The Polar Vortex and Winter Storm Titan hammered parts of the U.S., bringing record-setting cold temperatures and harsh weather throughout this winter. As an added bonus, the brutal cold brought higher utility bills, as homeowners had to run their heating systems harder and longer than usual to stay warm. Rather than bundling up or shivering all winter, homeowners may want to start investing in more energy efficient homes to ease the burden on heaters, which account for 40% of energy costs.
“An energy efficient home can save homeowners hundreds or even more than a thousand dollars each year on energy bills. It helps clear the air, reduces the carbon pollution that is fueling dangerous extreme weather, and creates good, green jobs in the expanding efficiency industry,” says Peter Lehner of the National Resources Defense Council. “But kickstarting these changes requires investment and commitment, not just on the part of consumers but by government as well.”
The average homeowner spends roughly $2,200 a year on utility bills, says the Department of Energy’s Energy Star program. But simple changes, like adding insulation and sealing leaks in a home can cut costs by 10% and storm doors alone can make homes 50% more efficient, according to EPA estimates. Unfortunately, regardless of if someone is building new or looking to renovate their home, it can be tough to afford all of those upgrades.
For builders, energy-efficient mortgages are becoming an increasingly popular option. Fannie Mae, the FHA, and the Veterans Administration all offer them, and they allow builders to finance items like efficient HVAC systems and even solar panels. In the long-term, they can lead to tremendous savings and are a great tool for resale.
“As long as they’re going to be in their homes over five years, I think it’s a worthwhile investment,” says Michelle Dohrwardt, office manager at Dodson Custom Homes. “Five years is the necessary amount of time for return on investment.”
“The government has also been encouraging the expansion of energy efficiency and clean energy through policies such as tax incentives, which can give consumers and businesses the nudge they need to make investments in efficiency,” says Lehner. “But recently, Congress allowed tax incentives for clean energy and efficiency to die. This pulls the rug out from under efforts to install more energy efficiency improvements in homes and buildings.”
Until the cost of alternative energy and materials needed for energy efficiency decreases, Americans will have trouble affording them. For now, the government needs to provide assistance and incentives for homeowners who work to go green and lower monthly bills, especially when the weather gets extreme.