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Home improvements that preserve and protect the environment make sense. They can also make dollars and cents, as homeowners in Utah, and nationwide, have discovered during the recent surge in “green” renovations.
Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Energy reported that 17 percent of all new homes being constructed were Energy Star worthy—a standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency for homes built to conserve energy. This year, that number has risen to 30 percent. Clearly, going green is proving the wave of the future.
But aside from the environmental advantages, what else does this movement mean to the average homeowner?
“The economics translate directly into money not spent on energy that can otherwise be saved,” says Chris Tallackson, manager of the Office of Energy Development for the state. “That savings is generated in a number of ways, and the benefits aren’t just monetary—they include building life cycles as well. People who make investments to save money on their homes are happier with the comfort than they anticipated.”
The state has been operating a pilot program called Utah Home Performance, in which homes are baselined for energy efficiency. Homeowners take those baselines and then make improvements using the recommendations. They are incentivized with rebates in an effort to lower their energy usage by at least 20 percent.
Tallackson says the average cost of those improvements is about $5,800, but the 20 percent or more in energy cost savings allows homeowners to recover those expenses in as little as five years.
“These types of programs are [leading to] better homes overall, with more efficient windows, lighting, appliances, insulation, and heating and cooling systems,” says Maria Vargas, with the Energy Star program. She says there has been an awakening nationwide regarding environmentally friendly construction and design.
Kevin Morrow of the National Association of Home Builders agrees.
“The interest in green building is driven by consumers,” he says. “More people are doing it to save money on their [utility] bills.” In fact, energy efficiency is now the No. 1 “trigger” for homebuyers in the United States. “It’s the primary question on many buyers’ minds,” Morrow says.
According to a U.S. Green Building Council study, 70 percent of home-buyers are more inclined to purchase a green home than a conventional home during a down housing market, and half of the homes renovated since 2007 have used products chosen for their green qualities.
Homebuyers of all income levels are looking for environmentally friendly properties, according to a study taken by the Green Building Council and McGraw-Hill Construction. And in today’s difficult housing market, sellers are making homes greener in order to attract potential buyers.
Home Sweet Hybrid
Green home improvement focuses on several key areas, most all of them in control of the homeowners. With heating and cooling systems, for example, the key is uniformity—making sure that air flows are basically equal throughout a home, thus keeping thermostats satisfied with desired temperatures.
“That means less drafts, using more reliable systems, sealing cracks and ductwork to prevent leaks, and making sure air filters and air ducts are kept clean,” Tallackson says. He points out that Questar Gas has a home assessment program of its own that customers can use, and commercial and industrial customers, as well as residential customers, can turn to Rocky Mountain Power for similar programs.
Making sure window sills and doors are sealed, keeping temperatures set at moderate amounts on furnaces and air conditioners, and regulating hot water heaters are all ways energy can be saved. Old, outdated appliances, particularly freezers and refrigerators, should be replaced with newer and more efficient ones. Computers not in use can be turned off, as can radios and televisions. Even flooring can prove more environmentally friendly—a wood floor produced without volatile organic compounds helps keep the air clean in the house.
Every kilowatt hour saved by any consumer leads to savings for all consumers.
“By using energy efficiently, it’s not only saving money on utility bills, but together with other customers, it adds up to help keep electricity costs lower for everyone,” says Jeff Hymas, a spokesperson for Rocky Mountain Power.
Through energy efficiency, customers help delay the need for new power plants to be built, says Hymas, which prevents price increases for construction. When an energy company doesn’t have to spend money for replacing equipment or building new plants, it mitigates rate hikes.
“Like everything else, prices continue to increase, but energy efficiency does make a difference. It’s one of our lower cost options for meeting growth,” he says.
Rocky Mountain Power’s “Watt Smart” campaign offers consumers ideas on how to make those changes without making a huge impact on their lifestyles. The company’s “Cool Keeper” program regulates air conditioning use in neighborhoods, keeping it staggered. At Wattsmart.com, customers can learn other helpful tips as well.