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 discuss below these tax credits and other programs.
 

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)
 

Finding Rebates and Tax Incentives to Help Pay for Green Improvements

Tax credits can reduce the extra costs of many energy-saving improvements. 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

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, unlike many other utilities in the U.S., PG&E was not offering much in the way of rebates for residential customers who make energy-saving improvements, aside from a $50 rebate for installing a smart thermostat.

Some smaller utilities and local governments periodically offer rebates. For example, Marin County offers an $800-$4,500 rebate to homeowners who replace natural gas equipment with efficient heat pumps.

Check Energy Star’s website, your utility company, and the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) for up-to-date information on tax credits and rebates.