Home Energy Saving Projects for Every Budget

Ed and Amy Kelly of Indianapolis, Ind., are excited about their recent kitchen remodeling. While their initial reason was to update the appearance of their kitchen, the couple realized that replacing the aged appliances would have a big energy-saving benefit. “We bought all new energy-efficient appliances because we would save money in the long run. We watch our bills very closely. Plus, we wanted to do our part to reduce energy consumption,” Amy explains.

The Kellys would like to implement more energy-saving ideas and projects around the house that would make their home more energy efficient, but like most young homeowners, they’re on a tight budget. Luckily there are plenty of home improvement options to fit anyone’s budget–from free energy-saving tactics to more costly overhauls.

Lindsay Curren is co-founder of Transition Staunton Augusta, a Virginia chapter of Transition U.S., a nonprofit organization that supports building communities that are resilient to the challenges of peak oil and climate change. Curren knows that not every homeowner can afford costly energy-saving upgrades.

No cost

Think “going green” must break the bank? Think again. Here are a few things you can do to improve your home’s energy usage that cost absolutely nothing.
Close doors to unused rooms when heating or cooling your house.
Pull blinds down during the summer and up in the winter to minimize or maximize solar gain.
Turn off heating and cooling when you’re not at home.
Turn down the thermostat — “We had a family meeting and decided that, for heating, no one is to set the thermostat above 68, and for cooling, no lower than 75,” Curren says.
Dress appropriately: Don’t wear summer clothes during winter and crank up the heat to compensate.
Line dry your clothes — “We line dry everything winter and summer,” says Curren.
Unplug unused appliances — (Beware the vampire!)
Sign up for a free account at EarthAid.net to track and reduce your energy usage — and qualify for rewards at the same time!

Less than $100

No need to break the bank to make your home more energy efficient. Here are some low-cost tasks and helpful tools.
Use a TED device to measure and track your energy consumption.
Plant a tree to shade your air conditioning unit so that it will work more efficiently.
Install window film, such as Energy-Film, to prevent solar gain during the summer and energy loss during the winter.
Caulk or seal drafty areas in your home, such as around windows.
Use door snakes, chimney balloons and clotheslines to reduce energy use.

Curren suggests other low-cost solutions: “We wrapped an insulating blanket around our hot water heater and insulated the first six feet of pipes leaving the hot water heater. [We also] installed weather stripping around our outside doors, and we bought “draft doggies” in funky fabrics from a vendor on Etsy.com for under the interior doors.”

$200-$1,500

Consider the appliances in your kitchen or laundry room. Replacing outdated ones with Energy Star appliances reduces your energy usage and gives you a great excuse to freshen up a room’s appearance at the same time. Less-flashy upgrades in this price range include installing a tankless water heater or adding additional insulation to your attic. Curren blew insulation (see “Insulation at Some Saves Money”) into the attic to a level of R30 in their Virginia home. Check here to determine recommended insulation levels in your part of the country.

$1,500 and up

Yes, some home energy efficiency improvements are expensive. However, they typically pay for themselves very quickly in the form of reduced utility bills and/or tax rebates and incentives. These include: solar panels, solar water heaters and geothermal solutions. Making 10 of these types of changes saves a typical homeowner $600 or more per year and posts an impressive 16% return on your money, according to a study by the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing. Energy-efficient improvements may also increase your home’s market value when you sell.

Top 10 Home Improvements That Pay You Back

If you’re planning to sell your house any time soon, home improvements that build property value should be on your to-do list. It’s a buyer’s market, and between tighter purse strings and plenty of properties to choose from, shoppers want homes that are move-in ready and free of the need for home improvement projects that will add to their own bottom lines.

“There’s enough inventory out there right now that buyers can find what they like without having to compromise,” says Harrison Tulloss, a ZipRealty agent based in Raleigh, N.C. “They don’t have the money or inclination to put in a down payment, get a loan and then turn around and spend more cash to do exactly what they want to improve a property.”

Planning home improvements that pay you back at the time of sale requires a strategic vision as well as design, finish and product selections that welcome the widest possible range of buyer tastes. Drawing on tips from real estate pros, along with Remodeling magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value Report, here are 10 home improvements that pay you back when you sell.

Front entry doors: Curb appeal is the first step in a successful home sale, and installing a beautiful, high-quality entry door is a simple home improvement that delivers impact both in buyer drive-bys and online listings. A new entry door will also help lower home energy costs and stand up to weather extremes.

Attic bedroom: Converting an attic into useful living space is a smart way to add value and attract those shopping for multigenerational family homes. “Parents are moving in with their kids and vice versa, or people are combining their incomes to live in a bigger house,” says Renee Mayhall, RealEstate.com managing broker for the Carolinas. “So we see buyers focusing on properties with a higher number of bedrooms and baths to accommodate that.”

Decks: Building a deck is one of the least-expensive ways to extend your living space. Composite decking is a great low-maintenance option, and even building a deck from pressure-treated wood can bring a return on investment of up to 80 percent at the time of sale. (Also see Best Landscape Design Options.)

Siding: A tight, tidy home contributes to curb appeal and takes major home improvement worries off a potential buyer’s list. Spruce up your home’s exterior by repairing or replacing siding for an eye-catching, protective finish. And for way less than the cost of siding replacement, consider adding easy-to-install decorative trim elements made of high-density polyurethane foam to spruce up an otherwise dull exterior. (Also see Siding for Your Home: Which Should You Choose?)

Kitchen: The kitchen is a major selling point for a home, and its appearance and layout can often be a deal-breaker. Improving your kitchen doesn’t have to be a huge investment, however: just replacing countertops, key appliances or cabinet hardware can transform a kitchen’s look and impact. (Also see Minor Kitchen Renovations Help Sell Your Home.)

Windows: Installing replacement windows is a pre-sale home improvement that pays for everyone, with the seller earning valuable energy tax credits and the buyer enjoying lower home energy bills. Says Tulloss: “Especially in older homes, buyers always seem to appreciate when new, better windows have been put in. People like the energy efficiency aspect now more than ever.”

Basement: Make the most of this bonus space by finishing it for use as an apartment, office or entertainment zone ─ more great ways to appeal to multi-generational households.

Bathroom: Along with kitchens, bathrooms tend to age easily, so neutralize potential design objections by replacing the vanity, installing efficient fixtures and choosing hardware that facilitates easy access for all. (Also see Increase Home Value With Bathroom Renovations.)

Backup power generator: With the aging electrical grid becoming less reliable, access to backup power is essential for a home. Gone are the days of bulky, smelly, portable gas-powered generators: You can now have a neat, compact standby generator installed right next to your outdoor AC unit that can repower most of your home within seconds of losing electricity from the utility.

Additions: If done wisely and in a way that won’t price your home out of the local market, additions are valuable home improvements. Add a second story, expand into a master suite, enlarge the garage or create an extra bathroom for a busy household.

A final thought comes from Atlanta agent Katrina Walker of RealEstate.com. “Of course your home is your castle, and you want to be pleased with the way your home looks while you’re in it,” she says. “But you don’t want to put in things that are extremely personal. For instance, choose colors that are neutral. I’m not saying that everything has to be beige and bland, but you don’t want to pick colors that the average person isn’t going to like.”

Interior Paint Colors That Help Sell Your Home

Maggie Hernandez recalls a Realtor telling her sister-in-law that she had to get rid of many of her personal items in order to sell her home. But the realtor was even more adamant that the sister-in-law update the interior paint colors throughout her house. In fact 94 percent of all agents recommend a fresh coat of paint for their clients’ homes.

And why is painting your house in order to sell your home so important? How about a major return on investment! According to HomeGain’s Prepare to Sell 2009 national survey, the average price to paint interior walls is $500 to $750, but that increases a home price by an average of $1,500 to $2,000 — which can be a 250 percent return on investment.

The Basic Rule of Thumb

It’s necessary to remove all the personal touches you’ve made within your home in an effort to make the place as impersonal as possible when staging your home for sale. A neutral-colored palette, without all the clutter, helps potential buyers envision how their personal taste can be implemented into the house.

A bright red accent wall, or your teenager’s black-walled bedroom, needs to be painted over in order to sell. “Beiges, warm beiges and yellows are great choices for wall color and making a space look more impersonal,” says Maggie Hernandez, a seasoned home stager and realtor with RPI International, Inc. “Wallpaper is a deal-breaker, paint is your ally. Neutralize the color palette throughout the home and neutral doesn’t mean white.”

Karen Dembsky, president of Peachtree Home Staging LLC and Georgia’s Real Estate Staging Association, as well as a Pro Stager of the Year nominee, has the first and most important piece of advice before even tackling the issue of color.

“A seller should always make sure that their paint has a fresh appeal, no dings, no marks. If there are any, it should be repainted or touched up because it gives the feeling of a well-maintained home,” she said. “The color has to be livable and appealing, you want a color where the buyer will come in and say that it’s not their first choice but they can live with it.”

Repainting the Kitchen

Going room by room and making the correct decision on colors is vital and Dembsky gives her take on the best approach for each one. In the kitchen it’s good to stay in the orange, red and yellow families. These work well because they’re food related, but it’s important to still make them soft, appealing and neutral, and keep them in the suggested food group colors. “In the kitchen, these colors will fly but keep these tips in mind to make them work well,” she says.

Repainting the Bathroom

In the bathroom paint must be light, because the room tends to be smaller, and a darker color would just make it more so. One way to infuse color into the room is through accessories like soaps or towels. But for the walls, keep it in the light yellows or tans. Perhaps you can pick up colors from the tile floors, but if the floors are hardwood then it’s best to stick with neutral tones.

Repainting the Bedroom

In the bedroom it’s also especially important to stay away from bright colors, since this room is viewed as a sanctuary, so choose something very neutral that will work with the flooring and also flow into the master bathroom. Bed and bath colors do not have to be the same but definitely must flow.

Repainting the Home Office

The only spot where warmer, richer colors are welcomed is in the home office, where cinnamon, dark brown or even dark blue are welcome — these colors make the space an area in which to work and relax.

Repainting Other Areas of the Home

Other paint suggestions to help sell your home include salmon-hued paints – they make people’s skin color look good. A very pale beige with a blue tone is very tranquil while a beige tone with a green tint that gives off energy and both are good choices for the living room.

And don’t forget about the great outdoors and your garage. In the patio area it’s not necessary to paint but do ensure that the decks and patios are pressure washed and fresh looking. For your basement and garage paint is also important. Paint the concrete floor and warm up these otherwise cold spaces with a warm neutral color like gold.

The Color to Avoid

Surprisingly, white is the color to avoid. Both Hernandez and Dembsky agree: When painting to help sell your house, the color white is not your ally. “The biggest mistake people make is painting their house entirely white inside thinking it’s a neutral color. It’s not, it’s a bright color,” Dembsky explains.

6 Steps to Sell Your House Without a Realtor

When Lake Grove, N.Y. residents Jim and Rose Maguire decided to sell their vacation home in Vero Beach, Fla. they decided to try the home sale themselves.

With limited knowledge of home sales (they’d purchased three homes but never sold any), Jim went online, searched “for sale by owner” and came across www.ForSaleByOwner.com.

Following the site’s instructions, the couple took pictures of their home, listed it and waited for buyers to come.

They spent their winter holiday hosting open houses and corresponding with potential buyers to no avail. So when it came time to return home to Long Island, they handed the listing to a Realtor with a caveat — that it exclude a couple they’d met through ForSaleByOwner.com who needed to sell their own home first.

Weeks after the Maguires returned to Long Island, the couple called.

“I knew the market was tough, but “I figured ‘what do I have to lose?,’ ” Jim Maguire said. “I knew what I had to gain – saving $15,000 on a real estate commission.”

The Maguires successfully maneuvered the For Sale By Owner process, or FSBO (pronounced “fizz-bo”) in real estate lingo – not an easy task in a down market. In 2009, 11 percent of home sales were FSBOs, according to the National Association of Realtors. And just over half of these, 6 percent, actually sold on the open market. (The remaining 5 percent were private transactions among family, friends or neighbors, according to the NAR).

The NAR estimates that nearly 70 percent of all for-sale-by-owner sellers eventually hire a professional agent for help. While these numbers might look discouraging, this percentage includes home sales using a real estate agent, says Joanne Cleaver, a senior editor at ForSaleByOwner.com.

So while a for-sale-by-owner home sale is hard work, it can be done. With the right attitude, knowledge, motivation and some Internet savvy, nearly any homeowner can turn their property into a successful home sale.

Experts and homeowners alike agree on these six steps to a successful for sale by owner experience:

1. Do your research

The first order of business in preparing for a home sale is to become familiar with the ins-and-outs of real estate transactions. Since you’ve been through the experience at least once, pull out the paperwork and contracts on your home and read them. Learn the language of real estate and read a book or two about how to sell your house.

Gather all the paperwork and forms you’ll need for the home sale closing, including copies of property records for appraisers, the title company and others, as well as insurance documents, disclosures and legal documents. At this time, also line up people who will help you in the process, including a real estate attorney, an appraiser if you plan to use one, and a title company. Finally, consider how you want to structure the deal. Will you want to offer such incentives as owner-financing or lease-to-own to attract first-time homebuyers? Learn how these arrangements work.

2. Prepare your house

Now turn a critical eye to your home. Cleaver says house issues fall into three categories: cosmetic problems; functional issues; and things you can’t fix. The first two should be corrected before you try and sell your home and the third, if any, should be addressed with the home’s pricing.

Turn a critical eye to your house. Paint scuffed or brightly colored walls in soothing neutrals. Replace carpeting or refinish floors. Make sure that your home is cosmetically clean and perfect. Then turn to the working items in your house – the functional things – and see if they need to be repaired or replaced. Ruthlessly inspect appliances, the heating and air conditioning, the roof and other items. Cleaver says. If these are nearing the end of their lifespan, they could turn off buyers. Finally, take a look at things that you can’t change about your house: Is it on a busy road, adjacent to an odiferous chicken farm or on an awkward lot directly facing the neighbor’s back windows? You may need to adjust or lower the price to entice buyers.

The next step is to clean it, clear away clutter and personal items and stage it. Aim for crisp, clean interiors, closets and spaces. “Trim the trees, wash the windows, get rid of big heavy draperies. Stuff like that doesn’t cost you anything and it brings the light in, making a home seem bright and spacious,” Cleaver says.

3. Price your house

The number one mistake owners make is pricing their home too high, says Piper Nichole, author of “The For Sale By Owner Handbook.” Price it too high and you might scare off potential buyers. Allow it to sit on the market and it gets stale. “Buyers start to wonder what’s wrong. Pricing effectively helps a home sell faster,” Nichole says.

To determine what you consider the home’s fair market value, check out neighborhood sales from the past six months. Attend open houses and check out the competition. Use AOL Real Estate’s Home Values page to get a starting idea. You can interview real estate agents, but be up front with them regarding your intention to try to sell the house yourself. Some may decline an offer to speak with you, but many know that you still might need an agent and will welcome the chance.

Finally, if you are stumped, hire an appraiser. A professional assessment could cost between $300 to $500, but having that appraisal in hand is also helpful if there is a wide discrepancy with the potential buyer’s offer or the lending appraisal.

4. Market your house

The internet has taken away what used to be a real estate agent’s ace-in-the-hole: the multiple listing service. For a small fee, owners can list their for-sale-by-owner listings on an MLS, giving them similar exposure to the market. Other outlets, including Craigslist and websites geared exclusively to home-sales-by-owner draw home shoppers. “If you use these online avenues to market your home, make sure the site gets a lot of unique visitors. You don’t want to waste money on a site that doesn’t get a lot of traffic,” Nichole says.

Also, spread the word on social networking sites, forums you frequent and traditional media outlets like local newspapers. To entice agents with buyers, offer a commission, one comparable to one they’d receive in a normal sale. “We love buyers’ agents,” ForSaleByOwner.com editor Cleaver says. “Many first-time buyers use an agent and we encourage our customers to offer that ‘co-broke’ fee to help reach that market.”

5. Negotiating

Be prepared for the offer and the counteroffer on your home sale. If you have a firm bottom-line in mind, make sure it’s justified with strong research and weigh the cost of continuing to market the home. Again, if you are squeamish about haggling, consider bringing in someone – a real estate attorney – to assist.

6. Closing the deal

Make sure you are familiar with the required closing paperwork for a home sale in your state. Hopefully, your buyer will have already shown you their written preapproval and you will sail through the closing process. But be prepared for snags or delays along the way. Add some cushion to the closing date: Schedule your move and the turnover so that it’s somewhat flexible, should the mortgage approval process be delayed. Be prepared for the results of any home inspections and appraisals, and come to the closing table with everything mandated by state and federal law.