February
12 - 2009

9 money-saving home fix-ups

The Internet is buzzing this week with ways to save money on adding efficiency to your home. Most likely, January heating bills have been rolling in, and with the economy in its current tizzy, belt-tightening is the watchword.

Fortunately, even if you’re living pretty lean, odds are good that you can save some more money by tightening up your house. With utility costs rising, a penny saved is truly a penny earned — or, today, one you don’t have to earn. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  1. Do it yourself. If you have more time than money (or even a fairly balanced time/money ratio, or you just like to keep those pennies to yourself), do some research, ask savvier friends/neighbors/relatives for advice, and give a project a shot yourself.
  2. Find one of 50 things from this list to do. This Old House has a list of 50 DIY ways to save money. Odds are good there’s at least one that applies to you. I’m especially intrigued by the $50 Black & Decker Thermal Leak Detector that allows homeowners (or renters) to find leaks so you can correct them.
  3. Change your lightbulbs. You might have already installed CFLs. But new technology is around the corner, so if you haven’t done it yet, read The Simple Dollar’s extensive overview of lightbulb technology — if nothing else, you’ll be equipped to persuade others if you peek into their light fixtures and see that they haven’t made the change.
  4. Consider dual-flush toilet technology. This is the special flushing science that offers a light rinse for #1, and a super swish for #2. When I went to Germany in 1989, the toilets were this way, so I remain perplexed as to why dual-flush commodes are exotic extras that cost $300 in the U.S. But now an ingenious American has invented a way to make your current toilet dual flush for $30, made in the USA. Their calculator estimates our family would save 9 gallons a day, a savings of $6 (and about 3,300 gallons) a year.
  5. Take tax breaks. If you install energy-efficient upgrades to your home — from HVAC systems to insulation to solar to doors and windows — you can receive a tax credit on your 2009 federal income tax return. Additionally, some tax credits are still available for buying hybrid vehicles from certain manufacturers. The full list is here.
  6. Replace your water heater with a tankless version. If your water heater bites the dust, replace it with a tankless or on-demand heating unit. You’ll gain floor space in your utility room and hot water when you need it — and save lots of money. This super-duper version (not endorsed by me; found via random search) costs about $1,100 and says it can power two showers at once. (Our tank version can’t do that … or not for long.) It also qualifies for a $300 tax credit. Mr. Electricity’s site gives a great rundown of all things hot-water-heater, and gives a rough ballpark that a gas-fired tankless unit might save around $100 per year, with installation costing $1,200 more than a tank version. But tankless heaters might last 20 years compared to a tank heater’s estimated 10-year lifespan. Ultimately? With the tax credit, the tankless version might cost $900 more per year. It will pay for itself in 9 years and last 11 years after that.
  7. Insulate your tank water heater and pipes. I have been putting this off, but for $20 you can buy a water heater blanket that keeps heat in the tank. (Our water heater is 4 years old, so replacing it doesn’t make sense at this point.) Insulate the pipes for bonus water and energy savings. Pipe insulation costs around $0.16 to $0.66 per foot. Tip for the not-so-plumbing-savvy: Measure your pipes first and get insulation that fits. Water pipes come in different diameters!
  8. Check if your utility offers rebates. Our utility company is subsidizing the cost of CFL bulbs (at various local retailers) and offering rebates for energy-efficient upgrades. For a tankless water heater, for instance, they will rebate $100 — which would take the payback period down to 8 years instead of 9 years.
  9. Rent, don’t buy. Check a site like Zilok, Craigslist.org or Kijiji to see if you can rent a tool you’ll need only once rather than buy. Check into local resources — I saw recently that a blog reader had checked out a Kill-a-Watt device from their local library to measure their electricity usage – what a great idea!

What am I up to?

Here’s what I plan to do to tighten up my own house some more:

  • As I mentioned, I vow to insulate my water heater.
  • Our dining room has a dimmer switch, rendering CFLs unusable. It’s the only place where we still have incandescent bulbs. And we don’t dim the lights. I will replace the switch with a standard switch so we can use CFLs here.
  • We purchased an energy-efficient pet door. But then we realized our old wood door is horribly inefficient. With the tax credits now available, we are hoping to install a new, energy-efficient entry door and put the dog door into that entryway.
  • Again, with the tax credits (10% of the cost of windows and doors), we would love to replace a very large picture window in our living room. It’s the only window that has not been updated from the original 1950 construction. Every year, we put plastic over it, but a new window would save heat in the winter and avoid burning us up with the death-ray-like light that it beams into our home in the summer.

How about you?

Do you have any ideas for home improvements? Maybe this weekend is a good time to start …

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