10 smart eco-upgrades

Solar panels aren't the only reno that can help the environment. Here are some easy, cost-effective eco-upgrades to shrink your carbon footprint

By Jay Somerset

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Seventeen per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions are generated from energy consumed in the home, according to Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency. Compared with standard new homes built to minimum building code requirements, an Energy Star (ES)-qualified home reduces energy use by about 30 per cent every month. More than 50,000 homes in Ontario alone are built to ES standards, including every single-detached home built by Reid’s Heritage Homes, based in Cambridge, Ont.

“Consumers have stopped basing upgrade decisions on payback,” says Laura Martin, senior market research analyst, product development, at Reid’s, which was named the 2007 Green Builder of the Year by the Ontario Home Builders Association and won three trophies at this year’s EnerQuality Awards. “Green is everywhere, so now they’re seeking out these products and upgrades.”

Still, it helps to get a sense of cost/benefit when it comes to green upgrades. From basic to elaborate, here are 10 smart upgrades.

Low-E argon windows
Extra cost: 10%
Benefits: Reduces heat loss/gain by 20%; reduces condensation and prevents mildew. Pays for itself in less than one year.

R-50 attic insulation (building code: R-40)
Extra cost: $400 (for 1,200 sq. ft.)
Benefits: 33% more energy-efficient. Pays for itself in less than one year.

2″ foam insulation under basement slab
Extra cost: $2,200 (for 1,200 sq. ft.)
Benefits: Reduces heat loss by 25%. Pays for itself in four years.

Drain water heat-recovery system
Extra cost: $1,000 (can also rent)
Benefits: Recovers 80% of hot-water energy; thermal energy is recycled to save up to 40% on heating costs. Pays for itself in less than five years.

Real-time electricity monitor
Extra cost: $150
Benefits: Helps you reduce electricity usage by up to 20% by tracking energy use per kilowatt-hour; also tracks greenhouse-gas emissions. Pays for itself in less than one year.

Programmable thermostat
Extra cost: $60
Benefits: Reduces heating and cooling costs by up to 40%; reduces air pollution. Pays for itself in less than one year.

Bamboo flooring
Extra cost: None. Same as midline hardwood (about $6 per sq. ft.)
Benefits: 27% harder than red oak and 7% harder than maple for more durability; bamboo is sustainable, regenerating itself in four years compared with a 50-year hardwood cycle. Pays for itself immediately.

Tankless hot-water heater
Extra cost: $500 to $1,500, depending on size (can also rent)
Benefits: Reduces electricity usage by 15% by heating water on demand rather than continuously heating water in a large tank. Pays for itself in four to seven years.

Dual-flush toilet
Extra cost: $100
Benefits: Reduce water usage by 26% by choosing the amount of water needed per flush. Pays for itself in less than one year.

Hydronic radiant in-floor heating
Extra cost: $700 per 100 sq. ft.
Benefits: Provides even heat and eliminates drafts; keeps warm air at floor level, as opposed to ceiling, which means temperature can be set lower than forced-air systems for energy reduction; long lifespan (more than 50 years); quiet. Pays for itself in 10 years.

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