Have you heard this phrase before? It seems that as soon as someone starts talking about energy efficiency, home improvements, or renewable energy, everyone turns into an accountant. People are only concerned with when they will recoup the cost of the project, how long it will take to pay off, how much money they will save, or how much money they will make.

When did we become so narrow minded? Home energy efficiency improvements pay off in a myriad of ways, not just on your electricity bill. And when was the last time you told yourself, “I’m not sure this new shirt will pay for itself in 5 years, better to buy second hand instead.” Every day we ascribe an inordinate amount of value to goods and services without a payback, but when it comes to smart choices on energy, we study every last cent on our electricity bill, but fail to see the bigger picture.

Let’s look at some common investments and compare the perceived payback with their true value.

Replacing Your Windows

Window replacement is an easy way to improve the energy efficiency of your home. Better insulating windows keep your heat in, and because they are better insulators you can install larger windows, allowing more light (and passive solar energy) into your home. But energy use isn’t the only reason to install new windows.

Curb Appeal

Complement the exterior and interior of your home with upgraded windows. You will enjoy the view in the short term, and it will increase the value of your house when it’s time to sell.


Newer windows have higher standards for security including testing for forced entry and multiple locks. Can you put a price or payback time on your safety and peace of mind?

Reduced Condensation

When it gets dry in the winter we often compensate by humidifying our air. Once you get above 40% relative humidity you risk condensation on your windows, which can lead to mould and frame deterioration. New windows with improved thermal performance and components can reduce these risks, allowing you to live in higher humidity comfort, and eliminate the drafty areas and cold spots in your homes.

High Efficiency Appliances

We have all seen the Energy Star® label, and know that updating our appliances will save dollars and cents on our electricity bills.   Industry has been working hard to help us become more efficient over time without us having to make any sacrifices.  For example, with the ever increasing requirements for Energy Star® ratings, a current Energy Star® rated refrigerator will use 20% less energy than a 10 year old Energy Star® rated model from 2006.  Taking this to a larger scale, a 20% improvement in efficiency across the North American market is the equivalent of taking 2 million cars off of the roads.  What you may not also realize is that new appliances come with a host of other benefits as well.

Water Savings

The latest dishwashers and washing machines use less water in addition to less electricity. This means less electricity to run, less water coming in, and less energy to heat the water. It’s a triple whammy of savings you would have missed if all you looked at was electricity.

Time Savings

Dishwashers aren’t just more efficient, they’re also better at getting dishes clean. You can save time by skipping the pre-wash and running a shorter cycle.  Many dishwashers also now have delayed start features that allow setting the cycle to run during times when electricity is cheaper in off-peak hours.

Your New Car (or shirt, or phone…)

How much did the badge on the hood of your car cost? Does it guarantee a wise investment? Although premium cars often come with improved performance, or fancy features, these upgrades don’t hold their value. What about the label on your shirt – does it justify the increased price tag? Will a $100 shirt last 5 times longer than a $20 shirt?  What is the financial payback of the 50” big screen TV (or 60” or 70”) vs the 42” – I am quite confident it is a negative payback on several fronts, but I find myself wanting to justify it anyway.  Next time you are at a restaurant, consider the payback if you decide to go ahead and order that dessert.  In almost every other aspect of our lives we are irrational consumers.  We attribute some notion of value to a particular brand or feature because of the way it makes us feel. Let’s start allowing ourselves to feel good about energy efficiency. Let’s value the way we’re lightening the load on our planet.

Solar PV Systems

There are many solar power advantages for both businesses and homes that go far beyond how quickly you can start saving money.

Environmental Benefits

As a cleaner source of energy than fossil fuels, solar power helps reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, slowing the human-made effects of global warming.

Energy Reliability

“Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Maybe Ben Franklin should have included the rising of the sun is this proverb. We know exactly when it will rise and set and, even accounting for clouds, have good forecasts for the amount of sunlight we will receive over time.  Farmers and grocery shoppers have been relying on this predictability for centuries.  All this makes solar power a reliable source of energy.

Energy Security

No one has a monopoly on sunlight. With the simplicity of solar panels and low barriers to production and installation, solar power is a secure source of energy.

Once you have solar panels set up, you have an independent source of electricity. It’s all yours to use as you wish, without relying on anyone else for production, transmission, etc.

What are you waiting for?

The next time someone asks you “what’s the payback” of improving your home, or investing in renewable energy, tell them about the costs and benefits behind the scenes.

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