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Make Some Green




THE ECONOMY MIGHT BE REBOUNDING, but it’s still a difficult time to sell a house. By the end of 2009, the number of single-family home sales in Denver had dropped 20 percent from the previous year, according to Denver Land Title.

THE ECONOMY MIGHT BE REBOUNDING, but it's still a difficult time to sell a house. By the end of 2009, the number of single-family home sales in Denver had dropped 20 percent from the previous year, according to Denver Land Title.

That means homeowners need to take extra steps to make their homes really stand out. How? Go green, says Adam Stenftenagel, owner of Sustainably Built, a Boulder-based, green-energy consulting firm. By making a few smart, eco-friendly investments, you'll make your home more energy-efficient—thereby less expensive and more comfortable to live in. No matter how eco-conscious people are, explains Stenftenagel, “everyone responds to comfort and savings.” Deb Kleinman, executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council's Colorado chapter, agrees. “Energy efficiency is a really big selling point right now,” she says. “Energy costs will continue to go up, while people continue to watch their budgets.” In fact, for every $1 you save on your energy bill, says Stenftenagel, it increases the appraised value of your home by $16.

It doesn't take much to make your home more environmentally friendly (and no, you don't have to invest in solar panels). Here, we've compiled the six best eco-investments that really pay off.

1. MAKE A TRIP TO THE HARDWARE STORE.

Going green doesn't necessarily mean spending lots of green. There are a few easy, low-cost changes you can make that will have a positive impact on both your energy bill and potential buyers' opinions of the house. First (you've probably heard it before, but it's worth the recap): Replace all of your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) lights. They cost a couple of dollars more than regular bulbs, but use up to 75 percent less energy—which adds up to a lot, considering that lighting accounts for 25 percent of energy bills. Next: Install a programmable thermostat ($20-$60 at your local hardware store), which can be programmed to lower home temperatures automatically at night and when you are out of the house during working hours. The EPA estimates the average family can save up to $180 per year by making this small investment. Visit energystar.com for instructions on how to program the device so it runs most efficiently.

Finally: Invest in a tube of caulk and some weather stripping. Sealing off drafts can reduce your energy bills by as much as 30 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Quick tip for finding drafts: Hold a stick of incense up to your window frames and entryways, watch for patches where the incense flows out, then caulk and seal those areas. And once you're done, mention any changes you've made to the home, including the corresponding savings statistics, to your realtor, who can use that information in his marketing materials. It would even be a good idea to squirrel away some of your old and new energy bills for the same month to show the decrease in cost.

2. HIRE A PROFESSIONAL.

Every house is different. Depending on a home's age, location, building materials and structural integrity, it will use (and waste) energy differently. So once you've made the small changes, it's time to call in a professional. For a fee ($30-$150), a certified energy auditor will use infrared cameras, blower door tests and other nifty technologies to come up with a list of energy-saving recommendations specific to your home—i.e., weatherproofing the front door, insulating the water heater or replacing the furnace entirely. “An energy auditor will be strategic about meeting your goals and your budget,” says Kleinman. Tip: Find an auditor who is a member of the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET), a national accreditation organization for energy-efficiency experts and ratings. Visit the U.S. Green Building Council's green-building-tips website (greenhome guide.com) for a list of energy auditors near you.

3. REPLACE OLD WINDOWS.

By replacing older, leaky windows with more energy-efficient models, you'll reduce energy bills by 7 to 24 percent, according to the EPA. Even better: Sellers can expect about 75 percent return on their investment when they get new windows, says a 2009 realtor survey published in Remodeling
magazine. Why? “Buyers are looking for new windows, period,” says Mauri Tamborra, certified ecoBroker with Re/Max Southeast. “If you have two identical, 20-year-old homes, the one that has new windows will sell for $5,000 to $10,000 more.” If the windows are extremely energy-efficient, that only sweetens the deal. Note: When you're shopping for windows, look for a blue-and-white Energy Star sticker, which guarantees eco-efficiency and may make you eligible for an energy tax credit of up to $1,500.

4. INVEST IN ENERGY-EFFICIENT APPLIANCES.

If you're trying to sell your home, you may have to replace the old appliances, anyway. By choosing Energy Star-rated appliances, which are guaranteed to be 10 to 50 percent more efficient than older models, you (and the next owner) can expect to save $75 per year in energy costs, says the EPA. But be tactical about which appliances you replace. “If your refrigerator is only five years old, it's not worth buying a new one for $1,000; you'll only save about $10 for the year,” Stenftenagel explains. Visit energy star.gov for a complete list of Energy Star-rated appliances, including buyers' guides, rebates and store locators.

5. IMPROVE INDOOR AIR QUALITY.

The indoor environment of your home matters to homebuyers, too—particularly those with allergies. An energy auditor will help you determine whether you need a better ventilation system. But you can also make small cosmetic changes—like repainting the walls with low-volatile-organic-compound (low-VOC) paints—to improve the overall air quality. Bonus: Low-VOC paint is a great marketing tool to attract eco-conscious homebuyers. Another way to improve air quality: Replace old or synthetic carpet with more eco-friendly and visually appealing reclaimed hardwood, linoleum flooring or natural wool carpet.

6. GO LOW-FLOW.

Conserving water is important, especially in Colorado's high-desert climate. It's also good for your wallet. Low-flow toilets use less than a gallon of water per flush (compared to five gallons with older models). And low-flow showerheads use approximately 20 percent less water than regular showerheads. Bonus: The new technology comes in attractive models from big-hitter hardware manufacturers, like Toto and Kohler—another boost for your marketing strategy. Finally, if after your energy audit, you discover that you need a new water heater, consider buying a tankless water heater, says Andrew Nagel, co-owner of Re/Max Cherry Creek and a certified ecoBroker. You'll pay more, but save up to 40 percent on your energy costs—and that's a savings your buyers will love.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK
The best online resources for greening your home.

Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE)
www.dsireusa.org
Go here for info about state, local and federal tax incentives and rebates for renewable energy and energy-efficiency systems, all organized by state.

EcoBroker
www.ecobroker.com
Find realtors near you who have qualified for this green designation to help you sell your eco-renovated home.

Energy Star
www.energystar.gov
Run by the EPA and Department of Energy, with detailed information, stats and a rating system for energy-saving products and appliances. 

Governor's Energy Office
www.colorado.gov/energy
Everything you need to know about greening your home in Colorado—from codes to financial incentives to tips for how to better insulate your home.

ReGreen
www.regreenprogram.org
Created by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and the U.S. Green Building Council, featuring green-building case studies, how-to's and a “Strategy Generator” that helps you pick the best green elements for your home.

U.S. Green Building Council's Green Home Guide
www.greenhomeguide.com
Find green-building professionals (and even ask them questions), plus get helpful renovation tips (like how to pick a low-flow toilet). Visit USGBC‘s Colorado chapter site for localized links: www.usgbccolorado.org.

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