Making "green" improvements on your home not only helps the environment, but it can also equate to sizable cost savings on your energy bill and your taxes. There are many options available when it comes to updating your home, but here are some points to consider if you want to determine which projects to tackle first.
"There's a lot of places you can start when remodeling or updating a home, especially if you're getting ready to sell it, but the main places are around energy efficiency," says Kane Sutphin, marketing director at TreeHouse, a green home improvement store in Austin, Texas. that helps customers find green alternatives to building and remodeling.
Homeowners are increasingly concerned with their energy bills, and for good reason. The average household spends at least $2,000 a year on energy costs – more than half of which goes to heating and cooling, according to the most recent "Buildings and their Impact on the Environment" report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"For older homes, I think it's very important that they have some of those upgrades because buyers – whether they'd like a new home or they're buying an older home – are going to look at the energy costs, and the more they can save on energy costs, the more they can put towards the mortgage, so the more home they can buy," says Jim Liptak, regional vice president of the National Association of Realtors.
When it comes to energy efficiency, the most important improvement you can make on your home is to seal your air ducts, says Kristof Irwin, owner and lead building scientist of Positive Energy, a building science consulting company in Austin. Although duct sealing can be a difficult process, it can pay for itself in as few as three months, Irwin says.
Energy Star, the EPA's energy efficiency program, estimates that homeowners can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs by sealing air leaks and adding insulation to their attic.
"Having a non-leaky air distribution system, which includes your ducts and your mechanical equipment itself, has positive effects for health, comfort, safety, durability and energy efficiency," Irwin says. Only after sealing your ducts should a homeowner consider investing in new HVAC equipment, he says.
Energy Star recommends replacement of heating systems that are more than 15 years old. Today's high efficiency units operate at more than 90 percent efficiency. Regardless of the type or age of your equipment, changing your system's air filter every month will improve its efficiency.
But if you're looking to make less costly improvements, here are some suggestions:
• Energy efficient light bulbs: LED light bulbs use about one-tenth the energy of traditional incandescent bulbs. Although their upfront cost is considerably higher, many come with lifetime warranties.
• Update your thermostats: "Smart" thermostats that can be controlled remotely will allow you to cut energy costs when your home is unoccupied.
• Solar panels: The cost of solar panel installation has become historically low, thanks to a 30-percent federal tax credit on new renewable energy systems, as well as state and city grants.
If you're looking to sell your home soon, you'll still be entitled to federal tax credits for efficiency updates completed within the same year. Be sure to highlight any green remodeling you've done to potential buyers, as these updates can help your home stand out in a competitive market.
Whether you're in the market to buy or sell, a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score can measure a home's efficiency as well as identify options for upgrading a home's energy efficiency.