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Dollars and Cents: Reconsidering Green Energy Home Improvement Projects

Last Updated on March 14, 2012

The utility companies are raising my rates again.  Not just the gas company and electric companies, but even the water company this time.  I’ve been all around the house looking for ways to conserve energy.  I want to save on my energy costs every month, but I also want to just be a good steward to planet Earth.  Tough to believe I’m a die-hard conservative eh?  Some people would make it seem that people like me want “dirty air and dirty water.”  Not true.  For example, at first I was opposed to the recent energy legislation restricting the sales and phasing out the manufacturing of incandescent light bulbs.  I thought at first, “well there’s another tax increase.”  But after looking into it further, I realized that in the long run, energy efficient light bulbs and other energy efficient home improvement projects actually are cheaper in the long run.  So let’s look at a few of the options from my conservative viewpoint.  Let’s look at some of the dollars and cents impacts of efficiency home improvement projects, primarily three areas, heating, lighting, and water.

Water Conservation in and Around the Home

Water costs continually increase over the years.  I can’t remember a year that my water costs actually decreased.  My family is growing, the value of my dollar is shrinking, and demand for water is growing in my community.  To say that water is expensive in my neighborhood would be an understatement.  I’ve successfully decreased the amount of money I spend on water over the course of a year by doing two things (the third item would be extra credit):

First thing I did was decrease the water pressure in my house.  This was very easy to do.  In the basement of my home (and most homes for that matter) there is a pressure valve with a flat head screw protruding out.  It’s typically near the main water shut off valve inside the home.  This valve controls the water pressure of the entire home.  In my case it controls the water pressure for my entire property, since I’m using domestic/potable water for the sprinklers! I turned that screw about a half turn counter clockwise.  Counter clockwise will reduce the pressure.  Clockwise will increase the pressure.  This alone amounted to a noticeable savings in the amount of water I use.

Second thing I did was add a soil treatment in my yard so that I could drastically cut back on the water needed to keep the lawn green and the HOA happy.  Just go to Home Depot and ask someone in the lawn and garden department about various soil treatments designed to use less water.  I chose the Scott’s brand treatment and again saw a noticeable decrease in my summer water bill.

Extra-credit.  I’m currently evaluating the financial sense in installing a tankless water heater.  I hear you can save on your energy costs by not storing hot water in a tank.  However, these systems can cost tons of money, and my experience has shown the best ways to save on water costs are to just use less water.

Gas/Electric Home Improvement Projects

What has two thumbs, votes republican, and wants to install solar panels and geothermal heating?  This guy! (imagine me pointing to myself with two thumbs)  Yes, I’d love to install solar panels and a complete geothermal heating system on my home.  My beef with these technologies is that the payoff takes so long.  Geothermal systems can cost up to $35,000 and solar panel systems can add another $12,000 to $20,000 on top of that cost.  And I might only save $50 to $100 per month on my utility costs (gas and electric).  So at best, it could take me more than 30 years to have paid for my investment in green energy improvements.  My opinion is that if our Nation ever wants to see serious improvements in the amount of energy we use, we need to find ways of scaling these technologies so they are more accessible to folks like me.  I did find a way to reduce energy costs quite a bit in my home though and it was as simple as changing a light bulb.  Well, 63 of them actually.

Saving Energy on Home Lighting

Saving Energy on Home Lighting

Home lighting is probably the most overlooked area of energy use in a house.  I think we have this impression that to save energy we have to have solar panels on the roof.  But after doing some simple math, I realized that I could spend around $2,000 and have every single bulb in my home swapped out for energy efficient LED lights.  At the time I was using a combination of CFL (Compact Fluorescent) and Incandescent bulbs.  I despised the look of those twisty shaped CFL’s, and even more-so despised the fact I had to wait for them to warm up just to provide enough light.  I noticed some interesting changes in our home after upgrading the bulbs.  For one, the granite countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms looked much more appealing.  It’s as though there are color strands in the granite that stand out more and the stuff looks substantially more luxurious.  The home is brighter.  In the summer time I’ve noticed a reduction in our air conditioning costs as well.  Mainly because the LED bulbs don’t put off much heat, if any at all, a stark contrast to the old recessed 100 watt incandescent bulbs we had in the kitchen.  You used to feel the heat projecting from those lamps just standing under them.  So yes, I’m happy with the lighting choice.  And what’s better news is that the bulbs have a three year warranty, but with the energy savings I’m achieving, the investment will have paid for itself in about 18 months.  Plus, my wife was excited to have all the light fixtures cleaned.  That was a byproduct of removing all of the fixtures to access the bulbs.

If you’re in the market for some green home improvements, I’d say start with the lights.  Doing so will affect the amount of money you need to spend on solar panels as well if you choose to do that in the future.  LED lights use substantially less wattage than other types of lamps.

Post contributed by Curtis Noble at

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