The New Green

Going green doesn’t require dropping 30 large on rooftop solar or a new electric vehicle. The following five tips will help you tap into cool green technologies without draining your bank account. In fact, all will save you money.

Harness Nighttime Wind

Wind is a very clean way to generate electricity, but isn’t entirely practical at your house. Instead, go with a utility that generates wind power (most do at this point) and opt for their clean-energy plan. Then shift some of your energy usage—running the washer/dryer or dishwasher, for example —to nighttime, when wind energy is plentiful, cheap and often goes to waste. You can do this manually or with new programmable appliances.

Upgrade to a Smart Thermostat

These thermostats figure out when you use your heating and air conditioning, and at what specified temperatures, and then adjusts the systems to act accordingly. Prices range from $135 for a basic model to $250 for one with extra features such as remote access via your smartphone. They are easy to install out of the box, and will immediately shave dollars off your heating and cooling bills.

Install a Solar Water Heater

Unlike rooftop panels, solar water heaters work well in any climate and are a cost-effective way to go solar. They run about $100 more than conventional water heaters but pay for themselves within a year through energy savings. Solar water heaters are typically installed on your roof and consist of some type of solar panels plus a water storage tank. To make sure you have hot water on cloudy days, all solar water heaters have a back-up heating system.

Borrow an Electric Vehicle

The first generation of electric vehicles is finally making its way into U.S. garages, but even the more affordable models aren’t exactly cheap ($30,000 plus), and you have to install a plug-in charging station in your garage and then carefully watch your electricity bills. For short trips, particularly in urban settings or near college campuses, you can get the benefits without any of the headaches by joining a car-sharing service like Zipcar or by renting from a company (Hertz, for example) that offers electric vehicles.

Cool Your Roof

You can save a bundle on air conditioning just by changing the color of your roof. Lighter in color than traditional black asphalt or dark wood shingles, cool roof products save energy by reflecting light and heat. Cooling your roof simply entails slapping on a lighter-colored coating (similar to a driveway sealant). If you’re already re-roofing, just opt for lighter color tar and gravel or shingles. The Cool Roof Rating Council’s product directory (coolroofs.org) helps you compare various models.

5 Easy Ways to Go Green — and Save Money