The Ultimate Guide to “Greening” Your Home (and the Juicy Tax Breaks, too)

There is a lot being said right now about “going green.” Environmental awareness is growing, and many people are interested in having greener homes. Indeed, many construction management degree programs include information on building green. But you don’t need to buy a new-built home, or to be in a degree program to add a little more green in your life.

You don’t even have to go green for reasons of the environment if you don’t want to. After all, making green changes to your home can save you money over time. When you green your home, you are creating a home that uses fewer resources, saving you money. On top of that, some green home improvements that you make come with tax credits, lowering your tax liability. Here is a guide to “greening” your home:

Energy Efficient Home

The first thing that most people think about when they consider greening their homes is energy efficiency. You can make changes to reduce your energy consumption, saving the planet and saving money. This is also the category that offers all of those juicy tax breaks for green home improvements. Consider the following projects:

Home heatingHeating System: The first thing to look at is your heating system, since most of your energy use during the cold winter months is for eating. Have your furnace checked. If it is more than 20 years old, consider replacing it with an EnergyStar model. Next, go through and seal your ducts to prevent leakage. You can also close doors to rooms you don’t use, keep drapes from hanging in front of vents, and keep your furnace filters clean to increase the efficiency of your heating system. As part of your heating/cooling, install a programmable thermostat, and set it so that the house is a little less comfortable while you are at work.

Windows: One of the biggest energy leaks is through windows. If you can, the best option is to replace all of your windows with upgraded versions. Use double pane and triple pane windows. Go through your home and fix loose window panes. You should also check to make sure of a tight fit between window and house. Seal cracks and leaks to keep heat from escaping during the winter and getting in during the summer. Check with your city and state; some local areas have special no-interest loan programs if you replace your windows and then make payments for three years.

InsulationInsulation: Add a little more insulation to your home. You’d be surprised at how much just adding six to 15 inches of insulation can help with heating and cooling costs. In some cases, you can save between 10% and 20% a month on health and cooling costs. You don’t have to do a total renovation, using fiber insulation, either; spray foam insulation can be a great alternative.

Water Heater: Water heaters last about 15 years. Once again, this is something you can upgrade to an EnergyStar model. But that’s not all. Even if you have a new water heater, you can make improvements. Set the temperature to 120 degrees, and then get insulating jackets for the tank, and the water pipes. This will reduce heat loss through your water heating system.

Plug the leaks in your homePlug the Leaks: Look around for other leaks. These can be around doors, electrical outlets, attic access and old fireplaces. There are a number of products that can be used to help improve your thermal envelope, including insulated garage and home doors, weather stripping, foam insulating gaskets (for outlets), and modern dampers. A home energy audit can also help you identify problem areas.

Roof: Upgrade your roof to improve energy efficiency. You can use reflective roofing to reduce energy loss, as well as double check your shingles to make sure they are tight. If you want to get really creative, you can actually create a habitat up there, with organic roofing, or just paint your roof white.

Solar panelPower Your Home: If you are into the really big projects, you can add solar panels to your roof, or get a small home wind turbine to provide electricity. If you combine solar and/or wind power with other energy efficiency changes, you can do a great deal in terms of saving money. It is worth noting that you can start small, with a modest solar power system for heating your water and then expand from there as you have the money and tax credits.

Tax Credits

Tax CreditsHere are the juicy federal tax credits you can get for green home improvements. Just realize that for small home improvements the energy efficient tax credits expire at the end of 2010. So you need to make the changes in 2010. For the small home improvements, you can get 30% of what you spent to make changes, up to $1,500. Additionally, they are only available for existing homes. These items include:

  • HVAC system
  • Non-solar water heaters
  • Windows
  • Doors
  • Roofing
  • Biomass stoves
  • Insulation

If you are more into the big changes, and want to install solar panels, wind turbines, fuel cells or geothermal heat pumps, you can get a bigger tax break. Credits for these items are available until the year 2016, so you have time to save up. You get tax credits for 30% of the cost of installation — with no upper limit. You can also put these energy systems on new homes as well as existing homes.

Landscaping

Green LandscapingIt’s not just what’s inside that can make your home green. You can also green your home with kind of landscaping that you choose. When you are careful about how you landscape your home, you can increase the “greenness” of your home, and save money on water costs, when you are careful about how you set up your yard.

You can go completely green, and use rain water collection with a rain barrel and set up a drip system to distribute the water to your plants. You can also find water saving sprinkler systems. Find out how much water your lawn needs for your area, and then set a timer. Be careful not to over water — just as you are careful not to under water.

Add some xeriscaping to your landscaping. This is especially appropriate in drier climates. Consider hardy plants that need very little water to survive. If you are interested in having some lawn, look for drought-resistant grass. You can also have a greener yard by choosing plants that are suited for the area, and planting perennials and other plants that generally need less care. Place trees so that they shade the house, and you will also help the energy efficiency.

Organic gardenFinally, consider planting an organic garden. You can use earth-friendly methods to grow a good garden, providing you with healthy produce, and reducing your need to get produce that has been shipped across the country. You’ll get good exercise, and enjoy delicious food.

Bottom line: Greening your home isn’t just about helping the environment (although that is a good reason to do it). You can also save money by going green. You might be surprised at how quickly some green home improvements pay for themselves when you add up the tax credits and the consumption savings.

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