9 Energy-Efficient Home Improvements That Also Save You Money

An infographic says that the average monthly electric bill is $115.49 a month in the United States.
Getty Images and Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder


How would you like to invest $30 and be paid a $45 dividend on your investment every year after that?

That’s essentially what you do when you make certain energy-efficient home improvements to lower your expenses.

If you pay for powering your home, you know that the dollars can really add up. The average monthly electricity bill in the U.S. was $115.49 in 2019, but your bill can vary widely depending on where you live — and whether you also rely on alternative energy sources like gas or solar power.

If you take the steps suggested below — especially if you do the work yourself — you could save a bundle. And if you think of the improvements as an investment, you can enjoy a healthy annual rate of return and won’t pay income taxes like you would with regular investment returns.

9 Energy-Efficient Home Improvement Tips That Will Also Save You Money

When you invest in your home to lower your bills, every penny saved is yours to keep.

Ready to get started? Here are nine ways to save money by improving your house.

1. Insulate Your Water Heater

An insulating jacket for your hot water heater will cost $30 or so, and you can install it yourself in about an hour.

According to the experts at the Department of Energy, insulating a hot water tank saves 7% to 16% annually.

In other words, assuming the average hot water costs $438 to operate annually, you’ll have $30 to $70 more in your pocket each year.

If you’re able to make a bigger up-front investment, you may consider replacing your traditional electric water heater with a heat pump water heater.

Instead of generating heat directly, heat pump water heaters act more like refrigerators in reverse — they pull heat into the device instead of pushing it out.

The bigger your family is, the more you’ll save by using heat pump water heaters, according to the DOE. Two people would save $170 every year while a family of four would save $350 a year. The DOE estimates the cost to switch is approximately $800, so that family of four would start seeing savings after a little over two years.

The Energy Star site has a questionnaire to help you decide if heat pump water heaters are a good fit for your home.

A woman adjusts the thermostat.
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2. Install a Programmable Thermostat

You don’t need as much heat when you’re in bed at night, and you don’t need as much heating or air conditioning when you are out of the house. But you don’t want to climb out of bed on a cold winter morning or come home to a hot house in the summer.

A programmable thermostat solves these problems by automatically adjusting the temperature settings for you.

Ten minutes before you get up in winter, the heat turns on. Ten minutes before you get home after a hot summer day at work, the air conditioning adjusts to cool the house. You use the heating and cooling only when you actually need them.

A programmable thermostat can save you $50 on heating and cooling costs each year, according to the government’s Energy Star program. Starting around $60, many models are simple enough to install on your own.

3. Switch Out Your Light Bulbs

Another bright idea for savings? Replacing your light bulbs.

Light emitting diode (LED) light bulbs are 90% more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs and can last up to 20 years.

LEDs used to be expensive for a single bulb, but today, you can get a two-pack of LED bulbs for under $5.

Pro Tip

Before starting a home improvement project, check out the DOE’s Energy Star site to find out if the product you need is eligible for a tax credit or rebate.

By using the LEDs, you can save $4.10 per bulb per year on energy usage compared to an incandescent. The average American household has 50 light bulb sockets, according to the EPA’s Energy Star program, which means a potential annual savings of $205 if you replaced every bulb in your house.

4. Bundle Up Those Water Lines

Bare water lines leak heat, so you have to set the temperature of the hot water heater higher to still get a hot shower at the other end of the house.

Solve this problem with a little pipe insulation: an inexpensive foam tube with a slit down the side. Just cut it to the required length with scissors and push it onto the pipes.

This project will take you about three hours for a small home and cost $10 to $15 total, according to the Department of Energy. Each year, you’ll save 3% to 4% heating your water.

5. Replace Your Ceiling Fans

Ceiling fans in general can help you save on heating and cooling costs.

In the summer, run the fan blades counterclockwise to generate a cool breeze — thus reducing the need to run the more expensive air conditioning. Running the blades clockwise helps circulate warm air that rises back down into the room, helping cut heating costs in the winter.

You can realize even more savings by replacing your old, inefficient fans with Energy Star certified fans, which are 60% more energy efficient than older models, according to the DOE. (And be sure to use your energy efficient light bulbs in the fixtures.)

A woman opens up the fridge in her home.
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6. Buy a New Refrigerator

If your refrigerator is working fine, there’s normally no good reason to replace it, even if the new one is a bit more efficient. But if you have a fridge that’s more than 15 years old, it might be time to replace that one.

A new fridge uses about $80 less in electricity each year compared to one from 2005.

7. Insulate Your Attic

If you run your heater or air conditioner most days, you might save some serious money by adding new insulation to your attic.

Upgrading attic insulation from R-11 to R-49 is something you can do by yourself in a day or two for about $750, according to HouseLogic.com. (The cost is about double if you want professionals to install it.)

You’ll save about $600 per year on heating and cooling costs, depending on where you live and the type of heat you have. It also adds value to your home if you decide to sell in the future.

FROM THE SAVE MONEY FORUM

8. Seal Those Air Leaks

Check for cracks or spaces around door frames, windows and entry points for pipes and cables. You lose heat from these gaps during the winter and cool air in the summer, adding to your heating and cooling costs.

It takes about $20 in caulking and peel-and-paste insulating strips to seal these up all over the house.

Pro Tip

If you’re looking to replace an exterior door, a steel or fiberglass door is a more energy efficient option than wood. Some steel doors even have insulated cores, so no need for weatherstripping.

The experts at Energy Star say doing this will cut your heating and cooling costs by an average of 15%, depending where you live. That’s potentially hundreds of dollars saved for an investment of an afternoon and $20. Not bad, right?

9. Replace That Toilet Flapper

If you hear your toilet running when it isn’t being used, you probably have a leaky flapper.

It’s not just an annoyance — a leaky flapper can waste up to 200 gallons of water every day.

Since a new flapper valve can be bought for under $10 and can save you $50 per month, this little investment might have the highest rate of return of any on our list.

Steve Gillman is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Staff writer/editor Tiffany Wendeln Connors also contributed to this post.. 


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