5 Home Improvement Projects to Make Good Use of Your Tax Return

5 Home Improvement Projects to Make Good Use of Your Tax Return

Hurrah! You’ve made the annual deadline to file your taxes! That’s great, especially if you’ve got a nice IRS refund check coming. One of the best ways to invest your refund is by improving the energy efficiency of your home. With warm spring weather returning, now’s the time to start.

1. Learn how you can save with a home energy audit. One of the least expensive but most helpful home improvement projects is having an energy audit of your home done by a professional service company. While homeowners can generally learn a lot by doing their own energy audit, a professional auditor can accurately assess how your home’s structure affects your energy bills. Both blower door tests and a thermographic scan identify where drafts are and how heat moves through your home.

2. Landscape for Saving and Comfort. Landscaping your property increases its curb appeal and sale-ability, and it can also reduce your winter heating bills and summer cooling. Planting two 25 foot tall shade trees on the western and eastern aspects of a home reduces its heat load and saves 23% off the yearly utility bill. Planting evergreen windbreaks along the north side of your home can also help reduce your winter heating costs. In the summer, heat-absorbing concrete and pavement in urban areas form heat-islands that tend to be 5°F hotter than surrounding rural areas. Planting trees and other vegetation can help cool entire neighborhoods.

3. Replace your older appliances with EnergyStar ones. If you are still using a refrigerator from the 1990s or early 2000s, you might as well be tossing buckets of money out your front door. The same goes for water heaters, washers, dishwashers, and even air conditioners. On average, Energy Star appliances use about half the energy of your old appliances. Most important of all, you don’t have to pay more for Energy Star appliances anymore.

4. Replace your leakiest, draftiest window(s). Older windows cost you money by letting in outside air around their frames. They also conduct heat and radiate heat through the glass. On a sunny summer day, old single-paned (and some double-paned) windows pass lots of heat into your home. During the winter, it’s letting heat out. Energy Star rated energy efficient windows are built to resist heat conduction, keeping the air conditioned or heated air in your home at the right temperature and save you $126–$465 a year. Not all windows are the same, so you’ll need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

5. Add more some insulation. Most US homes are under-insulated. The minimum recommended R-values for attics in the south central US is R30 while northern homes should have up to R60. In practical terms, that’s between 8 inches and 24 inches in thickness, depending on the type of insulation (fiberglass, cellulose, rigid foam, sprayed foam). To get the most energy savings out of it, your attic should be insulated throughout at the same thickness. Many home centers and manufacturers have insulation calculators on their websites to help you figure out how much you’ll need. Also keep in mind other areas in your home that you can insulate. Their locations will be even more clear if you started out with the professional home energy audit. The great thing about adding insulation is that you’ll feel the effect on your home’s comfort right away.


Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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