ENERGY EFFICIENCY: When is it worth the cost to upgrade?

Clients often ask how they should go about deciding if the cost of more energy efficiency is worth it.  This is NOT meant to be the end all be all on energy efficiency.   I’m just offering a few simple things that you can do to get a feel for whether the extra investment might be worth it-or not.

For example, a common thing that our clients have to make a decision on is what SEER value to go with on their HVAC units.  Should they go with a 16 or a 19?  How can they decide whether it’s worth it to pay more for that 19 SEER vs. the 16 SEER?   It’s not always a black and white thing, well it can be but that might take too much time, so you can solve for the basics and if it looks like it might be worthwhile, then ask a few more questions and get more information to make the decision more clear.

STEP 1:  FORMULA to calculate how long it will take to recoup your savings:

Divide the initial cost of the energy-saving investment by the projected annual energy cost savings.

Investment/savings per year= how many years to recoup

For example, if going up in Seer value on an A/C unit costs $3000 more per unit and the projected savings is $300 per year, then $3000/$300=  10.  It will take 10 years to recoup your investment and start paying off.

  • Will you still be in your home 10 years from now?   If so, then….
  • Will the material or item still be working at that point?
    • Many technologies are evolving so fast that it could very well be obsolete in 5, 10 or 15 years.
  • Will maintenance costs  increase or decrease?  If so, then factor in the increase or decrease in cost  for this.
  • How will the upgraded product influence resale or desirability of your home?
  • Is there any enjoyment factor or aesthetic, other than cost savings, that would make it worth it to you even if you didn’t recoup your money?

After answering these questions, it starts to become clear as to whether you should spend that extra money on more energy efficiency.

Here’s a quick example:

If going from a 14 SEER to a 16 SEER saves you approx. $81 per year and you paid $1000 more for the 16 SEER, then it would take approx. 12 years to recoup your money.  Then I always take into account having to pay up front for future savings, which causes me to discount it a bit.  I say a bit- there are formulas for this- but I just discount it a bit depending on how long I will have to wait to recoup the savings. The further the spread of efficiency between 2 things, the greater the savings; but that doesn’t mean that the savings is necessarily worth it,  although it often is.

Quick Side notes:

HVAC systems:  Your heating and cooling costs account for approximately 40-45% of your total energy bill so they are one of the first areas to investigate, as far as energy efficiency goes.  Units last between 10-15 years, so if you plan to stay in your home for less than that, and it will take 10 years or longer to recoup the investment, then it might not be worth it unless there is evidence that a buyer would value that enough to pay enough to offset the cost.

Appliances:  As far as appliances are concerned, they account for approximately 15% of your energy bill.  My suppliers have told me if an appliance was made in the 1990’s- it’s almost a no brainer that an energy efficient upgrade will pay off.    If appliances are newer, you have to be aware of the likely life of the product and make sure that the product won’t have to be replaced or that you won’t move before you recoup your money.  If you are deciding between 2 things with one having just a little better energy efficiency, then paying the higher price probably won’t pay off in a significant way.  One thing that can reduce your bill significantly are programmable water heaters.  Program them to not heat up during on-peak hours or times when nobody is home.  Otherwise, they are constantly heating up when there is no need to do so.

Windows:  Energy Star estimates that energy efficient windows can save up to 15% on your energy bill so they’re pretty important.  Energy efficient windows contain something called Low E, which is microscopically thin layer of metallic oxides that both reflect the sun’s ultraviolet rays and control infrared light .  New windows can cost anywhere from $8,000- 50,000+ and could take decades to pay off so if your existing windows  are pretty good already, then going up to a little bit better windows probably won’t pay off.  However, if windows are outdated with very little protection, it could be a wise investment.

Insulation:  Insulation is an area that can return more money than was invested, as far as resale on an existing home.  This is a big deal in energy efficiency but I will leave it for a future post.

I hope this helps a bit but it can definitely get complicated.  Our trades and suppliers are always willing to educate people on the ins and outs of the various products and help them make these decisions.  In addition, Energy.Gov’s site has a comprehensive collection of information on everything from windows to heating and cooling.

If any of my readers can shed any more light on this subject,  please do.

Here are a few other links that might be of interest:

Net Zero Homes

Energy Efficient Windows  

INTERIOR DESIGN TRENDS – a Builder’s Perspective (Part III)

Now that we’ve talked about all these cool Interior Design Trends, let’s talk interior design mistakes and why you should use common sense when incorporating trends.

Right now, there is a huge issue in neighborhoods across the country (and even in my own neighborhood) with homes that were done in the trend of the day.  For example, the homes that went with the heavy Tuscan vibe back in the day are not getting much love.  To remodel some of these can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.   Tayler Alexander-Perez , of Launch Real Estate in Scottsdale, AZ, says,  “Years ago, people didn’t mind buying something and fixing it up but now days buyers want a home that is move-in ready.  At some point these hot trends cycle out of favor so if a trend has been used with a heavy hand, at some point the owner will either have to invest  a significant amount of money to remodel, reduce the price accordingly, or find a buyer gutsy enough to take on a major project”.     I find this to be true, we get calls after a home has sat on the market and the owner wants to know what they can do to make it sellable.  In a million dollar plus home, this can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is good for our business but it really hurts to see fabulous homes that have become irrelevant due to trends.   To avoid this happening to your home, try to incorporate the trends in things that are not that big a deal to switch out and keep the big ticket items more timeless.  If you do your entire floor in a trendy pattern or every counter top in the trend of the day, then ripping it out and re-doing it is a major expense.  For some, money is not an issue and they can go for it, enjoy it and call us down the road, but for most people this is an issue.

Although they were all the rage years ago, overdone Tuscans aren’t getting any love these days.

I like to think of Interior Design Trends like my wardrobe.  If everything is trendy in my closet, then I’ll have to spend a lot of money every time the trends change. But if I have a few cool, trendy pieces that I can put with a mostly classic wardrobe, then I am able to transition with minimal cost throughout the seasons.  If you are unsure about how trendy you should go, it can be worth every penny to consult with a designer who is able to strike the perfect balance between Trend and Timeless Design (and yes, I know of some great ones).

Hey, thanks for spending some time with me discussing Interior DesignTrends and let me know your thoughts! I’m interested!

INTERIOR DESIGN TRENDS – a Builder’s Perspective (Part II)

Current Interior Design Trends continued (Builder’s perspective in Part III).


I am hoping that some design professionals might comment on this.  I’ve heard from a few designers that Gray is going away….at least as far as being the main event in a space.  I am told that in New York and L.A., creamy neutrals, taupes, and bones are “THE THING” and I also noticed that there were very few of the cliche all gray and white colorscapes in the recent ASID design awards.  I understand that Grays will be incorporated as more of a minor accent role to layer with neutrals.  I love the whole gray carrerra marble/white cabinet trend but those who have used this throughout their entire house may end up regretting it.

Builder: Alexander Enterprises Constr. & Dev., Inc. Designer: Amy Bubier, AB Design Elements


According to the most recent edition of Remodeling magazine, “Homeowners are ready to ditch all-white kitchens”.       Darker cabinets (even black) are making a comeback and they are being used on their own as well as being mixed in with lighter cabinetry (see photo above, as well).

Builder: Alexander Enterprises Constr. & Dev., Inc. Design by Kimberley Cullumber-Alexander


This is one of the biggest interior design trends of 2018.  Whether it’s a concrete floor, countertop or a faux concrete look on the wall, concrete’s neutral color is organic, earthy, durable and low maintenance. Geometric concrete tiles are going to be a thing, too.  

Builder: Alexander Enterprises Constr. & Dev., Inc. Design by Kimberley Cullumber-Alexander in collaboration with other design professionals.  Concrete floors, copper fire surround, Porcelanosa concrete look wall tiles.

VINTAGE: Especially Lighting Fixtures & Bucket or Trough Sinks.

Think farm sinks and nostalgia.  I LOVE Kohler’s new Farmstead cast iron vintage farm sink !  We have some client’s looking at this one and I would love to see it in their kitchen!  Note the matte black faucet (matte black is another current interior design trend).

Kohler Co. design center


Builder:  Alexander Enterprises Constr. & Development, Inc. . A bathroom from one of our award winning projects. .

I’ve seen yellow being used on a large scale and I love yellow because it exudes happiness and confidence. Be careful, though. In too great a quantity,  yellow can create anxiety, but in small pops, it is powerful.

Pinks, purples and gold quartz tops- one of the most fun bathrooms we’ve done!  Builder: Alexander Enterprises Constr. & Dev., Inc.,

Hey, thanks for spending some time with me discussing Interior DesignTrends! Let me know your thoughts! I’m interested!