Top 10 Green Home Improvements Plus Their Costs – DIY Green Living Ideas

In today’s fractured world it is next to impossible to find one thing on which everyone agrees, but Eco-friendly home improvement choices are one of them. Green is good. Good for the planet. Good for our health. Good for the future. Green remodeling means energy efficiency, resource conservation, and a healthy indoor environment.

But some Eco-friendly home remodeling upgrades, whether DIY or done by a pro, make more sense than others. Cost is always an understandable concern. Many green choices will eventually pay for themselves many times over in long-term cost savings and increased resale value of your home. Others will never justify the increased upfront costs. Let’s investigate…

1. Green Flooring

Options abound in the selection of Eco-friendly flooring. Sustainable wood choices like bamboo (actually a grass) make attractive flooring substitutes to oak and maple. No one likes to cut down trees unnecessarily and wood flooring is also available from reclaimed wood that spent its previous life as barn siding or kitchen cabinets.

reclaimed-wood Image credits: Jetson Green

This wood lends a unique look to your flooring, but expect to pay from $10 to $15 per square foot for your one-of-a-kind reclaimed wood flooring installed.

Cork flooring is an Eco-friendly alternative to wood flooring. Ground-up bottle-stoppers are reformulated for flooring that is warm, lasts for generations and great for spills from little kids.

cork-floors-kitchen-westlake-residence Image Credits: Cornerstone Architects

Compared to reclaimed wood, cork flooring is a significantly less-costly, albeit not as stylish, economical alternative. Expect to pay from $4.50 to $6.00 per square foot of cork flooring installed.

And while you are making over your flooring, do not overlook the plywood underlayment – choose plywood that employs soy-based adhesives rather than traditional urea-formaldehyde. Your home environment will immediately become healthier without the toxins that adhesive leaks into the interior air. A 3/4-inch thick sheet of 4 x 8-foot formaldehyde-free, soy-based assembled plywood will run about $50.

2. Decks: Green Flooring for Outdoors

hardwood-deck Ipe Hardwood Deck by: SD Independent Construction

Don’t forget to go Eco-friendly outside as well as in. Composite decks formed from wood waste and recycled plastic will outlast pressure-treated wood, will never need staining and preserving, will clean easily, will not crack and will never leave a splinter in your toe.

The downside will be the upfront costs, but expect future buyers to look kindly on that long-lasting, maintenance-free outdoor space. A pressure-treated wood deck typically clocks in at around $15 per square foot, while decks fabricated from composite materials start in the neighborhood of $35 per square foot.

3. Cool Roofs

Dark roofs make houses hotter, light roofs make houses cooler. To achieve these benefits companies can coat your roof with reflective materials, some of which are applied like paint, sprayed directly on the surface of an existing roof. Of course, this is a one-season solution. Energy conservation wizards are currently working on tiles that will go from light to dark as needed – they can cut the sunlight absorbed into your house by 80% when they are white and slice heating costs by 20% and more when they turn black. You can find a cool roof coating formulated with acrylic polymers, resins, fillers and titanium dioxide pigments for about $100 for a 4.75 gallon container

If rather than applying it yourself, your would prefer to hire a professional, expect to pay anywhere from a few to several thousands of dollars to properly apply liquid roof coating. You should know that most liquid roof coatings are only suitable for durable membrane-based flat roofs and aging metal roofs.

Energy Efficient PVC membrane on a flat roof PVC roof by: New England Metal Roof

If you have a flat or low-slope roof that is starting to show the signs of age and may thus require replacement soon, then consider installing one of the following membranes; white, energy-efficient PVC and TPO membranes, or white EPDM rubber roof. Expect to pay from $4.50 to $6.00 per foot for EPDM rubber membrane installed. PVC or TPO will cost $5.50 to $7.50 per square foot installed.

4. Metal Roofing


Today’s metal roofs have come a long way from the tin shacks of yore. Modern metal roofs are as likely to look like cedar shakes or clay tiles or asphalt shingles as sheet metal. A metal roof won’t blow off in hurricane-force winds and is fireproof.

Metal roofs will cost more to purchase and install than traditional asphalt roofs, but will still be on the job half a century from now, while two or three asphalt roofs are clogging landfills. 😉


Expect a metal roof comprised of interlocking shingles to run around $3.50 to $4.50 per roof square foot for materials including trim. With the installation, a metal shingles roof will cost between $7.50 and $10.00 per square foot.


The materials for Galvalume standing seam will cost about $4.50 to $5.00 per square foot. With the installation, a new standing seam metal roof will cost between $9.00 and $12.00 per square foot installed.

standing seam metal roof During the winter, an energy efficient metal roof, such as standing seam or metal shingles will help shed snow off the roof before it has a chance to accumulate.

It can, thus, be an energy-smart and elegant alternative to heat cables and rakes commonly employed for dealing with ice dams.

5. Energy Efficient Windows

Windows are among the biggest culprits in creating high energy bills. But no one wants to live in a house without windows.

Double pane windows are one solution; they will retain room heat in the winter and prevent heat gain in the summer.

At the same time the double panes will keep your house bright and sunny. And a little quieter as well – the extra layer of glass helps prevent outside noises from penetrating the windows.

double-pane-glass-window Image source: Glass Doctor

Most average-sized double-pane windows will cost from $500 to $700 installed.

There is more to double pane windows than two pieces of glass. Low-E glass, filled with argon gas provides the ultimate in insulation over a single-pane window. Expect to pay about $40 extra a window. But more is not always better when it comes to window panes. Triple panes can be a help in the harshest climates but they come at a cost of reduced clarity in looking to the world outside.

6. Green Frames

The frames your windows live in are opportunities for the green-minded remodeler. Wood offers the best insulation but may deteriorate prematurely in a rainy climate. Plus, they are going to need new coats of paint every few years.

If that means latex paint, that will douse your interior air with a bucket of noxious petrochemicals (there is a reason paint requires special disposal techniques).

Eco-safe paints are getting better every year with more durability and a wider variety of people-pleasing colors. And they are less costly at the cash register as well.

wood-replacement-windows Wood Windows by Bali Construction

It is hard to beat the look of wood on windows and that preference can trump green tendencies when it comes to alternatives such as vinyl or aluminum. Vinyl is budget-friendly (from $450-$600 as opposed to between $800 and $1,000 for the installation of wood windows) and no trees are destroyed, and aluminum can be a good choice in rainy climates.

7. Insulation

spray-foam-insulation Image Credits: WJM Architect

Seal and insulate, seal and insulate, seal and insulate. That is the manta of energy-efficiency, but green-minded homeowners can take this basic Eco-friendly chore one step beyond.

Spray insulation or traditional batting insulation is loaded with chemicals. Soy foam works the same insulating magic without the environmental downsides.

Home insulation is where the true green converts are separated from the wanna-bes. Closed-cell spray foam is a pricey insulation option, costing between $3.00 and $3.50 per square foot in walls and another $1.00 per square foot for attics.

Soy foam will work as well as cheaper and more readily available fiberglass-based batting insulation, but not so much better that it will be a boon to your pocketbook in the long run. You won’t recoup the costs of hidden soy insulation at resale. This is one financial bullet you will be taking for the good of the planet. 😉

8. High-Efficiency Toilets

high-efficiency-toilet-saving Image Credits: Magic Plumbing

In many parts of the country water use can no longer be taken for granted. Toilets are our biggest water slurpers, accounting for about one-third of the typical water use in a home.

The obvious answer is a toilet upgrade to a so-called high-efficiency toilet. These models – either single-flush, dual-flush or pressure-assist – sip an average of 1.6 gallons per flush as opposed to 7 gallons for the old-fashioned commode. But can you afford it?

A new high-efficiency toilet will cost between $200 and $250, without installation. An average family will realize about $20 in water savings per year so it will require 10 to 12 years of operation to pay for itself. Of course, tens of thousands of gallons of water will be conserved in that decade.

And if you live in a rural area and draw water from a well you can factor in reduced waste flowing into septic systems, reduced strain on your well’s pump and lower electrical usage. Ergo, the high-efficiency toilet will cover its cost that much faster. And some public utilities will reward your conservation of water with rebates.

9. Solar Water Heater

Solar Hot Water System on a Metal Roof via Helios Tech Inc.

The calculus of up-front costs and payback periods is really at the forefront of the decision to install a solar water heater. The environmental benefits are obvious and so are those utility bill savings – up to 80%. But, the installation costs will start at $2,000 and continue upwards of $5,000, depending on capacity and complexity. Your climate matters – the payback period will range from four years in sunny Brazil to more than 18 years in overcast Great Britain (12.6 years in the United States).

10. Geothermal Heat Pumps

ground-source-heat-pump Project: Springhill Residence by Teton Heritage Builders

The sun is not the only source of renewable energy; the ground is waiting to be tapped as well. Temperatures under the earth’s surface are warmer than the air above in winter (that’s why animals hibernate in burrows) and cooler than the air in the summer (think of caves).

GeoExchange systems have been used since the late 1940s to take advantage of the constant underground temperatures, using a pump and pipe loops to switch out the air temperature in a house with warmer or cooler air, as necessary.

After the initial installation (between $20,000 and $25,000 for a 2,500-square foot home), estimates that the energy cost savings will pay for a geothermal heat pump system in 5 to 10 years.

Inside components will have a 25-year lifespan and the ground loop is expected to last over 50 years – long enough to add significant value to your home at resale. Geothermal heat pumps are installed in the United States at the rate of 50,000 units per year.

Bonus. PV Solar Power

PV panels

Back in 2010, you would pay as much as $8 to $10 per watt of solar power, but today the cost of installing PV solar panels has decreased to an average of $2.50 to $3.50 per watt, thanks to the advancements in technology and economies of scales. With generous rebates from local and federal engorgement, investing in solar power system for your home may be a wise investment.

2 Replies to “Top 10 Green Home Improvements Plus Their Costs – DIY Green Living Ideas”

  1. You should reconsider your remarks on the wood vs aluminium. Wood is a sustainable resource with zero impact on greenhouse gas vs the erormous energy (almost entirely generated from fossil fuels) required to produce Al. Look for a charming but accurate video produced by the Danish Forestry dept, called “Wood is Good”

  2. Making our homes more energy efficient is a goal we all must strive for. It not only saves money; it helps the environment. Clspn3 is a nonprofit helping those in need through Sustainable Home repairs. Donate, Volunteer, we must start at the bottom to reach the top.

    Sherwood Abbott

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