Top 11 DIY Green Home Improvement Ideas, Plus Costs & ROI Details

This year, homeowners are more focused on renovating their houses rather than buying new. 2016 is seeing a hot seller’s market, which means it’s expensive to buy a new place, but a great time to fix up your home – if you can’t afford to move, but you are getting bored or frustrated with your house, a properly planned remodel can help make it feel like a brand new place. And if you do decide to sell, those improvements will definitely up the already-great value your house probably has in this market climate.

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No matter whether you’re remodeling to make yourself more comfortable or to entice potential buyers, it’s a no-brainer to lean towards environmentally-friendly design. Most green home remodeling projects result in huge savings on your energy bills, in addition to simply being the right thing to do for the future. And green is really in right now: a recent study found that homebuyers are willing to pay 3.46% more for a home with green features than a home without.

A lot of people are under the impression that green remodeling will cost them a fortune, but that’s not necessarily true. We’ve rounded up a set of 11 awesome (and cost-effective) green remodeling projects for your consideration. Read on to get the scoop on what goes into each project, how much each one might cost you, the kind of return on investment you can expect, and more.

1. Energy-efficient exterior doors

energy-efficient-door

Replacing an old exterior door is a great way to improve your home’s energy efficiency. If your current door is worn, cracked, or isn’t energy efficient, replacing it with an Energy Star-certified exterior door can result in a savings of as much as 10% on your costs to heat and cool your home.

To replace your door, you’ll need to first choose what kind of new door you want. While there are a variety of options, the most energy-efficient and durable kinds are fiberglass and steel.

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Fiberglass doors are often better looking, since they more closely mimic the look of authentic wood doors. They are also ideal for harsh climates (very cold or very humid), since unlike steel, they don’t sweat when exposed to cold or moisture. However, they are more expensive than steel, and easier for intruders to break into.

Steel doors, on the other hand, are cheaper, stronger, and usually more energy efficient in temperate or hot, dry climates. However, they may not be as attractive, and they can rust if not treated properly and exposed to the elements.

Many doors come in pre-hung in a frame and pre-drilled and can be installed yourself, but if you are choosing a door that is not the exact same size as your old door, you’ll need to hire a contractor (usually a carpenter) to install the door.

In 2016, a new exterior door offers some of the very best returns on your investment. This year, the average cost of a new exterior fiberglass door, including installation, is $3,126, and tends to add an average value of $2,574 to your home, for a 82.3% ROI. The average cost of a new exterior steel door, including installation, is only $1,335, and tends to add value of $1,217, giving a whopping 91.1% ROI.

2. Non-toxic carpet

Non-toxic-Carpet via ServiceExpress.co

If you want to install or replace your carpet, you should be aware that not all new carpets are the same. A lot of new carpets and their adhesives contain chemicals called VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which are not only bad for the environment, but also dangerous to breathe in, causing a host of symptoms like dizziness, nausea, and fatigue.

Still, there is an ever-widening variety of Eco-friendly, non-toxic carpet available on the market today, and there are benefits of carpet over wood or laminate floors: carpet is cheaper and provides comfort, noise damping, and – most importantly – energy conservation. They are a great way of keeping the warmth in your house in the wintertime without turning up your heater.

When picking a green carpeting solution, look for carpets labelled “low VOC” and made from natural fibers like wool, jute, seagrass, or sisal. Choose lightweight carpets without petroleum-based padding – either no padding or padding made from felt is ideal. If the carpet requires adhesive, go for water-based, low-VOC glues, or ask your carpet installer to use these eco-friendly products.

This year, new wool carpet is running about $8-$10 per square foot. Installation is typically between $2.00-$4.00 per square foot. While return on investment data is somewhat hard to find on carpet alone (as opposed to a whole room remodel), there is widespread general agreement that potential buyers are turned off by old or dirty carpet, making replacing carpet a winning resale strategy.

3. Tankless water heaters

tankless-vs-tank-water-heater Via AnyHeater.com

Realtors say there is a big trend this year towards energy-efficient appliances like tankless water heaters. These eco-friendly heaters have a big initial purchase and installation cost – averaging between $2,500 and $5,000 depending on the size of your home – but also have a big immediate return on your investment: a tankless water heater immediately cuts your energy bills by about 20%. By some government estimates, well-placed tankless water heaters can cut your bills by as much as 50%.

What is a tankless water heater? It’s a water heater that heats or cools water on demand, as you need it – rather than storing a bunch of water and keeping it hot all the time. They last much longer than a traditional water heater with a tank – upwards of 20 years – and take up much less space. However, the water temperature from a tankless water heater can momentarily fluctuate if you turn the hot water on, turn it off, and then turn it right back on again – you may get either hot or cold water depending on how fast the water heater takes to catch up with you. Also, they are much more effective when installed closest to the point they’ll be needed – in kitchens and bathrooms – since they don’t have reserves of hot water and have to heat it immediately.

4. Radiant bathroom floor heating

radiant-floor-heating via BathroomHeater.org

Imagine going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, only to find that your bathroom is warm and you previously cold bathroom tile is nice and cozy beneath your feet. Radiant floor heating delivers exactly that. Homeowners and homebuyers alike consider this a luxury item, and it’s likely to impress potential buyers, adding value to your home in addition to the energy savings.

What kind of energy savings are we talking? It really depends on how hot you keep your house at night. Radiant floor heating makes a room feel warmer than it is because heat rises, and it keeps the floor feeling toasty. Consequently, you will probably feel comfortable dropping your thermostat by several degrees at night. The more you drop the temperature, the better savings you are likely to see.

There are two types of radiant floor heating: electric systems and hydronic systems (which use water for heat). For a 100 sq. ft. bathroom, expect to spend anywhere between $600 and $1200 to have it installed, depending on what brand and what kind of system you use.

The real downside to radiant floor heating is that it requires pulling up the existing bathroom floor, and it might require doing so again if you need a repair down the line. But if you are willing to pull up your old tile or are already thinking about replacing your bathroom floor, it’s a great and popular heating option.

5. Skylights

velux-skylights via VeluxUSA.com

Did you know that 40% of your home’s energy usage comes directly from all that artificial lighting? If you have a room that has no windows – common in bathrooms, and utility rooms – consider installing a skylight. Not only will the natural light from the sun reduce your energy bill substantially, but many of the newest skylights open to fresh air, reducing humidity (and the resultant mold that tends to build up in closed, moisture-prone spaces). It’s no wonder that skylights are so attractive to buyers.

According to RoofingCalc.com, the average cost to have a skylight installed is between $1,500 and $2,500, with some homeowners spending as little as $700 and some spending up to $3,500. How much the job costs depends on what kind of skylight you choose – fixed skylights that don’t open are the cheapest; ventilating skylights with remote control access are the newest, trendiest, and most expensive. Skylights are also eligible for the 2016 energy efficiency tax credit if you install them by December of this year.

Of course, if you opt for the ventilating kind, remember that you are also letting in outdoor noise; this may not be the best choice if you live on a noisy street. And be sure to get Energy Star-certified skylights which don’t leak. VELUX America makes a solar-powered skylight, which is particularly energy-efficient and popular this year.

6. Curb appeal: native plants, raingardens, alternative lawns, and more

Rain-Garden via onnewground.com

One of the least expensive ways to invest in your home and improve its resale value is to tidy up the landscaping. Curb appeal is a major factor for returns on investment in 2016, and nothing gives a home greater curb appeal than a beautiful lawn. In the past, however, many common landscaping practices (like frequent watering, pesticide use, and planting according to color rather than functionality) were anything but “green”. Today, it is much easier to have a beautiful and environmentally-friendly lawn because of the wide variety of eco-solutions.

For instance, native plants (plants that grow in the area naturally) are always a great choice when deciding what to plant. They use less water because they’re used to the climate, and they have a natural resistance to local pests and diseases. Fill in flower beds with local flowers by asking your nearest nursery which varieties are native to the area.

If you’re really into gardening, try putting those native plants in a raingarden, a hot trend this year. A raingarden is a shallow, bowl-shaped garden designed to collect the runoff water from your lawn, driveway, gutter, and sidewalk. Not only do they tend to be gorgeous and attractive to butterflies, but they also reduce water usage and reduce soil erosion. Building a large one from scratch costs an average of just $500 – $1500.

The more gardens you have, whether for produce or flowers, the less lawn space you have. The less lawn you have, the less grass you have to mow, water, fertilize, and maintain. This translates into less water usage, less chemical runoff, less gas usage, and more free time and money for you. It’s no wonder that large planting beds and “alternative lawns” like moss gardens are hot this year.

7. Sustainable garage doors

You might be surprised to hear that a garage door can be eco-friendly, too. But a garage door is likely the biggest opening to your house and thus, if properly insulated, can really make a difference in your home’s energy efficiency.

The ideal garage door is made of ethically-sourced materials such as recycled steel or aluminum, rather than less-durable wood or new metals that require mining and importing. Many manufacturers and installers go further than this, promising non-toxic insulation, recycled packaging, and energy-efficient manufacture. When shopping for a garage door, look for a manufacturer that delivers these sorts of guarantees, or ask your garage door company to install only a steel product that is environmentally-friendly.

Many of the remodeling projects with the best ROIs in 2016 involve the exterior of the house and/or curb appeal. The garage door is no exception. This year, the average mid-range garage door replacement costs $1,652 with installation, and sees a fantastic 91.5% ROI.

8. Solar gate openers

Do you have a driveway gate on your home? If so, consider replacing your old gate opener with an automatic solar gate opener. You can save energy, improve the curb appeal of your house, and cut out the annoyance of having to get out of your car, open the gate, get back in your car, drive in, and close the gate again. As a bonus, if you install the gate opener before December of this year, you can get a federal tax credit for it next year.

The best part about a solar gate opener is that it is a pretty easy DIY project, and it won’t require an electrician, unlike a standard automatic gate opener. You only need to attach a solar panel to the gate, and run the wires to a nearby battery. (You can also convert a standard automatic opener to solar fairly easily.)

They cost between $500 and $1200 on average, and save you about $1,000 a year in energy bills.

The downside to a solar gate opener is that they only produce enough power to open and close a standard security gate between 8 and 10 times a day. If you have a lot of family or come and go frequently, you might want to choose another option. Also, you’ll need to make sure, of course, that the solar panels have access to sunlight – so it might not be the best choice for a gate that is hidden behind the trees.

9. Detachable studios from Kanga

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Adding additional rooms to your home, such as a second story, an extra bedroom, a family room, or another bathroom generally will give a return on investment of between 50% and 70% this year. However, part of the reason that return is not as large as it could be is that adding additional rooms, even with mid-grade materials, is extremely expensive, and requires many types of contractors and months to complete. Some additional rooms can cost $100,000 or more to add. Also, the existing structure of many houses simply doesn’t allow for easy add-ons, requiring even more complicated and expensive remodeling procedures.

But if you’ve got a small house and a decent sized lot, there may be a much, much cheaper option for additional space — one that has the potential for an even greater return. Kanga Room Systems, a new and up-trending company based in Texas, offers beautiful standalone studios that can be added to your lot. They have design options that offer either a modern, simplistic aesthetic or a more traditional cottage look, and you can choose a studio as small as 8×10 or as large as 16×40. The best part is that Kanga uses only eco-conscious, energy-efficient products and sustainable materials.

If you live in Texas, Kanga will install your studio for you; otherwise, they’ll ship you a kit, complete with wiring, insulation, and the rest. An install of an 8×10 room costs just $8,199 at the base package, with many additional options available to purchase for trim, heating, flooring, windows, and siding.

10. Pellet stoves

According to a 2016 survey, everybody likes a cozy fireplace. Homeowners and homebuyers alike rated them as desirable, and likely to greatly increase a home’s value. But aren’t fireplaces dirty and environmentally-unsound?

As it turns out, there are a lot of clean, green fireplace options. The Department of Energy recommends pellet stoves. These electric-powered stoves burn tiny pellets of compressed organic waste. They are easy to operate and are much more efficient at heating than traditional wood stoves, creating little air pollution. A single pellet can burn up to 24 hours. They cost between $1,700 and $3,000 to purchase and install, and are available as either free-standing stoves or inserts for existing fireplaces. Most of them do not require a chimney or flue, either, which means installation is cheaper than a conventional fireplace. And they stay relatively cool while operating. The biggest downside to a pellet stove is that it requires regular cleaning, including at least once a year by a professional.

Depending on the size of the stove, a pellet stove can theoretically heat your entire home, and costs about $9 a month in electricity.

11. Bonus Green Home Improvement Idea: Eco-friendly Kitchen Countertops

White Quartz Countertop by Marble of the World

Minor kitchen remodels are a popular option for homeowners looking to make a good ROI this year, with about an 83% return depending on what materials you use. It’s an old realtor’s adage that kitchens are what sells houses, and that’s no less true in 2016. Part of a good kitchen remodel is replacing an old laminate countertop with something a little better – and while you’re at it, you might as well go with the green option.

What is “the green option”? Actually, there are several. A good, eco-friendly countertop is made of recycled or sustainable materials, doesn’t contain toxic chemicals that can leak into the air, and is durable – the ideal green countertop would never have to be replaced again, since a lot of being green is eliminating waste.

One creative and very popular sustainable countertop material is recycled glass. Recycled glass countertops are beautiful, and so tough that you can actually set hot pots and pans directly on them. They are comparable expensive to regular granite, however, at $50 per square foot or more. IceStone makes a recycled glass countertop which has no problematic chemicals and was manufactured using 50% renewable energy.

A less expensive option is recycled paper. It may sound crazy, but recycled paper combines with resin to make one of the most durable materials ever. They are waterproof, heat resistant, and so durable that you can cut directly on them. The most popular manufacturer is PaperStone, who use a cashew-based liquid as resin for even more green goodness. They come in a variety of shapes and colors, and can even mimic wood. Recycled paper countertops start at $30 per square foot and are extremely easy to install yourself, saving you a pretty penny on installation costs.

What green home improvement update will you pursue this year?