,000 and $25,000 on average. But solar panels are worth it if you plan to stay in your house for a long enough time that you recoup the cost through energy savings and then can basically enjoy free electricity from that point on.
Financing solar panels could also be an option if you don’t want to pay in full upfront.
About 25% to 30% of your heating and cooling energy use is likely due to the heat gain and loss occurring through your windows. If you live in an older home or one that has windows you suspect do not give you the best bang for your buck, you may want to get an energy audit first to determine how much energy you're losing.
Once you decide new energy-efficient windows make sense, it's best to choose the right windows for your climate. To reduce heat loss, you’ll want to look for gas-filled windows with low-E coatings and a low U-factor in colder climates. In warmer climates, choose windows with a low solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) to reduce the solar radiation coming in through your windows.
No matter your climate, you can look for the government-backed Energy Star label and the energy performance label from the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC).
New windows typically cost between $200 and $1,800 per window. The national average lands between $100 to $650 per window, depending on the features you choose.
Consider using weatherstripping in your home as a cost-effective way to seal cold air leaks around windows and doors. There are a variety of types of weatherstripping methods and installing it typically costs an average of $275.
An energy assessment can identify air leaks and ventilation needs in your home before you get started. Note that weatherstripping can pay back your investment quickly, usually in one year or less.
Who doesn't want to save money on utilities? Better insulation can help. In fact, approximately 90% of U.S. homes are under-insulated, according to the Insulation Institute. More thorough insulation can help save energy lost through bare pipes and surfaces, uninsulated valves, and defective insulation.
You can add more insulation to attics, basements, crawl spaces, ducts, doors, windows, and walls. The type of insulation you choose depends on what area of your home you plan to add insulation to. Energystar.gov offers a helpful guide to the types of insulation you might choose from. The guide also shows how much DIY skill you may need to have in order to install it yourself.
Consider making sure you've got all your ducts in a row as well. In other words, are your ducts sealed, straight, and connected correctly? Many duct systems have insulation flaws or gaps where the air gets out, and heat loss can occur. You can lose 60% of your heated air before it reaches the register if you don't insulate your ducts.
It costs between $1 and $7 per square foot to insulate an attic. But it’s an improvement that could make your home more appealing to buyers, which means this energy-efficient upgrade could pay for itself through added home value.
Tankless water heater
A traditional water heater keeps water inside a tank at a constant temperature. As cold water mixes into the tank, the heater ends up frequently working to reheat the water. A tankless model, on the other hand, heats up water on demand. This results in hot water coming out at a consistent temperature, plus you can save energy on water heating because your heater isn’t always trying to keep up with the water cooling in its tank.
You can choose between a gas or electric tankless water heater. Tankless water heaters can range from $300 to $1,100 or more, and installation can cost you between $500 to $1,600 or more.
The payback time for converting from a storage tank gas water heater to a gas tankless? According to Consumer Reports, the payback time ranges from 22.5 years to 27.5 years. The payback time for an electric tankless heater ranges from 12 to 20 years.
HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. An HVAC system provides both heating and cooling to your home. Energystar.gov recommends homeowners replace their HVAC system every 10 years. An HVAC system's major components will begin to deteriorate after about 10 years, depending on how well you maintain them and how often you use them.
A few signs you might need a new HVAC system:
- Your HVAC equipment needs frequent repairs.
- Your energy bills continue to go up.
- Some rooms in your house feel too hot or too cold.
- You do not have a programmable thermostat.
- You experience humidity in your home.
- Your home has excessive dust.
- The cooling system and/or heating system sounds noisy.
The cost to replace an HVAC unit, not including installation, ranges between $4,850 and $9,400. Installation typically costs between $15 and $18 per square foot of your home. Replacing an inefficient, dated HVAC system with a high-efficiency unit could save you up to 20% on heating bills and cooling costs, as long as you choose an Energy Star-rated system.
Not sure when you need new appliances? Take a look at the lifespan of a few major appliances:
- Refrigerator: 10 to 12 years
- Stove and oven: 10 to 15 years
- Dishwasher: 10 to 13 years
- Washer and dryer: Approximately 10 years
- Microwave: 10 to 12 years
- Coffee maker: Five years
Refrigerators, washers, and dryers use the most energy, so consider investing in the most efficient models to save the most money possible.
New appliances cost between $190 and $10,600, depending on the type of appliance you choose. But as an example, Energy Star-labeled washers use 25% less energy and about 75% less water than agitator washers from 20 years ago. So even if an Energy Star appliance costs a little more upfront, it could easily pay for itself over time.
You can determine how much money you could save using the Energy Star calculators. For example, take a look at the Flip Your Fridge calculator to learn what you can save by choosing an Energy Star appliance.
A programmable thermostat can help with heating and cooling efficiency because you can achieve optimal temperature with the flick of a switch. You can also automatically change the temperature without other required manual adjustments.
You can save up to 10% per year on heating and cooling by simply adjusting your thermostat by 7 to 10 degrees for eight hours per day. In summer, you would adjust the air conditioning to a higher temperature, and in winter, you would adjust the heat to a lower temperature. This is most easily done while you’re away from the house during the day.
It costs between $112 and $255 on average to install or replace a thermostat for a 2,000 square foot home. Given how it could save you money on a daily basis, it’s a popular energy-efficient upgrade for homeowners.
Think you might want to replace some items in your home now? Before you get started, check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, where you can learn more about the incentives and policies that support renewable energy and energy efficiency in your state, which might even include things like tax credits and rebates.
You can also check out the EPA's Home Energy Yardstick. Plug in some information about your home, such as:
- ZIP code
- Home square footage
- Number of people who live in your home
- Fuels you use
The Home Energy Yardstick gives you a basic rundown of your home's per-year energy consumption compared to similar homes in your area. You'll learn your Home Energy Yardstick score (on a scale of zero to 10), how much energy you're using for appliances, lighting, and hot water, as well as your home's annual carbon emissions. You'll also learn how to increase your home's score, improve comfort, and lower utility bills using Energy Star-rated items.
Lowering your energy costs doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive, and these improvements often pay for themselves pretty quickly. If you’re looking for a smart way to save money, consider taking action on one of these home improvements. And don't forget to use one of the best credit cards for paying utility bills when you can as well.
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