Posted on Saturday, January 15, 2011
Winter’s chill pervades much of the nation, and escalating gas prices are putting their own chill down the spines of U.S. consumers. But until the spring thaw arrives, simple energy-efficiency steps at home and on the road—potentially supplemented by federal income tax credits for specific energy-efficiency home improvements—can take the sting out of high energy bills, says the Alliance to Save Energy.
“The Department of Energy says home heating costs will average $986 this winter,” notes Alliance President Kateri Callahan. “So cutting that cost by 5, 10 or even 20 percent with energy efficiency really pays off.” She adds, “Simple car maintenance and smarter driving habits can reduce the number of costly trips to the gas pump, too.”
Tips to save at home
-Conduct a do-it-yourself home energy audit to pinpoint where your home is wasting energy and money and identify improvements to increase energy efficiency and comfort. Every $1 invested in an energy improvement project can save up to $7, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). Learn how easy an audit can be on the Alliance’s Living Efficiently website: http://livingefficiently.org/news/home-energy-audit-101.
-Plug up leaks to the outside. Sealing air leaks with sealant, caulking and weather stripping and making sure your home is adequately insulated for your climate can reduce your heating costs up to 20%. And note that many sealing and insulating products qualify for the federal income tax credit for 10% of their cost, up to $500.
-Properly maintain your HVAC system. Just as a tune-up for your car can improve your fuel efficiency, a semi-annual or yearly tune-up of your heating and cooling system can cut costs while boosting comfort.
-Keep furnace filters clean. Check your filter every month, especially during winter and summer, and change it if it looks dirty—or at least every three months. In addition to increasing energy costs, a dirty filter can also damage your equipment, leading to early failure.
-Set it and forget it. A programmable thermostat “remembers for you” to lower the heat while your home is empty and/or overnight to reduce heating costs by up to 10% while allowing you to come home and wake up to a cozy house.
-If your furnace or boiler is more than 15 years old, consider replacing it with an Energy Star qualified unit, whose energy efficiency exceeds that of a conventional one by 15%. Or if your heat pump is more than 10 years old, replacing it with an Energy Star qualified unit can save up to 20% on heating and cooling costs. Some highly efficient models qualify for a 2011 federal income tax credit.
-Leaky ducts can add hundreds of dollars to annual heating and cooling bills. Sealing ducts increases their efficiency and is cost-effective—often lowering home energy bills by enough to cover the cost.
-Opening curtains, blinds and other window treatments on west- and south-facing windows allows sunlight to naturally heat your home during the day. Close the window treatments at night to retain the heat inside after dark.
-Energy Star-labeled windows can cut heating costs by as much as 25% compared with older, inefficient windows (such as those with single panes) and by 7-15% compared with new, conventional (not energy-efficient) double-paned windows. Learn more at www.efficientwindows.org.
-Get a jump-start on the January 2012 phase-in of energy-efficient lighting products in the U.S. market by starting now to swap out inefficient incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). If you’re in California, the lighting transition already began on January 1, 2011.
-Heating hot water is the third largest energy expense in a home, accounting for about 12% of home energy use. Save by using less hot water—perhaps with a low-flow showerhead and/or by washing laundry in cold water; lowering the water heater temperature to 130 degrees; insulating the water heater according to manufacturer’s directions and without covering the thermostat; and/or buying a new, more efficient model.
-Is it time to replace your old refrigerator with an energy-efficient model? Find out at http://livingefficiently.org/product/refrigerators-time-upgrade.
-Also look for the Energy Star label on more than 55 additional types of products for the home to save up to 30% on related electricity bills. Find product details at www.energystar.gov.
Tips for saving while on the go
-Tune up. Fixing a car that’s out of tune or has failed an emissions test can improve its gas mileage by an average of 4%. Fixing a serious maintenance problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve your mileage by as much as 40%.
-Slow down. Gas mileage decreases rapidly above 60 miles per hour—each five mph over 60 is like paying an additional 24 cents per gallon for gas.
-Keep tires properly inflated to improve gas mileage by around 3%, or up to nine cents per gallon.
-Avoid carrying items on your vehicle’s roof. A loaded roof rack or carrier increases weight and aerodynamic drag, which can cut mileage by 5%. Place items inside the trunk whenever possible to improve your fuel economy.
-Don’t cram the trunk with unneeded items. An extra 100 pounds in the trunk cuts a typical vehicle’s fuel economy by up to 2%—like spending an extra three to six cents per gallon.
-Avoid idling. Idling gets zero mpg, and cars with larger engines typically waste even more gas while idling than cars with smaller engines.
-Combine errands/trips. If you combine errands into one trip, you drive fewer miles and use less fuel. Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as a longer, multipurpose trip when the engine is warmed up and efficient.
-Use the overdrive gear when appropriate to reduce engine speed. It will save gas and reduce engine wear.
-Use cruise control to cut fuel consumption by maintaining a steady speed during highway driving.
-Find alternatives to driving when possible. Consider public transportation, biking, walking, ridesharing and even telecommuting.
And a little gift from Uncle Sam
The value of federal income tax credits for energy-efficiency home improvements is reduced this year compared with 2009 and 2010. But this help from Uncle Sam—in most cases a tax credit for 10% of the improvement’s cost up to $500—still makes them more affordable.
For more information, visit www.ase.org.
GREEN REAL ESTATE PREDICTIONS FOR 2011
In less than 24 hours 2010 will be over and a new year of real estate investment opportunities and challenges will begin. In regards to green real estate, here are my predictions for 2011 (in no order):
1. Green Value will replace Green Hype. 2010 was the last year we’ll see people largely add green elements to their projects just for the heck of it. Value is starting to trump hype (even in California) and that trend will continue on 2011. Investors/buyers/homeowners won’t pursue green unless they have a fairly accurate prediction of the ROI.
2. In green building certification circles, Energy Star overtakes LEED. LEED has always been the 800 pound gorilla in the green building certification market. However the actual value to the end user/buyer of a LEED certified building is beginning to wane. LEED costs more, takes longer and is more paperwork intensive than Energy Star. LEED is a clunky old PC running Windows 3.1. Energy Star is an iPad.
3. ROI measurement becomes easier for investors. New technologies and data on recent projects make it much easier for an investor to project the return on any green building method/equipment. For example, a few years ago it was difficult to quantify the true cost savings on utility bills (and thus value to an end buyer) of blowing closed cell insulation into walls. You’d get a range, say between 30-70% savings. Not exactly a great way to forecast. Now with a few quick calculations and a cursory knowledge of building envelop design you can get to a very accurate projection, often within 10%.
4. Opportunity is rapidly becoming obligation. I’ve written about this before but it is getting more prevalent now. Sellers/Property Owners (investors or not) are getting squeezed by 2 distinct groups. First, City/State/Federal legislators who are increasingly enacting green building codes for new AND existing buildings. Second, buyers/renters who are becoming more ‘green’ educated and are demanding more green features. Both groups are putting added pressure on investors to address green in their projects.
5. Green products-faster, cheaper, more abundant. More than ever there are a plethora of green building products on the market. These products are often higher quality and lower priced than their non-green competitors. For real estate investors this couldn’t have come at a better time. You can now green a project without having to overspend on materials or equipment.
6. In 2010, approximately 40%* of your target market (buyers/renters) understood the value of paying more for green homes/apartments and were willing to pay a premium for those amenities. That number should double in 2011. It has become much easier for buyers/renters to see the quantifiable difference in value of buying/renting a green home vs. a traditional home. It now makes more sense to get a green home than not.
*Based on a very unscientific study of what I’ve observed in the last year as I’ve worked on projects all over the US.
by Jim Simcoe, RIS MEDIA