5 Budget-Friendly Tips for Building or Renovating a Green Home

5 Budget-Friendly Tips for Building or Renovating a Green Home

For most people, when it comes to building or renovating a home, the budget is a big barrier to fulfilling dreams. When it comes to doing it green, it may appear to be an insurmountable barrier. But, as with anything, if you know the right information, the road to success can become far less bumpy. In that vein, here are 5 budget-friendly tips for building or renovating a green home.

#1 Research Your Potential Grants, Rebates, and Tax Breaks

Most eco-friendly investments pay for themselves over time, but if you want some payback a bit quicker, check out what rebates, tax breaks, and grants you might be eligible for. Here’s a sampling of what’s out there:

  • Cut your solar installation costs by 30-50% with help from Energy Sage.
  • Energy Efficient Mortgages A federal loan program, EEM allows homeowners to either finance energy-efficient improvements to their existing homes or increase their home-buying power through the purchase of a new energy-efficient home.
  • Federal Income Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency provides funding for energy-efficient home improvements, including water heaters, furnaces and boilers, heat pumps, air conditioners, building insulation, windows, doors, roofs, and more.
  • The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) is a nationwide database that categorizes incentives by state. The site makes it super easy to find incentives for renewables and efficiency upgrades in all areas of the United States.
  • Home Innovation has a state by state list of all incentives offered for National Green Building Standard certified projects.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency links to many of the sources of funding for green building that are available nationally and at the state and local levels.

    #2 Be Open to Reuse

    Pretty much the most eco-friendly thing you can do is reuse existing materials. Not recycling – reusing, because it requires no additional materials, energy, or water for re-processing or manufacturing. Some contractors won’t work with used materials, but they’re great for DIY-ers. Plus, sometimes you come across unique items that transform your home in ways you couldn’t imagine. Here are ideas to get your gears going on how to do this with your project:

    • If you’re remodeling, consider things like refinishing floors or cabinets instead of replacing.
    • Look for local home salvage stores. These types of stores sell gently used building materials for a fraction of the cost. You can find everything from tile and toilets to carpet-padding and closet doors. No matter where you are, there’s likely a Habitat for Humanity ReStore within driving distance.
    • Check websites like Craigslist or local Free Market sites (if you have one). PlanetReuse is a fantastic resource for finding used building materials, too (anywhere in the country!).

    #3 Consider Long-Term Costs, Not Just Short-Term Savings

    Let’s use water heaters as an example here to crunch some numbers.

    • A traditional 40 gallon water heater costs about $650. You’ll pay about $300 a year to run it and the average life expectancy is 10 years. Your total cost is $3,650.
    • A solar 40 gallon hot water heater costs about $1,500, but it’s eligible for a 30% tax credit (net cost is now $1,000). Your annual water heating costs will be about $105 and the average life expectancy is 20 years. Your total cost is $3,100.

    I’m sure you noticed that the solar hot water heater has twice as long of a life expectancy, so let’s compare the costs for both after 20 years. You’ll ultimately spend about $3,100 for the solar model and $7,300 for the traditional since you’ll have to replace it. Now you have to decide – save $850 up front or $4,200 in the long run? And don’t forget to include the long-term environmental savings: reduced CO2 emissions, reduced natural resource use (one heater instead of two), and reduced landfill waste (again, one heater instead of two).

    On a budget, there are certainly times when there’s no wiggle room to invest in the higher-priced, eco-friendly options, so prioritize items that will give you the biggest return on your investment (like solar hot water heaters).

    #4 Be Smart About Space

    “Consider how much space you really need, not just how much you want,” says Keith Pandolfi of This Old House magazine. “Adding unnecessary square footage doesn't just result in the excessive use and disposal of building materials—you also have to factor in the extra heating, air-conditioning, electricity, and furniture you'll need to service the living space. If you can't give up certain amenities, let rooms do double duty—a laundry room that's also a pantry, say, or a home office that converts to a guest room.”

    #5 Find the Eco-Friendly Materials That Cost LESS Than Their Traditional Counterparts

    I’m not talking unicorns here. These really do exist. Sometimes the material itself is less, but more often it’s the labor that reduces costs. Here are two examples:

    • According to HomeWyse, the total cost (materials and labor) to install a hardwood floor can range from $8-13 per sq/ft, while cork would be $5-7 per sq/ft.
    • Using structural insulated panels or SIPs, which are insulating panels made of fiberglass foam that have been sandwiched between structural panels, as opposed to traditional 2x6 lumber construction can reduce your overall project cost by up to 30%. How is that possible when they cost 10-20% more? Premier SIPs spells out all the benefits:
      • Pre-insulated! No need to purchase additional insulation
      • Pre-fabricated & precut when delivered to the jobsite: save 20-30% on framing labor
      • Electrical is installed 20-30% faster
      • Jobsite waste reduced with pre-cut panels — saves approximately 30% on waste sent to the landfills
      • Tighter house means smaller HVAC systems — up to 40% savings
      • Predictable STRAIGHT engineered product is plumb & square every time = faster install for finish work. Doors/windows/millwork: no bowed lumber = straight walls for faster doors/window/millwork install. Floors: level floors and walls = no need to shim
      • House is dried in faster, subs can start sooner — fewer wasted “crew” days
      • No roof venting required in low slope roofing
      • Better indoor air quality, smaller or no air purification systems required in many climates
      • Buildings & houses are FINISHED faster.  Less interest paid.
      • Qualify for $2000 federal tax incentive to the builder and an additional $1500 to the homeowner

      So many people assume going green means shelling out more green, but clearly this doesn’t have to be the case. Use these tips to make your dream green home a reality without breaking the bank.


      Author, Janelle Sorensen is founder and chief strategist at gro gud, and head content guru for Elemental Green, where you can earn more about eco-friendly home building and renovations (products, projects, and more!)l