For most people, your home is the largest purchase you will ever make. It’s also going to be where a significant percentage of your money goes on an on-going basis. A house needs upkeep, and there are a lot of working parts, so making sure everything is maintained properly can be a big job. And if you’re concerned about your impact on the environment, you’ll need to go a step further than basic mandatory maintenance making upgrades around the house to save energy, conserve water, and increase your property’s efficiency. While many eco-home maintenance projects can cost a pretty penny, the good news is you don’t need to do all of them at once to reduce your home’s eco-footprint – you CAN have an inexpensive sustainable home! Even better, there are steps you can take that can make a big impact for relatively little money – plus, they’ll save you money in the long run. Here are 10 of the cheapest eco-friendly upgrades for your home.
#1 Have an Energy Audit Done.
Spending a little bit of money to have a professional energy use assessment done will help you prioritize what needs to be done to make your home more energy efficient. A professional auditor will do a blower door test to see how airtight the house is, as well as use thermographic scanning to see where you are losing heat to determine where you need to install more insulation. The average cost of an audit is about $400, but the potential energy savings simply from reducing drafts in a home can range from 5% to 30% per year meaning you’ll recoup the cost rather quickly. If you absolutely can’t afford the expense, you can do a more basic DIY home energy audit with help from Energy.gov.
#2 Install Insulation in Your Attic.
Properly insulating is the number one way to increase your home’s energy-efficiency –and you might be surprised to learn that it’s a job you can tackle by yourself. It might not be the most fun you’ve ever had on a weekend, but it will significantly affect your heating and cooling bills. In fact, the Department of Energy states that a properly insulated attic can reduce your bill by 10 to 50% – just the attic! To keep the job eco-friendly you can blow-in wool insulation with a blower rented from a hardware store. Rolling out batts of recycled cotton denim insulation is another good option.
#3 Glaze Around Old Windows.
If you have an older home, you might need to repair some of the cracked glazing around the window panes. This can be time consuming, but not a very difficult job that just requires a one-inch putty knife and some glazing material. If you live in an old Victorian home, this will have a huge impact on heating and cooling bills.
#4 Spray Foam Around Exterior Window and Door Trim.
If you have old wood siding on the home, check your windows from the exterior. If you have large gaps around your window trim, it’s like having holes in the wall welcoming drafts and ushering energy out. Buy small cans of spray foam found at a hardware store and fill in those gaps with the expandable foam. When it’s dry, use a utility knife to cut away the excess. If the cracks are small, you can use caulk to fill them.
#5 Caulk Around Interior Window and Door Trim.
After addressing the exterior of your home, you should also check for cracks around the windows and doors in the interior of your home. Look for cracks and gaps between your walls and the window trim and use caulk to seal them. Make sure to buy paintable caulk (not silicone caulk), so you can paint over it when it’s done.
If you haven’t caught on to a theme here, it’s all about properly sealing and insulating your home to reduce energy use. Here’s a great infographic detailing all the ins and outs of this type of energy loss:
#6 Paint with No-VOC Paints.
The average paint job lasts 7-10 years, so at some point in time, painting is going to pop up on your to-do list. Painting the exterior might be a bigger job than what you’d want to tackle alone, but painting interior walls is a task that almost anyone can do. Another way paint can cut costs on your eco-upgrades is by using it to reface instead of replacing things like cabinets and floors. With increased awareness about health risks associated with toxic chemicals, no-VOC paints and finishes are very commonplace and cost comparable to conventional paints – especially when you figure in better spread rates (coverage) and better durability (so you won’t be re-painting again as soon). Do some research about what paint company you want to purchase from beforehand (unbelievably, many no-VOC paints still contain VOCs) to ensure you’re protecting your indoor air quality.
#7 Install Faucet Aerators.
These inexpensive plumbing parts screw onto the end of most faucets and can reduce your home’s water consumption by nearly 50%! Yes, for just about five dollars per faucet you can save a ton of water (literally) without sacrificing good water pressure. It’s also really easy to do, so there’s no need to call a plumber.
#8 Install Low-Flow Showerheads.
According to Energy.gov, showerheads from 1992 or older could have a flow rate of 5.5 gallons per minute. A newer, low-flow showerhead can reduce the flow down to 2.5 gallons per minute or lower. Again, by switching them out, you can lower your water usage by more than 50%. This job is fairly easy, as well, but if you don’t feel comfortable trying it yourself, a handyman can get it done for you very quickly.
#9 Deconstruct, Don’t Demolish.
This is a great tip from Jessica on Freshome. She says, “If you plan on tearing down walls or even knocking down entire rooms, walk around your home first to see what you can salvage and re-use beforehand. Not only is this eco-friendly, but it will save money in the end. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Most likely there is a ton of material you can salvage and re-use. Consider everything from light fixtures to flooring, tile, bricks, cabinets, and molding.”
#10 Look for Used and Free Materials.
Habitat for Humanity has a wonderful store called ReStore where you can purchase used home fixtures such as lighting, cabinetry, flooring, vanities, and nearly everything else you can think of that goes into a home. If you don’t have a ReStore in your area, you can always look online for materials that someone wants to get rid of. Most communities have an online free market that you could keep an eye on to see if the perfect thing for your house pops up. Finding creative ways to use something that someone else doesn’t need anymore can save you tons of money, and it’s also great for the earth because you’re not using new natural resources and you’re keeping materials from ending up in a landfill.
Eco-easy peasy, right? Follow these ten tips when the budget’s tight to save money up front and over time, while also helping save the planet!