How to Make Energy Updates for Your Home Affordable

pile of pennies - how to make energy updates for your home more affordable

Making energy-efficient upgrades is a simple way to help the planet. It can prevent the overuse of fossil fuels, which are nonrenewable resources that, as we know, release greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change. Sometimes energy-efficient upgrades can be expensive, however, so here are some tips for making these upgrades on a budget. 

1. See if You Qualify for Federal Assistance Funds


Some government programs are already in place to help lower-income communities. Many are initiatives that specifically help low-income households invest in energy-efficient systems to reduce costs and lower emissions. The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), for example, increases the energy efficiency of the homes of low-income households. WAP is available at the state and local levels. To determine if you’re eligible, visit their website.

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) assists low-income residents with heating and cooling energy costs, in part, through weatherization and minor energy upgrades. Check out their website for more information on the programs they offer.

 Other federal assistance programs help lower energy expenses, so check out any initiatives these departments might have: 

  • U.S. Department of Energy 
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • U.S. Department of The Treasury 
  • U.S. Department of Transportation

You might find financial support for everything from insulation to installing solar panels, so it’s worth doing some research to see what kinds of assistance is out there.

2. Research Tax Credits


Some governments offer tax credits for making home upgrades that increase energy efficiency and renewable energy use. There are renewable energy tax credits for wind turbines and geothermal heat pumps. You can receive a certain percentage of credit based on when the system was installed. If you installed it before December 31st, 2019, for example, then you would receive a 30% credit. If you’re curious about how much of an impact a 30% credit can have, you can estimate your tax refund with this nifty tax calculator. You might be surprised at how significant a tax credit can be.

Solar panels are growing in popularity and are a great way to reduce your energy bills, so see if you can qualify for the Solar Investment Tax Credit. It also applies to energy storage systems. You can get a credit equal to 26% of the equipment and installation expense through 2022. Just meet the following guidelines: the panels must generate electricity only for the resident and meet fire and electrical safety codes. 

There are tax incentives to help with the upfront costs of heating appliances, as well, such as the 2021 pellet stove tax credit. To qualify, you will need to have certain documents prepared. These include a sales receipt, installation paperwork and a manufacturer certificate.

3. Consider a Community Solar Project


Communities can build a collection of solar panels and share energy between multiple houses. They can then use the panels to power their homes’ water and space heating and electricity. This can help communities decarbonize and lead to lower utility costs for the entire community.

You can have either a few or many people implement this idea. The communities are formed by either buying or leasing solar panels in a collection. Solar power is a renewable resource. Therefore, it helps to lower emissions, reduce greenhouse gasses from entering the air and put a dent in global warming. Solar communities can also work well for businesses and nonprofits by helping them reduce utility expenses. For startups, saving money is crucial. 

Many states have what Energy.gov calls “enabling policies” for these solar communities. So, a third-party market with developers and utility companies follows rules to enroll customers into the community. Once accepted, you’ll pay two bills—one from the program and the other from the utility company for how much traditional electricity you consumed. 

4. Check With Your Local Utility Company 


gas meters - how to make energy updates for your home more affordable

When making upgrades, reach out to your utility company. They may offer incentives for making energy-efficient choices. For example, some businesses provide rebates for recycling old appliances or adding insulation. You can then put this money toward energy-efficient upgrades. 

Some companies even offer free products, like LED light bulbs. These bulbs use at least 75% less energy and last longer than incandescent lighting. To find these rebates, contact your company or check their website. 

Some sites, like Energy Star, have their own rebate finder tools. They also sometimes work with sponsors to offer sales tax exemptions, rebates or even credit. And some governments offer rebates to consumers who purchase a plug-in hybrid, natural gas or propane vehicle. These come from the Alternative Fuel Vehicle (AFV) Rebate Program

5. Make Upgrades that Pay off in the Long Run


When deciding which home improvements you want to tackle, consider long term-value. For example, fixing your roof protects your home against the elements. Also, roof damage can impact the internal temperature and make it easier for air to escape. So inspect your roof, patch up any cracks and replace missing or broken shingles.

Another good upgrade is adding insulation. It can help to trap warm air and reduce your heating bills. Enjoy advanced technology? Smart thermostats are also a great addition to prevent wasting energy.

Here are some more good long-term projects:

  • Seal and upgrade your windows
  • Replace old appliances with energy-efficient ones
  • Purchase a tankless water heater 
  • Switch to LED bulbs
  • Install low-flow showerheads and faucets 

When every dollar counts, you’ll also want to invest in projects that will start paying themselves off immediately. Air sealing around windows, doors, cracks and other openings, for example, is a low-cost project that will immediately start saving you 10-20% on your energy bills, according to Energy.gov.

Replacing your windows, on the other hand, is a huge investment that will take a long time to pay off in terms of energy saved. Investing in an upgrade like storm windows would certainly cost less and pay itself off sooner through energy savings.

Pay close attention to how much energy your upgrades will save you (as well as how much that energy costs) as you plan your renovations. This infographic gives you some idea of how long certain types of energy projects take to pay off:

Green Home Upgrades That Pay You Back

From Visually.

6. Look into State Incentives


Many states offer incentives to encourage people to invest in making green upgrades. You can start by googling incentives in your area. Another resource is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) website. 

Here you can see an interactive map where you can click on your state and get a list of policies and incentives. These include incentives for electric vehicles or grant programs for alternative energy sources. 

Other state incentives can include loans. The Homeowners Energy Efficiency Loan Program (HEELP) in Pennsylvania is one example. It offers loans for certain energy efficiency upgrades, such as air sealing. They offer these at a fixed rate of 1% for 10 years with no prepayment penalties. These loans can help you make upgrades on a tight budget, especially if you’re in a time crunch.

You can also look into specialized financing organizations, such as Renew Financial and EnerBank USA, that offer unsecured loan products designed for home improvement projects.

Making Energy Updates More Cost-Effective 


Helping the planet is something everyone can do. Making energy-efficient upgrades is a simple step. And while some retrofits can be costly, there are often ways to make them more affordable, so follow these tips before making your updates.

Feature image: Pixabay; Image 1: Doris Morgan

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