9 money-saving home fix-ups

The Internet is buzzing this week with ways to save money on adding efficiency to your home. Most likely, January heating bills have been rolling in, and with the economy in its current tizzy, belt-tightening is the watchword.

Fortunately, even if you’re living pretty lean, odds are good that you can save some more money by tightening up your house. With utility costs rising, a penny saved is truly a penny earned — or, today, one you don’t have to earn. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  1. Do it yourself. If you have more time than money (or even a fairly balanced time/money ratio, or you just like to keep those pennies to yourself), do some research, ask savvier friends/neighbors/relatives for advice, and give a project a shot yourself.
  2. Find one of 50 things from this list to do. This Old House has a list of 50 DIY ways to save money. Odds are good there’s at least one that applies to you. I’m especially intrigued by the $50 Black & Decker Thermal Leak Detector that allows homeowners (or renters) to find leaks so you can correct them.
  3. Change your lightbulbs. You might have already installed CFLs. But new technology is around the corner, so if you haven’t done it yet, read The Simple Dollar’s extensive overview of lightbulb technology — if nothing else, you’ll be equipped to persuade others if you peek into their light fixtures and see that they haven’t made the change.
  4. Consider dual-flush toilet technology. This is the special flushing science that offers a light rinse for #1, and a super swish for #2. When I went to Germany in 1989, the toilets were this way, so I remain perplexed as to why dual-flush commodes are exotic extras that cost $300 in the U.S. But now an ingenious American has invented a way to make your current toilet dual flush for $30, made in the USA. Their calculator estimates our family would save 9 gallons a day, a savings of $6 (and about 3,300 gallons) a year.
  5. Take tax breaks. If you install energy-efficient upgrades to your home — from HVAC systems to insulation to solar to doors and windows — you can receive a tax credit on your 2009 federal income tax return. Additionally, some tax credits are still available for buying hybrid vehicles from certain manufacturers. The full list is here.
  6. Replace your water heater with a tankless version. If your water heater bites the dust, replace it with a tankless or on-demand heating unit. You’ll gain floor space in your utility room and hot water when you need it — and save lots of money. This super-duper version (not endorsed by me; found via random search) costs about $1,100 and says it can power two showers at once. (Our tank version can’t do that … or not for long.) It also qualifies for a $300 tax credit. Mr. Electricity’s site gives a great rundown of all things hot-water-heater, and gives a rough ballpark that a gas-fired tankless unit might save around $100 per year, with installation costing $1,200 more than a tank version. But tankless heaters might last 20 years compared to a tank heater’s estimated 10-year lifespan. Ultimately? With the tax credit, the tankless version might cost $900 more per year. It will pay for itself in 9 years and last 11 years after that.
  7. Insulate your tank water heater and pipes. I have been putting this off, but for $20 you can buy a water heater blanket that keeps heat in the tank. (Our water heater is 4 years old, so replacing it doesn’t make sense at this point.) Insulate the pipes for bonus water and energy savings. Pipe insulation costs around $0.16 to $0.66 per foot. Tip for the not-so-plumbing-savvy: Measure your pipes first and get insulation that fits. Water pipes come in different diameters!
  8. Check if your utility offers rebates. Our utility company is subsidizing the cost of CFL bulbs (at various local retailers) and offering rebates for energy-efficient upgrades. For a tankless water heater, for instance, they will rebate $100 — which would take the payback period down to 8 years instead of 9 years.
  9. Rent, don’t buy. Check a site like Zilok, Craigslist.org or Kijiji to see if you can rent a tool you’ll need only once rather than buy. Check into local resources — I saw recently that a blog reader had checked out a Kill-a-Watt device from their local library to measure their electricity usage – what a great idea!

What am I up to?

Here’s what I plan to do to tighten up my own house some more:

  • As I mentioned, I vow to insulate my water heater.
  • Our dining room has a dimmer switch, rendering CFLs unusable. It’s the only place where we still have incandescent bulbs. And we don’t dim the lights. I will replace the switch with a standard switch so we can use CFLs here.
  • We purchased an energy-efficient pet door. But then we realized our old wood door is horribly inefficient. With the tax credits now available, we are hoping to install a new, energy-efficient entry door and put the dog door into that entryway.
  • Again, with the tax credits (10% of the cost of windows and doors), we would love to replace a very large picture window in our living room. It’s the only window that has not been updated from the original 1950 construction. Every year, we put plastic over it, but a new window would save heat in the winter and avoid burning us up with the death-ray-like light that it beams into our home in the summer.

How about you?

Do you have any ideas for home improvements? Maybe this weekend is a good time to start …

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10 thoughts on “9 money-saving home fix-ups

  1. SavvyChristine says:

    We recently put up new weatherstripping on our outside door. Of course, we had to open the door on the coldest day of the year to do it…but it was worth it. The door leaks much much less now. I’m waiting to see if our bill is going to be any lower because of it.

  2. erin says:

    Thanks for the list. With respect to #2, in Portland, OR, we were able to get a free leak / energy assessment through Earth Advantage. http://www.earthadvantage.com/. If you live here you should check it out. After the initial visit, my DH spent a little time weatherproofing and it made a big difference.

    We have had a dual flush toilet since 2003. They save water and they are great conversation pieces. No really. 😉

    I really need to buy a water heater blanket. Our water heater is in a very cold furnace room and $20 seems totally worth it.

    I run a sustainability network at work and I purchased a Kill-A-Watt meter for members to borrow. I haven’t done a good job of letting people know I have it but it is on my list.

  3. Condo Blues says:

    I felt a draft coming from under the closet doors I had on outside walls. I made and installed draft dogers on the insides of those doors. Also on the laundry and utilty room doors because there aren’t heating ducts in those rooms (which is typical.) I installed metal draft stoppers on the front and back doors too.

  4. Andrea says:

    Nice post! I’d like to add a comment regarding the dual flush conversion kit for existing toilets:

    A regular toilet is not designed to flush paper and solid waste with reduced amounts of water, so the likelihood of clogging or having to flush twice after installing a water displacement device increases. Standard US toilets clear the bowl with siphon technology, so the diameter of the trap way has to be a small as possible (please view siphon vs. washdown technology here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_z6pymOet7g&feature=channel_page.) If you are serious about saving water, want a toilet that really works and is affordable, I would highly recommend a Dual Flush toilet. Caroma toilets offer a patented dual flush technology consisting of a 0.8 Gal flush for liquid waste and a 1.6 Gal flush for solids. Caroma, an Australian company set the standard by giving the world its first successful two button dual flush system in the nineteen eighties and has since perfected the technology. Also, with a full 3.5” trap way, these toilets virtually never clog. All of Caroma’s toilets are on the list of WaterSense labeled HET’s http://www.epa.gov/watersense/pp/find_het.htm and also qualify for several rebate programs currently available throughout the US as well as LEED points. Please go to http://www.caromausa.com for more detailed information or visit http://www.ecotransitions.com/howto.asp to see how we flush a potato with the half flush (0.8 gallons), meant for liquid waste. To learn more about toilets you can also visit my blog http://pottygirl.wordpress.com/. Best regards, Andrea Paulinelli

  5. cheaplikeme says:

    @Nicole – They do, and I have them installed in my can lights in the basement. But the dining room uses standard-size light bulbs. I can buy standard CFL bulbs for $1 each, or dimmables for $10 each — and the new light switch and switchplate cost less than $4. So considering there are 5 bulbs in the fixture, changing the switch (did it in 15 minutes on Saturday!) and using regular CFLs cost $40 less at the outset than changing to dimmable CFLs.

  6. Ruth Tunick says:

    I can’t wait to try your bread recipe. Once upon a time I used to make bread from scratch and I’ve been thinking about doing it again. Your method sounds like a winner!
    Ruth

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