Younger homeowners are especially interested in green home remodeling projects. See what's on their list on the benefits of eco-renovations.
Growing up in an era of extreme weather and dire climate predictions, younger generations are often more environmentally conscious than their older counterparts. As they age into their prime homebuying years, that sentiment is translating into the very makeup of their homes.
Sixty-five percent of younger homeowners (ages 18-43) are likely to renovate or remodel in 2021, according to Bank of America’s 2021 Homebuyer Insights Report, and nearly half are doing so with sustainability in mind.
Installing solar panels and energy-efficient appliances top the green remodeling list for younger homeowners.
|Green Renovation||Younger generations (18-43)||Older generations (57-75)|
|Install solar panels||51%||33%|
|Install energy-efficient appliances||48%||36%|
Sticker shock for green home remodeling upgrades is common, as the upfront cost can be steep. But crunching the numbers and taking advantage of federal and local incentives can help eco-ambitious homeowners achieve their green home goals and save money long-term.
What's in this Article?
Installing energy efficient appliances is a great first remodeling project from an eco-conscious perspective. Potential upgrades range from swapping out incandescent light bulbs for LEDs to installing a heat pump water heater.
If you’re not sure what types of energy-efficient appliances make the most sense for your home renovation, finding out is as easy as looking for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR logo.
ENERGY STAR products are certified to meet energy efficiency standards set by the EPA. For example, to qualify for ENERGY STAR certification, a TV must consume three watts or less of electricity when switched off, compared to standard TVs, which consume nearly 6 watts on average.
EPA deputy press secretary Tim Carroll said upgrading to ENERGY STAR appliances is a win-win for homeowners, because they reduce both energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
“The typical household spends nearly $1,900 each year on energy bills. With ENERGY STAR, you can save 24%, or about $450, on your household energy bills, while avoiding more than 4,100 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions,” Carroll said.
Over the lifetime of ENERGY STAR certified appliances, a typical household can reduce 55,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions and save $6,500 on utility bills.
If you recently bought a new home, you may not have the budget to upgrade your entire house with energy-efficient appliances right away. But that’s OK. Swapping out one or two appliances at a time is a great home improvement strategy because you can start saving energy and money while still living within your means.
As some of your other appliances show more signs of wear and tear in the coming years, you can replace them with eco-friendly alternatives as your budget allows.
There are 75 ENERGY STAR-certified products on the market today. Here’s the savings and energy breakdowns for just a few of them.
Carrol said installing a heat pump water heater -- also known as an efficient electric water heater -- is one of the best green remodeling options for significant money and energy savings.
Behind heating and air conditioning, standard water heaters are the largest energy user in the home. They can cost a family of four up to $650 per year.
Instead of generating their own heat, heat pump water heaters transfer heat from the surrounding air to the water tank. This method uses about 70% less energy than traditional water heaters, translating to $425 in annual energy savings and more than $3,700 over the product’s lifetime.
There is currently $300 in federal tax credits for heat pump water heaters. Local utility companies also offer rebates between $250 and $1,000 in some areas. Carroll said between energy savings, tax incentives, and rebates, energy-efficient heat pump water heaters quickly pay for themselves.
Whether you’re doing a full kitchen remodel or you just need a new dishwasher, an energy-efficient model is an opportunity to save on water and energy costs. Carroll said standard-sized ENERGY STAR dishwashers are on average 12% more energy-efficient and 30% more water-efficient than standard models.
“U.S. households run their dishwashers about four times per week, for a total of over 200 times per year. That’s a lot of water used, and a lot of energy used to heat the water,” Carroll said.
Over its lifetime, an ENERGY STAR certified dishwasher can save nearly 3,870 gallons of water.
Energy-efficient washers and dryers have a third benefit in addition to energy and money savings. These modern appliances can extend the life of your clothes.
“ENERGY STAR certified clothes dryers incorporate features that combine less heat with sensor drying or automatic cycle termination to prevent over drying — saving you energy while reducing unnecessary wear and tear on your clothes,” Carroll said.
Compared to top-load washers, ENERGY STAR front-load washers handle larger loads and deliver a better clean.
“Front-load washers do not have agitators, but they typically feature flattened cone shapes at the back of the drum, as well as vanes around the drum to help tumble your clothes. This provides a gentler wash for your laundry meaning less wear and tear on your clothes,” Carroll explained.
Certified ENERGY STAR front load-washers are 50% more water efficient and 45% more energy efficient than top-load washers with agitators. That amounts to nearly $370 in savings over the lifetime of the appliance.
Even more popular with young homeowners than energy-efficient appliances is the prospect of adding solar panels to their home.
However, this renovation project can give them far greater sticker shock than upgrading their appliances, as getting solar panels installed can be a costly green remodeling endeavor. But according to Stu Frothingham, communications director for Puget Sound Solar, solar panels offer a significant return on investment.
“It’s that upfront cost, that first piece, that people get scared of,” Frothingham said. “They see a $25,000 potential bill and say, ‘Oh no.’ But call an installer -- or two or three -- and find out what the costs are. You may find out that without putting much down, or anything, within a couple years, what you’re paying for with the equipment may be less than what you’re paying for your electric bill.”
By purchasing solar panels, you essentially replace your energy bills with monthly payments for the equipment. Frothingham said payments may last 10 years or more, but solar equipment is typically warrantied for 25 years. Once the equipment is paid off, it starts to pay for itself.
The return on investment can be accelerated with federal and local solar incentives. Currently, the federal residential solar energy credit offers a 26% tax credit for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems installed between 2020 and 2022.
This tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in federal income taxes. For example, a homeowner who purchases a $15,000 solar PV system in 2021 would get a $3,900 tax break on their next tax return.
In many cases, this federal tax credit can be applied in addition to incentives from local governments and utilities providers. A Google search for “residential solar incentives in (state, city, or utility provider)” is a good place to find out what programs are offered in your area.
Because the above isn’t meant to be tax advice, check with your licensed CPA before purchasing equipment or filing taxes.
Not only can a solar system reduce monthly energy costs, they can also increase your home’s value.
A 2019 Zillow report found that “homes with solar-energy systems sold for 4.1% more on average than comparable homes without solar power. For the median-valued home, that translates to an additional $9,274.”
Between reducing energy bills and increasing home value, renovating to add solar is in a class of its own.
“What’s the return on investment on your granite counters? What’s the return on investment for your furnace or your glass slider doors?” Frothingham asked. “Solar is really the one thing in your house that’s going to pay itself off, and continue to pay itself off in the long run. It’s the only potential thing in your home that won’t put you backwards.”
A green remodeling milestone
Frothingham said that for younger homeowners, the return on investment isn’t even the driving factor for purchasing a solar-energy system.
After 10 years in the business, Frothingham has identified two kinds of customers:
- “Green” customers that are doing it for the planet
- And “green” customers that are doing it for the financial benefit
Younger homeowners tend to fall in the first category, and they’re driven by a desire for sustainability and an eco-conscious legacy.
“They seem to want to show their kids they are doing the right thing. That’s part of the reason I did it,” Frothingham said. “It’s about modeling good behavior for future generations.”
Frothingham’s advice for young homeowners who worry that they can’t afford solar panels -- especially after buying a home in this year’s hot market -- is to get multiple quotes from quality installers and have them break down the financials.
“If they can’t break down the financials for you, then you should walk away,” he said.
Other green remodeling tips
Getting multiple quotes will give you an idea of what’s reasonable for a solar panel installation. But you should apply the same practice to other green remodeling projects.
You can even ask a general contractor for recommendations of “green” businesses, and be sure to look up the reviews as well. As with any home initiative, it’s important to do your research so you’re confident that you’re getting quality work for your money.
If you’re not prepared to invest in energy-efficient appliances or solar panels just yet, there are ways to move in an eco-conscious direction with minimal overhead.
For instance, think about sustainability in your landscaping. Choose plants and shrubs that don’t require much watering, so you can keep your water use low, especially during drought conditions or periods of extreme heat.
You can also start composting food scraps, cardboard, and other commonly used materials. The materials will break down and feed the soil in your yard. Or, you can use the compost to nurture your own plants. Either way, you’ll be putting less into landfills.
When you do small projects around the house, consider whether there are green building materials you can use or whether you might use repurposed materials to finish the job.
And when the time comes for major upgrades, talk to different companies about the materials they use and whether they have any certifications in green building or green remodeling. Ideally, you’ll work with a remodeling company that is experienced in sustainable construction and renovation and has a team of professionals that can help you upgrade your home in alignment with your values.
Younger generations are changing not only the way homes are bought and sold, but how they are managed. Many are buying homes with the intention of doing renovations, whether by hiring a company or, in many cases, doing it themselves.
Sustainable renovations such as installing energy-efficient appliances and solar panels have the potential to multiply the return on investment by reducing energy costs and increasing home value.
Oh, and they’re good for the environment, too.