Low Impact Living: Five Eco-Smart Ways to Spend Your Tax Rebate

young woman holding moneyEditor’s note: Hopefully, a tax rebate or economic stimulus check is in the mail for you. Our friends at Low Impact Living have some ideas on ways to invest that money in your home… and the environment. This post was originally published on Monday, May 12, 2008

We know that many of us will need to spend our tax rebate check on critical items like food or rent or paying off debt. But just in case you have some of your tax rebate check left and you’re looking for eco-friendly ways to spend the money, we have some ideas we’d like to share with you.

And we’ve geared these tips to supporting the US economy, so you get to do the right thing for the planet and be an eco-patriot at the same time! In coming up with our list of ideas we decided it would be good to recommend ideas that reduce our negative environmental impacts but also support US manufacturers and service providers. So here are five eco-smart ways to use your rebate to support the Earth, the US economy, and save your household money in the long run.

1. Buy a high-efficiency water heater. A high-efficiency water heater can cut your energy use, water use, carbon footprint and even utility bills (over the long run). For most homes you can get the heater itself for $600 – $1,200, but you’ll probably have to spring for installation as well. Models made in the US include the AO Smith Vertex (a storage model that beats the pants off of tankless HW heaters), electric models made by American Tankless Water Heaters, and natural gas tankless heaters made by Rheem (some made in the US). Click here to learn more about making the tankless decision, and click here to find local installers.

2. Upgrade your insulation. If you don’t have insulation (like many older homes in the Southwest), or you only have partial insulation, upgrading your home’s insulation is an excellent way to reduce your energy use (for both heat in the winter and cooling in the summer). It will also make your home more comfortable. Fully insulating your attic and walls will cost a few thousand dollars, but you can do it in installments to cut the cost. Start with the attic — that will run between $700-2,000, depending on the size of your home. Then you can move on to the walls at a later date. The insulation investment will pay for itself in less than five years. And your local utility company very likely offers substantial rebates, so be sure to check with them for incentives. You can also buy great insulation made in the US out of recycled and sustainable materials such as Cocoon cellulose insulation (recycled newspaper), Ultratouch recycled denim insulation, and BioBased insulation (made from soybean oil). Click here to see great insulation recommendations and you can find local insulation installers here.

3. Replace your oldest appliance with an Energy Star model. Old appliances are major energy-wasters and can also use excessive amounts of water as well. Old clothes washers, refrigerators and dishwashers are typically the biggest energy hogs. We highly recommend you upgrade to an Energy Star model — this will save you money in the long run as well. Like with insulation, many local utilities offer great rebates on appliance upgrades. You can find Energy Star appliances here, or you can go directly to the Energy Star site (part of the US EPA) and check the full range of makes and models. Unfortunately, there are few (if any) US appliance manufacturers left …

4. If you irrigate, replace a high-water area with drought-tolerant or native plants. Global warming deserves all of the media attention it gets, but our growing water-shortage crisis doesn’t get enough coverage. If you live in the Southeast or Southwest US, we need to be doing everything we can to reduce our water consumption. Grass lawns are water-hogs and it is a great idea to incorporate native and low-water-use plants into your landscaping. To learn more about native landscaping, click here. Any plants you buy are grown in the US, and you can also use the services of an eco-friendly landscape designer and/or maintenance team– find local landscape services here.

5. Swap out all of your lights and shower heads. Perhaps you’ve been waiting to change your incandescent lights to compact fluorescents or LEDs because the latter are expensive. Now’s the time spend a couple hundred dollars and get really energy-efficient lighting throughout your home— and for outdoors as well. Compact fluorescent lights will last ten times as long as standard bulbs, and LED lights will last 5-10 times longer than the fluorescents. You’ll save money and energy. Also spend $50 to get a few low-water-use shower heads. These shower heads can save you 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of water per person per year. And they work great. You won’t know you’re in a low-flow shower! Most low-cost items like this are made overseas these days, but at least you’ll be supporting your local retailer.

Of course, you might instead be thinking about using that stimulus check for a new flat-screen TV or computer. If so, make sure they’re Energy Star – here are links to the Energy Star pages for TVs and computers.

Read More about Energy, Water, and Money-Saving Home Improvement Investments:

  1. Michael

    6. (Oilheat Users) Switch to a healthier B5 blend of oil. By doing so, you will help save 400 MILLION gallons of regular household heating oil. Not only that, you will be making your home much greener by heating this way. Plus, it costs about the same as what you already pay. Definitely check out this site for more info: http://oilheatamerica.com/index.mv?screen=bioheat

    There you go. I think that’ll make a fine tip for your blog. Working for NORA I have seen how oil users struggle with their supply. Especially now, when oil dealers are going broke and closing up shop. We have to do as much as we can and help these people out.

  2. Anthony

    Stay away from American Tankless for tankless water heaters. Their Adtetc Tankless One did not work and they have refused to refund our money!

  3. Fred Miser

    If you want to try a good tankless go with the Titan brand. I have used and installed the titan tankless water heaters for years and love them. They are reliable and most importantly “small and powerfull” I just started using there titan-scr3 model: N-160. Its one of there newest models. Gives 16KW on a single line instead of two. The manufacturers are in the US (Niagara Industries Inc) and there website is tanklesswaterheater.com Give them a look

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