Is this eco-friendly home upgrade worth it?

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When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, one of the biggest culprits is the personal automobile. But the carbon footprint of real estate is a significant contributor as well.

 

Buildings generate nearly 40 percent of annual global CO2 emissions. Building materials account for about 12 percent; as much as 28 percent is created by operating those buildings, including heating and cooling. In the U.S., about 20 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from our homes.

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And as the climate warms, there’s the risk of a vicious cycle: Millions more people who don’t have air conditioning buy window units, which contributes to climate change.

 

But there’s hopeful news. In many climates, people can heat and cool their homes with a single appliance, dispensing with both clunky, loud window air conditioners and furnaces that run on fossil fuels.

 

The solution: heat pumps. These devices can efficiently deliver both kinds of climate control and create more comfortable environments.  They may not confer the same eco-bragging rights as a sleek electric car or showy rooftop solar panels, but there’s a major payoff.

 

“A heat pump is probably the biggest thing that consumers can do to help fight the climate crisis,” Amy Boyd, director of policy for the Acadia Center, a research and advocacy organization focused on clean-energy policy in the Northeast, told The New York Times.

War drives talk of a drive toward heat pumps

Heat pumps are in the news these days because of higher fuel prices attributed to the Russian war in Ukraine. Because Europe is highly dependent on Russian oil and gas to heat its homes and fuel its industry, any effort to cut off Russia will raise prices significantly, though talk about it spread in April as evidence of atrocities in Ukraine mounted.

 

Governments are also offering incentives to get residences to install heat pumps. It’s an uphill climb. Only 17 million are installed across all of Europe, while in Germany alone, there are some 20 million gas boilers, according to media outlet Euractiv.  But the German government says any heating system installed after January 1, 2025, has to run on renewable energy, widely understood to be an implicit mandate for heat pumps.

 

And here in the U.S., in late 2021, the Biden Administration pledged to “partner with the private sector to drive innovation in electric heat pumps.” More and more utility companies are rolling out incentives for energy-efficient appliances such as heat pumps.

 

Again, it’s an uphill climb. The New York Times reported in mid-2021 that they were installed in just 11 percent of homes in the U.S.

What are heat pumps?

Heat pumps use the same principle as a refrigerator or a window air conditioner. They transfer heat from one place to another rather than generating it. In warm weather, they transfer heat from inside a home to the air outside. In cooler weather, they transfer heat energy from the cool air outside into the home. They accomplish this by using refrigerant and the simple principle that heat always flows from a hotter place to a cooler one; if the refrigerant is colder than the outdoor air, it can be used to transfer what heat energy is in the air into the home.

 

Heat pumps are more efficient than gas furnaces in generating heat. Because furnaces operate on combustion, in which some energy is always lost, they are never 100 percent efficient. For space heating, heat pumps can deliver two to four times more energy than the electricity they consume, and new models coming out of Japan are as much as 500 percent more efficient than gas furnaces.

What types of heat pumps are there?

There are three types of heat pump:

  • Air-source, or air-to-air heat pumps, exchange the heat between the house and the air outside. This is the most common.
  • Ductless air-source heat pumps, or mini-split heat pumps, work in homes without ducts.
  • Geothermal heat pumps, also called ground-source or water-source heat pumps, transfer heat between the house and the ground or a nearby water source.

What do heat pumps cost? Do they save money?

The cost of a heat pump varies widely depending on the type and size. HomeAdvisor gives the “typical range” as $4,145 to $7,369. Mini-split systems can cost as little as $2,000, while geothermal systems tend to cost the most, as much as $80,000.

 

An air-source system for a 3,000-square-foot home will cost about $8,000, including installation, according to Herbert Chu, a senior maintenance specialist with Ram Partners, which manages about 50,000 apartments in complexes nationwide. A certified air conditioning contractor, Chu has worked with heat pumps for some 25 years.

 

Except in rare cases, contractors include labor as well as materials and permits in their bids, says HomeAdvisor. While these are not small numbers, because of greater efficiency, many systems pay for themselves over time, especially in moderate climates. If it’s regularly serviced, the system Chu described will last 10 to 15 years, he says.

 

According to HomeAdvisor, homeowners using a furnace may spend as much as $1,550 a year to heat their homes. But using a heat pump in moderate climates, they may spend as little as $260. Property owners who do have those flashy solar panels, of course, already have the electricity that powers the appliance.

What are the drawbacks of heat pumps?

One major caveat is that homes must be well insulated and weatherized to take full advantage of heat pumps’ efficiency.  There would be two ways to work with a drafty home, says Chu.

 

“You can renovate the house, sealing the doors and windows, but that’s pretty expensive,” he says. “The other way to approach it is to upgrade your system to compensate for the infiltration of the weather. The drawback to that approach is that you’re going to use a little more electricity. So that comes down to dollars and cents.”

 

Can heat pumps fully work their magic in frigid climates? It depends on who you ask.

 

A New York Times Wirecutter feature says they’re the best way to heat and cool your home, “no matter the climate.” (Two Massachusetts homeowners attest to this.) The Department of Energy calls them an energy efficient alternative “for all climates.”

 

Not so fast, says Chu. “You can install it anywhere,” he says, “but you won’t get the full benefit.

 

“If you’re anywhere north of North Carolina,” says Chu, “you should not install a heat pump because it depends on ambient air temperature to provide a heat source. Below 34 or 35 degrees, there’s not enough ambient heat in the air for it to work efficiently. In that case, you’re relying on an electric heating element to provide the heat, so it’s a double whammy, because you’re paying for the compressor to work and then paying a lot for the heating element to work as well.”

 

Washington Post report says that they “perform best in moderate climates.” Homes being retrofitted with heat pumps could, of course, rely on an existing furnace as a backup in the coldest conditions.

 

Another proviso for the heat pump-curious is that no one should try to figure heat pumps out for themselves. Local contractors are knowledgeable about various systems and may even participate in preferred dealer programs created by the manufacturers. They may also be able to offer better warranties, and often can help buyers navigate the sometimes byzantine processes required to take advantage of whatever government incentives may exist.

 

In fact, according to Chu, it may be best to start the process by finding a recommended local contractor who is familiar with all the complexities of this kind of system rather than doing excessive amounts of research first. For example, an old refrigerant is currently being phased out and a new one is coming in, which makes a big difference. And incentives may vary not only from state to state, he says, but from city to city, so contractors will be able to advise on whether any incentives will be available for property owners.

Are heat pumps a good investment?

How long will it take for a heat pump to pay for itself based on lower energy bills?

 

There’s no one metric.

 

It depends on some factors that don’t stay the same over time, such as fuel prices and energy rates, and some that vary by municipality, such as available tax incentives, as well as how efficient the existing heating and cooling systems are.

 

An experienced contractor may be able to walk a property owner through determining some of the variables that would help make this determination. There are other eco-friendly upgrades a homeowner can take to shrink their carbon footprint, and those who want to protect their local water supply can look into a green driveway.

 

Property owners who do invest in a heat pump may see an upside when they put their house on the market. A 2020 study by the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy found that the price of the average home was increased by up to 7 percent by the installation of a heat pump, adding on average a $10,400 to $17,000 price premium.

 

While some might argue that more visible renovations, such as a kitchen remodeling (for a sustainable approach, think recycled kitchen) or a bathroom renovation, would pay off better, the National Association of Realtors’ Appraisal Journal found that a home’s value may climb between $10 and $25 for each dollar of saved annual energy bills.

The bottom line

Because there are several kinds of heat pumps, and because they are highly customizable for different homes and varying needs, there’s no definitive yes or no answer to whether they are a good investment. But in view of how beneficial they are for the environment and the potential savings on heating and air conditioning, property owners should research their feasibility.

 

This article originally appeared on MYND.co and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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Smart habits that can help you keep your dirty house clean

 

Having a messy house can be pretty bad for your wallet. It’s true. I learned this the hard way when my closet was so disorganized that I couldn’t find my eyeliner. You can read all about it and why I think organizing your life will help save you money.

 

 

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With three kids and a full-time job, plus this blog, it can get a little overwhelming to keep on top of my messy house and keep the cleaning under control. The easiest way to keep my house clean would be to outsource it or even spend money on a professional organizer or fancy cleaning gadgets- unfortunately, that is really not an option financially.

 

So I have to figure out a way to keep on top of the cleaning and chores without outside help and to make sure your messy house is anything but messy!

 

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Leave the room a little cleaner or neater than when you arrived. I know that sounds difficult and a little condescending, but it’s really not.  In fact, this is easy to do.  Put one thing away.  Move one thing. Simple. Keep on doing that, and you will see that your messy house gets a little more clean (and stays clean!) every day.

 

 

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Setting a schedule for deep cleaning and general cleaning will keep the dirt from piling up. It is a productive and fun way to bond as a family. It also maintains the cleanliness and hygiene of the home.

 

Assign each member of the family specific tasks. General cleaning includes; sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, or any surface tasks. Assign these to the kids since they are easy ones.

 

The adults do the deep cleaning, including complete rub down, especially on the hard-to-reach areas and sometimes disregarded. If you do this often, such as every two weeks, it will help keep your house in order.

 

 

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When I notice toothpaste in the sink or crumbs on the kitchen floor, even if it’s not a scheduled time to clean, I will take care of it right away. Leaving it only makes me feel overwhelmed, and clearing time on the calendar to tackle it all is not always feasible. If I take care of it at the moment, it won’t linger as a chore that needs to get done, and the house will always feel somewhat clean.

 

 

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Do a bit of cleaning every day. This way, you won’t end up being overwhelmed by how messy your house is. Divide your tasks into days so you will do one part of cleaning every day.

 

For example, dust on Monday, vacuum, and mop on Tuesday, clean the bathroom on Wednesday, and so on. It will not take you more than 30 minutes a day, and you will feel much more organized.

 

 

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Dave Pedley, founder and editor of YourCub.com has a similar take on the cleaning schedule: As any parent will testify, keeping a home neat and tidy with young kids in the family is, well, just not going to happen! So I concentrate on keeping it clean – messy is OK!

 

I adopted a strategy I used when I was still working as a software developer –  I look at the whole house as a project, divide it into subtasks – and tackle one task at a time.

 

While the kitchen and bathroom obviously need daily attention, the rest of the house-cleaning jobs are divided into sections, and each part gets its special day in rotation. I don’t even try to keep everything under control all the time, just the essentials. And the routine stuff is handled in turn.

 

 

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For example, while the food is cooking, I rinse the dishes or do other quick cleaning tasks in the kitchen.  While chatting on the phone, I put away laundry, and when walking from one room to another, I try to grab one or two things to bring with me.

 

 

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Want to maintain a tidy house? Make sure not to waste a movement. I can always find something that needs picked up or placed back where it goes. For example, let’s say I am taking laundry to the washing machine.

 

As I begin walking from my bedroom down through the hallways, I am simultaneously picking up the random piece of trash in the hall and grabbing some toys that are on the floor.

 

 

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If you have a big family, do a load of laundry every day. Don’t let it pile up until it is too overwhelming.  You can also follow FlyLady’s system of washing each load and then immediately drying it and putting it away (instead of having finished loads piling up).

 

 

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Use two laundry baskets or one that has dual compartments. One for white clothing one for dark clothing. If you sort them into the correct basket as you change clothes, the washing is already sorted into colors and whites for you when it is time to do laundry!

 

This is a great way to save some time and since it takes so much less time to do laundry you can throw in a load on your way out the door in the morning.

 

 

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First, do the simple things like picking up things and putting them back where they belong.

Straighten pillows, fold blankets, pick up stuff that doesn’t belong in each room.

Get into the habit of putting dirty clothes in the laundry hamper, hanging up, or putting back other clothes where they belong. You can’t really clean until you have picked up the clutter.

 

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I know this is super cliche but it really works! Cleaning is much easier and goes much faster when your house is picked up. So get into the habit of putting things where they belong to make cleaning easier. If you have items that don’t belong anywhere, make it a point to find a place for it. If you can’t find a good spot for it then maybe it’s time to get rid of it.

 

 

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Instead of having one centralized cleaning supply center, create smaller mini cleaning stations via baskets or fabric cubbies throughout your home (bathrooms, mudroom, kitchen, upstairs/downstairs, etc.). That way, you can customize each one based on the specific needs of each space.

 

 

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Storage baskets are your friend.  There are so many fun, stylish storage baskets these days that are ideal for toys (kids and pets), books/magazines, small electronics such as a tablet, remotes, and other clutter-causing items.

 

While ideally, these items should go back to their original place of storage, the reality is that doesn’t always happen.  Baskets are a quick, easy way to declutter a space so that only the items you want to be seen or visible.

 

 

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I have lived by this rule for years, and it works to help my house neat. At the very least, if I don’t have time to do anything else before I leave the house, I make my bed and do the dishes.

 

 

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Use products you enjoy, and you’ll be more motivated to clean! Ex: Choose or make a daily multipurpose spray that smells great, get a high-quality dish brush and store in a pretty ceramic holder, or purchase a set of pretty reusable glass bottles.

 

 

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When you’re struggling to feel motivated to clean, try setting a timer for an un-overwhelming amount of time, like 10-15 minutes. Then focus on the task at hand and do your best until the timer goes off. You’ll most likely find you accomplished more than you thought you could, or you may even have the momentum to do a little more!

 

 

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The best way to keep a home clean is to involve the whole family! Maintaining a clean home is a huge task for just one person to take on. If you have kids, assign age-appropriate cleaning tasks; this gives them a sense of accomplishment and teaches responsibility.

 

Cleaning together is also a great and fun bonding opportunity. Create a cleaning schedule together and make it fun! Offer rewards and incentives, too, especially for the kids.

 

 

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Celebrate the accomplishment! When the task is finished, plan to reward yourself with something you enjoy, like taking a walk, connecting with friends, a relaxing bath, or indulging in your creative hobby.

 

 

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You can often avoid drain clogs and fruit flies by keeping the drains clean. Pouring baking soda down the drain followed by white vinegar can keep a drain spotless! Flush the drain with hot water after about half an hour, and you’re golden. (Thanks, John the Plumber!)

 

 

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Tip: Vacuum the rug twice a month. Many people make the mistake of vacuuming every other day or week, which can damage the rug. Vacuuming it after every 15 days will make the rug even more durable. If your rug is stained, you can easily create a solution of white wine vinegar, detergent, and warm water and then rub the stained area with it. The stain will vanish away quickly, leaving a spotless rug.

 

 

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Keep cleaning products in the bathroom to help make cleaning easier. Spray your shower with white vinegar until you can give it a thorough scrubbing on the weekend. Get into the habit of putting the toilet bowl cleaner in and swishing it around with a brush once daily to keep it fresh.

 

 

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A common fire hazard that is frequently overlooked in terms of cleaning is the stove and oven. Surfaces like the burners and the floor of the oven can become covered with grease and food bits that can combust and quickly get out of hand.

 

 

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Keeping our homes organized is really important for ourselves: our emotional and physical well-being.  It also can save us a lot of money. A lot of frugal living tips only work if you are organized. If your life is organized, you can shop on sale and out away for next year. If your life is organized, you can meal prep for the week.

 

If your life is organized, you can put up a crock-pot dinner instead of getting takeout. If your life is organized, you can shop in bulk and not have to throw lots of extra food out.

 

I can’t finish any post about cleaning or organizing without recommending the best cleaning and organizing book of all time. My mother bought FlyLady’s Sink Reflections book when I was a child and I still remember how life-changing it was.

 

Now that I have my own home I use a lot of her tips and tools to keep my own life and house organized. I really cannot stress enough how much you should read this book.

 

Amazon.com

 

 

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Featured Image Credit: Sevda Ercan / iStock.

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