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Don’t Just Clean Your House; Green Your House

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An example of a "postmodern" Solaris green home. Any house can be made greener!In the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s devastating impact on the East Coast, there has been contentious debate regarding whether or not we can attribute climate change to such a powerful storm. In fact, Bloomberg Businessweek didn’t pull any punches when it pummeled readers with its brash cover story.

But regardless of your stance on the issue, we can all agree that climate affects how we experience the world whether we’re at play, work, or leisure.

Although Sandy is an extreme and unfortunate example, it does serve to remind us that we are all susceptible to climate. Even in the simplest, most unexpected ways, weather has an impact on our daily lives. Take, for example, your home energy costs. This summer was one of the hottest in history; June alone broke 170 U.S. heat records nationwide, records that were established in the traditionally hotter months of July and August. How did your home cooling efforts go during the summer? More importantly, how were your home cooling costs? As we move into winter, your pocket book may see some relief, but keeping the house warm during the cold months presents another set of problems altogether.

Luckily, both winter and summer problems can be alleviated through the same energy efficiency tactics you can implement easily and affordably in your home. Many people believe that green initiatives in the household require large investments of time and money; however, the most common initiatives are actually quite cost-effective and simple. Marc Holland, Community Relations Director with HomeStarSearch, a rent to own housing provider, interacts with those concerned with the affordability of housing.

“More than ever,” says Holland, “homeowners are finding ways to reduce expenses. With rising energy costs, the most sensible initiatives often turn out to be green measures. In fact, we’ve started programs to enable new homeowners to do exactly that, it’s no longer a matter to be pushed aside.”

Having said that, Mr. Holland cautions that “before you begin budgeting how much time and money you’ll need to make your home energy-efficient, you must establish a baseline for your current energy use” in order to calculate an investment-to-savings ratio.

Energy Star has a handy Home Energy Yardstick that only requires five minutes of your time and your last 12 utility bills. Based on the types of energy your home uses (electricity, natural gas, etc.) and your total square footage, Energy Star’s convenient calculator will reveal your current score as well as recommendations for improvement.

Turn off the lights: saving energy with the “low hanging fruit”

Once you’ve established a baseline for improvement, it’s time to begin. The easiest way to maximize your home’s energy efficiency is by reducing your overall energy consumption. Turning off lights when not in use and limiting you’re air conditioning/heating usage are good ways to lessen your carbon footprint. Plus, your reduced energy consumption will result in monthly savings that can greatly add up at the end of the year. A small investment that can go a long way is a programmable thermostat, which you can find for less than $30. Programmable thermostats allow you to dictate when the air-conditioner or heater is on depending on the time of day you are most likely to be home. They can help you save approximately 10% on utilities, virtually paying for themselves in a matter of months.

Windows and energy conservation

Windows are beautiful fixtures, but they can often let energy in or out at inconvenient times; therefore, updating your windows is crucial. Higher-efficiency windows utilize two panes of glass filled with gas that slows down the amount of heat that passes through from within or without. Add greater impact to your green efforts by seeking out wood-framed high-efficiency windows. Wood, as a natural insulator, allows less hot or cold air to pass through them than an aluminum frame. For those whose current windows are in too good of shape to justify the cost of replacing them, consider storm windows as a low-cost alternative. Like high-efficiency windows, storm windows allow lower energy transference. Also like high-efficiency windows, they are eligible for federal tax credit, which means your green initiatives could yield a greater return come year-end.

If you live in a home built prior to 1980, you definitely need to take a look at your insulation, which could be the biggest culprit when it comes to wasted energy. Insulation is measured in R ratings, but don’t worry; this is definitely one time when you’ll want to expose your family to something highly R-rated. The primary spot for increased insulation is the attic, where homeowners should invest in at least 10 inches of insulation to prevent heat loss in the winter and increased temperatures in the summer.

And like energy-efficient windows, certain insulation products can also fetch federal tax credits. Taking care of your home is a great foundation for a sustainable environment. The cost savings alone should be motivation enough for promoting energy efficiency within the household. We may not all agree on global warming hot button issues, but we should all be able to find common ground when it comes to preserving natural resources and saving money. More importantly, green initiatives provide your family with comfort and safety and what could be more important than that?

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Jared Diamond writes extensively on topics pertaining to home personal finance as well as energy efficiency. On top of that, Jared has been highly engaged in discussing green initiatives as they relate to both homes and businesses.

Image credit: Photo Dean, courtesy flickr

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