Photo: Kevin Allen
Renée Clark loves her Alexandria, Virginia, home, but until recently her utility bills often left her perplexed. “My water bill would be almost $200 a month and one time it was nearly $500,” Clark says. Some of her neighbors, on the other hand, had bills in the $70 range. So, when she learned about a program that would pay for energy improvements on her home, she took advantage of it.
In December, GREEN DMV Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that promotes environment-friendly living and green jobs to low-income communities in the Washington metropolitan area, paid more than $3,000 for renovations on Clark’s home through private donations from financial institutions. The improvements included weatherstripping, caulking, appliance replacement, and non-toxic painting. “We discovered her toilet was the culprit for the high water bills,” says GREEN DMV co-founder Rhon Hayes, so they replaced it with a high-efficiency model. Since all the changes, “there’s less air coming into my house,” Clark says, and her most recent water bill dropped to $154. Her heating bill, which typically ran nearly $300 a month during the winter, was down to $189 in January.
Like Clark, many American homeowners are finding they can save money over time by taking on a green renovation project. “These are renovations that are going to have both a monetary and a healthy impact on the occupants,” says Nate Kredich, vice president of Residential Market Development for the U.S. Green Building Council. By fixing energy leaks, homeowners can cut 10% to 15% off their bills, says Martin Holladay, senior editor at GreenBuildingAdvisor.com. In some parts of the country, homebuyers pay a premium for energy-efficient homes, says Sandra Adomatis, a Punta Gorda, Florida-based appraiser and instructor for the Appraisal Institute, which offers courses on appraising structures with energy-efficient and green features.
Energy efficiency could be worth much more in the future. The Sensible Accounting to Value Energy Act seeks to require mortgage lenders to consider a loan applicant’s ability to pay projected energy costs in addition to the principal, interest, taxes, and insurance. “If lenders start considering the cost of energy, that’s going to make these energy-efficient homes more desirable and more affordable, and you’re going to see people willing to pay a little more up front in order to have that payback every month,” Adomatis says.
Whether you’re hoping to cut your energy bills, improve your home’s air quality,
or clean up the environment, a green renovation project can help you get there.
Here’s how to determine your specific home renovation needs and ensure that your project is a success.
Determine your priorities.
First you must decide why you want to go green. Some homeowners are concerned with water efficiency. Others want to cut their heating and cooling bills or make sure their home is free of toxic materials. “If I have children who have asthma or allergies, then indoor air quality is going to be really important to me,” says Kredich. Once you’ve identified your biggest objective, you can decide which renovations will help you achieve it.
Get a home energy audit.
If your main priority is cutting energy costs, this step will show you where to start. “A home energy audit is where a qualified, trained energy professional comes into your home and performs a series of tests to identify opportunities to make the home more energy efficient,” says Kredich. An audit may find that you should replace your windows, for example. Your utility provider may offer free or discounted energy audits. You can also hire an auditor by looking for one certified by RESNET or the Building Performance Institute Inc. An audit for an average three- or four-bedroom home may cost about $150 to $200.