5 Home Upgrades That Can End Up Paying for Themselves

published Nov 1, 2018
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(Image credit: Liz Calka)

When you think of home upgrades that can save you money over time, are you imagining hefty investments like solar-powered roofs and native landscaping? Those projects certainly are the green goddesses in eco-friendly renovations. But, when it comes to upgrades, there are several smaller features that, over time, can pay for themselves, too—and they’re a lot easier to incorporate into your home.

What we’re getting at? It’s not entirely a “go big or go home” situation if you want to make some eco- (and wallet) friendly upgrades.

Ready to make your home more efficient? Here, some simple steps to do just that, plus five hard-working appliances and home features that will pay for themselves over time.

For starters, try these energy-saving tips

First things first: If you’ve got an unusually high energy bill, it might be time to do a home energy audit and zero in on your old energy-hogging appliances, explains Allen Michael, the editor of SawsHub.com, a website focused on DIY tips and tricks.

Michael suggests upgrading your aging appliances, starting with the fridge and dryer, and investing in efficient Energy Star-certified appliances. Adding insulation to your attic and regularly swapping out your ventilation filters are simple fixes that will save money on your energy bill.

Another tip? Make sure your outdoor unit is clear of debris, like weeds, leaves, plants, or trash, says Richard Ciresi, franchise owner of HVAC service provider Aire Serv in Louisville, Kentucky. He suggests using a soft broom to remove debris then a hose to wash off the condensing unit. Blocked airflow reduces the efficiency of your heating and cooling systems.

Now, here are five home appliances and features that can help make your home more efficient and save you some cash

1. A home energy monitor

(Image credit: Sense)

How does it work? Think of this as a fitness tracker, but for your home. Sense lets you set goals to reduce energy use and make your home more efficient. You install it to your electrical panel and it senses the electrical signals of devices that are plugged in throughout your home. If you’ve got a DVR, for example, it’s probably sucking up more energy than you’d expect—even when it’s in power-saving mode.

Cost: $299

What it can save you: A pilot study by Vermont’s public utility commission found an eight percent savings in the first six months, which translates into an average annual savings of $100 per household.

2. A smart thermostat

(Image credit: Amazon)

How does it work? The latest Nest thermostat gets to know you and your temperature profile. For example, it will cool your home to 68 degrees at bedtime (or whatever temp you like to catch zzz’s in), but work its way up to an ideal temperature by the time your alarm goes off. That way, you’re not too cold when you lift up the covers. When you’re away at work, it will make sure you’re not wasting energy heating an empty home. It takes about 30 minutes to install.

Cost: The Nest Learning Thermostat is $249. But, you can get a more basic version, the Nest Thermostat E, for $169.

What it can save you: Nest says studies (both sponsored and independent) have shown that their products can save people 10 to 12 percent on heating bills and 15 percent on cooling bills. That could translate to $131 to $145 per year.

3. A smart power strip

(Image credit: Amazon)

How does it work? Your TV, computer, streaming devices, and other appliances and electronics are known as “energy vampires” because they suck energy even when they’re not in use. An easy fix? Using a smart power strip that can turn off these devices when they’re not in use. This particular power strip can be scheduled to turn off and on at a certain time. It can also sync up with Alexa and Google Home so that you can turn on, say, your coffee maker each morning with your voice. There are lots of smart power strips on the market, including some that can be turned off and on with a flip of a switch.

Cost: $55

What it can save you: Energy vampires can cost households $100 a year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In fact, they account for five to 10 percent of residential energy use, so you can start zapping a good deal of those costs with a smart power strip.

4. LED lighting

(Image credit: GE)

The product: There are all kinds of LED light bulbs on the market. These LED bulbs from GE, though, dial up some vintage charm.

How does it work? In a nutshell, they use far less energy and last much longer than traditional lighting options. Typically, they use anywhere from 25 to 80 percent less energy than incandescents and can last three to 25 times longer, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. However, people have been slow to implement this tech in their homes because when LED lights first came on to the market, they were expensive. That’s changed—in 2013, the costs began to plummet. We’re talking an 85 percent price drop in a five-year span. Now that they’re affordable, they’re easy to find and come in a variety of styles.

Cost: The cost of light bulbs vary, but since they are more expensive than traditional bulbs, you could start by replacing the five lights that you use the most.

What it can save you: If you’ve got 20 light bulbs in your house, you can save at least $1,000 in a decade by using LED bulbs instead of traditional incandescent or halogen bulbs, according to an analysis from the Consumer Federation of America.

5. Water-saving showerheads

(Image credit: Amazon)

The product: There are dozens of showerheads on the market. But when you’re replacing yours, look for one with a WaterSense label. While a standard showerhead uses 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm), these water-saving devices use no more than 2gpm.

How does it work? A water-saving shower reduces the gallons per minute used by your showerhead, so it saves you on your water bill. But savings don’t stop there. A more efficient showerhead can also can help trim your energy bill because you won’t be heating as much water for your showers. It’s also an easy DIY project: Here’s our guide on how to replace yours.

Cost: You can find WaterSense-certified showerheads beginning at under $10.

What it can save you: You can use this calculator from the Environmental Protection Agency to figure out how much money you can save on your water bill. For example, if you’re a two-person household and use electricity to heat your water, you can save $63 per year on utility bills.