Guest Column

Homeowners save green by going green

November 22, 2013
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By taking steps to reduce energy consumption, homeowners protected their wallets, and they protect the environment.

The state of Michigan estimates that for every $1 used for energy efficiency or “optimization,” utility customers see a return of $3.83 in avoided energy costs.

We’re doing well in Michigan when it comes to energy efficiency, but we can do even better. Whether or not we actually do better is an issue that may be determined in the coming year as our state’s policymakers consider replacing the 2008 Clean, Renewable Energy Act, which expires in 2015.

A report commissioned by Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration and released last month concludes that utility companies are on track to exceed their energy efficiency targets. The report estimates that total savings through energy efficiency programs will reach $936 million in 2012, and projects similar levels of savings between 2013 and 2015.

Those are big numbers, so let’s bring this issue closer to home. My home.

I know firsthand that energy efficiency pays. My wife and I invested $21,000 in our Grand Rapids home, built in 1926, to reduce wasteful and costly energy use. We took out the old, oversized gas furnace and updated the water heater. The place had minimal insulation, so we drilled into walls, poured in cellulose and added 10 inches of insulation in the attic. We rebuilt leaky basement walls, added an electric blower to the furnace and changed the exhaust fan.

In just the first year, we have seen a nearly 70 percent reduction in electricity usage and 36 percent decline in gas usage. Over the life of my mortgage, I’m expecting to save $47,000.

Just because I’m an energy efficiency geek doesn’t mean you can’t achieve the same kind of savings. Thousands of homes across Michigan can make simple, relatively inexpensive investments in energy efficiency, taking advantage of financial incentives, potential property tax abatements and rebates to help finance the work, and if we expand our state energy efficiency programs based on a third-party verifiable market-rate program requiring performance testing, those incentives and rebates could grow.

Retrofitting your home not only saves on energy and water bills, it saves on maintenance costs. Green-certified structures are tightly sealed, well framed, allow maximum air circulation and use durable, long-lasting materials. That leaves buildings less susceptible to moisture, rot and mold and requiring fewer replacement parts.

Third-party verification that a home is certified green is proof that it was properly built or retrofitted. That not only provides you with peace of mind; it can be a coveted feature of your home when it comes time to sell.

Using less energy reduces demand from fossil-fuel power plants. Energy efficiency not only is good for our economy and good for consumers, it’s good for the environment.

I have invested my time in energy efficiency and I have invested my money. I encourage you to do the same. It pays with every flick of the switch.

Brett Little is executive director of the Alliance of Environmental Sustainability, based in Grand Rapids. He conducts workshops and seminars throughout the Midwest on sustainable and healthy construction and remodeling of homes and commercial buildings.

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