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VOL. 45 | NO. 21 | Friday, May 21, 2021

How to plan an eco-friendly remodel without overspending

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By Annie Millerbernd

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 that 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 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 that make 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 will do a low-cost or free audit, he says, and you might 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 that you can save $200 per month, “you would be all about that because that’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. The audit was free and triggered updates such as fixing air leaks around doors and windows and adding more insulation in the attic, he says.

Buying, 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 that helps homeowners with sustainable remodeling.

Well-made vintage items, for example, that use 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 more so than a lot of products that 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 that 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 that you want to spend for that 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 ca n 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.

Compare your options and learn what each lender has to offer to find the lowest rates and best features.

Annie Millerbernd is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: amillerbernd@nerdwallet.com.

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