Hybrid cars, solar panels and organic produce. They’re synonymous with “going green,” but they can be hard to bankroll — especially in a slumping economy.
With many Americans curtailing their spending, the multibillion-dollar green products market, which has seen rapid growth over the past few years, is expected to lose momentum, analysts say.
Surveys show most people are willing to pay more for eco-friendly products, but a smaller number actually do, said Michael Solomon, a professor of marketing and director of the Center for Consumer Research at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
“I think most people do vote with their pocketbooks,” Solomon said. “Right now, that is the No. 1 priority for most Americans, for most people around the world."
Market research firm Mintel said in a January report that it was unlikely that customers will develop new, environmentally friendly shopping patterns in a period of economic crisis.
Despite the economic challenges, the green movement is not going to fall, said Solomon.
To be sure, going green does not always require spending money and can even save money in the long run.
Unplug for savings
We like to think we’ve become more efficient over the years, but the home of 2009 uses five times more power than the home of the 1950s.
Many electronic items still draw power when they're turned off. It's a phenomenon called "phantom" load, and it sucks about 5 to 10 percent of the energy used in America's homes each year.
That's the same amount of power generated by 17 coal-fired plants annually, according to Brian Keane, president of the energy-efficiency think tank SmartPower.
"The biggest underrepresented area of energy efficiency is the efficiency of turning things fully off," said Stephen Connors, who researches energy consumption at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Cable boxes and flat-screen TVs are among the worst offenders. Microwaves are power suckers, too.
Here’s a tip: Use a power strip. One flip of a switch gives you instant savings, as much as $110 a year, Keane said.
Unplug these devices when they’re not in use, and this is what you’ll save annually:
- $10 per cell phone charger
- $4 per set of computer speakers
- $36 if you dump your desktop for a laptop
Go green when you clean
Cleaning your house with the environment in mind can be cheaper than using regular cleaning supplies — you just have to make your own. “Sara Snow’s Fresh Living: The Essential Room-by-Room Guide to a Greener, Healthier Family and Home” contains several recipes.
For general cleaning: Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle.
For the toilet: Pour 2 or 3 cups white vinegar into the bowl, let sit for a few hours, scrub and flush.
For soap scum: Make a paste with baking soda, warm water and mild soap.
For mold and mildew: Mix one part hydrogen peroxide and two parts water in a spray bottle.
To shine wood furniture: Mix two parts olive oil and one part lemon juice.
Find tax credits and rebates
Some home improvements you already have in mind could not only reduce your energy bills, but could also reduce your taxes.
The latest stimulus plan passed by Congress tripled the tax credit for energy-efficient home improvements, raising the amount to $1,500 per year. It now covers up to 30 percent of the cost of products installed this year and next.
Some products included are: windows, outside doors, metal or asphalt roofs, heating and cooling equipment, and fuel cell batteries. Experts recommend you tackle your insulation before overhauling heating and cooling systems.
The refund only applies to the materials, so make sure your contractor lists labor and material costs separately on your bill. Keep the Manufacturer Certification Statement for your records.
The green tax credit lowers the amount of money dollar-for-dollar that you owe the federal government. It’s also nonrefundable, which means you can’t receive the credit if you don’t owe the government a penny.
Show Me Green Sales Tax Holiday, April 19-25:
- Exempts sales tax of up to $1,500 per appliance
- Energy Star certified appliances qualifying for the exemption are: washers, dryers, water heaters, trash compactors, dishwashers, conventional ovens, ranges, stoves, air conditioners, furnaces, refrigerators and freezers.
** Energy audit
Want to start saving but not sure how much energy you use? Get an energy audit.
An energy audit will tell you how much electricity and water you use and suggest ways you can cut back.
Columbia Water and Light provides free energy audits for all customers. Call 874-7325 or go to gocolumbiamo.com/WaterandLight/Conservation for more information.
** Tree power
A tree shading your home from direct sunlight can help reduce your cooling bill. And through Columbia Water and Light’s Tree Power program, you can get a free shade tree.
Someone from the department will visit your home and recommend the best planting options.
You’ll get a diagram suggesting the best places to plant and a coupon for a free 6-foot- to 10-foot-tall shade tree.
Call 874-7325 to sign up for the program.
** Rebates for energy-efficient home improvements
In addition to the federal tax rebates, you can also get refunds from your utility provider. Columbia Water and Light provides rebates for customers' energy-efficient home improvement projects.
- $100 to $1,600 is how much you can get back for converting to a high-efficiency air condition or heat pump.
- $400 too $800 is the rebate amount for a solar water heater.
- $1,210 is the total rebate amount you could get for improving insulation in attics and crawl spaces and replacing exterior doors and windows. The amount of the rebate depends on the size of the renovation and the cost of the materials.
All rebates are dependent on funding availability for the year. Check the specifics at gocolumbiamo.com/WaterandLight/Conservation or call 874-7325.
Home improvement savings
The average home’s energy bill totals $1,900 a year, and heating and cooling costs account for half of that, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Here are the energy savings you can expect from updates:
- $380 a year, or 20 percent, can be saved by plugging leaks and adding insulation in attics, crawl spaces and basements.
- $200 a year can be saved by updating heating and cooling equipment.
- $75 a year can be saved by switching to energy-efficient appliances certified by Energy Star.