On Earth Day, much press is given to all the altruistic reasons we should watch our energy consumption and carbon footprints. From those baby polar bears stranded on icecaps to visions of our grandchildren’s grandchildren living on the Atlantic Coast of Montana, the unselfish reasons for going green, so to speak, abound.
Reality check: greening up your home does not have to be a pious experience, or a lifestyle downgrade. You don’t need to cut back on showers or go all Birkenstock, all the time. (Although, hey – I went to Berkeley. I’ve got nothing against the occasional sporting of the ‘stocks.)
In fact, I’ve realized over the last few years that there are some rather fabulous, somewhat selfish perks to making green changes to your home and your lifestyle. Here are a handful of them, in honor of Earth Day.
1. Save Money Now. When it comes to the economics of most home improvements, homeowners spend hours and hours trying to project the return we’ll recoup on the upfront costs of our granite countertops and built-in theater equipment years down the road. And for the most part, the numbers look grim. Except for the basic upgrades that are essential to moving an older home, real estate insiders generally advise homeowners to avoid even trying to find an investment return on home improvements, and to simply execute improvements they can both afford and enjoy in the time they plan to live in the home.
However, many so-called ‘green’ home improvements turn this entire concept on its head. Studies show that utility bills are one of the highest monthly expenses for most households, and that green home improvements can bring those bills down by as much as 20 or 30%. I did the math – on the average American home’s energy bill of almost $2,000/year, that would represent a savings of $400-$600 – potentially much more if you live in an area with temperature extremes!
If you install a tankless water heater, insulate your pipes and walls or even do something as simple as weather-stripping your doors and windows, you will begin to save money on your utility bills immediately. And, depending on how indulgent you really want to be, that’s cold hard cash you can redirect to the college savings fund, your own retirement accounts, or a tropical adventure.
2. Sell Faster. Green homes simply sell faster than comparable homes without energy efficient features. Today’s home buyers want to save money (that’s why they’re buying now!) and are willing to prioritize homes that allow them to do this by way of energy efficient systems and upgrades.
The data particularly bears this out when it comes to homes with solar energy systems. The US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy recently released reported that solar homes sell twice as fast as a home without solar panels – even in a down market. (As an aside, don’t believe the old hype that going solar requires a big investment; in some states, homeowners can sign up for something called ‘solar power service’ and get solar savings without ever having to pay for panels.)
If your home isn’t currently on the market for sale, you might scoff at the notion of a speedy sale as a selfish aim. But if and when the day comes that your personal, career, family and financial plans are hanging in limbo, making the ability to move forward with your life and your vision contingent upon the sale of your home, you’ll understand what I mean!
3. Boost Your Net Worth. Not only are buyers willing to bestow a preference on ‘green’ or energy efficient homes, they are willing to pay more for them. And remember – the value of a home at any given time is based on what a buyer would pay for it.
The Appraisal Journal recently published data to this effect: for every $1 green home improvements decreased the property’s annual energy bills, the home’s value increases by $10-$25. That might not seem impressive on such a small scale, but these numbers translate to an increase of $8,000 to $25,000 to the market value of a greened-up 3,000 square foot home.
Same goes for solar homes; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory compared solar homes to similar homes without solar panels, and found that a solar system can add around $17,000 to a home’s value.
If you are like the average homeowner, your home may be your largest asset – or your largest liability. One of very few ways you can reliably bulk up the value of this asset – and your net worth in the process – is to implement any number of green home improvements. If this is a big motivator for you to go green, talk with an experienced local agent about what green features local buyers most value.
One more thing: think very broadly about what it means to ‘go green’. You could go solar or tankless, install insulation and weatherstripping, convert to low-flow toilets, and shower heads, switch out old aluminum windows for dual-paned – the options are limitless, and vary widely in cost.
4. Look better and live longer. There are green homes, and there are green households. I’m going to make the argument that if, in the process of greening your home, you take the next step and engage in the lifestyle activities that make for a green household, you can lose weight, feel better and possibly even avoid some of the chronic diseases that plague our society.
The green home element of this includes planting a kitchen garden and minimizing the water that is wasted just keeping your lawn green. Then you’ll have a back-yard (or front-yard, for that matter) harvest to reap and eat. Your household garden will attract birds, bees and, if your street is anything like mine, squirrels, deer or wild turkeys – fauna which all participate in the circle of life. (Hakuna matata.)
But maintaining a kitchen garden and implementing other green household practices like taking walks or public transporation may also increase you’re the quality of the air you personally breathe and help you shift the balance of your family’s diet from focusing on meat to the plant-based diet doctors now say minimizes the risk of heart disease and cancer, increasing lifespan. Plant-based, by the by, does not mean vegetarian or vegan; Wikipedia defines a plant-based diet as “an eating pattern dominated by fresh or minimally processed plant foods and decreased consumption of meat.”
If digging and planting is more than you can take on, you can support those who do this for your community on a larger scale and still get the benefits of a plant-based diet by subscribing to a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program or walking to and shopping at your neighborhood farmer’s market on the weekend.
5. Live more comfortably. In the fifteen years since I moved from my scorching-hot hometown to the very mild climes of the Bay Area, I have developed an issue I call my ‘thermoregulation challenge.’ I’m fine when I go visit my parents or vacay in Arizona, but it’s tough to stay warm at home when dressed like a normal person. (This explains my penchant for wearing sweaters right around the calendar.)
So, I recently undertook a campaign to stop up all the drafts in my house, and wouldn’t you know it: life got way more comfortable – and fast.Call me a weatherstripping evangelist, but I can think of very few home improvements this inexpensive that make this much of a difference in the comfort level of your life. Drafts, begone!
And this increase in comfort from green home improvements was not a one-off, in my experience. I’d already noticed a major reduction in noise from installing dual-paned windows a few years back. The next thing I have my eye on is swapping out the big old vat of water that I pay to keep warm 24 hours a day for a quake-proof, tankless water-heater. Sure – the energy-efficiency sounds great. But so does unlimited hot water, no matter how long a shower I take or how many dog baths I give.
I say there’s a reason why so many A-list celebs who are used to living in luxury live green lifestyles. The good deed piece of it makes for great PR, but make no mistake: the green life can also be the good life.