A friend of mine works for the local newspaper. In the process of writing an article about green home improvements, she stopped by to look around my house since she knows that I am a “greenie.” She wanted me to show her the improvements we’ve made and to give her an estimate of how much we’ve spent. In the process of doing this with her I realized that, while we haven’t put much into the house monetarily (at least not out of the ordinary), we’ve gained big money saving benefits.
When we bought this house thirteen years ago, it was an energy inefficient monster. The windows and doors leaked air, the appliances were old, the insulation was thin, and the east/west exposure made for a heating and cooling nightmare. In the beginning it wasn’t about being green. We started making changes to cut down the whopping electricity bill. Being green came later, after we realized the positive effects our changes could have. Since we were on a pretty tight budget, we couldn’t go nuts and install solar panels or do anything too expensive. So we started small, with easy repairs/improvements and did the work ourselves:
Weather stripping: We put this around the doors and windows to keep the heat and AC from escaping. We spent about $30 on this project.
CFL’s: We changed all of our lights to compact fluorescents, except in fixtures where it wasn’t possible. We only spent about $50 on this because we got a lot of light bulbs for free from Earth Day giveaways and power company freebies.
Room darkening blinds: We pulled down the cheap plastic blinds and replaced them with thick, wide-slat room darkening blinds. They’re great at blocking the light in the summer and keeping heat in during the winter. We spent about $500 for the whole house.
Window film: We put window film on the western windows to keep the summer glare and heat to a minimum. Cost: About $50 for the film.
Power strips: We bought a bunch of power strips and plugged our stuff into them, making them easy to shut off completely when not in use. No more vampire power drain. Cost: About $100. (The strips for the computers were more expensive because we popped for the surge protection kind.)
Those few improvements alone dropped our power bill about $30 per month. As time has gone on, we’ve made some more expensive improvements (some by choice, others out of necessity) that have netted bigger savings. We’ve still done most of the work ourselves to keep costs down:
New light fixtures: As we’ve redecorated we’ve replaced the light fixtures that could not accommodate fluorescent bulbs with ones that can. I estimate we’ve spent about $300 over the years on new fixtures.
New appliances: We didn’t run out and buy all new appliances, but over the years most have died a natural death and been replaced with the most energy efficient ones we could find. This has been a big expense (over $4,000 over the years), but we would have incurred it no matter what since appliances die.
Water heater: Miraculously the water heater keeps on ticking, but we did install a switch in the kitchen that lets us turn it off when we won’t be home for extended periods, like on vacation or at work. We turn it on the morning to shower, turn it off when we leave for the day, then turn it on when we get home to do dishes and shower. Cost: About $50, but only because my husband is electrically gifted. If we’d had to hire someone, this would have cost a lot more.
New heat pump: When the old one died, we got an energy efficient model for about $4,000.
Flooring: We ripped up all the carpet and replaced it with hardwood and tile. Doing the labor ourselves ran us about $3,000 total. We no longer have to run the vacuum cleaner and carpet steamer (or buy new ones when the old ones break). I just use a mop.
Window screens: To further reduce the heat from the sun, we put up solar screens which do a great job of further reducing heat and glare. Cost: About $100.
Storm doors: We bought storm doors for the front and back doors, further reducing the amount of hot and cold air that reaches the house. Cost: About $300.
Screened in deck: Screening in the deck not only gave us a nice outdoor living space, it further blocked the summer heat from reaching the main living area. Cost: About $1,000 by the time it was all finished.
Attic fan: We installed a fan in the attic that sucks the heat out so it doesn’t just pool up there and settle into the house. Cost $200.
Insulation: We added insulation to the attic, walls, and under the house. Cost: About $1,500.
Ceiling fans: In the summer they keep us cool and in the winter they keep the heat from pooling near the ceiling. Cost: About $200.
We’ve also made changes that save water, as well. We’ve installed low flow shower heads and faucets and done a lot of landscaping with native plants and natural areas instead of a big lawn. We also got a water efficient dishwasher and washing machine when the old ones croaked.
I couldn’t estimate for my friend exactly how much this saves us per month, since much of it has happened gradually as we’ve owned the house and the monthly savings continually change with every improvement and price increase. But I do know this: Despite scores of price increases by the power and water companies, our bills still run less than they did when we bought this house thirteen years ago. My neighbors complain about the increases in their bills and ours have gone up, too. But as long as I stay below what we paid that first year, I’m happy because I know that without the improvements we’ve made it would be so much worse. We’re beating inflation and we haven’t spent more than we normally would have over thirteen years of living in a home. We’ve redecorated and replaced appliances that died, but we’d do that even if we weren’t trying to be energy efficient. We’ve about run out of things to change around here – the water heater will be the next biggie – but I’m looking forward to the day when I can put up some solar panels and start selling power back to the power company.