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10 best ways to improve your home in a recession


Geothermal heat pumps
If you install a heating system that relies on the ground or groundwater as a means to heat a home, the government pays out a big credit. So long as the system meets Energy Star requirements, homeowners can get reimbursed for 30% of their expenditures, up to $2,000. Since geothermal pumps are capable of drawing 70% of their energy directly from the ground, with the other 30% coming from the electrical grid, they also significantly reduce heating costs.

Wind turbines
While some homeowners associations may not let you put small wind turbines on your roof, those that do can help homeowners save spending on energy and get large tax credits. Systems cost anywhere between $5,000 and $25,000, depending how much energy a homeowner wants to generate. Uncle Sam will reimburse you for 30% of the cost, up to $4,000. Like solar power, turbines can lower energy costs to zero, potentially.

Solar panels
Depending on your climate, solar energy can be harnessed to reduce energy costs to zero, and in some cases allow a homeowner to sell energy back to the grid. While a photovoltaic system isn’t cheap (they can run more than $10,000), tax credits are offered for 30% of costs up to $2,000.

Fuel cells
Fuel cells, which are popular in Japan, work a bit like batteries in that they depend on chemical reactions to create energy. Often powered by hydrogen, they're highly efficient, but they often cost between $15,000 and $20,000. Residential fuel-cell systems qualify for a 30% tax credit, up to $1,000 per kilowatt of power that can be produced.

Biomass stoves
These are exactly what they sound like: stoves that burn bio-materials as opposed to fossil fuels. By purchasing a stove that can run on corn or sawdust, for example, homeowners get a product that's 10% more energy efficient, and also qualifies for a $300 tax credit.

It sounds simple, but planting trees can reduce your energy costs up to 40% in warm climates by blocking sunlight and reducing the need for air conditioning. If you live in North America, the east and west sides of your home are exposed to the greatest amount of heat in summer months. Some hotter areas, such as Sacramento, Calif., give out free trees to reduce the strain on the grid during summer months.

Home energy assessment
These inventories determine which parts of your home are wasting the most energy. Most local utilities offer free energy inventories, but for $250 to $300 many companies offer a more detailed assessment using thermal imaging. This won't get you a rebate from the government, but it will give you a punch list of easy places to improve appliances and sealing, which will save on energy costs in the long run.