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Can you make your home more eco-friendly on a budget?

Green Living Pictures There are plenty of ways to make your home more eco-friendly on a budget, especially if you start small. See more pictures of green living.
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Many homeowners around the world want to reduce the energy consumption of their homes. The desire makes sense; reduced energy demands at home mean lower demand for the nonrenewable, C02-producing fossil fuels that run modern power plants. Since greater efficiency translates into lower gas and electric bills, some homeowners pursue eco-friendly upgrades with as much of an eye toward saving money as saving the planet. And in many communities, a home that features energy-efficient upgrades can command a higher selling price than its neighbors.

Eco-friendly upgrades aren't a complete win-win situation, however. As is often the case with new technology, some environmentally friendly home improvements are much more expensive than their traditional counterparts. In fact, some energy-saving appliances, if not chosen carefully, can cost you more than you'd save through their reduced energy use [source: Consumer Reports]. So how does a homeowner on a budget become more eco-friendly? There are a few key steps that can help.

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The most important step a homeowner can take toward making effective, affordable upgrades is to plan ahead. There's no point in spending money only on added insulation, for example, if your house's windows leak so much air that they render the insulation ineffective. Simple fixes, like sealing air leaks and installing insulation, can be extremely cost effective if they're done properly.

The best way to determine where you can earn the most eco-friendly bang for your buck is by conducting a home energy audit [source: Energy Savers]. Your budget may dictate whether you hire a professional to conduct this thorough inspection or you perform it yourself with guidance from resources like the U.S. Department of Energy. Either way, the audit will allow you to list your home's weakest points, which contribute to the majority of your home's lost energy. Fixing these problems first will generate the most savings in the shortest amount of time.

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Sealing air leaks around outlets is an easy eco-friendly improvement that anyone can make.
Sealing air leaks around outlets is an easy eco-friendly improvement that anyone can make.
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Depending on what you learn from your home energy audit, you may be able to save a significant amount of energy through a combination of DIY creativity and craftiness. If your doors and windows leak air, you may not be able to afford to replace them. But making or buying draft stoppers and sealing your windows can at least reduce the amount of energy you lose [sources: Efficient Windows Collaborative, Howard]. Likewise, you may be able to fix air leaks around electrical outlets and switches with handheld sealing tools and expandable sealant, without hiring a contractor to do the work.

The amount of work you can do yourself depends largely on your home-improvement skills, as with any home-improvement project. If you can install cabinets or build a deck, it's likely you can make a large number of eco-friendly improvements by yourself.

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If you have enough in your home-improvement budget to purchase new, more efficient windows, doors or appliances, you face a new challenge. Products -- even those touted as energy efficient -- vary widely in the amount of efficiency they provide over traditional products.

Thankfully, a number of resources can help you make sense of this sea of products. Most efficiency-boosting items, such as windows, insulation and even appliances, have ratings that can give you a sense of how much or how little energy they consume. Insulation products, for example, are measured by their R-value; the higher a product's R-value, the less heat it will transfer [source: U.S. Department of Energy]. Conversely, windows are rated by measurements of U-factor and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC); the lower these numbers, the more efficient the windows [source: Putnam].

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Water heaters, air conditioners and dishwashers all have their own efficiency measurements. Read up on what these measurements and values mean before you start shopping, and you'll be well prepared to strike a balance between the energy you wish to save and the budget that controls the extent of the home improvements you can make.

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Sources

  • Consumer Reports. "Tankless water heaters." October 2008. (Dec. 31, 2010)http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/appliances/heating-cooling-and-air/water-heaters/tankless-water-heaters/overview/tankless-water-heaters-ov.htm
  • Efficient Windows Collaborative. "Benefits: Energy & Cost Savings." (Dec 29, 2010)http://www.efficientwindows.org/energycosts.cfm
  • Efficient Windows Collaborative. "Weatherization Assistance." (Dec. 29, 2010)http://www.efficientwindows.org/weatherization.cfm
  • Energy Star. "Air Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR." (Dec. 28, 2010)http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_sealing
  • Energy Star. "ENERGY STAR Qualified Products." (Dec. 31, 2010)http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=find_a_product.
  • Howard, Brian Clark. "20 Adorable Draft Snakes Fight Chills." The Daily Green. (Dec. 29, 2010)http://www.thedailygreen.com/green-homes/latest/door-draft-stoppers-draft-snakes-460109
  • Putnam, David. "WINDOWS: U-Factor, Solar Heat Gain Coefficient…what does it all mean?!" GetWithGreen.com. June 13, 2008. (Dec. 29, 2010)http://www.getwithgreen.com/2008/06/13/windows-u-factor-solar-heat-gain-coefficientwhat-does-it-all-mean/#hide
  • U.S. Department of Energy. "Insulation Fact Sheet." 2008. (Dec. 25, 2010)http://www.ornl.gov/sci/roofs+walls/insulation/ins_01.html
  • U.S. Department of Energy. "Your Home's Energy Use." (Dec. 27, 2010)http://www.energysavers.gov/tips/home_energy.cfm

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