Every year, it seems water and power bills keep creeping up, taking a bigger bite out of your paycheck. Fight back with a few smart home improvements. Check out these 10 money-saving home improvements from A to Xeriscape:
1. Attic insulation
An attic that's been properly insulated with modern materials will keep warm air where it belongs when it's cold while reducing air conditioning costs significantly in the summer when it’s hot. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates attic insulation can reduce your heating bill by 10-50 percent.
Estimated cost of adding insulation in your attic: $1.70 to $3.22 per square foot (roughly $500-1,100 for a 535 sq. foot roof).
2. Electricity timer
Many of your big-ticket entertainment items such as desktop computers and widescreen TVs drain power even when they are turned off. Attaching your surge protector to a timer will help cut the power completely when you don't need it, for example when you're asleep or at work. But be sure to set the timer properly so that it doesn’t cut power while your home and using the device.
Estimated cost of an electricity timer: $25 - $50.
3. Energy-efficient water heaters
It takes a lot of power to keep a tank of water hot all the time. An individual tankless unit just for your shower or a water heater with a timer can bring you piping hot water only when you need it, cut down on your energy costs.
Estimated cost for a small tankless water heater: $150-300. Larger capacity: $800 - $1,100.
4. Manual sprinkler control
Having sprinklers on a timer may be convenient but it's often a waste of water. The timer can't tell if the grass is wet enough or if it's raining outside. While you're taking control of that, consider swapping some sprinklers out for highly efficient drip lines that send the water to plant roots, nowhere else.
Estimated cost of a sprinkler timer: $30 - $90.
5. Plumbing improvements
Old plumbing is one of the biggest culprits of a high water bill. Consider low-flow toilets and high-pressure shower heads to get the same clean for less water. Also, periodically check for pipe leaks and dripping faucets. The EPA has found that fixing small household water leaks can save up to 10 percent on water bills. The EPA also concludes that changing your showerhead to a certified WaterSense brand can save 2,900 gallons of water per year for an average family of four. A low-flow toilet, which uses 1.6 gallons per flush, can save significantly over older toilets, which average four gallons. For a family of four, it is estimated the water they use to flush would go from 16,000 gallons to 6,400.
Estimated cost of a low-flow toilet: $130 - $300. High-pressure showerhead: $20 - $75.
6. Reflect heat from windows
The light that's pouring in through your windows is bringing a lot of heat. If you live in a warm state, consider getting your windows tinted, which will keep the home cooler. Solar curtains, made from heat-reflecting fabric, can also help. Not only will this cut down on air conditioning bills, it helps the environment by reducing air conditioning usage.
Estimated cost of solar shades: $250 - $415.
7. Smaller appliances
This is a big money saver: Instead of heating up an entire oven to bake one dinner, use a smaller appliance like a toaster oven. Rice cookers and personal grills also save you both time and money.
Estimated cost of a small slow cooker or rice maker: $16 - $35.
8. Solar power
Solar power offers many benefits: It's a tax write-off and an eco-friendly energy source. Best of all, you can sometimes sell extra electricity back to the power company. Plus, decades of research and development have made solar power much more efficient and economical. Some environmentalists believe that solar power is the single biggest counter to climate change.
Estimated cost of solar panels: $6,500, additional cost for labor and installation. Depending on where you live, the average savings for installing solar power can top $30,000 over a 20-year period.
9. Thermostat compromises
Tweaking your thermostat by just a few degrees warmer or cooler, depending on the season, can make a big difference in your utility bills. The Department of Energy has found 5-15 percent savings in the power bills of people who do this.
Estimated cost of a “smart” thermostat: $200 - $300. Smart thermostat maker Nest says a digital, internet enabled thermostat can reduce heating and air conditioning bills $131 to $145 a year.
10. Xeriscape gardening
Your garden of exotic flowers may look beautiful but it takes a lot of water to keep green. Consider gardening with xeriscape principles instead. This includes choosing drought-resistant local plants and using efficient watering techniques.
Estimated cost of creating a xeriscape rain garden: $4-7 per square foot.
Published April 27, 2016
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