Fill Your Own Pot of Gold with Green Home Improvements

by Matt Goering

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Anybody who's ever enjoyed a bowl full of Lucky Charms for breakfast knows that where there are Leprechauns, there's sure to be a pot of gold close by. All you've got to do is look for the rainbow. Unfortunately for most homeowner's bank accounts, locating those Leprechauns is easier said than done, leaving most of us looking for more practical ways to save a few bucks. But what if keeping an eye out for a flash of green wasn't such a bad impulse, after all? In these times of skyrocketing energy costs and increased environmental awareness, green remodeling options that range from the simple to the complex can end up saving homeowners big money as the years roll by. Here is a list of the most moneywise green remodels in the business, along with an estimate of just how much gold you can expect to find at the end of the rainbow.

Why Look for a Pot of Gold When a few Gold Coins Will Do?
Some might say that the entire leprechaun myth is really a lesson about the elusive qualities of easy money. That said, for many homeowners it makes a lot more sense to quit looking for a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and start poking around for a few lost coins instead. If you're not ready to cash in your inheritance for a total green upgrade, try these simpler solutions on for size:

  • Programmable Thermostat—According to the consumer advocate website, a programmable thermostat that costs between $85 to $125 to purchase and install can end up saving you and yours $100 to $300 a year in reduced energy costs. In other words, give your new thermostat a year to pay itself off, and after that this inexpensive home improvement starts filling up your pot of gold in no time.

  • CFLs—According to the D.O.E.'s Energy Star website, compact fluorescent light bulbs use 75% less energy than their incandescent counterparts, and last up to 10 times longer. That adds up to total savings of about $30 for every incandescent bulb that you replace with a CFL. Multiply that $30 by every light fixture in your home, and it's surprising that leprechauns don't hide pots of CFLs instead of gold all over the Irish countryside.

  • Power Strips—It's common knowledge that leprechauns like to lay low and avoid being noticed. Unfortunately, according to, one of the most wasteful uses of energy in your home goes largely unseen as well. As much as 25% of the electricity that is consumed by the appliances in your home is used when those appliances are turned off. By purchasing a $10 powerstrip, and cutting power to home appliances when they are not in use, you can easily double your money in the form of reduced energy savings over the course of a year.

Don't Rule out Pots of Gold
Of course, if there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, would you pass it up? We didn't think so. The truth of the matter is that there are a number of mid-range green remodeling projects out there that pay for themselves in a few years time when you take into account long-term energy savings and the ever-increasing cost of home heating fuels. Call it whatever you want—a pot of gold, or just a smart investment—here's a list of mid-range green projects that deserve your attention.

  • Windows—According to the D.O.E., installing new replacement windows can cut your home heating and cooling costs by as much as 50% annually, depending on climate and the windows you presently have installed. At $750 to $900 per window, assuming you're smart and opt for multiple panes, low e glazings, insulated frames, and other energy-efficient upgrades, new windows aren't cheap. But if you figure your new windows have a 30 year lifespan, and have the potential to reduce home energy costs by 50% year in and year out, it's easy to see why replacement windows are seen as a golden opportunity by people who think green.

  • Insulation—When most homeowners think insulation, they focus on walls and attics. Not a bad impulse, as upgrading insulation in both of these areas can result in a big payoff in energy savings. Insulate crawlspaces, foundations, basements, and even ductwork and hot water heaters, however, and your energy savings are almost guaranteed to shoot through the roof. suggests that you start by scheduling a full energy audit to help identify exactly where your home's insulation can benefit most from a boost.

  • HVAC Upgrades—According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating and cooling systems account for 45% of the energy use in an average American home. It goes without saying, then, that installing high efficiency furnaces, boilers, and air conditioners can make a huge difference when it comes to lowering your energy bill and filling your own pot of gold.

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Why Settle for a Pot of Gold When you can Have the Whole Rainbow?
Finally, there are green remodeling projects out there for treasure hunters of a different sort, whether you've already got more pots of gold than you know what to do with, or protecting the environment is enough of a priority for you that you're willing to make a major investment in green, whatever the costs. These green remodeling projects come with hefty price tags, to be sure, but when you factor in the combination of huge potential energy savings, beneficial environmental impacts, and the satisfaction you'll get knowing you've done your part to create a better, more sustainable world, it's safe to say that these green upgrades are worth more than even the biggest pot of gold.

  • Geothermal Heating and Cooling—Geothermal heating and cooling systems circulate fluid through an underground system of pipes, utilizing the steady temperature of the earth, year round, to heat and cool your home. These systems are costly to install (in the neighborhood of $30,000), but according to the D.O.E. and, they can last up to 50 years, and cost anywhere from 40% to 75% less to operate than conventional heating and cooling methods.

  • Green Roofing —If your home has a low or no pitch roof, consider a true green roof—one that consists of actual vegetation! According to, these roofs provide 20% better insulation than more conventional roofing products (reducing your heating and cooling costs), and they can dramatically lower environmentally harmful roof runoff as well, especially in urban areas where it matters most. Best of all, since your roof will be made of live vegetation rather than petroleum-based roofing materials, your roof will contribute to reducing the greenhouse effect, rather than making the problem worse.

  • Go Solar —Installing photovoltaic solar panels to provide electricity for your home has finally become an investment that can reap profits, rather than one that is guaranteed to lose money in the long run. According to, the initial investment won't be cheap—somewhere in the $25,000 to $30,000 range for an average home. But once you figure in tax credits, available grants for sustainable home building, and long-term energy savings, you could be looking at a return on your investment that doubles what you put in! It could take a decade or more to reap the rewards, but don't be surprised if your initial investment of twenty or thirty grand ends up netting you as much as $60,000 when it's all said and done.

Whether you believe in little green Irish fairies or not, it's clear that there's more profit to be had in going green with home improvement than you'll ever find at the end of a rainbow. Making green by going green isn't the fairy tale it used to be. Instead, it's the smartest decision you can make if you're ready to invest in major home improvement for your home.

Matt Goering, formerly a carpenter and house painter, is a freelance writer for the home improvement industry who has published over 600 articles.