Reader Poll: Home Improvement

It’s a new year and I’m plotting and scheming and dreaming about all the exciting projects I could work on in 2009.  We recently had our home energy audit, which generated a list of projects.  I also have some coupons for seeds and plants to improve the yard.  And of course there’s a long list of possibilities we identified when we first moved into the house last summer.

Here’s my list of projects, with a rough evaluation of the cost, greenness, and difficulty level.  Which would you prioritize?

1. Hook our house to the sewer line.  This would be expensive but easy since we would hire it out.  The hook-up fee is a few thousand dollars and the actual installation would be a few hundred.  I think the city wastewater treatment plant is slightly greener than our current septic system but the main advantage is that we could plant fruit trees and gardens without worrying about impacts to the septic field (or vice versa).

2. Replace our water heater.  We currently have an ancient electric water heater that is functional but not very efficient and we fear may croak at any minute.  We could change to a gas water heater but it would have to be replumbed to be located on our back porch instead of the crawlspace, probably to the tune of a couple thousand dollars.  Another option would be a passive solar water heater but that would still require a back-up electric or gas water heater so we’d be looking at several thousand dollars.  Definitely green!

3. Build a passive solar backyard water heater and hot tub.  This is a bit of a lark but I’ve been thinking perhaps I should scrounge up materials to put together a ramshackle passive solar water heater in the backyard and hook it up to an old jacuzzi tub so I can have the hot tub I’ve always dreamed of but without the chemicals or electrical usage.  Price tag is probably a few hundred dollars, depending on my scrounging skills.  Greenness is dubious since it’s totally a luxury and it would use quite a bit of water (like a gigantic bathtub).

4. Insulate our attic.  This was the number one recommendation from our home energy audit and he suggested renting a machine to blow in cellulose fiber (about $60/day).  Probably a good home project as long as we can do it without putting any holes through the ceiling and as long as I don’t get too claustrophobic, since as the small person I will undoubtedly be the one in the attic.  Price tag is probably a few hundred dollars.  Greenness is excellent for insulating qualities, pretty good for cellulose.

5. Seal up our crawlspace.  This was the number two recommendation from our home energy audit.  It would involve less green materials (foam board and sheets of poly plastic) but would have great energy efficiency results.  It also sounds like an easy project to do ourselves without huge expense.

6. Build a passive solar air heater. Oh, I really want to build some sort of solar collector and install it on the south side of our house but it sounds intimidating!  Still, might be worthwhile in terms of energy efficiency and building handyman skills the down and dirty way.

What do you think?  Which project would you do first and why?  And how does one successfully recruit one’s father or other local handyman to help out?

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Andy said,

    January 13, 2009 @ 12:32 am

    I’ll give you my 2 cents on these.

    1. Attic: Attics are a terrible use of space for many reasons. Houses would be better off having a high (or slightly low but usable top floor) if there was no attic. If money was no concern, I’d say rip out your ceiling and turn the attic into a real space, even if that’s only to make the floor taller. Did you say if this house was 1 or 2 floors? I don’t recall knowing that. If you aren’t fond of redoing your entire ceiling area, at least pack a ton of insulation in. R38 is great, but put in as much as you are willing to afford and your heating (and cooling) will be much easier to deal with.

    2. Crawlspace: Do you need to use foam boards? Can you just stack haybales instead? How about soy insulation spray? This is another time where one fix will last the lifetime of the house, and even if it costs thousands it will eventually pay for itself.

    3. Replace the water heater. I’d highly recommend reading up about instantaneous water heaters in combination with passive solar preheaters. I think I mentioned this before, but many states will pay for around half of a solar system (typically $4,000 before). Check out dsireuse.org. In Ohio you can recoup 30% in tax credits (up to $2k)

    4. Build a passive solar backyard water heater and hot tub. Everyone needs a fun project. Do it!

    5. Build a passive solar air heater. Another one time fix to last a very long time with great benefits.

    6. Sewer line. I don’t think this is as important. Food that grows above ground should be perfectly fine. If you were planning on growing potatoes over a leachfield, you should probably look into that – but I’m not sure it’s that bad (assuming you aren’t filling the septic tank with nasty chemicals).

  2. 2

    Tommy Vernieri said,

    January 13, 2009 @ 1:58 am

    You may be able to get a $500 tax credit for some of those things if you didn’t alerady claim it in previous years.

    http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=products.pr_tax_credits

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