House & Home | Energy-efficient home improvements that pay off

When it comes to choosing home improvements that make your home look good both inside and out, think “green.” Energy-efficient home improvements not only help reduce utility costs and boost homeowner satisfaction, but also make a house more appealing to potential buyers.

Buyers are willing to shell out up to 10 percent more for new homes certified green, according to a January real estate report by Harvard University. Return on investment for certain types of green improvements, such as replacing older, less efficient doors and windows, also tends to be high, meaning owners recoup much of the initial cost of the improvement when they sell the home.

Energy-efficient skylights and blinds provide natural light and passive ventilation, and installation costs may qualify for a federal tax credit. photo/courtesy of brandpoint

If you’re looking for ecofriendly home improvements, these five are among the greenest you can make:

• Switch to a solar water heater. Switching to solar power for heating water can be a huge energy- and money-saver. A typical system can use 50 to 80 percent less energy than traditional heating systems, according to Velux America, marketers of solar-powered hot-water systems. That reduction can help a typical household trim its annual energy costs by 10 to 15 percent.

“While the initial cost of installing a solar-powered system is often higher than installing a traditional water heater, most homeowners find the energy savings allows them to recoup that cost in just a few years,” says Jim Cika of solar system manufacturer Heliodyne. “What’s more, homeowners may qualify for a federal tax credit of up to 30 percent of the cost to buy and install a residential solar water heating system.”

• Eliminate incandescents. You’ll have to do it soon anyway, so it may pay to start the process now and phase incandescent light bulbs from your home. Federal law banning incandescent light bulbs means that by the end of 2014, you probably won’t be able to find one of the old-fashioned power-guzzlers on store shelves anymore. Instead, more energy-efficient bulbs such as LEDs and compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) will dominate the marketplace.

• Add or upgrade a skylight. Installing a skylight or replacing an older model skylight with a new Energy Star-qualified one can help cut utility costs. The natural light from a skylight can help reduce the need for artificial light sources, thereby paring down electricity costs. And if you pair a no-leak, solar-powered fresh air skylight equipped with automatic rain sensors and energy-saving accessories like solar powered blinds, you gain a new source of fresh air while improving energy efficiency by up to 37 percent, according to skylight manufacturer Velux.

In addition to long-term savings, the cost of solar-powered skylights and blinds, as well as installation costs, are eligible for a federal tax credit as a green home improvement. (For a tax calculator showing the benefits of new or replacement skylights for your home, visit

Sunlight entering the home through a skylight can help reduce winter heating bills. says installing an EnergyStar-qualified skylight, windows and doors can trim a home energy bill by 7 to 15 percent over non-qualified products. (EnergyStar is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect the climate through superior energy efficiency. Visit to learn more.)

• Replace an old HVAC system. In the typical American home, up to half of total energy consumption goes to heat and cool the house, according to EnergyStar. Replacing old, inefficient heating, ventilation and cooling systems with newer, more efficient models can dramatically reduce a home’s heating and cooling costs.

• Upgrade old windows and doors. A home can lose a tremendous amount of air — hot in the winter, cool in the summer — through poorly sealed doors and windows. Older units tend to be less energy efficient than newer ones. Upgrading from drafty windows and doors to more air-tight models can result in significant savings on your heating and cooling costs.

Replacing windows and doors are among home improvements that deliver significant return on investment at the time of resale. Replacing old windows with new vinyl ones can recoup more than 71 percent of the cost when you sell, or 73 percent for wooden replacement windows, according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report. — brandpoint