When Shelley Dunbar set out to build a new four-bedroom home outside of Boulder, Co. she had one goal in mind: "To be off the grid; to be carbon neutral," as she puts it.
At 4,800 square feet of house, that took some doing. The house required 48 solar panels for electricity, special energy efficient panels for insulation and seven wells for geothermal heating and cooling. The added cost for going green? About $200,000 ($40,000 of which will be refunded through a government-funded rebate program.)
"Hopefully, we won’t ever be dependent on fossil fuels to heat our home," says Dunbar, a former professional rock climber, who located her outdoor and travel accessories company, Sea To Summit, within the city limits so employees could bike to work. "My primary interest is doing right by the planet."
Shelly and husband Andrew plan to occupy their house later this summer and estimate it’ll take 14 years to break even on their solar and geothermal investment. "It’s not so bad considering this is our dream home and we plan to have this house for the rest of our lives," says Dunbar, noting she hopes to see more eco-friendly homes in her community soon. "I have the will and I’m lucky enough to have the money to be able to afford to do this, but it is expensive."
Not to worry, says Jessica Jenson, CEO of the consumer website lowimpactliving.com. There’s plenty homeowners can do to reduce energy consumption –and reduce their monthly utility bills -- without breaking the bank.
"I think a lot of people get it stuck in their minds that they have to go solar to have an impact and at $20,000 to $30,000 [for a solar powered electrical system] that’s cost prohibitive to many people," she says. "It doesn’t have to be expensive."
Heat And Hot Water
For example, it doesn’t cost a thing to simply turn down your water heater’s thermostat setting. "Most people run their water heater too high anyway," says Jensen.
Most homeowners should keep their water heater at about 120 degrees, she says. If you have a high, medium and low settings, keep it on medium. "If it’s any hotter, you end up mixing it with cold water anyway so it makes sense to just lower the temperature," says Jensen.
For each ten-degree reduction in water temperature, you’ll save between 3 percent and 5 percent in energy costs, according to the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) online consumer’s guide from the Department of Energy.
And don’t forget the outside of your water heater either. A simple insulation blanket costs just $10 to $20 and can reduce standby heat losses by up to 45 percent, saving you up to 9 percent a year in water heating costs.
Why spend money heating or cooling your home when you’re at work or gone for the weekend?
For a one-time cost of about $300, you can purchase a programmable thermostat. It adjusts your home’s temperature using preset information that triggers your system to turn on just before you get home so the house feels comfortable.
The Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing, a volunteer group of homebuilders, product manufacturers and federal housing agencies, notes you’ll offset the cost of the thermostat in one to two years through savings on your energy bill.
By setting your thermostat to 78 degrees or higher in the summer and 62 degrees or lower when you’re not at home, it notes, you’ll save roughly 10 percent a year in energy costs.