A new year offers plenty of time and maybe some fresh motivation to whip your surroundings into shape. But which projects will give you the most bang for your buck? We’ve got 20 for you to consider. Some are pricey, some are cheap, some involve shiny new smart devices, and others are as low-tech as they come. Many areperfect for do-it-yourselfers. All will help put cash back in your pocket in the long run.
INSTALL A PROGRAMMABLE THERMOSTAT
No, it doesn’t have to be a fancy smart thermostat, though if you want the convenience of scheduling heating and cooling from your phone, a product like the Nest Learning Thermostat might be worth the extra spend. But if you reliably program your thermostat to keep your house cooler in the winter or warmer in the summer while you’re away, the EPA says you can save roughly $180 a year on heating and cooling costs — not bad for a purchase that can cost around $200. Bonus: Your power company may also give you a rebate for installing one.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT CAULKING AND WEATHER STRIPPING
Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of low-tech, inexpensive home improvements that can pay off big time. Whatever modest amount you spend re-caulking and replacing worn-out weather stripping around windows and doors can be recouped in as little as a yearin the form of lower utility bills, according to the Department of Energy.
ADD MORE ATTIC INSULATION
One of the best ways to save? Keep your heating and cooling expenses in check with some humble attic insulation. HouseLogic suggests checking to see if joists are visible over the insulation in your attic. If so, adding some more could lead to long-term savings of as much as $600 a year. HomeAdvisor pegs a cost of roughly $1.50 to $3.50 a square foot depending on the kind of insulation you choose.
DITCH THE INCANDESCENT LIGHTS
Installing energy-efficient bulbs in just the five most frequently used light fixtures in your home can save $75 a year, according to the Department of Energy. CFL and LED bulbs also have a much longer lifespan than incandescent bulbs — roughly 10,000 or 25,000 hours, respectively, compared to 1,000. And if you want to save even more in the long run, app-controlled smart bulbs like Philips Hue ($40 for a four-pack on Amazon) are easy to put on a schedule, turning themselves off automatically so you won’t waste electricity.
ADD SMART POWER SWITCHES
Smart lights are great, but if you’re not ready to make the investment or you want a more versatile option for small appliances and other power hogs, add a few smart switches. For under $30, the Wemo Mini Smart Plug can give you remote control of your favorite fan, a humidifier, the Christmas tree lights, or even that curling iron or space heater you’re always forgetting to turn off. That way you’re saving energy and eliminating a potential fire hazard, too.
GET A LOW-FLOW SHOWERHEAD
A low-flow showerhead may not sound all that appealing — after all, there’s nothing like a long, hot shower with amazing water pressure to help the day’s worries melt away. But if you’ve owned your home for a while, you may have showerheads that allow anywhere from 3 to 5 gpm, or gallons per minute. In comparison, new showerheads range from 1.5 to 2.5 gpm. An average family of four can save more than $100 a year just by replacing their showerheads, officials estimate. And luckily for us, manufacturers have become adept at making the shower spray seem as luxurious as ever — for instance, Delta uses a wave pattern in some showerheads to provide a full-coverage feel.
SPRING FOR A WATER FILTER
If you’re drinking bottled water because you’re skeptical of what comes from the tap or simply don’t like how it tastes, an easy-to-install water filter could help you kick this pricey, bad-for-the-planet habit. This under-the-sink model from Filtrete costs less than $60 and installs in just half an hour. Filters last for six months.
OPT FOR SMART SECURITY DEVICES
If you’ve priced out a traditional monitored security system, chances are you already know what we’re about to say. They’re expensive — very. Smart security devices like the Nest Security Cameraor the Ring Video Doorbell can give you peace of mind without the monthly bill, plus they’re easy to monitor remotely from your phone. If monitoring is a must, smart-tech companies are getting in on the game, too, with less costly options like the Ring Alarm System.
CHOOSE ENERGY-EFFICIENT APPLIANCES
Appliances continue to evolve into ever-more efficient, convenient machines. Where to begin if you need a total overhaul? Nab an Energy Star-certified refrigerator, washer, and dryer — these are the biggest energy hogs, according to Consumer Reports. Replacing an aging refrigerator alone can save $270 over the next five years, according to Energy Star. For the most savings, nab the smallest size you can get away with and consider a traditional top-freezer model.
PLANT SOME TREES
If your unshaded home is baking in the sun, it’s time to plant some trees. Aside from gaining instant curb appeal, trees can save you big bucks, especially in the summer. A little shade can reduce annual cooling costs anywhere from 15 to 50 percent, according to the Department of Energy. But that’s not all — trees planted as windbreaks can also cut down on heating costs in the winter. Choose a 6- to 8-foot tree and your windows will get immediate relief — your roof could even be shaded in as few as five years.
CONSIDER LOW-E WINDOWS OR WINDOW FILM
Though trees are a great way to block sunlight from making your air conditioner work overtime, you might not have room or prefer a more instant solution. Low-E, or low-emissivity, windows are specially made to let in less heat in the summer and keep in more of it in the winter. You could see as much as $330 in annual savings, the Department of Energy estimates. Of course, new energy-efficient windows aren’t cheap. One budget alternative to consider is low-E film, which can be applied to existing windows and costs roughly $6 to $14 a square foot.
TRADE IN GRASS FOR A XERISCAPE
That lush green sea of grass in your yard looks lovely, but remember how much time you spend maintaining it and how much money you spend watering it. Through xeriscaping, you replace some or all of that lawn with native plants, particularly ones that are drought-tolerant. Ultimately, you couldsave around $200 a year on your water bill, experts estimate, not to mention untold hours mowing, fertilizing, and otherwise babying your lawn.
TRY A SMART SPRINKLER SYSTEM
If you just can’t part with your lawn, we get it. But one easy, convenient way to score some long-term savings is by replacing your old sprinkler controller with a smart model like the Rachio Smart Sprinkler. Aside from offering the benefits of a typical smart device, such as being able to control sprinklers from your phone or with a voice assistant, these systems can sense exactly what your lawn really needs, skipping cycles if the soil is already saturated or if there’s rain in the forecast. Many are also eligible for rebates through the EPA’s WaterSense program.
REPLACE THAT ROOF
Though admittedly costly, a new roof is a necessary evil if your old one is past its prime. The good news is that it can save you plenty on your homeowner’s insurance — as much as 20 percent— because advances in roofing technology like higher shingle wind ratings will more effectively protect your house from nasty weather. Opting for a more energy-efficient “cool roof” — often at a cost equal to that of a normal roof replacement — can also help homeowners save money on cooling.
HAVE YOUR DUCTS SEALED
Considering heating and air-conditioning account for the vast amount of a home’s energy usage, it makes sense to make sure each system is working as efficiently as possible. But chances are the very ducts meant to ferry warm or cool air to your living spaces are leaking — allowing as much as 30 percent of the air inside to escape before you ever benefit. Sealing up your ducts, either yourself or by using a contractor, can remedy the problem and save you a mint on your utility bills.
PUT IN SOME CEILING FANS
A ceiling fan can’t cool the air, but using it in concert with your air conditioner will let you boost the temperature on your thermostat 4 degrees and stay comfortable, according to Angie’s List. That, of course, could mean some nice utility bill savings. Plus, your ceiling fan doesn’t have to gather dust in the winter. Reverse the direction of the blades to push warm air back down and stay cozier without cranking up the heat.
SPLURGE ON THE HARDWOOD FLOORS
In the cozy-versus-classic battle for the ages, it’s true that wood floors are typically costlier to install than carpet. But they can be a money-saver in the long run. If you’re looking to sell in the near future, hardwood floorscan help your house sell faster. And if you hope to stay in your home for a long time, there’s good news for you, too: Wall-to-wall carpet usually lasts only 10 years, while hardwood floors can easily last triple that time — or much longer, if well cared for.
COZY UP TO A WATER HEATER BLANKET
Got an older water heater? Go touch it. Does it feel warm? If so, you could save some cash by purchasing an inexpensive water-heater blanket that will reduce heat loss and, in turn, your water-heating costs. The best part about this project: Water heater blankets are inexpensive, starting around $20, and easy to install yourself.
CONSIDER GOING TANKLESS
Once your water heater reaches the end of its lifespan, think critically about whether you need a behemoth with a conventional storage tank. A tankless water heater that heats up water on demand can be up to 34 percent more efficient than a conventional water heater for a small household using 40 gallons or less of hot water each day, according to the Department of Energy. And while you’ll pay more to install this type of water heater, there’s another big advantage: it’s easier to repair and typically lasts much longer — 20 years or more — than conventional models that may last just 10 to 15 years.
INSTALL A LEAK DETECTOR
Any homeowner who’s had a washing machine give up the ghost or a pipe burst on an uncharacteristically cold morning can tell you how expensive it can be to repair water damage. One cheap way to potentially avert disaster? A leak detector that tells you there’s a problem before it gets too severe. As with many devices today, you can go low-tech, opting for a traditional alarm with some form of siren, or you can grab a smart alarm like theFibaro Flood Sensor that sends an alert to your phone — great if you’re away from home for long periods.