How To Go Green in Hard Times Green Without the Green

 Saving money by going green sounds great, but who has that initial capital in  these tough economic times? The average person may not be able to afford a hybrid car or a solar panel  array, however, there are many energy-saving changes you can make that are  relatively inexpensive and have a fast return on investment. Below are ten strategies for cutting your utility bills and reducing your carbon  footprint that have a payback period of less than two years.  

 1. Air Filters;  Cost: $0 to $10

 Payback: Immediate to less than 1 year

 Cleaning or replacing the air filters of your cooling system or air conditioning  unit allows the air to pass through easily and efficiently. When the air filter gets dirty, the system has to work harder to push the air  through, using additional energy. Window unit filters can be wiped clean and central system filters cost about $10  each. Keeping the air filter clean saves about 7 percent in electricity costs a year  making their payback period less than a year. Better yet, cleaning the air filter of a window unit costs nothing and can save  about $20 per year.  

 2. Low Flow Fixtures:

 Cost:    $2 to $30

 Payback: Immediate to a few months

 Low flow fixtures, including shower heads, faucets and aerators, reduce the  volume of water used, thereby reducing the amount spent on water and on the  electricity or gas used to heat that water. Cheap to buy and simple to install,  low flow water fixtures have a payback that is almost immediate.  

 3. Compact Fluorescent Lights:

 Cost:    $3 per bulb

 Payback: 3 to 8 months depending on usage

 Compact fluorescent lights are bulbs that use 75 percent less energy than  regular bulbs and last 6 to 12 times longer. Replacing regular lights with CFLs  can be the cheapest and most effective way to get big savings on energy bills.  

 4. Window Treatments:

 Cost:    $5 to $150

 Payback: Less than 1 year to 4 years

 Window treatments, such as shades, blinds and curtains, can cut cooling bills in  summer and heating bills in winter. They block sunlight, reducing the need for air conditioning in the summer and  serve as added insulation in the winter. Even inexpensive window treatments can reduce cooling costs by 6 percent. Depending on the type and location, the payback will be from just under a year  to almost four years.  

 5. Sealing Air Leaks:

 Cost: $20 per door and $10 per window

 Payback: 2 to 3 years

 Sealing air leaks means filling in the gaps around windows, doors and air ducts  so that heat cannot escape in cold months and cool air is not lost in hot  months. Weather stripping goes under and around external doors. Caulk can be inserted  between window frames and the building’s siding. Sealing heating and cooling ducts can be more complex and may require the help  of a HVAC professional. This may cost from $100 to $300 depending on the size  of the building, but payback is generally between two and three years.  

 6. Lighting Motion Sensors:

 Cost:     $50 to $60

 Payback: Less than 1 year  

 Motion sensors automatically turn off lights when an area is not occupied. Offering high-energy savings in a home, this technology is especially useful  when installed outdoors. Most porch lights have built in sensors and cost about $50 to $60. Replacing a normal light with a motion sensor light will save about 54  kilowatt-hours a month, which translates to about of $10 of electricity bill  savings and a 6 month return on investment.  

 7. Programmable Thermostats:

 Cost: $50 to $150

 Payback: About 1 year

 A programmable thermostat allows a building’s owner or manager to adjust the times and settings of the heating and/or  air-conditioning according to a pre-set schedule. As a result, the equipment can be set to operate only when necessary. In winter, lowering the temperature of an office building during non-business  hours or of a home when the residents are sleeping can reduce utility bills by  5-15 percent.  

 8. Smart Water Heating:

 Cost: $500 to $700, plus $100 for installation

 Payback: From 1 to 5 years  

 Smart water heating utilizes a drain-water heat recovery system that can warm  water for your shower or other use by capturing the heat from wastewater as it  travels down the drain. These systems can be implemented on showers, dishwashers and other appliances. In a year, smart water heating can save 183 cubic meters of natural gas or 1,478  kilowatt-hours of electricity making the payback period as short as one year.  

 9. Attic Insulation:

 Cost:    $500 to $700, plus installation

 Payback: Between 1 and 2 years

 Properly insulating attics can reduce the amount of heat escaping through the  roof and save up to 25 percent on heating and cooling costs. While it depends on the climate, cost of insulation and other factors, the  payback for attic insulation is generally a year and a half.  

 10. Leasing Solar Panels:

 Cost:    $0 to $5,000

 Payback: Immediate to 11 years

 Leasing a set of solar panels is a cost-effective alternative to buying and  installing them, a job that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Generally speaking, solar leasing firms promise to reduce your total electric  bill immediately by about 11 percent.  

 Going green is often viewed as an idealistic and expensive endeavor. However,  these 10 cost-effective methods of reducing utility expenses as well as your  carbon footprint illustrate how easy and inexpensive going green can be. In addition to fast returns on investments and continued cost savings, there are  many incentives that offset the initial expenses of making energy efficient  home upgrades. Likewise, rebates and tax credits are offered by the federal and  state governments. In the end, saving money by going green not only sounds  great, but makes financial and environmental sense.     

 Casey Sky Noon is the marketing director for Kipcon, Inc., a consulting  engineering firm in North Brunswick, New Jersey.


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  • I am looking for some concrete ways to validate a payback dollar amount for sealing air leaks at windows, doors and wall penetrations for a client. Where did you get your numbers or what formulas did you use?