Our energy Q & A column from Philly's Energy Coordinating Agency returns with a new "special expert" sharing his advice - Dr. Green. Send your questions and comments to energy@phillynews.com.

Dear Dr. Green,

 

I want to "go green" with home energy efficiency upgrades, but I'm a little reluctant to make the investment in these financially sensitive times. The environmental impact sounds nice – but what's the impact on my utility bill?

 

-Cost-Conscious in Callowhill

 

Dear Cost-Conscious,

 

Taking the plunge into home updates may sound daunting, but it's really more like a dip than a plunge. The logic of energy efficiency improvements is a little like buying that 32-inch Toshiba flatscreen outright instead of renting it for the next eight years from RentWay – seems intimidating now, but deals a big payoff in the long run.

 

Let's break it down by long-term savings, starting with the simplest of home upgrades: weatherization. Home improvements can range from $350 for basic air sealing to $3,500 for full insulation, or $4,000 for a new high efficiency heating system. Energy efficiency upgrades typically have a return on investment of 12-15 percent annually. Try finding that on the stock market today! Then, add in the federal tax credit of $1,500 and the PECO rebates on many upgrades, and you're talking a 30 percent ROI or better.

 

This is enough extra cash to buy a motorcycle or two, in case you were considering carbon reductions in your transportation as well.

 

For the more adventurous, a solar water heating system at $4,000-$8,000 installed can typically provide 65% of your hot water needs and pay for itself in four to six years. With the current federal tax credit of 30%, however, your out-of-pocket costs are slashed to $2,666-$5,000 and payback is cut to 2 ½ - 3 years.

 

Come to think of it, with PECO’s rate caps coming off,  we might want to revise our earlier analogy – it’s less like the luxury of buying a new flatscreen, and more like the necessity of brushing your teeth now so you’re not lined up for a root canal later.

 

The economics leave no doubt. A green home won't just save the environment; it'll save your checkbook, too.