Our discussion on how to save energy at home briefly hits on more than 30 changes you can can make in and around your home, from cheap-yet-effective steps to upgrades that require upfront spending, but quickly pay for themselves from lower utility bills to systems and renovations that minimize what you pull off the grid, but come at steep prices.

Much of this info draws on content from other sections of our website—ratings and advice for hiring heating and air-conditioning contractors, window suppliers, insulation installers, energy auditors, appliance stores, and more.

Below are links to additional resources for further info on going green.

Often, the extra costs of energy-saving improvements can be reduced by tax credits and utility company rebates. We also list below the incentives we could identify as available in the Chicago area in November 2020.
 

Resources

Home Energy Saver pro
Tool from the U.S. Department of Energy that estimates cost vs. benefit of making various energy-saving improvements; we found using the “Detailed input” option helped generate the most accurate assessments

Energy Star
Certifies energy-efficient appliances and HVAC equipment

Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency
Rebates and tax incentives available from utilities and governments

Efficient Windows Collaborative
Help with window selection and estimating cost savings

National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Research and publications on renewables; offers a calculator that estimates energy production and cost of solar installations

Consumer Reports
Ratings of appliances, lightbulbs, window A/C units, etc.

Residential Energy Services Network
Certification for energy auditors

Passive House Institute U.S.
Certification and training for net-zero energy-use builders, contractors, and manufacturers

Zero Energy Project
Advice and lists of products and suppliers for home buyers, builders, and designers interested in net-zero energy-use homes

EPA WaterSense Rebate Finder
Database of available rebates for installing water-saving devices

Earth911.com
Tons of practical green tips, plus database on recycling centers and where to dispose of hazardous household waste

LocalHarvest
Fantastic for finding nearby farmers markets, CSAs, and other sources of locally grown food

National Resources Defense Council
Environmental research and watchdog group

YouTube
Thousands of DIY videos from experts (but also definitely-not-experts)
 

Rebates and Tax Incentives to Help Pay for Green Improvements

Below are the incentives we could identify as available in the Chicago area in November 2020. Because programs come and go, check with Energy Star, your utility company, and the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) for up-to-date information.

Before starting a project, also confirm you qualify. Some programs require homeowners to work with utilities’ “approved” contractors or to file paperwork before installations occur to get rebates.

We didn’t include low-interest loan programs, which are most often available for new home construction. We also didn’t look for community grants for multi-home projects or incentives for commercial buildings. And we list only programs available to all; some other incentives have income or age requirements or apply to work done by landlords of apartment buildings.

Federal Income Tax Credits

Below, we list federal tax credits available for 2021 (homeowners can claim these credits when they file their federal tax returns).

  • Insulation and air leakage improvements—10 percent of project costs, not including installation/labor, up to $500
  • Windows, doors, skylights—10 percent of project costs, not including installation/labor, up to $200, for Energy Star-certified models
  • Furnaces—$150 for units with 95+ AFUE
  • Furnace blower motors—$50 for models that consume less than two percent of the furnace’s total energy
  • Wood or wood pellet stoves or biomass heating systems—26 percent of project costs for units with Thermal Efficiency Ratings of 75+
  • Water heaters—$300 for Energy Star-certified models
  • Central A/Cs—$300 for most systems
  • Air-source heat pumps—$300 for most new systems
  • Ground-source (geothermal) heat pumps—26 percent of project costs
  • Solar panels and fuel cells—26 percent of project costs
  • Wind energy—26 percent of project costs

ComEd Customers

  • Duct sealing—$2 rebate per CFM reduction, up to $200
  • Programmable thermostats—$75 rebate for qualified models
  • Furnaces—$100 rebate for units equipped with electronically commutated motors
  • Air-source heat pumps—$350 rebate for units with SEER 16.0 to 17.9; $450 rebate for units with SEER 18.0 or better
  • Ductless mini-split heat pumps—$500 rebate for one unit with SEER 17 or better; $600 for each unit for systems with two or more units
  • Refrigerators and freezers—$50 rebate for Energy Star-certified models
  • Clothes washers—$50 rebate for Energy Star-certified models
  • Electric clothes dryers—$50 rebate for Energy Star-certified models
  • Standalone dehumidifiers—$50 rebate for Energy Star-certified models
  • Ground-source (geothermal) heat pumps—$1,000-per-ton rebate, up to $6,000 total; $850-$1,200 rebate for replacement of existing indoor units
  • Buy from participating retailers to get utility-backed discounts on approved lighting, smart thermostats ($75 discount), dehumidifiers ($50), power strips ($10), and air purifiers ($50)

Nicor Gas Customers

  • Air sealing—$.40 rebate per CFM50 reduction, up to $400
  • Attic insulation—$.30 rebate per square foot, up to $300
  • Duct sealing—$2 rebate per CFM25 reduction, up to $500
  • Exterior wall and foundation sidewall insulation—$.50 rebate per square foot, up to $400
  • Smart thermostats—$25 rebate for approved models
  • Gas furnaces—$250 rebate for units with 95.0 to 96.9 AFUE; $275 rebate for 97.0 AFUE or better
  • Boilers—$350 rebate for units with 95.0 AFUE or better

North Shore Gas and Peoples Gas Customers

  • Air sealing—$.40 rebate per CFM reduction, up to $400
  • Wall insulation—$.50 rebate per square foot, up to $400
  • Attic insulation—$.30 rebate per square foot, up to $300, for projects that attain R-49 or better
  • Duct sealing—$2 rebate per CFM reduction, up to $500
  • Gas furnaces—$200 rebate for units with 95 AFUE or better
  • Gas boilers—$150 rebate for units with 82.5 to 87.9 AFUE; $350 rebate for units with 88 AFUE or better
  • Gas water heaters—$150 rebate for qualifying tankless water heaters and indirect water heaters with 88 AFUE or better
  • Programmable thermostats—$20 rebate for approved models