15 cost-conscious tips for energy-saving home improvements

  • 15 cost-conscious tips for energy-saving home improvements

    Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | April 21, 2016

    Big replacement windowsSometimes, the idea of home energy-efficiency can seem out of reach, especially if you can't find another dollar in your budget for energy-saving home improvements like new appliances or replacement windows. If you have managed to put aside money for some energy-efficient upgrades, you may find yourself debating which one can give you the most bang for your buck.

    Don't waste time overthinking your home energy efficiency strategy, just get started. The following tips for all budgets -- or no budget at all -- can start saving you energy and begin to lower your utility costs right away.

  • No-cost tips for home energy savings

    Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | April 21, 2016

    Lit bulb in empty room

    These strategies cost nothing to implement, and you can start saving energy -- and money -- this month.

    • Turn off lights? According to Energy.gov, how much you save depends on what kind of light bulbs you're using. Incandescent and halogen bulbs are the least energy-efficient, producing 90 percent heat vs. 10 percent light. Turn them off when not in use if you want to save money as well as energy. If you're using CFLs, switching them off and on decreases their life expectancy, which can mean more frequent replacement. Only turn them off if you intend to leave them off for more than 15 minutes.
    • Power down the computer. Enable power management features. If your PC and monitor are not power management-enabled, turn them off manually when away from your computer for more than two hours. If you leave them plugged in, they draw energy even when shut down. If you plug them and other peripherals into a power strip, you can switch off the strip instead of unplugging each of them during the hours they are not in use.
    • Air dry laundry and dishes. Hanging laundry out to dry has always been free. If your community prohibits it, use drying racks indoors when possible. Give the laundry a thorough spin to decrease drying time regardless of your chosen drying method and remove promptly when machine drying. Turn off your dishwasher's heated drying cycle. Leaving the washed dishes in the dishwasher to air dry not only saves electricity to heat the dishes dry, but in the warmer months, keeps the kitchen cooler so the refrigerator doesn't have to work so hard.
    • Adjust thermostat settings. In summer, increase the temperature settings five to 10 degrees when everyone's at work and school or at night when you're sleeping. In winter, decrease five to 10 degrees for at least eight hours per day. This is one of the best no-cost strategies for saving energy and controlling utility costs, especially during peak usage hours. For every degree, you can save as much as 2 percent in utility costs.
    • On hot days cook outdoors. Indoors, use your microwave or convection oven, and do your cooking as late in the evening as you can to avoid making your refrigerator and air cooling system work harder.
    • Set the water heater no higher than 120° F. In addition to reducing energy costs, it helps prevent scalding.
  • Low-cost energy-efficient upgrades

    Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | April 21, 2016

    modern design ceiling fan

    The following upgrades can cost as little as $3 or more than $200, but they can have a long-lasting, beneficial impact on your energy usage and monetary savings.

    • Change HVAC filters regularly. Dirty filters make your heating and cooling systems work harder. Cost: $3 and up
    • Replace your light bulbs. If you don't want to worry whether you forgot to turn off the lights, buy ENERGY STAR qualified CFL or LED light bulbs. The performance, color, quality, and purchase price of both these types of bulbs have improved vastly. LEDs' advantage? You can switch them on and off as often as needed without compromising their life expectancy, which is more than 20 years. LEDs pair well with motion sensors and programmable lighting systems. Cost: CFLs, from around $3 per bulb; LEDs, $4 per bulb and up
    • Install fans. Moving air keeps your body cooler, but turn fans off when no one is in the room to experience the cooling effects. Cost: You can buy a ceiling fan for under $100 and up, or a standing fan for less than $50
    • Install a programmable thermostat. If you want to set it and forget it, consider a thermostat you can program for heating and cooling 24 hours a day every day of the week, or get a smart thermostat that "learns" your preferences and adjusts accordingly. Cost: $50-$100; Wi-fi programmable, $100+; smart technology, $200+
  • Higher-cost home improvements for energy savings

    Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | April 21, 2016

    Insulated atticIf you have a budget of several hundred to several thousand dollars for some serious remodeling, these home improvements can positively impact your comfort and savings.

    • Hang thermal window coverings. Keep heat from the sun out in summer and inside in winter. Choose from thermal drapes, blinds, shades, awnings, shutters, storm windows and window films. Cost: For custom window treatments, expect to pay $150 and up per window.
    • Replacement windows. Look for appropriate energy-saving ratings for your climate zone. You may realize the most savings when replacing single-panes with dual-glazed, low-e windows. Cost: A whole house window replacement averages just under $15,000 for vinyl replacement windows; around $18,000 for wood.
    • Add insulation to the attic. If your attic lacks sufficient insulation, this is one home improvement that not only saves energy but also provides a good ROI, according to the Remodeling 2016 Cost vs. Value Report. Cost: The average cost for fiberglass attic insulation is about $1,300.
    • Replace your central air conditioning. If it's over 10 years old and in need of repair or replacement, today's models provide much more efficient operation. Replacing an older furnace at the same time is recommended to upgrade the blower motor so the air conditioning performs at peak efficiency. Score up to $300 tax credit for qualified products purchased through December 31, 2016. Cost: New units average between $2,500 and $5,000.
    • Install tank-less water heaters. Heating the water on-demand saves energy used to maintain the temperature when it's not needed. Your water heater accounts for about 30 percent of your home's energy use. Cost: Tank-less water heaters cost $800 to $1,150; add another $1,200 for installation according to Consumer Reports.

    A home energy audit can pinpoint the best energy-saving improvements for your particular home. Check with your utility service to find out whether they offer this service.