Happy Earth Day! It’s a great time to celebrate our planet and remind ourselves of how important our actions can be to best take care of it. You don’t have to look hard to find distressing evidence of climate change’s global impact, but it’s comforting to know that the small, everyday decisions we make as individuals, when multiplied, can make a positive difference on the environment. Lessening our impact on our ecosystems can be as easy as starting with a few sustainable green home tips that can lead to a lifetime of more careful, Earth-friendly and environmentally conscious choices. Begin with these helpful ideas and continue to educate yourself, and you’ll find many more opportunities to go green.
Doing our part in our homes also makes us feel more connected, and it’s a great set of values to pass along to the next generation. An added bonus of making the extra effort to go green is the money you’ll inevitably save while also engaging your creativity and moving closer to the Earth-friendly home you’ve always wanted. Frugality is the icing on the cake of sustainability, so to speak. So go forth, be good stewards of the planet, and make your home a green home. While you’re at it, always keep learning, and celebrate Earth Day every day!
How can I make my house green?
Making your home a green home begins with narrowing your focus. There are so many options and angles from which to orient your home-greening efforts that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, especially if you consider everything all at once. A list of 10 categories for consideration when embarking on a home-greening project is a great way to narrow your focus to some significant areas that can make a big difference in your home’s efficiency and sustainability. We put our heads together and assembled 10 areas in which you can make a real impact.
Water: Use less, save more.
Let’s start with the big one. It’s easy to waste water, and sustainability is about more than just the energy we consume. Fresh water is an incredible resource that deserves our respect and should be preserved accordingly. A simple first step, one sure to save you time and money, and help the planet too, is to get a water filter for your household drinking water and stop buying plastic bottles.
Of course, taking a more responsible approach to water consumption also means changing your behavior. It’s time to look more closely at your own habits and consider some real lifestyle changes. First, stop running the water while you brush your teeth or shave.
Your next step is to fix the leaks. Decide once and for all that it is no longer acceptable to live in a home with any water leaks, no matter how insignificant they might seem or how tempting it is to just ignore them. Those drips that keep dripping can add up a lot faster than you may realize. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average home leaks more than 10,000 gallons of water every year. If you’re committed, you no longer accept those drips. Seek them out and make them stop, and keep an eye on your water bill. You may even want to start keeping track of how much it changes over time so you can see your new behavior’s impact in dollars. If you broke out that set of wrenches and Teflon tape and fixed all the leaks you can find in your home but still need help, call a plumber.
Looking out for leaks (and stopping them) is not only a smart way to save money now, but also an investment in the future value of your home. Speaking of investing in your home, new toilets can make a huge difference because they account for about 30% of the water the average home consumes. Older toilets can use up to six gallons per flush, while new ones often use one gallon or less! Talk about efficiency, another big consideration in your home.
Efficient appliances are one of the best ways to increase your home’s sustainability while cutting back on your water usage and overall energy expenditures, not to mention lowering your utility and water bills. When you shop for a dishwasher, washing machine, oven, dryer or refrigerator, look for the Energy Star label, which points to a partnership between the EPA and the manufacturer and includes third-party verification that this machine is more efficient. An Energy Star-compliant appliance may cost a little more, but it will pay for itself by lowering your bills. While you’re at it, try to wash your clothes with cold water, which is usually just as effective but saves a huge amount of energy. It also reduces carbon emissions along with your energy bill.
One approach to water conservation you may not have considered is the addition of rain barrels, which can be filled by redirecting your gutters. You can repurpose this collected rainwater to water backyard gardens and household plants. An estimated average of 300 gallons of rain can fall on one home in a single night. Rather than redirect that excess water into the streets and sewer systems, where it picks up all sorts of garbage and pollutants on its way to city storm drains and public waterways, you could make good use of it.
According to the EPA, showers consume nearly 20% of an average family’s water usage. Even if it’s not leaking, an old showerhead can spray about five gallons of water in a single minute. Low-flow showerheads can cut that amount by more than 50%, down to less than two gallons per minute, while also reducing the demand on your water heater, which, in turn, saves energy.
Speaking of water heaters, if you have one of the older models that many homes still rely on, it uses gas to heat 50 or even 70 gallons of water 24/7, even when not in use. Imagine how much energy this takes. Merely wrapping the tank with an insulating blanket and turning the temperature down to 105 degrees F can save you energy and money. If your water heater is getting old and you’re interested in a more efficient alternative, a tankless water heater that heats water on demand and only uses electricity when in use is an excellent option. Powered by electricity instead of gas, a smaller, lighter, tankless water heater lasts twice as long and also works well with solar panels, which we’ll get to next.
Solar: Invest in clean power.
If you want to get more serious about an increasingly eco-friendly approach to building a more sustainable, green home, you’ll want to consider solar. First and foremost, solar panels offer clean electricity and reduce your energy consumption. The upfront, after-tax investment can be up to $15,000; however, depending on the amount of regular sunlight where you live, solar panels can allow you to sell energy back to your local electric company, paying for themselves over time while significantly reducing your home’s carbon footprint.
Various buying and leasing options apply to solar panels, and leased panels typically include provided maintenance over the term of the lease. Either way, your electric bill is sure to drop, you’ll save a lot of energy while creating your own, and you’ll recoup your upfront investment within 10 or 20 years.
Light: Save sensibly with LEDs.
Just use LEDs. There you have it, folks. This is one of the easiest no-brainers in our whole green home list, and a cheap, simple way to move your home toward eco-friendliness. Electric light sources account for about 10% of your home’s electricity usage, and they come in three types: incandescent, CFL and LED. When it comes to energy efficiency and impacts on the planet and the landfill, it’s safe to think of these three types of bulbs as “bad, better and best,” in that order.
CFLs are a little better than incandescent bulbs, but incandescent bulbs use a staggering 80% more energy than LED bulbs, which last about 20 times longer and put out a lot less heat. Even CFLs can’t compete. Using less electricity makes your home greener, and it shrinks your carbon footprint and electric bill. LEDs also come in all different colors, shapes and sizes. Like we said, it’s a no-brainer.
Thermostat: Smart equals efficient.
Home heating and cooling represent a huge portion of your utility spending, and they are a common source of inefficiencies. If you haven’t thought about adding a smart thermostat to your home, now’s the time. Sometimes called a “smart meter,” a programmable thermostat helps your home heat and cool more efficiently by running the air conditioner or heater more or less as needed. The result is a more eco-friendly home that only uses energy when it needs it, thereby wasting less electricity, releasing less carbon, and lowering your energy bill.
Cleaning products: Detoxify.
It’s a reflex to reach for the colorful spray bottles on store shelves or your screen, depending on how you go shopping these days. You want to kill germs, so you need something strong to spray; it’s a reasonable assumption. The thing is, it’s wrong.
We’re talking about using toxic chemicals in our homes. They’re bad for us, and they’re bad for the environment when we wash them away or add them to landfills, soaked into paper towels (which we also need to ditch). They’re bad for our animals and our kids, and to top it all off, they’re expensive and create tons of plastic waste, of which only a fraction ever gets recycled.
So, why not save your money, your family and your pets along with the planet by not using these products? You can clean just about anything without those toxic chemicals by using vinegar, baking soda, lemons, a little salt and some soapy, warm water.
Compost: Get gardening, today.
We’re just assuming you already recycle, you eco-friendly consumer, you. But are you composting? Do you realize that approximately half the trash that comes from most homes is food waste? That’s a lot of organic kitchen scraps and leftover food just rotting away in landfills. It’s kind of depressing. Something so full of life-giving potential rendered useless, doing nothing but taking up space at a place where you definitely want to limit your donations.
If you keep those magic scraps, you can make some great compost, which enriches and fertilizes the soil for your garden. What’s that you say? You’re not gardening yet? Well, now’s the perfect opportunity to begin composting and grow your first spring garden. Consider that compost your free plant food. Pick up a backyard compost bin, and you can even keep it neat, tidy and odor-free. A small pot with a lid on it, kept in the back of your fridge and periodically dumped into the backyard composter, keeps things from getting icky as you begin this next phase of your mission to reduce household waste. Meanwhile, if you can’t bring yourself to start gardening, some cities pick up compost along with regular recyclables and yard waste.
Cooking: Cook smarter.
When you’ve got a green home on your mind, you should look at your cooking. If you prep and plan your meals intentionally while taking care to store foods to ensure they’re well-preserved, you’re on the right track toward minimizing food waste.
Some quick shortcuts in the kitchen can help you down that road to a more eco-friendly home: Use a toaster instead of heating the oven when you crave that crunch of a perfect piece of toast; give up on environmentally disastrous coffee pods that just fester in landfills; reuse the water after boiling pasta; cook with fewer burners at a time; minimize the time your fridge and oven doors stay open, and more.
If you resolve to plant that spring garden, you’ll eat more fresh and raw foods anyway, which require less cooking. While you’re at it, stop buying salad dressing. All you need is a little olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper, and a whisk. You’ll save money, excise considerable extra plastic from your life, and be amazed at the flavors you’ve been missing.
Insulation: Fill the gaps.
If you want your home to be more eco-friendly, you’ve got to look at its energy usage. The biggest culprit here is your heating and air conditioning or HVAC unit, so making them as efficient as possible is the goal. Insulation is excellent at heat retention. Attics are a great place to start looking for opportunities to add insulation, and a properly sealed space will help your home stay warmer or cooler when needed.
Attic fans can also reduce your energy bill, along with the potential for moisture buildup that could cause mold problems. Invest in better windows and area rugs, if you have hardwood floors, to help your home regulate temperatures more efficiently. While we’re on the topic of insulation, especially if you live in an older home, the inevitable gaps around doors and windows can be trouble spots for escaping air. Air leaks make your HVAC unit work harder, which decreases your home’s efficiency as it increases your electric bill along with your carbon footprint. The good news is that it’s not too tough to fill those gaps yourself, with the help of a little weather stripping.
Windows: Find your blinds.
While you’re taking a new interest in how efficiently your home regulates its temperatures, don’t underestimate the power of blinds, curtains and other window treatments. While it’s nice to have some privacy, it’s even nicer to have some help keeping your home at the temperature you prefer without always having to rely on your HVAC system. Curtains, blinds and window treatments can help your home stay at a more comfortable temperature in any season.
Plants: Plant some plants!
Like the idea of growing things but not quite ready for the whole garden-and-veggies deal? You can start smaller with a simple herb garden. Herbs take up less space, require less work, make a nice contribution to cleaner air in your home, and are handy when you’re cooking. You can even work in some of that new compost to help fertilize the little guys.
Well, happy Earth Day! There’s your list of 10 ways to pursue a green home, but it’s just a start. While you’re busy greening that home of yours, be sure to check out our spring cleaning tips and 21 ways to go green. You might be interested in the benefits of Energy Star appliances, too.
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The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.