Updating your house to make it more energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly can be costly. Installing a solar electrical system or replacing your hot water tank with an on-demand system can set you back thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. You may not save enough money on these types of upgrades to cover your investment for decades. However, there are several quick and inexpensive green upgrades you can make to your house that will start paying off quickly. (For related reading, also see Home Improvements: Does It Pay To Go Green?)

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1. Install Faucet Aerators - $10
An aerator is a device that fits on or into the end of a faucet. It forces water through tiny holes, restricting water flow but making the flow feel stronger. It can be used on either kitchen or bathroom sinks and can be found in water-saving shower heads. An aerator can cost as little as $10 and can lower water use by up to 50%. Using less water also means less energy to heat the water, resulting in further savings. You can install a faucet aerator on your own and start saving water and money right away.

2. Replace an Old Dishwasher - $300
According to Energy Star, if you replace a dishwasher built before 1994 with a new Energy Star model, you will save 10 gallons of water per cycle. At one cycle a day, that's 3,650 gallons of water per year. New energy-efficient dishwashers start at around $300. Between the cost of the water and of heating it for the dishwasher, payback on this upgrade can be achieved in about three to four years. As an added bonus, newer dishwashers are gentler and more effective at cleaning dishes.

3. Install Ceiling Fans - $50
Ceiling fans are popular in the south but not as common in cooler climates. However, they can make both your air conditioner and heat unit operate more efficiently. Ceiling fans circulate the air in the house, drawing the cool air from the air conditioner and distributing it around the house. They also push warm air from the heat pump down from the ceiling back into the living space to reduce the amount of time the furnace has to run. Most ceiling fans have a switch that reverses the direction the fan turns for the winter setting. You can buy ceiling fans starting at around $50 and they can help to lower your winter heating and summer cooling bills.

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4. Swap out Older Toilets - $150
Older toilets can use up to 3.5 gallons of water for every flush, which can add up to over 7,100 gallons per year- per person. New efficient toilets use as little as one gallon per flush or just over 1,900 gallons per year. The more people in the house, the more savings are generated by replacing your old toilets. Low-flush toilets start at about $150 each and can be installed by a homeowner with moderate handyman skills.

5. Buy Compact Florescent Light Bulbs - $3 Each
Changing your light bulbs from incandescent to compact florescent is the easiest green switch of all. Compact Florescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) cost $2 to $3 each but can save up to $40 over the course of their lifetime. They last 10 times longer than incandescent and use much less electricity. According to Energy Star, CFLs use up to 75% less energy than normal incandescent bulbs. Replacing all old light bulbs immediately with CFLs saves the most, but, if you cannot afford the investment to do them all at once, simply replace the old light bulbs gradually as they burn out.

The Bottom Line
Going green isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. There are many inexpensive and cost-effective changes that make a noticeable difference. Once the savings from these changes start accumulating, they can be used to start investing in larger upgrades. (For additional reading, also be sure to check out Is It Worth Going Green?)

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