Why Your Green Home Improvements Aren’t Paying Off

By: Karin Beuerlein

Forget big savings on your energy bills if you make green home improvements. Instead, choose green retrofits and home improvements that offset rising energy prices.

Eco Friendly Home Improvements Sustainable Home ImprovementsInsulating your home, including the attic, can shave up to 10% off your energy bills. Image: CertainTeed

If you made green home improvements over the last few years with high hopes for lower energy bills and a quick recoup of your initial investment, you got an awakening: Your monthly bottom line likely held steady—or, worse, went up.
Before you shun green, recalibrate your thinking from expecting fat returns to understanding the new bottom line: Smart retrofits help you hold your ground against rising energy costs.

Why have my green home improvements fallen flat?

Energy prices as a whole have gone up over the last decade, especially in certain regions of the country.
Although natural gas prices have dipped a bit since 2008 and electricity prices have stayed level, the trend line goes up for both from 2011 forward.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates an average annual increase in residential energy costs of 2.3% through 2035.
So…if energy cost projections hold, and assuming an average annual American energy bill of $2,200, you’ll pay 2.3% more each year (that’s $50 the first year) if you do nothing to reduce your consumption. Your bill will inch closer to $4,000 by the year 2035. Ouch.

3 energy saving retrofits that pay off

If the only reason you’re making retrofits is to manage energy costs, look for projects with maximum bang for the buck.
Rule of thumb: Try to beat the 2.3% annual average with green home improvements that reduce your energy consumption by 5% or more but have a modest initial investment. And don’t forget to ask whether your utility or state government offers rebates or tax credits for these improvements.

1. Seal and insulate ductwork that runs through unheated spaces—the attic, a crawl space, a garage. It’s not glamorous, but it can improve the efficiency of your heating system by 20%—a 5% bill reduction overall. If you hire an HVAC pro for this job, you’ll invest a few hundred dollars for labor and materials.

2. Buy a programmable thermostat. Is it possible you haven’t done this yet? For just $25 to $250, the you can save, on average, around 8% on energy bills simply by programming it properly.

3. Add attic insulation and seal air leaks. One of the best energy-saving improvements out there, because insulating and sealing your home can reduce your energy bills by 10%. Upgrading your attic insulation to the R-value recommended for your region costs anywhere from $.25 to $1 per square foot, including materials and labor; it’s less if you do it yourself.

But you won’t get the maximum savings if you don’t seal air leaks, so plan this as a combo job. Caulking and weather-stripping typically costs from $50 to $350, depending on the size of your house.