4 Green Remodeling Ideas for Small Homes

September 18, 2018


If you want to make your small home more eco-friendly, it pays to make smart investments. But you might be surprised to find that green remodeling plans don’t need to include expensive or flashy items to save you money in the long run.

According to David Webber, a green architect based in Austin, Texas, it’s often worth updating energy-efficient necessities, such as appliances, first.

"A lot of my clients think that green building means installing solar panels and rainwater collection systems," Webber explained to This Old House. "But it can have just as much to do with the insulation you use and the efficiency of your AC unit.”

While you’re planning your green remodeling project, direct the majority of your budget toward simple but lasting property upgrades that meet Energy Star guidelines. If you have room left over in your green remodeling renovation budget, invest in major projects you feel passionate about, like solar panels, greywater irrigation, and other eco-friendly updates.

Here are 4 green remodeling ideas for small homes that won’t break the bank.

1. Choose Energy-efficient Insulation

The majority of American homes aren’t insulated properly for their climate—which means you could be losing hundreds of dollars per month on heating and cooling bills. If your house is more than 20 years old, one of the best green remodeling options to consider is upgrading to eco-friendly insulation. Loose-fill insulation made from recycled paper will stop up air leaks and prevent heat from escaping your house in winter.

Live in a cold climate? Consider devoting some of your green remodeling budget to air sealing, too. In addition to attic air sealing, [insulation] helps prevent the build-up of ice dams during the cold months, according to EnergyStar.gov. Perhaps best of all, the federal government provides a tax credit for 10% of the cost of insulating your home, up to $500, to help defray the costs of improving energy efficiency.

Want to learn how to heat- and cold-proof your home? Start here for more eco-friendly insulation ideas.

2. Upgrade HVACs and Heat Pumps

Without the proper HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system, even small homes can become inefficient quickly. If your current HVAC system is more than 10 years old, consider designating some of your green remodeling budget to an upgrade. Not only can you save anywhere from 30 to 40 percent on your yearly heating bill with an Energy Star-recommended HVAC system, but you can also rest assured knowing that your home is more eco-friendly than ever.

Expecting a tough winter? Don’t discount investing in a new heat pump. Today’s versions are more energy-efficient than their predecessors, and they work well even in colder climates. “Even at 5 degrees, these technologies will still produce two to three units of heat for every one unit of electricity they use,” explained Andy Belden, the senior director of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, to The Boston Globe. “[They’re] still highly efficient, even at some of the lowest temperatures we see in New England.”

Not sure where to start when it comes to upgrading your outdated HVAC system? Learn how one Ygrene customer went from an ancient evaporative cooler to an efficient mini-split system—and saved big on energy costs—here.

3. Spring for Energy Star-certified Windows

If you have an older home with single-pane glass windows, it’s time to divert your green remodeling budget to updating your home’s windows. Energy Star-certified insulated glass panels can save you as much as $400 per year if you live in a cold climate. But it’s a smart update even if you depend on A/C to keep cool in the summer—insulated windows help keep cool air in, too.

Replacing all the windows in your home can be expensive, especially if your green remodeling plan includes pricier building materials for window frames. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), homeowners should expect to pay anywhere between $450 to $1,000 per window. While it may take some years before you start recouping costs in energy savings, you can expect the savings in your first one to two years to equal the amount of a single window upgrade.

Learn more about whether you should replace all the windows in your home here.

4. Update Your Appliances

No matter how ambitious your green remodeling plans might be, one of the single best strategies for making your home more energy efficient is to upgrade your appliances, says the DOE.

Newer washing machine and dishwasher models often have eco-friendly settings that use less water. Energy Star-certified air conditioners are 20 percent more efficient today than they were in 2001, while water boilers more than 15 years old could be up to 15 percent more inefficient than their modern-day replacements. Likewise, an energy-efficient refrigerator could save you as much as 15 percent on your utility costs.

Prioritize your appliance upgrades by conducting an energy audit and then devoting some of your green remodeling budget to updating the oldest—or least efficient—appliances in your home. Learn more about choosing energy-efficient appliances here.

Financing Your Green Remodeling Plans

With PACE financing, green remodeling and other energy efficiency upgrades can be repaid over time with the homeowner’s property taxes. These programs cover efficiency upgrades, like new HVAC systems, insulation installation, and Energy Star-certified windows. With PACE financing, homeowners can afford to transform their homes into more efficient and eco-friendly living spaces. The first step in making your remodeling dreams come true is checking your property’s eligibility here.