Other Home Improvements for a Sustainable, Energy-Efficient House

In the previous article, we discussed solar panels and how you can use them to turn your house into a sustainable, self-sufficient property. The prices of solar panels and supporting hardware are becoming more affordable by the day, which is why it is even more appealing to invest in a good solar panel system for your house.

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Solar panels aren’t the only upgrade to add in order to make your property more energy efficient and sustainable. There are other great home improvements to consider, and we are going to look into them in this article.

LED Lights

LED lights are among the best things to pick up if you want to boost your house’s energy efficiency. They consume much less power than conventional bulbs and investing in them will immediately lower your energy bills. LED bulbs are up to 80% more efficient than CFLs and neon lights. The cost of LED lights is also much more affordable than it used to.

This is a home improvement that practically pays for itself. You may have to pay for the LED lights yourself at the beginning, but you can expect to save a lot on your electricity bill that the savings will cover the purchase in just a few months.

Energy Efficient Windows

The cost of heating and cooling the interior of your house is usually the major part of your energy bills. Changing the interior temperature to the right level is even more expensive when you have cracked windows and bad insulation.

Investing in energy efficient windows is the first step towards solving that problem. Once you get the windows installed, you will find cooling or heating your house to be a lot easier and much more affordable. You can also add additional window treatments to boost energy efficiency even further.

Insulation Upgrades

Upgrading your home’s insulation is the next thing to do. Aside from wall insulation, it is also important to look into ducts, especially if you use central heating and cooling. According to the EPA, a fifth of the air forced through ducts in residential properties leaks. This results in poor energy efficiency.

Similar to the previous home upgrades we discussed, insulation for pipes and ducts is much improved and very affordable these days. Skipping this step would be a mistake, especially if the goal is to make your house more energy efficient in the long run.

A Smarter Home

Last but certainly not least, consider turning your property into a smart home. Use a programmable thermostat and install a smart home hub such as Google Home to further improve energy efficiency. These smart devices can be remotely controlled and programmed for maximum efficiency.

With a smart thermostat installed, for instance, you can have the interior of the house kept at a comfortable temperature just 30 minutes before you arrive home after work instead of all day long. Imagine the amount of money you can save from this feature alone.

Paired with solar panels and clean energy, these home improvement options are even more valuable. The next time you want to upgrade your property, consider the improvements we covered in this article to get started.

Are Falling House Prices Really a Bad Thing?

Falling home prices are usually reported with all the doom and gloom expected of a smallpox outbreak. Yes, lower prices do decrease the wealth of homeowners as they lose equity in their property. That decrease in wealth can take its toll on consumer confidence and spending, and even the creation of new businesses. However, there are definitely some positive benefits of falling home prices in the marketplace.

  • Reduction in inflation: Falling home prices typically reduce inflationary pressure on the economy. This will keep prices in check for homes as well as consumer goods, autos, and even groceries.
  • Lowered interest rates: As prices for homes fall, and inflation lowers, the MPC can consider reducing interest rates in an attempt to stir the economy. History has shown that lowering interest rates does get the market moving again.
  • Homeowners can save by refinancing at lower rates: Lowered rates can help homeowners with equity to save on their mortgage payments by refinancing at the lowered interest rates.
  • Increases in home sales: Falling home prices can make them more attractive to potential buyers. Who does not love a bargain, after all? Of course, increasing home sales will help stabilize the falling home prices as well. In states like California and New York while it’s true that the prices tend to be on the higher side compared to other states, if you consult with a California mortgage broker or one in New York, to give you an example, they can better help you find these bargains as they know more about the real estate in their own areas.
  • First time buyers will qualify more easily: Many of those shopping for their first home will be better able to afford a property with falling prices. Where they may not have qualified for a mortgage in the past, they may now. The percentage a bank is willing to lend takes into account the applicant’s income, which is generally less for younger borrowers.
  • Renters may buy homes: In addition to first time buyers, renters might move to buy a home as prices come down, making homeownership more attractive than renting to them.
  • More people will qualify for mortgage loans: As prices and interest rates are lowered, many more people will be able to purchase a home. Lenders use a potential borrower’s debt to income ratios and a mortgage affordability calculator to figure out how much a borrower can afford to pay back. With lowered rates, a borrower will be able to afford a higher priced home. If you want to see how much you can afford, check out this mortgage calculator for details.

More affordable housing helps public sector staffing: When housing is not affordable in certain areas, the effect is to cause shortages of teachers, nurses and police officers in those areas, which in turn makes the local economy worse. Some areas have even turned to immigration to fill those jobs, which is not an ideal situation.

Falling house price points are definitely not all negative, as you can see. In fact, it just might stir up the economy and help many people own homes that had given up on that dream. Currently, the banks are in a position where they are now returning to lending levels that are similar to those that pre-date the global financial crash of 2008. The opportunities available to those who are in the house market are currently at their greatest abundance for 8 years. Are we going to see first time buyers taking advantage of this?

Through the Looking Glass: At What Price Point Would You Get a Loan for Windows

The other morning as I was finishing up my run, I noticed someone a few blocks away from our house had gotten new windows.  Though I didn’t check the windows on the back of the house, I was able to see all 3 sides and would guess that they replaced every window on the upper level of the house.  It was at least 6 windows, with 2 of them being rather large.  The windows still had the brand sticker on them, and I recognized the brand as a pretty energy efficient window.  I immediately thought back to the time that H and I had someone come out and give us an estimate on new windows in our house.

If you dont recall, we got a quote for a window in the bathroom, and it was about 10x more than the window that we ended up installing.  The product, however, was impressive.  Far more energy efficient than our current windows and still better than the new one.  At the time though, we were just tired of tossing money into the bathroom and opted for the not as good (but still far better) cheaper window.

The next thing I wondered was what it would take me to take out a loan to replace the windows in our house.  I’d guess it’d cost somewhere around $8,000 to replace all 21 windows upstairs.  Clearly, that’s no small number.  However, our most recent heating bill came for december (we were gone for 9 days) and it was almost $200 dollars!  We knew that we had a terribly inefficient house, but were not sure how much it would cost us on a monthly basis to heat and keep sorta warm (H and my parents say that the 65 degrees we keep the house at is ‘freezing’).  Using the december numbers as a barometer, we are on track to spend around $1,000 on energy costs this winter.  That is a lot of money – clearly more than we’d like to pay.  Even more so because we know the house has 0 insulation (except in the bathroom, which we put in) and most of what we pay to heat is flowing right out the door and window gaps.

Even though I’m against debt in the majority of situations, interest rates are low right now.  I’d guess that we can get a loan for this sort of thing for around 5%, if not less.  We would obviously be on the hook for the interest and be chained to the debt, but once we got the windows installed, we’d start seeing immediate savings in the form of lower energy bills.  If the rate and the terms were right, this could turn out to be a cash flow positive deal (at least in the winter time).

Not only could we save money on our energy bill immediately as opposed to waiting until we saved up the cash to replace the windows, we’d also make this house a lot more sustainable.  Right now, we are wasting an obscene amount energy because our house is so inefficient – a loan for new windows would curtail that amount heavily.  Of course, it wouldnt get rid of the waste all together, but it would go a long way.  The one question is, what sort of price are we willing to put on the amount of good that we are doing for the earth?  This is something that we talked about with the washing machines, and our bill has gone down by about $10/month since we put the new ones in.  This though, isn’t an almost $8,000 purchase, those cost just over $1,100 for both.

Of course, I’d need to run some actual numbers and see how much we’d save over the year and what sort of interest rate we’d get (I think there’s a federal program that gives loans for energy efficient home upgrades, but I dont remember).  Once I knew the exact numbers, it would be a lot easier to make a decision.  Until then though, there’s always speculation.

If we’d save money overall for the year (though we may not save money every month) I’d be for it.  Obviously, this would require a rather large energy savings and a small interest rate, but it could be done.  At the break even point or even if it cost us $100 or less for the year overall, I’d probably still consider it.  However, I think if we ended up paying more than $250 per year (over and above energy savings) for our impatience, I wouldnt do it.  Obviously, savings rates are impossibly low and aren’t going to help us at all.

Readers: Have you ever thought about this?  At what price point would you upgrade whatever it is, and at what point would you just wait and save your money?  This will only work for huge wins like new windows, and wouldnt even matter for many smaller energy efficiency upgrades.  

 

When to DIY

While i’m honeymooning with H on the other side of the world, I’ve got a few posts lined up.  Some serious, and some not.  I hope you enjoy, and I’ll respond to comments, etc when I get back!

As you all know, recently H and I bought a house and have begun extensive renovations, which basically went like this:

  1. Tear some stuff we dont like down
  2. Find huge problem that prevents us from refinishing the way we want
  3. Completely gut said room
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 in a different room
  5. Repeat step 4
  6. Rebuild portions of said rooms, concurrently

It was basically like taking all of your projects in your hands and tossing everything up into the air – needless to say, I have now realized that we took on way too much at 1 time, and should have gone room by room, which would have allowed us to focus on 1 room until it was completed, instead of bouncing around to whatever room (or project) we felt like working on that weekend.  We are now just 2 days away from the first project being finished: rewiring of the upstairs portion of the house.  This is a huge deal and something that I knew that I wouldnt be able to do myself in its entirety.

Knowing that, H and I decided that we would do as much ourselves as possible (which, after talking with the guy that came out to bid on the project, said would have cost me $12,000!!! to have them do it), and then call an electrician to finish the rest.  I’ve finally gotten to a point where I could call the electrician, after doing as much as possible myself and leaving the last of the things that I didnt want to screw with because they were outside my comfort zone or were just going to be exponentially more difficult than what I’ve done so far, so I figured I’d pay them to do it (also, I didnt have the tools).  So, I had an electrician come out and give me a bid for a service upgrade (where they replace the circuit breaker box with a larger one) and to run wires from the attic to 2 outlets, one in the kitchen that I tried to run, and one in the bedroom where I couldnt even get into the spot where the hole needed to be drilled.

We got his estimate back, and it would have cost 320 for him to run wire to both of those outlets.  Not too bad I thought, and after spending almost 2+ hours on just 1 of them a few weeks ago, I figured I’d go ahead and let them do it.  On a trip to lowes though, I saw a 54″ flexible drill bit (which would have been exactly what I needed to do the job) for about 30 bucks.  Immediately, the wheels started turning.  Think of how much money I could save – I’d spend 30 bucks now, and I could not pay 320 later!  I know I’d probably only use this just this 1 time (or maybe if I helped some friends) but still, that’s worth it, right?  It’s at least worth a shot!  So, I bought it.

I had already started writing this post in my head- it went something like “I spent 30 bucks, 2 hours and saved 300 bucks”.  Of course, my daydreams and reality rarely are in sync, and this time was no different.  I started out drilling a hole really quickly before H started painting from the outlet hole up into the ceiling.  I had to move on to floor stuff right after that, and didnt have a chance to check until later, so I went to the attic, had H shine the flashlight up the hole and went looking for the beam of light that was passing through – I couldnt find it.  I let it go for a night, and the next night I went into the attic with the long drill bit and started to drill a hole towards the outlet from the top, hoping I could just drop the wire down that way (which is how I did all of the others).

This is where things started to go sideways on me.  All of the sudden, the drill starts turning and turning and I realized that the drill bit is stuck – somewhere– in the wall.  I dont exactly know, but I even though this wall was covered up, I knew that there was a stack of 2×4’s about 18″ below where I was drilling from, so I figured that it was somewhere in that area.  I tried for about 30 minutes to get it unstuck, and then realized that it wasn’t happening.  My quick tactic to save a few bucks was going downhill in a hurry.  So, to get my drill bit out, I needed to find the drill bit – and to do this, I used the simple tactic of knocking a hole in the wall where I thought it was, and then sticking my hand in there.  I eventually found it, but then realized how stuck it actually was.

Long story short, it took me 4 hours to get that drill bit unstuck, and in the process, I broke about an inch off the drill bit, put a hole in 2 separate walls (including a wall in the “room from hell“), burned my forearm with the drill bit 3 different times, and carried on a monologue that would have made a sailor blush.

After finally getting the drill unstuck about 1030 pm, I wondered if, even after wasting 4 hours on that, it was still worth my time – though it was much more of a wash than it would have been had everything gone smoothly.  Had this taken 30 min like I expected it would, I would have come out of this smelling like a rose.

Readers: do you ever try your hand at DIY tasks?  If you do, what is your cut-off limit for when you just call a professional?  Have you been in a situation where you’ve gotten a bid from a pro, then decided to do it yourself anyway?