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When Cliff and Karen Tyllick set out to install solar panels on their Austin, Texas, home in 2012, their goal was to reduce their carbon footprint. The fact they also saved thousands of dollars upfront and lowered their bills was a nice bonus.
Solar panel installation can cost $15,000 to $25,000 or more. For the Tyllicks, federal and local incentives significantly cut their costs – they now frequently don’t pay for electricity, and when they do, it costs between $30 and $50 per month.
Whether you’re incorporating sustainability into your kitchen remodel or making specific changes to lower your utility bills, a green remodel doesn't have to be expensive. It can even save you money in the long term.
Here are tips for a budget-conscious, eco-friendly remodel.
'Building green' into your plans
Homeowners who plan to use a contractor for their remodel can find a certified green professional to help estimate the cost of the project and focus spending on plans and materials making the biggest impact on your home’s sustainability, says Tim Ellis, a CGP and co-owner of Maryland-based T.W. Ellis.
Search the National Association of Home Builders’ database for local builders with the CGP designation.
Ellis says he often starts large renovations with a home energy audit to highlight ways the home could be more energy-efficient. In some cities, the local utility company will do a low-cost or free audit, he says, and you may qualify for funding or rebates to implement the recommendations.
Recommendations might involve adding extra caulking or better insulation to seal up your home, Ellis says, which can lead to big savings.
If your energy bill is $600 and an audit shows you can save $200 per month, “you would be all about that because it’s almost a car payment,” Ellis says.
Tyllick says his home needed an audit in order for the city to subsidize part of his solar panel installation. At the time, the audit was free for the couple and triggered updates like fixing air leaks around doors and windows and adding more insulation in the attic, he says.
Buying and disposing sustainably
Shopping secondhand for furniture and building materials is an eco-friendly alternative to buying new, says Chloe Chapman, who manages special projects for Build It Green, a nonprofit helping homeowners navigate sustainable remodeling.
Well-made vintage items, for example, using salvaged or reclaimed wood won’t need to be replaced as often as lower-quality materials, she says.
“Typically, if something was made a long time ago, it was made to last so than a lot of products are made today,” Chapman says.
Even buying new items locally and shortening the supply chain can be a more sustainable choice than ordering from a big-box store.
Labels can be a helpful guide as you make purchases for your remodel, Chapman says. On wood materials, for example, look for a Forest Stewardship Council label indicating sustainable sourcing. A WaterSense label indicates a fixture or appliance is 20% more efficient than its average counterparts.
Efficient appliances and fixtures often cost the same as those without special labeling, says Ellis.
“It’s just a matter of taking the time to find that in the price you want to spend for a particular product, be it the faucet, be it the countertop, be it the flooring,” he says.
Rather than trashing the old items, he recommends recycling or donating. Organizations like Habitat for Humanity can pick up old furniture and building materials for free in some areas, while dumpster rental or junk removal can cost hundreds of dollars.
Putting money down upfront
Even with incentives from the government and your utility company, home renovations are still expensive.
Using your savings is the cheapest way to pay for a remodel, but financing options are available if you need them.
For homeowners with enough available equity, home equity loans or lines of credit have the lowest rates and long repayment terms.
If you don’t want to use the home as collateral for the project, personal loans can have low rates for borrowers with strong credit, and they’re typically funded in less than a week.