Question: I have a limited budget this year, but would like to do some “Green” projects. What can I do to help the environment and save my pocketbook?
This is a great topic that a whole book can be written about and it comes at a great time! This month has two important dates: April 15th is the tax filing deadline and April 22nd is Earth Day. The average American will receive back over $3,000 this year, which will hopefully allow for a few upgrades or changes in celebration of Earth Day.
The big question is where to begin? What are the best ways to use the money for improvements that will make a difference? The two biggest areas for improvement are the building envelope (exterior) and the interior appliances and fixtures.
The building envelope alteration can consist of air sealing and adding insulation in the attic. This is very cost effective and can return the money invested in that within a few years. Of course you will need to know how much insulation you currently have to determine if that is a project that makes sense for you. Replacing old windows with new energy efficient models may make sense as well, but requires a larger budget. Reviewing the cost savings versus the initial cost will determine if this is a good investment for your home.
On the interior, an easy cost savings is replacing those regular incandescent light bulbs with Compact Flourescent Light bulbs (CFL’s), which use 75% less energy. Each bulb can save $40 in electric bills over its lifetime and since lighting accounts for up to 25% of a homes energy budget, this can be a significant savings. Changing to Light Emitting Diode lights (LED’s) can increase that savings even more, but will cost more up front to install. LED’s can last 10 times longer than CFL bulbs! The refrigerator is the highest energy consuming appliance in the house but before replacing it, see how it compares to the newer models. Water heaters vary depending on fuel source, size and energy efficiency. Review the annual operating costs of models to see what your savings might be for this item. Replacing an outdated air conditioning condenser (15-20 years old) and blower unit can save 20-40% in cooling costs. The new AC units have a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) value of up to 18 SEER vs 6 for some of the older units. Hiring a qualified installer is important to ensure the units are installed correctly.
For tax year 2011, there are still some tax incentives for upgrades, but they are generally only 10% of the installed cost and up to a $500 maximum. Check with your contractor to see if your upgrades will qualify for tax credits. In general, the more energy efficient an item is, the better it is for the environment; however a careful review of the return on investment is required for any upgrade you are contemplating.
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Paul D. Rugarber, AIA