Consider your budget.
You can spend $50 or $50,000 to make improvements to your home. So you want to determine which modifications will save you the most money over time. Most renovations will pay for themselves in energy savings. But the question is how long it will take for that to happen. Some homeowners may be willing to wait five years, while others may take an even longer-range approach. You shouldn’t make renovations until you know how much you’ll save and how long the payback period will be. A home energy auditor should be able to provide that information, says Holladay. “If they can’t do that, you’ve got the wrong type of person giving you advice,” he adds. “You probably shouldn’t hire them.”
Go for the practical.
When we think of green renovations, we sometimes picture a solar panel roof or an elaborate rainwater harvesting system, but often the best renovations aren’t as complex. “If people put solar panels on their roof but their home leaks air like a sieve, then all that investment they’re making is literally flying out of the windows every single month,” says Kredich. Hayes suggests weatherizing your home first to keep energy intact. After that, consider upgrading to appliances with the Energy Star label, which means they meet government-backed energy efficiency requirements.
Look for the money.
Energy efficiency improvements don’t just benefit you; they help the environment. So the government has a vested interest in helping Americans make green renovations. “Folks really have an opportunity to take advantage of state and federal programs that have been put in place to ease the financial burden for those who want to make sustainable upgrades and green retrofits,” says Hayes.
For example, the state of Maryland recently offered a 35% rebate on improvements such as attic insulation and whole-house air sealing. To find similar programs, do an online search with your state’s name plus “energy office.” On the national level, the Weatherization Assistance Program falls under the U.S. Department of Energy and provides grants that enable low-income families to make their homes more energy-efficient. Find programs that administer the funds at www.eere.energy.gov/wip/project_map. Another site to find a list of federal, state, and local incentives promoting energy efficiency is www.dsireusa.org. You may also qualify for federal tax credits for certain energy-efficient purchases such as windows, doors, and water heaters (www.energystar.gov, click on Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency).
Choose a contractor and supplies.
Check references and licenses just as you would with any contractor, but you also want to make sure you find someone who’s familiar with energy efficiency retrofits, suggests Kredich. “Weatherization contractor” and “home performance contractor” are terms often used to describe those who have energy-efficiency experience. You can also ask if the contractor has any special certifications. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) offers a Green Certified Professional designation and the American Society of Interior Designers has a Regreen Trained Certificate Program in conjunction with the U.S. Green Building Council.
There’s no single standard for green products or materials, but you can find eco-friendly items at many retailers, such as Home Depot’s Eco Options brand. Other websites, such as www.ecofriendlytek.com, list suppliers of green products.
Once you’ve decided on your renovations and lined up your money, supplies, and contractors, the only thing left to do is wait for the work to be done and realize the eventual return on your investment. “From what I see, most folks’ apprehension is that up-front investment,” says Hayes. “But over time you’ll realize the benefits and you’ll help your energy savings, your pocketbook, and the planet as well.”