Public awareness of environmental concerns is at an all-time high. People are participating in recycling programs, buying hybrid cars, building green homes and looking for ways to go green in every aspect of their lives. Homeowners want to do their part too, but are often discouraged by the high cost of going green.

Adding solar panels to your roof, digging up the lawn to install a geothermal furnace or putting a 5,000 gallon rainwater capture system in the backyard costs more than most people can afford to spend, especially with no immediate return on investment.

So if you want to help the environment without taking a huge financial loss, what can you do? (Find out how you can remodel your home and pass some of the expense onto future owners, in Add Value To Real Estate Investments.)
Think Small
Going green isn't an all or nothing effort. By making small steps over time, you can move your house in a greener direction without breaking your budget. A half-dozen things you can do right now are listed below.

  • Light Bulbs
    Replacing existing light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs is a simple and easy way to kick off your effort at going green. While buying the bulb will cost you a lot more money up front, we're still talking a cash outlay of less than $5, and the long-term savings are worth the expense. Using a 15-watt compact fluorescent instead of a standard 60-watt light bulb can save you about $30 over a bulb's lifetime.

    It will also put you ahead of the curve, as many countries are in the process of phasing out the use of incandescent lights. They'll be gone in Europe by 2012, and the United States will get on board between 2012-2020.

  • Insulation
    Reducing the amount of energy that you house uses is a great way to go green. Insulation, weather stripping and caulking can help you reduce the amount energy used to heat and cool your home, and reduce your monthly bills. Local governments often provide low- or no-cost programs that can help you insulate your home. Do some research, and you may be pleasantly surprised.

  • Appliances
    If you need a new washer, dryer, refrigerator or other major appliance, buying an energy-efficient replacement can put money in your pocket and reduce your energy consumption by 10-50%. Look for the Energy Star label, which identifies efficient products.

  • Water
    If you need a new shower head, faucet or toilet, a low-flow model can help you advance your efforts to go green. Like Energy Star, the WaterSense label identifies products that will help you meet achieve your goals. (Read WaterSense: Saving Water And Money for more information.)

  • Windows
    Much of the heat loss that occurs from you home literally goes right out the window. When it's time to replace your old windows, energy efficient windows are the logical choice. If you live in a warm climate, they help with cooling costs too!

  • Biomass Heat
    If you're looking for a greener way to keep warm, the Environmental Protection Agency has a certification program for woodburning pellet, wood and corn burning stoves. These low-emission products are good for your house, and good for the environment.

Conclusion: Act Now and Get a Tax Break
In the United States, the Federal government is subsidizing the cost of going green if you purchased qualifying products for your primary residence in 2009 or do so in 2010, you can get $1,500 back on your taxes. In addition, geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters, and solar panels, all qualify for a 30% tax credit on the purchase price with no upper limit. (The earth-smart money is on these environmentally friendly housing projects. Find out more in Building Green For Your House And Wallet.)