I have a pretty jaded outlook on carbon emissions, reducing my footprint and green initiatives in general. While I understand intellectually that we are all in this together, at the end of the day I have to stand alone and pay my bills and support my family. For this reason I approach any investment in carbon reduction strategies with a very simple question: "What's in it for me"?
With this in mind I set out this year to lower my carbon footprint and make some money at the same time.
In looking at a very wide reaching assortment of possibilities only a few rose to the top of the list when looked at in the cold hard light of the "ROI" day...
1. Buy the most efficient hot water heater you can find. In my case I purchased a heat pump "GeoSpring" heater from GE and have been mightily impressed. It drove my monthly electric bill down to $40/month from upwards of $145/month - resulting in a 10 month pay back. This is a no brainer and something almost everyone should do.
2. Seal up your basement. After reviewing many other options the one that rose to the top of my list was having a layer of foam applied around the inside of my foundation in the basement. Sealing up your basement may seem like an odd way to save money - but this prevents cold air from being drawn up into the house from your basement and can keep the whole house warmer. Since I spend upwards of $2500/year on heat - saving $500/year for a $2500 investment has the next quickest payback period (and keeps my feet warmer).
3. Up next will be replacing some of the older windows on my house and applying more insulation to the attic.
4. A high efficiency clothes washer is on the list as well. There is no real payback on this but for $400 i can get a cheap HE washer and should save roughly $50/year on electricity. In this case I needed a clothes washer anyway so it made sense paying the extra $100 for a HE model.
Sadly - this is a far as I see going. I've explored going solar and at a 10+ year payback (even with tax incentives) it just doesn't make sense. Solar hot water might have been an ok idea - but since my new high tech hot water heater (which would have been necessary even with a solar hot water heater) the payback for this investment is too far off as well.
Electric vehicles just don't work for my lifestyle or northeast climate, drill well heat pumps are really expensive and digging out the entire foundation and applying external insulation is really really expensive.
Good luck and happy dollar hunting.