What Energy Efficiency Projects Offer a Quick Return on My Investment?

By Vernon Trollinger, August 10, 2016, Energy Efficiency, Save Money

Understanding Where and How to Invest Your Money into Helpful Home Improvements

What Energy Efficiency Projects Offer a Quick Return on My Investment? | Bounce Energy Blog

You might be surprised to learn that most basic energy efficiency projects start paying you back at the time of installation. Generally speaking, you will notice improved comfort either right away or within 24 hours from projects like adding insulation and replacing old weatherstripping.

However, when it comes to calculating actual Return on Investment (ROI), it depends on where you live, the age of your home, and your habits for heating and cooling your home. Using a 2,000 sq. ft home from 1975 as an example and some calculations from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Home Energy Saver (HES) website, we will showcase how quickly these basic energy efficiency projects can pay you back.

1) Improve Air Sealing

What Energy Efficiency Projects Offer a Quick Return on My Investment? | Bounce Energy Blog

Not only does air sealing include weatherstripping drafty doors and windows, but it also means sealing electrical and plumbing holes in walls, between floors, and even with lighting fixtures and wiring in your attic. HES estimates the cost of such improvements to be approximately $850 if you hire an experienced contractor, but since most of this project involves caulk and expanding foam, the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) price tag would run about $100. So, in our example house, a yearly savings of $48 will take 18 years to pay back with the contractor, but with a little hard work on your end, you could see the payback occur in a little over two years.

2) Encapsulate Crawlspaces

What Energy Efficiency Projects Offer a Quick Return on My Investment? | Bounce Energy Blog

In the 1970’s, crawlspaces were built with venting under the guise of providing air circulation to help keep them dry. It’s now proven that venting actually increases moisture in the crawlspace by allowing the outside humid air in. Consequently, houses with vented crawlspaces often have humidity problems involving mildew, mold, and especially rot in the floor. Sealing or “encapsulating” the crawlspace fixes this problem and improves your home energy efficiency.

One of the first things (also easiest and cheapest) you can do is put down 6-mil polyethylene plastic sheeting across the crawlspace floor to stop soil moisture from rising into the crawlspace and eventually entering the living space. Overlap and tape all seams by 12 inches, and seal the sheet 6 inches up the crawlspace walls. You’ll notice the reduction in humidity within 24 hours. Completely sealing and insulating the crawlspace reduces humidity (cutting air conditioner’s load ), improves air quality (fewer respiratory illnesses), reduces flooring heave problems and rot to house framing, and cuts energy bills by about 20%.

HES estimates a contractor will charge you $2,000 for both basement and crawlspace insulation along with a yearly savings of $173, leading to an ROI of 12 years. But since the cost of the materials is rather low, completing this as a DIY project means you could have your efforts paid off in only 1 year..

3) Increase Attic Ventilation

HES doesn’t cover attic ventilation in its estimates, but it’s rather important. Keeping your attic ventilated helps reduce your air conditioning costs in summer, and it also helps vent moisture during winter. If you see damp wood or frost on the inside of your attic in winter, you could be facing mold growth, water damage to insulation and rafters, and potential ice damage to your roof— all of which can be painfully expensive.

The building code requirement for proper attic ventilation is one square foot of net free vent area per 150 square feet of attic area to be vented. Retrofitting ridge vents, for example, is actually pretty easy. Air flow will begin cooling the attic immediately. DIY installation of a ridge vent for a 40’ roof costs less than $200. Hiring a contractor could run between $400 and $500, depending on local prices and roof pitch. The payback in this case is the amount you don’t need to pay for repairs to your roof on any given year.

4) Upgrade Attic Insulation

What Energy Efficiency Projects Offer a Quick Return on My Investment? | Bounce Energy Blog

Adding attic insulation provides immediate effect to your heating and cooling, but, it can also be among the most expensive. HES estimates that installing the Department of Energy-recommended R49 level would cost $1,300 if you contacted a contractor (though the insulation itself costs up to $216). The $94 in yearly savings equals payback in 14 years with a contractor, while the DIY payback takes about 2 1/2 years.

5) Replace Windows

If your house built in 1975 already has double-paned windows, it really doesn’t make much sense to upgrade the windows because the savings tend to be low — only $7 a year. HES figures $1,296 to upgrade windows to low E/argon Energy Star windows with a payback period of 185 years. Eesh!!  However, if you have old, drafty single-pane windows, then you can definitely expect better energy efficiency with a quicker return.

And Don’t Forget These!

What Energy Efficiency Projects Offer a Quick Return on My Investment? | Bounce Energy Blog

HES doesn’t cover HVAC duct sealing, but it’s worth mentioning. Sealing your HVAC duct work can save you money because about 20 to 30 percent of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks, kinks, or loose connections. That can add up to $500 a year for some homeowners. Aluminum tape, caulk, and mastic cost under $50, and the DIY work doesn’t require you to be a total expert.

What Energy Efficiency Projects Offer a Quick Return on My Investment? | Bounce Energy Blog

HES also neglects landscaping, which we feel can be an important aspect of home energy efficiency. Simply planting trees on your home’s south side, especially the southwestern aspect, to provide shade can easily reduce your summer air conditioning bills. Plus, planting a wind break along the north side of your home helps reduce winter wind’s chilling effects around your home.

What recommendations do you have for energy efficiency projects that can provide a quick return on your home improvement investments? Share with us in the comments!

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A native of Wyomissing Hills, PA, Vernon Trollinger studied writing and film at the University of Iowa, later earning his MA in writing there as well. Following a decade of digging in CRM archaeology, he now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, DIY projects, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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