Save On Utilities By Spending More On Your Home

Saving by spending is not as counterintuitive as it sounds when it comes to home improvements. Though energy-saving improvements can cost more upfront, savings are eventually realized as lower utility bills. Kiplinger put together a nifty list to help determine how long it takes to recoup the extra amount spent on energy-efficient improvements:

•Programmable thermostat: Add’l Cost – $40; Annual Savings – $100; Payback – 5 months
•Compact fluorescent bulbs: Add’l Cost – $30; Annual Savings – $50; Payback – 7 months
•Furnace: Add’l Cost – $500; Annual Savings – $400; Payback – 1 year, 4 months
•Clothes washer: Add’l Cost – $300; Annual Savings – $50; Payback – 6 years
•New windows: Add’l Cost – $600; Annual Savings – $90; Payback -6 years, 6 months
•Central air conditioner: Add’l Cost – $400; Annual Savings – $35; Payback – 11 years, 5 months

Your Energy Crisis Solved [Kiplingers via Free Money Finance]
(Photo: Ben Beltran)

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  1. mantari says:

    Apologies. Either this guy is on crack, or I don’t understand his numbers. A new furnace, $500? A new central air conditoin? $400?

    I’m not sure what planet he’s living on, but I’d love to join him!

  2. Bulldog9908 says:

    This is a case where you need to RTFA (Read The F’n Article). The costs listed is the difference in cost between “standard” replacements and more energy efficient replacements.

    So, if you have a furnace go bad, it makes sense to replace it with a more expensive, more efficient model because you’ll make your money back. However, if your furnace is running just fine, don’t bother, it’ll take decades to make back the money.

    The snippet of the article posted here is very misleading. I suggest someone edit it.

  3. ord2fra says:

    I just put in a new furnace and AC. 60K gas furnace with 2 ton AC: $3500. Original unit was made in 1984 so it was horribly inefficient. Adds value to the house and estimate that energy requirements will be 30% less.

  4. DojiStar says:

    Bought a compact flourecent bulb yesterday. Cost me $1.

    I look forward to my massive energy savings on my next electric bill.

    And people accuse me of not being green.

  5. spanky says:

    I don’t know what a regular incandescent lightbulb costs (that’s a stupid thing for me not to know), but at two different Costcos, I’ve seen CFLs for less than $11 an 8-pack of 60W equivalents. They were different brands, too, which makes me think maybe this is a Costco universal or something.

    So that might eliminate some, if not all, of the price difference for CFLs.

  6. j-o-h-n says:

    Our furnace was installed in 1962 and it is hardly the most efficient thing on the planet but I refuse to get a new one because (and *please* correct me if I am wrong!) there is no way to just buy a furnace and install it yourself — you have to pay through the nose to have an approved dealer do it.

    I’ve done gas work, I’ve done duct work, I’ve done all manner of electrical work. I’m a degreed engineer for goodness sakes. I can easily handle the job. Still, no dice. Sigh.

  7. FLConsumer says:

    I’m wondering where he’s getting the furnace & AC numbers from as well and why his payoff is so slow with those numbers being so low. Likewise, $300 for an efficient washer isn’t exactly reasonable either, look at spending 2-3x that much for a good washer. I also don’t know where you’d find a quality programmable thermostat for less than $80.

    Just changed out my 2-ton AC/heat pump here last month, $8500. Certainly not $400. That said, the energy savings of changing out my AC are going to pay for the system in 2 years. From that point forward is money back in my pocket, not to mention it’s dead silent.

    The article misses some of the biggest savings — insulation and weather stripping. Sealing the gaps around electrical boxes, along baseboards, gaps between air vent boots (the metal boxes behind the metal grilles), etc. will give you the best bang for the buck and are cheap & easy to implement.

  8. FLConsumer says:

    @j-o-h-n: The reason I had to just spend $8500 to replace my entire AC/heat pump system was because the previous homeowner thought they could do it all themselves–

    Yeah, right. Their “handiwork” almost doubled the cost to replace the system. It was best (and cheapest) to just rip out everything (including ductwork, which the previous homeowner had hacked to hell in an effort to make “improvements”) and start from scratch.

    While HVAC isn’t my field, I do HVAC design & engineering for recording studios, so this wasn’t a matter of a contractor coming in and ass-raping me for a whole new system. I knew from the moment I first saw the AC system and heard it run that major work was going to be required, very possibly a total gut. The system’s performance and resulting $350-400/mo electric bills confirmed & condemned it.

    My new systems costs me ~$0.75/day to cool my home to 75F, 43%RH on a 95F day. So I’m spending a “whopping” $22/month for air conditioning.

    Total electric bill ended up running $47 last month due to a $10 “customer charge” for being connected to the power lines, 13% taxes, a smallish server farm, and by-far the biggest energy guzzler in my home — 100% electric water heating. Even with the most efficient tankless water heater I can get my hands on, it’s still costing me $0.03/minute for every minute I use hot water.

    As a side note, I just picked up one of these little guys last week:



    Best $140 I’ve spent in awhile. Instant feedback on your energy usage along with a running counter of energy used (and $ spent) for the billing cycle. User manual can be found here:
    [www.theenergydetective.com”>http://www.powermeterstore.com/crm_uploads/ted_1000_instruction_-_web.pdf”>[www.theenergydetective.com

    Best $140 I've spent in awhile. Instant feedback on your energy usage along with a running counter of energy used (and $ spent) for the billing cycle. User manual can be found here: http:]

  9. FLConsumer says:

    Hmm… that didn’t work right, link in the above post goes to the user manual, product page is here:
    [www.theenergydetective.com]

  10. j-o-h-n says:

    @FLConsumer: There are terrible jobs done by ‘pros’ and homeowners alike. The previous owner of our house had a knack for hiring the least competent company available. The HVAC contractor kindly left a sticker on their work so I would know to never call them for anything — their work was a festival of NEC violations — everything from no external shutoff for the A/C compressor to running the low voltage wire for the thermostat in the same conduit as the 220.

    FYI, it’s not as fancy, (though far cheaper than your device), but this one [www.thinkgeek.com]
    is great for finding out how much power individual items in your house use.

  11. tadowguy says:

    @j-o-h-n:

    We have a gas furnace and it was not expensive to install, not compared to A/C anyway. We went from a 17 year old furnace that was 60% efficient to a new one that was 80% efficient. It should pay off in under 5 years (we live in a “heating dominated” climate) or whatever you call that.

    The entire thing, new furnace, new A/C, installation, electrical work, humidifier, was abour $4500. The furnace portion was under $1500.

    You can also buy 90%+ efficient furnaces, but the price versus savings makes them more difficult to pay-off.

    Think about this, would you have a TV from 1962 in your house? A phone? A car? (okay, maybe the car would be cool).

  12. tadowguy says:

    This is my 2nd year in a row of lowering both my electricity and natural gas bills, despite natural gas prices substantially rising in Colorado. Here’s what I did:

    New windows – almost $11k, old wood ones were rotting, so I didn’t have a choice. There is (was?) a federal tax deduction of a couple hundred bucks for this.

    Weather stripping around doors where I could see light shining through, including all outside doors.

    Insulating around outlets. You can buy a 10-pack of foam outlet insulation things for about $1.50.

    Buying a clothes drying rack. In a state with practically no humidity, why not?

  13. ord2fra says:

    I have a programmable thermostat, but I have no idea what the ideal temps are. What I mean by that is how high should the “away” settings be to be efficient?

    Our home is comfortable cooled to 77 degrees. On the “away” setting, if I set it for say 85, it then has to work like crazy to cool down to 77 when we return. I’d love to have an “auto” setting with an external temp probe, so that it’s 77 when I’m home, and whatever the most efficient away setting is based on outside temps.

    Also the thing that bugs me about programmable thermostats is the time and temp. If I say 4pm/77 degrees, it does NOT mean “be AT 77 at 4pm”, it merely starts to cool at 4pm, no earlier. At 4:01pm, it’s still the “away” temp in the house, and working to get down to 77. Why not tell the thermostat “I want the house at 77 degrees at 4pm. You figure out how to make that happen”.

    Hey consumerist, how about a “How to set your thermostat” thread?

  14. j-o-h-n says:

    @ord2fra: With a little experimentation you should be able to figure out how long it typicaly takes your AC to get from 85 to 77 and then set your thermostat to start in advance of your arrival. So if starting at 4pm it takes until 6pm to reach 77, then you know that starting it at around 2pm will have your house pretty close to 77 by 4pm.

  15. FLConsumer says:

    I know it’s against code, but I’d rather see control wires in conduit, even if that means with high voltage, rather than out in the open where weedwackers, sunlight, dogs, and other creatures can damage them. Ideally they run 2 conduits to the condensing unit, one for control, one for power (which is what was done with my system).

    I actually do have a couple of the Kill-a-Watt meters. If you poke around the ‘net, you can occasionally find them for $15-$20. Very useful, but doesn’t measure/keep track of 240v appliances. I find them useful for measuring individual appliances, while the T.E.D. is more like a speedometer for the whole house — quite a good one actually. I have it centrally located and have made a habit of looking at the screen before I retire to bed or leave the house. I know house’s idle draw (mainly my server farm) is supposed to be and know immediately if I’ve left something on or if something in the ‘farm isn’t right by the watts currently being consumed.


    ORD2FRA: If you bought a quality, contractor-grade thermostat rather than some Homeless Despot crap, it WOULD make sure that it’s exactly 77F by 4pm and would automatically figure out how long it takes the house & AC equipment to get to temperature. The better thermostats also monitor conditions and are able to determine what an appropriate recovery rate is based on those conditions. If it’s a cloudy, overcast day, it obviously doesn’t need to start 3 hours in advance to bring the temperature down. Likewise, if it’s the hottest day of the year, it’s not going to let the interior get up to 85F because it knows it’ll never recover in time.

    I personally would recommend the Honeywell VisionPro 8000 series (8110 if you have straight heating & cooling, 8320 if you have multistage heating & cooling or dual fuel) or the Honeywell VisionPro IAQ if you have a variable speed blower. The IAQ can respond to humidity and also can control “fancy” add-ons like humidifiers/dehumidifiers/ERVs/etc. As an added bonus, the IAQ model only needs 3 wires between the wall location and furnace. The IAQ is also dead silent inside your home — No relays whatsoever at the thermostat itself.

    I had the VisionPro 8321 (multistage, limited humidity control) for the past 2 years and really liked it. Always comfortable inside and it never missed the temperature on the recovery. When I moved, I took it with me. Even ‘though it got saddled to a dying, absolute POS Goodman heat pump, it still was able to compensate for it.

    Now I’m running a top-of-the-line Carrier system with their proprietary commercial controls. Worth every penny. I always thought it was dumb that a $12,000 car had AC with multiple blower speeds, but home ACs didn’t. Carrier answered my wish. The system goes between 14 different fan speeds based on indoor & outdoor temperature & humidity conditions.

  16. FLConsumer says:

    More info on the Honeywell thermostats:
    [www.hotfreshcool.com]

  17. Onouris says:

    Um, have you only just realised that getting Energy Efficient appliances actually saves money?

  18. mac-phisto says:

    i’ve been hearing a lot of flack about programmable thermostats lately. evidently, they can cause extensive wear to your heating & cooling units. can anyone else substantiate this or is it just ppl talking out their ass?

  19. FLConsumer says:

    @mac-phisto: It’s people talking out of their ass. Longer runtimes (like an AC system catching up after it’s been off during the day) are better for the equipment than frequent cycling. Starting a motor is the hardest thing you can do to it. Additionally, the compressors in most of the resdiential AC systems out there are the “reciprocating” type, and have pistons & camshafts just like your automotive engines. Just like your car engine, these compressors use oil, which circulates in the freon lines. Also similar to your car engine, when you start it, the oil takes a few seconds to start flowing and fully lubricate the compressor parts.

    Longer runtimes are “the future” of air conditioning. In Europe & Japan, many new air conditioners are either inverter-driven or have variable frequency drives. What this means is they can change the speed of the compressor, thus change the amount of cooling produced. The idea is that the AC system will run near-constantly and just adjust the speed up or down to match the heat load of the house. This goes in on large buildings in the USA, but so far it hasn’t trickled down to residential…yet. The manufacturers are working on it as another way to gain efficiency. Expect these units to be commonplace in the US in the next 5-10 years.

  20. Nytmare says:

    I think I have 6 thermostats in my house, one for each room. Would programmables work here, or are they meant for single-thermostat homes?

  21. mac-phisto says:

    @nytmare: they would definitely work – in fact that is where they’re most efficient. i have 3 zones & time them according to when each zone is used the most. their method of controlling isn’t dissimilar to a regular thermostat; they are just more precise & offer the added ability to program.

    nevertheless, you may want an electrician to install them for you.

  22. FLConsumer says:

    Nytmare: Get ahold of an HVAC contractor there — if you have that many thermostats in one home, they may require special thermostats to replace them.