Save Energy AND Money This Winter With These 7 Home Improvements

January 29, 2014 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

From DealNews’ Lou Carlozo:

Energy savings is certainly on a lot of people’s minds as winter 2014 has kicked off in fearsome fashion across the United States. Yet savings know no season, and are sometimes affected by a timeline of when energy investments will have paid for themselves. Unfortunately most products don’t come with this information clearly stamped on the box, but that’s where we come in! Here we examine seven popular product categories to see how long it might take before you realize any returns on investments.

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    Wrapping old windows is just a temporary fix for the larger issue of replacing your windows. Depending on how drafty your living space you may want to consider upgrading from single-pane windows, especially if you’re getting clobbered on your energy bill. The trouble is, replacing your old windows isn’t cheap. Homewyse.com estimates it costs between $2,673 and $3,550 to upgrade eight mid-level windows, including installation. Is there any hope of seeing through to a payback?

    Payback Time: The good news here is that the Energy Star forecasts big savings on replacement windows that earn its certification. You’ll save anywhere from $126 to $465 a year for an area covering 2,000 sq. ft. On the downside, it could take roughly 10 years before you’ll see a payback. The long timeframe, though, is mitigated by an immediate increase in comfort and visual aesthetics to your home. And if you’re handy enough to install your own windows, you could cut the up-front costs by at least 25%.

    (Photo by Kevin Clark/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

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    Many homeowners struggle with question of how much insulation and what kind they need to pad their attic rafters. Fortunately the U.S. Department of Energy’s program sheet can help determine the best type of insulation for your attic based on your location. In most cases, a 12″ layer of insulation is best; to install such material in 300 sq. ft. of attic will run between $110 and $167, according to Homewyse.com.

    Payback Time: Get out your slide rules, kids. The U.S. Department of Energy has an insulation payback equation, but like many things associated with the government, it’s complicated. Feel free to try it, but you’ll need to know not just the cost of your energy and the cost of insulation, but also the efficacy rating of your heating system, the R values of your new and current insulation, and the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow, to quote Monty Python. Or, you can trust CoolCalifornia.org‘s forecast that insulating your attic should pay for itself in about two to three years.

    (Photo by Brett and Sue Coulstock/Flickr Creative Commons)

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Payback time is an important factor in determining your energy savings, but it should not be the sole factor in determining which appliance to buy, or home improvement investment to make. Sometimes, we spend money just to upgrade our quality of life, and certainly, a brand new refrigerator or windows will accomplish that. But these decisions also produce measurable savings that take the edge off the final bill, even as they contribute to a better environment and real energy efficiency. And if you’re on the fence about spending for your home, payback time is arguably the one variable that can act as a tiebreaker. Knowing you’ll see a real return in real time can provide, yes, real comfort in more ways than one.

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  • Top Renewable Energy Sources

    Renewable energy made up 9 percent of all energy consumed in 2011, according to the a href=”http://www.eia.gov/”U.S. Energy Information Agency/a, and that number is a href=”http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/er/pdf/0383er(2013).pdf”predicted to grow throughout the next decade/a.

    Here’s a breakdown of the top sources of renewable energy in the country, from wind to water and everything in between.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=”http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/perspectives.cfm”U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Solar Power – 2 Percent

    Solar power and photovoltaic cells make up the smallest percentage of U.S. renewable energy production, but its future looks fairly promising. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/03/warren-buffett-solar-power_n_2398816.html”invested $2.5 billion in Calif. solar company SunPower/a earlier this year.

    Also, unlike other sources of renewables, energy can also be generated by small-scale solar installations (like on the rooftop of a home or business), anda href=”http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=8570″ declining costs/a have made solar much more affordable.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=”http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/perspectives.cfm”U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Geothermal – 2 Percent

    Geothermal power captures naturally occurring heat from the earth to turn it into power. The renewable source is geographically dependent, a href=”http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=3970″but the Western half of the U.S./a has many promising locations for power plants, a href=”http://www.geysers.com/”like The Geysers in Calif./a, the largest geothermal power plant in the world.

    The U.S. is the largest producer of geothermal power on the planet, but growth hasn’t kept up with wind or solar development in recent years.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=”http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/perspectives.cfm”U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Waste – 5 Percent

    Believe it or not, burned garbage accounts for 5 percent of all renewable energy created in the U.S. each year. More than 29 million tons of municipal solid waste was burned in 2010 to create steam to spin turbines and generate power, a href=”http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=7990″ and there are more than 75/a waste-to-energy plants in the country.

    Emissions regulations have been in place at waste incineration plants since the 1960s, but the a href=”http://www.epa.gov/ncer/publications/research_results_needs/combustionEmmissionsReport.pdf”EPA warned in a 2006 report that the toxins released/a during the process could pose a serious environmental risk if not strictly enforced.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=”http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/perspectives.cfm”U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Wind – 13 Percent

    The amount of wind power has grown for each of the past three years throughout the U.S. and accounted for the a href=”http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=9931″largest growth in capacity/a of any energy resource in the country last year. Wind turbines now supply more than a href=”http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/19/us-utilities-windpower-usa-idUSBRE89I0TX20121019″50,000 megawatts a year,/a enough to power 13 million homes, according to Reuters.

    Federal tax credits, which were set to expire at the end of 2012, have made wind farms an attractive form of renewable energy. Congress a href=”http://www.forbes.com/sites/davelevitan/2013/01/02/wind-power-tax-credit-survives-fiscal-cliff-deal/”approved an extension of the credits/a through the end of 2013.

    After production, wind turbines are net zero, meaning they require no energy and produce no emissions. The only problematic thing generated in some cases other than clean power has been a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/24/wind-power-noise-pollution-maine_n_866182.html”a whole lot of noise/a.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=”http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/perspectives.cfm”U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Biofuel – 21 Percent

    Biofuels, like ethanol, are created from organic matter like corn or soybeans. Gasoline in the U.S. contains 9 percent of the resource by federal mandate under the a href=”http://www.epa.gov/otaq/fuels/renewablefuels/index.htm”Renewable Fuel Standard program,/a and more than a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/10/us-should-change-biofuel-_n_1764735.html”40 percent of the corn crop/a last year was turned into biofuel.

    The resource is slightly more unstable than other renewables because it depends on the productivity of farms – a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/10/us-should-change-biofuel-_n_1764735.html”drought or other environmental problems/a can significantly lower yields and increase prices.

    On average, a href=”http://www.afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/flexible_fuel_emissions.html”ethanol has 20 percent fewer emissions/a than traditional gasoline but some types, like a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellulosic_ethanol”cellulosic ethanol,/a cut greenhouse gas emissions more than 85 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=”http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/perspectives.cfm”U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Wood – 22 Percent

    Timber accounts for nearly a quarter of all renewable energy created in the country. a href=”http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2012/10/121022-wood-for-heating/”Rising energy costs /ahave led to an upswing in wood burning over the past decade, and nearly a href=”http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/steo/report/winterfuels.cfm”20 percent of New England homes /ause wood for heating, according to a National Geographic report.

    Although it may be a cheaper alternative, wood burning stoves and fireplacesa href=”http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/energyefficiency.html” release more emissions of fine particles /a than other home heating methods, according to the EPA. Burning a href=”http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/bestburn.html”good wood in an efficient burner/a lowers toxic emissions and lost energy. Oh, and always have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors handy.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=”http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/perspectives.cfm”U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Hydroelectric – 35 Percent

    Almost all of the current hydroelectric power plants in the U.S. were a href=”http://www.eia.gov/energy_in_brief/article/hydropower.cfm”built before the mid-1970′s/a, but it’s still the highest producing renewable energy source in the country.

    In 2011, 8 percent of all power created in the U.S. came from hydroelectric sources, but it’s also one of the most geographically dependent sources of energy. The Pacific Northwest gets more than half of all power via hydroelectric due to prime geography.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=”http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/perspectives.cfm”U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • How To Really Go Renewable

    Watch this TED talk on the missing link in the future of renewable energy.

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