Number crunch: do these green goods pay for themselves?

G Magazine

When investing in green goodies, be sure to get your money's worth

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Looking to go green? G crunches the numbers for you.

Credit: Wikimedia

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So you're trying to save money and the environment. You've changed to a low-flow showerhead and switched to compact fluorescent lights and are reaping the savings.

So what's next?

We've looked at a few popular eco-ideas to see whether you'll get a return on your investment.

Battery rechargers

Price: $20 to $90
Verdict: Buy one if you go through batteries quickly

Digital cameras, remote controls and other gadgets are increasingly popular, but they do churn through batteries.

Battery rechargers promise to cut the repeated cost of buying disposable batteries while reducing the number of flat batteries sent to landfill dumps. Plus, the energy needed to recharge a battery is far lower than the energy required to make a replacement disposable battery.

AA batteries cost between 50c and $3 each. Rechargables cost around $6 each. Every recharge costs one cent for electricity, but saves the cost of replacement batteries.

Based on an average cost of $1.50 per battery, a $40 recharging system and a rechargeable battery will pay for itself in the time it takes to use 31 disposable batteries. And think of the savings to landfill!

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Hybrid cars

Price: Honda Civic Hybrid $32,990
Verdict: Buy for the planet, not your wallet

Hybrid vehicles get their power from both a conventional petrol engine and an electric motor, which is recharged during braking and downhill coasting. The Toyota Prius the most famous example of this petrol saving engine, but the Honda Civic also has a hybrid brother, making comparisons easy.

The Honda Civic is available as a hybrid for around $6000 more than the conventional Civic, but costs $645 less in petrol each year (assuming 14,600 km driving a year and petrol at $1.70 per litre).

At current fuel prices, it would take just under 10 years worth of petrol savings to pay back the extra purchase cost.

But remember that fuel prices are expected to increase, which will shorten the payback period.

The real benefit of hybrids is cleaner air; with significantly less greenhouse and other polluting emissions than a conventional car (and a fraction of those produced by four-wheel drives!).

If you can't afford a hybrid, remember small cars are cheaper to buy and run and better for the environment than large ones.

Outdoor solar lights

Price: $10 to $60+ each light
Verdict: Don't bother

If someone tells you that the electricity savings of solar-powered outdoor lights will pay back the purchase price, don't believe them.

Lighting the entire average home costs about $100 in electricity per year. Decorative outdoor lights would account for only a fraction of this cost.

While solar lights save electricity by replacing electric versions, it's not by a significant amount. You'd be better off being more energy efficient within the home.

Do this only if you want the talking point of solar-powered outdoor lights.

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Front-loading washing machines

Price: $850 to $3,000
Verdict: Break even

Washing machine prices vary from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, with more expensive models having better quality parts, more washing programs and greater efficiency.

Front-loading machines use up to 73 per cent less water, up to 68 per cent less energy and a third less detergent than comparable top loaders, though the energy differences are less if you choose cold wash cycles only.

Front-loaders generally cost more to buy and are cheaper to run; top-loaders are on average cheaper to buy but cost more to run.

Front-loaders are also gentler on fabric, helping to protect your investment in your clothing!

Financially, it's an even contest, but front-loaders are better for the planet.

Solar hot water systems

Price: Around $2,000 extra
Verdict: A long-term investment

Water heating represents nearly a third of the average household's energy use. Solar hot water systems use free energy from the sun to heat water, instead of gas or electricity.

These reduced energy costs can save the average family $200 to 300 each year, making solar hot water an investment that pays for itself around 6 to 10 years, less if energy prices rise.

The Commonwealth Government's Renewable Energy Certificates (REC) scheme and government rebate programs in Victoria, NSW, SA, WA and the ACT offer incentives that can reduce the net cost of solar hot water, making it much more affordable.