Home Improvements that Pay Back

by Matt Myers

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When most people talk about home improvement projects, return on investment (ROI) is often mentioned in the same breath. This is an eye-opening thought to many homeowners who have never considered that certain types of remodels actually add value to a home. However, there are also home improvement projects that literally pay for themselves by lowering bills.

Much of ROI depends on the market, and not just the current real estate market, but the specific area where you live. Certain cities are on the decline, while certain neighborhoods in those cities continue to rise. The point is if you are looking only at ROI, there are many factors involved, but if you are looking for upgrades that will quickly and permanently save money, there are plenty of items that can save you money no matter what market you live in.

Programmable Thermostats
If you don't have one, get one. If you absolutely must to have the top of the line model, it will set you back $150, but many cost as little as $72 to install. These devices can be programmed to heat or cool specific sections of your house, not to mention they can be programmed to turn off when you leave the house in the morning and warm back up a few minutes before you come back. Depending on how often you are running your HVAC unit, these devices can pay for themselves in 2-3 months, which can translate into massive savings over several years.

Whole House Fans
Think about when you get into your stifling car in the summer. It is easier and quicker to cool the car if you open the windows and cycle out the heat than it is to wait for your AC to cool that hot air. Whole house fans function in the same way as your car windows in that they flush out stagnant air so that your heater or air conditioner can pump in the desired air. These fans allow your HVAC unit to work more efficiently and can save as much as 25% on your energy bills.

Energy Efficient Appliances
More than 50% of a home's energy is used to heat water. Washing clothes, washing dishes, baths, and showers are using all this energy. If you replace your clothes washer with an energy efficient model it will use 35-40% less water. This not only saves on your water bill, but also reduces the amount of water that needs to be heated, which reduces energy bills. The same goes for dishwashers.

Showers are hard to reduce, but there are water-saving shower heads than can help. Making these small adjustments can mean an energy savings of 25%. Given the energy prices these days, this can be a big number every month.

Money in, Money Back
These types of updates, and others like them, will provide immediate savings, whereas it might take a few years to get the money back out of a more extensive project like a home addition. These upgrades are no less important or valuable, but they are often overlooked, and by completing these few items, you can save the money that will help pay for your more expensive makeovers.

Matt Myers is a freelance writer for the home maintenance and remodeling industry. Formerly a contractor specializing in deck building and casework, Matt has written over 500 articles for both homeowners and contractors.