Homeowners find it pays to go green
published Mon, 30 Mar 09 10:50:40 -0700

Dian Hymer
Inman News

The green revolution is spreading as the public becomes aware of the need to reduce dependence on foreign oil and improve the environment through conservation and recycling.

Today's recession-wary homeowners are reluctant to spend a penny on home improvements. However, some effective energy-saving home improvements don't cost much and can save you money in the long run.

For example, a tight house prevents heat loss. To keep your home from leaking, weatherstrip by sealing voids around windows, doors, vents, cables, electrical outlets, and switches and electrical wires.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Some utility companies offer rebates for weatherstripping. Visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency on line at www.dsireusa.org. Then click on your state to find a list of incentives offered in your area. Be aware that incentives may be taxable.

Another inexpensive way to save money by adding green features to your home is by changing light bulbs from incandescent to fluorescent. Replacing five heavy-use bulbs will save you about $100 per year on your electric bill, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.

Using a programmable thermostat and setting it to reduce output when you are sleeping or are out of the house will save another $100 or more per year. Have your furnace and cooling system checked regularly to keep it running efficiently. Insulate your hot water heater. When you buy new appliances, buy ENERGY STAR appliances that meet high-level energy efficiency. Rebates are available for purchasing some energy-efficient appliances.

It will cost you nothing, just discipline, to break old habits that will save you money and conserve resources. Take shorter showers. Wash only full loads of dishes and clothes. Turn off lights when you leave a room.

According to Kerry Mitchell, Green Real Estate Education, you can reduce your energy bill by 9-10 percent by unplugging electronics when they're not in use. A TV uses 25 percent of its energy when it's plugged in but not on, according to Mitchell. Plug infrequently used electronics into a power strip. Leave the power strip off when the electronics are not in use. ...CONTINUED

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There are also incentives available to help offset the cost of installing more expensive energy savers such as solar systems, home insulation, dual-pane windows, and graywater systems that use waste water from washers, showers, tubs and sinks to water landscaping.

Will green features pay off when you sell your home? If buyers had a choice between a house whose owners pay low water and energy bills and one where the bills are high, they'd probably choose the home with lower operating costs.

Recently a home with large single-paned windows sold in the hills of Oakland, Calif. Three buyers seriously considered buying it. All three factored the cost of installing dual-pane windows into the price they would pay.

According to the 2008 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report from the National Association of Realtors and Remodeling Magazine, on a nationwide basis window replacements returned more than 76 percent of the cost when the home sold. Combine this with a possible incentive, lower energy bills during your ownership and the appeal to buyers when you sell, and it's worth the investment.

Homebuyers should be skeptical of green advertising. Some agents advertise that a house is green when in fact the home might have only one green feature, like a solar hot water heater.

The city of Berkeley, Calif., has had a modest energy retrofit ordinance for years. Recently, there was an attempt at the state level to require California homeowners to comply with a more stringent energy retrofit at the time of sale.

THE CLOSING: It's quite likely that energy retrofit requirements for older homes will be required at some point in the future.

Dian Hymer is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer's Guide," Chronicle Books.

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