Tips, Trends & Living June 8, 2020

Payback times for energy-efficient home upgrades


Thinking of going green? Today’s technology offers a whole host of ways to boost your home’s efficiency, reduce your carbon footprint and lower your energy bills. Some upgrades can pay for themselves in a relatively short amount of time, while others with large price tags might take decades to start paying back. The good news is that several studies have shown buyers are willing to pay a premium for green features—as much as 30% more for retrofitted green homes that become Energy Star or LEED-certified. This means that even if those fancy new features don’t pay you back right away in energy savings, you might still be able to recoup part of the cost when you sell your home. Below are the average payback times for some common items…just keep in mind that the actual payback time will depend on your initial costs and the amount of energy you typically use each month.


Solar Panels: 10 Years


According to, the average cost for adding solar panels to your home in King County is about $13,850 for a typical 5kW system (a net cost of $10,249 after the 26% Federal Investment Tax Credit for 2020). Based on the amount of energy they generate in our area, they usually pay for themselves in about 10.16 years. Furthermore, a study commissioned by the Department of Energy found that home buyers across multiple states and home types were willing to pay more for homes with solar panels (about $15,000 for homes with a 3.6kW system). This may help offset your costs should you need to sell your home before the payback period.


Tankless Hot Water: 12-20 Years


In addition to giving you endless hot water, tankless water heaters are also about 20% more energy efficient than traditional storage tanks and last about 10 years longer. However, their additional equipment and installation cost means it can take quite a while for your energy savings to cover that difference—12-20 years for electric models and 22.5-27.5 years for gas models. Their longer lifespan may ultimately help them pay off in the long run.


LED Bulbs: 5 Months


Looking for an easy investment with quick bang for your buck? LED bulbs may cost more, but the amount of electricity they save more than covers the cost. A 100W equivalent LED bulb costs about $6 to buy but uses only 13% the amount of energy of its incandescent counterpart. Used 4 hours a day, it also reduces CO2 emissions by a whopping 262.93 pounds per year. Depending on the number of bulbs you have and the frequency of their use, the dollar and carbon savings could really add up over time.



Our Seattle area’s temperate climate makes it a prime candidate for heat pump heating/cooling systems. Your actual savings and payback time will depend on the type of system you choose and the amount of energy you use. According to the US Department of Energy, an air source heat pump can reduce your electricity use for heating by about 50%, while the reduction range for a geothermal heat pump is anywhere from 30%-60%. If you’re also replacing an A/C unit, the savings will add up even faster. The average installed cost in 2020 is about $5,613 nationally but can vary quite a bit; it pays to do your research and make sure you’re choosing the right unit for your needs. Boosting your home’s overall efficiency first can also increase your savings by allowing you to choose a smaller, more affordable unit.


Smart Thermostat: 2 Years


A feature of most modern green homes, smart thermostats save energy by automatically turning off the heating and A/C when you leave and learning your schedule to comfortably boost efficiency. Nest estimates an average yearly energy savings of 10-15% or $131-$145 with its Learning Thermostat, which means it would pay back its $200-$250 price tag in under 2 years. The ecobee4 is pricier at $300-$400 but claims to save 23% on heating and cooling (or more if you use their free eco+ upgrade). With heating and cooling making up a large chunk of your household energy use, smart thermostats could potentially take a nice chunk out of your carbon footprint as well.



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