Green Tech Upgrades That Boost Home Values and Reduce Bills

Last week I provided a few basic green upgrades that can help you save money. This time around it's all about tech that will save money and potentially increase the value of your home.

Saving Energy

Green Tech Upgrades That Boost Home Values and Reduce Bills

In the previous Prof. Dealzmodo article, I talked about upgrades like switching to CFLs and investigating options for eliminating wasteful standby power like eco-oriented powerstrips. These kinds of upgrades are affordable on most budgets—real no-brainers. However, if you want to go the extra mile and make upgrades that could increase the value of your home, here are some products to consider:

• Solar Power: Okay, let's get right to it. When people think "green," they think of solar panels. But according to the most recent data compiled by the Energy Information Administration, the average US home uses somewhere around 30 kilowatthours (kWh) of electricity per day. That translates into $1500 to $2000 a year on electricity bills. Generally, a 1kWh (1000 watt) system is recommended for every 1000 square feet of floor space (depending on where you live) and you can expect to pay around $8 to $10 per watt installed. Throw in an inverter or two to covert the sun's DC power into AC and a battery bank and you are talking $20000 or more for a complete system.

So it seems that if you don't live in a home for 20 years or more, you will not see a return on this investment. However, there is a strong chance that your local government and utility companies will offer incentives like tax breaks, discounts or up-front cash rebates to subsidize the cost of your system, provided your homeowners association approves of your plans.

As CNN points out, Texas-based Austin energy currently provides rebates of $3.75 per watt—so right away you could probably shave nearly $4000 off of the $10000 price tag of a 1kWH system. Texas also offers a tax exemption "of the amount of the appraised property value that arises from the installation or construction of a solar or wind-powered energy device."

On top of that the Federal Government offers substantial tax credits for installing photovoltaic systems. As far as home values are concerned, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that the value of a home rises $20 for every $1 in reduced monthly electricity bills.

Obviously, the effectiveness of a photovoltaic system depends on a number of factors like the amount of sunlight your location receives and the position of the panels in relationship to the position of the sun in the sky. But when you add up all of the possible incentives, and you figure out just how sunny it is where you live, the expense looks like it might be worth it.

Green Tech Upgrades That Boost Home Values and Reduce Bills

• Wind Turbines: Harnessing wind power is often a great way to supplement an existing solar array and can generate a surprising amount of power if you live in a suitable climate. A small residential turbine rated between 5kWh and 15kWh generally costs somewhere between $6000 and $22000 installed. Again, there are local and federal incentives that can help to cut costs and recoup your expenses faster. The downside is that if you don't live in a very windy area, or can't get your neighbors to permit you to reach the height required to get a turbine really going, it's a non-option.

• Energy Star Appliances: This was mentioned in last week's article but it bears repeating. These devices use 10% to 50% less energy than their power-sucking counterparts, and you don't have to ask your homeowners association permission to install them (for the most part). Do a little math, and you find that the premium price of these appliances will be paid back in good time—plus the energy savings will be attractive to buyers if appliances are part of the deal when you eventually sell your house.

• Greenswitches: If you want a simple way to reduce the power consumption in your home, check out a company called GreenSwitch. By quickly re-wiring your home with single-control outlets, each outlet can be designated as green or standard as needed. All you need to do is flick a single switch and all of the electronics in the home that run on standby power—and plugged into green outlets—are turned off. A system like this can save 8% to 10% a year in energy bills and "costs between $500 and $1000 for an average home." That means it's paid off in three to five years. If the installation prices get cheaper, it will be a pretty fast money-saver.

• Argon-Filled Windows: Most double-paned windows are vacuum sealed, so there's nothing between them at all. But windows filled instead with argon or krypton gas are said to help insulate the interior of a home better, and block UV rays. Prices of the units and the money saved vary of course, but some sources claim that the results are dramatic. Finehomebuilding.com has provided a handy guide for anyone looking for more information.

• Solar and Gas-Powered Tankless Hot-Water Systems: Solar power isn't just for producing electricity. There are also systems that are devoted to producing hot water—a process that can generate as much as 25% of our utility bills. There are several different configurations involving one of three types of solar collectors and storage tanks. These systems can be either active systems with circulating pumps or passive systems without pumps. Setting up a basic system can run you around $7000 to $8000, but like traditional solar arrays, these installations are often subsidized by local utility companies and the federal government, and add value to a home. Keep in mind that in most cases a traditional water heater will be necessary to fill in the gaps from time to time because hot water cannot be stored indefinitely—or sold back to the utility company.

Green Tech Upgrades That Boost Home Values and Reduce Bills

Speaking of more conventional water heaters, replacing your standard electric or gas heater with a tankless version can save as much as 50% on your hot water bill. The main point: If you're not using hot water, it's not using energy to keep water hot. The life expectancy is twice that of a conventional heater, it takes up a lot less space, and it produces hot water whenever you need it, with a near instant "recovery time"—no more having to deal with people hogging all the hot water by taking really long showers. Systems like this will cost over $1000 but, again, there are incentives in place. For example, if you purchase a tankless heater from Rinnai between Jan 1, 2009 and December 31st 2010 you will be eligible for a tax credit equal to 30% of the full purchase and installation price, up to $1500.

Saving Water
The water bill is another expense that can really bite you in the ass—especially if you live in arid climates or do a lot of yardwork. If you are looking to go beyond simple rain barrels, here are some wise investments for homeowners looking to reduce their water consumption:

• Low-Flow Toilets and Showerheads: Low-flow toilets have come a long way in recent years. Newer models can handle anything you and your butthole can dish out—all while using a modest 1.6 gallons per flush (about half of a standard toilet). Low-flow shower heads have also progressed to a point that they provide great water pressure with low consumption rates that range from 0.5 to 2.5 gallons per minute.

• Gray Water Systems: In a nutshell, a gray water system recycles the water used in showers, sinks and washing machines—but not your toilets—to irrigate your lawn. "Gray water" makes up as much as 80% of our residential wastewater—water we could be re-using to save money. A basic gray-water irrigation system can run as low as $500 to $2500 for an average home. Apparently, untreated water is fine for most irrigation needs, but there are also companies like Pontos out there that use a bioculture and UV light treatment to purify the water. It's just for yard use, though—you're not supposed to drink gray water.

Green Tech Upgrades That Boost Home Values and Reduce Bills

• Efficient Irrigation Systems: I'm not a big lawn guy, but I am a big gadget guy, and speaking of yards, some of the lawn-watering systems out there these days are quite impressive. For example: Toro's TIS-612 Intelli-Sense controller uses pre-programmed information about your landscaping and collects daily weather information via satellite to determine how much water a specific plant should get and when. Units range from 6 to 24 sprinklers, with prices falling between $320 to $1000. A subscription to the WeatherTRAK Everywhere Data Service will cost you a measly $48 per year in additional costs. That's pretty affordable, but the kicker is that because the system is so customized, the makers claim you can save between 20% and 60% on your monthly water bills.

With all of the focus on reducing energy costs and dependence these days, green tech is poised to become one of the biggest draws in the housing market in the decades to come. You have to spend money to make money as they say, but government and utility company incentives combined with energy cost savings make many of these upgrades surprisingly doable and profitable over time. For information on the incentives available in your area, check out DSIRE.

Most importantly, if you're pondering any kind of green upgrade, don't spend a penny until you hear how many pennies are gonna come back your way. If the dealer is mum on the subject, tell him to take a hike, because these subsidies are real.

Prof. Dealzmodo is a regular section dedicated to helping budget-minded consumers learn how to shop smarter and get the best deals on their favorite gadgets. If you have any topics you would like to see covered, send your idea to tips@gizmodo.com, with "Professor Dealzmodo" in the subject line.

Green Tech Upgrades That Boost Home Values and Reduce Bills

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