Last Updated: March 15, 2010
"Going green" gets plenty of attention for what it does for the environment. But people often forget that environmentally smart behavior can save money as well.
Earth Day is right around the corner — April 22. One of the best ways to celebrate is to do a "green check" of how you spend your money and make both energy- and money-smart plans for your home and lifestyle going forward. Consider these ideas:
Start a home repair and appliance replacement list: Knowing when you did a home remodeling job or replaced a major appliance is a way to keep track of the lifespan of these improvements and a way to signal when you'll be in the market again. Why is this a green practice? Because if you have an idea when new renovations may need to happen or when new appliances need to be bought, you'll have time to investigate the most energy efficient choices and the greenest materials and building practices that should be used. Also, it's a good list to have available when you finally sell your home or rental property — buyers like to know exactly how old renovations and installed appliances really are. Keeping an honest, detailed list communicates that you're a good homeowner who has taken great care of the property.
Do a transportation audit: Think about all the ways you use your car. Is owning a car absolutely necessary? Can you get more out of a necessary car trip by consolidating errands and activities? Better yet, can you save significantly more through public transportation or telecommuting? The Washington, D.C. American Public Transportation Association features a transit savings calculator on its Web site that can help you make a cost comparison between mass transit and operating your car.
Remember transportation-related tax breaks: It might not seem like a lot, but if you run a company and have one or more employees who ride their bike to work at least three days a week, you qualify for the $20-a-month employer reimbursement for reasonable bike expenses offered by the federal Bicycle Commuter Act. As of Jan. 1, 2009, employers who provide bike parking, bathing facilities, tune-ups, or other support for bicycle commuting, can deduct up to $20 a month per participating employee from their own taxable income. Work with your tax professional or your financial planning professional to make sure you qualify for the break.
Also, the Internal Revenue Service allows employers to offer employees ways to offset their mass transit costs either as a direct subsidy or a pretax deduction from their paychecks. For the 2009 tax year, those limits were set at:
- $230 per employee per month for vanpool, bus, ferry, rail (all public transportation);
- $230 per employee per month for qualified parking; or
- $460 per month per employee for both public transportation and qualified parking.
Do a utility audit: Simple actions like designating an "indoor sweater" policy so you can turn down the thermostat a bit are a good place to start. Shut off lights and vents in any area of the house you're not using. Get a programmable thermostat that can adjust heat and cold based on when you're going to be home. Consider low-flow showerheads, toilets and faucets to conserve water. And be smart about when and how you run appliances — don't run washers, dryers or dishwashers until you can give them a full load. You should also think about the kind of light bulbs you're using as you replace them. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) cost more than conventional bulbs but consume a third of the power and last up to 10 times as long. Oh, and if you're not using lights or appliances in a particular room, turn them off, and better yet, unplug them if you're not going to be using them for a significant amount of time.
Be smart about replacing appliances: It's smart to check the Energy Star Web site to see how a particular brand of home appliances ranks for energy efficiency. But it's also wise to keep an eye on Washington D.C., particularly this year. As part of the nation's economic stimulus efforts, the federal government has set up a "cash for appliances" program that will be rolling out state-by-state this year. Similar to the "cash for clunkers" program in the auto industry, this federal program will offer significant discounts for buying new appliances to replace older ones that don't meet federal energy-saving guidelines. Start by checking with your state's energy department to see what kind of appliances will qualify for these discounts.
Keep an eye on renovation incentives: The federal government has also extended a series of energy-efficient renovations on primary residences throughout 2010. Windows, roofs and heating/air conditioning upgrades are part of the program, so start by going to the Energy Star Web site to start determining which products and brands qualify, because not all do.