8 green upgrades to save money

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | June 19, 2015

According to Class 5 Energy, if all homes implemented more efficient lighting, water heating, and appliances, U.S. energy consumption could be cut by 11% by 2020. Want some numbers a bit closer to home? Consider this: The average home uses about 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each month. That's the same as 79 gallons of gas, or 29 small propane cylinders.

All that energy usage adds up, and it's not just the environment that takes a hit - your financial bottom line takes a few punches, too.

Fortunately, green remodel ideas can help. By gradually going green as you upgrade your home, you are saving money in the long run and offering a helping hand to the world around you.

Green upgrades that save money

Some green upgrades might seem ridiculously expensive, even though they do offer a great return on investment -- geothermal units are a good example. What if you can't afford the more expensive options? These green remodel ideas strike a nice balance that can make you feel better about the environment while not destroying your savings account in the process.

  1. Indulge in an energy audit. It might seem like you know exactly where you home could improve, but you might be surprised by the energy-suckers lurking within your walls. An energy audit typically costs about $300, but some utility companies will offer it for free. The contractor will give helpful guidelines on what can be improved right now, often for minimal cost, to reap more benefits later.
  2. Get fancy with thermostats. Being able to control the temperature of your home even when you aren't around is a key point in energy efficiency. Programmable thermostats allow you to change the interior climate, using less energy while you are away and using more to keep it comfortable when you are home. At a cost of only a few hundred dollars for models with bells and whistles, it's proven to be a good investment.
  3. Install low-flow everything. When it's time to upgrade your shower, faucets, and toilets, go with low-flow for the best investment. Low-flow fixtures use much less water, saving you a great deal of cash on utilities in the long run - and the initial investment isn't much more than what you would spend if you purchased an old-school fixture that used more water.
  4. Choose responsible flooring. Upgrading your home with hardwood floors is always a smart choice. Not only does it enhance the home's beauty, it can offer a nice boost to resale value. But there are other benefits too, such as cutting out the hazardous chemicals that might be used in carpets and other types of flooring. Go with something sustainable, such as luxurious bamboo, which is known for durability and costs the same, if not less, than most hardwoods.
  5. Harness the power of the sun. Able to pour a bit more money into your green upgrades? Solar panels can alleviate some of your electric bill as you do something great for the environment. A major upgrade of solar panels on your roof might run $10,000 and up, but you can do something smaller than that if you have limited funds. Even a small set of solar panels, designed to run only one or two appliances, can keep a nice chunk of change in your pocket.
  6. Upgrade those worn-out appliances. The appliances in your home draw a great deal of power, and much of that power might be wasted on older models that don't offer as much bang for your buck. Energy-efficient models are a different story. Choosing a high-efficiency furnace, washing machine, or refrigerator can cut down significantly on utilities while giving you more peace of mind.
  7. Put a roof on it. Most homes require a roofing upgrade every twenty years or so; why not make yours one that is more suitable for the environment? A good option is cool metal roofing, which reflects much of the heat of the sun. The Metal Roofing Alliance reports up to 40% savings in energy costs over time, which can offset the slightly higher price.
  8. The benefits of new windows are clear. At between $200 and $800 per window, energy-efficient models can be a bit costly. But if you must upgrade them anyway, that's the way to go for long-term savings. Since up to 22 percent of your home's heat can be lost through the windows, the obvious savings in the long run add up rather quickly when all of your windows are energy-efficient.

If money is tight, start with only one of these green remodel ideas. Doing just one thing -- even if it's replacing a $20 showerhead -- can mean a difference in both your utility bills and the environmental impact. Every little bit counts!

Photo credit to Kevin Irby

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a freelance writer and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.