16 Ways To "GREEN" Your Home
Transforming your home into an eco-friendly abode may sound daunting and expensive, but with products that are more "green" becoming mainstream, they have never been more readily available or affordable. So whether you're ready for a complete eco-overhaul that includes solar panel installation or you're just looking to make a few simple changes, ahead are some steps you can follow to decrease your carbon footprint and even save some money along the way.
Lower Your Utility Bills
Save energy and money by unplugging electronics when you're not using them. Known as “phantom energy loss," many electronics will draw energy even if they are off. Use power strips or connect outlets to light switches so you can easily shut everything down when you're done with them or if you leave the house.
Find out if your home could benefit from solar panels. Although there is a lot to consider before you install them (e.g. Does your house get enough sun? Is your electric bill really that high for the payback to be worth it?), the savings can be huge once you do. On top of that, many cities and states offer green tax incentives on top of what is offered at the federal level. These discounts can knock several thousand dollars off the overall cost.
2. Program Your Thermostat
When you are at home, keep the thermostat at 78°F or higher in the summer and 62°F or lower in the winter. Programmable thermostats allow you to program the systems to reduce output when they are not needed (e.g., when no one is home during the day, or in the evening when everyone is sleeping).
Newer air conditioning units come with pretty intuitive eco-friendly features right out of the box, but here are some key points to look for when selecting the perfect unit for your home:
- Programmable settings: A unit that comes with a programmable thermostat allows you to save energy when you're not at home or sleeping.
- Two-stage compressors: This is the part of the unit that uses the most energy, but by doubling up they're able to work less on not-as-hot days.
- Size: Contrary to what you may think, a smaller unit won't necessarily save energy. In fact, it'll work even harder to cool the room if it's not large enough.
- Energy efficiency ratio: The ratio of the cooling capacity (BTU) to the power input (watts) should be above 10.
If you'd rather not have an AC unit, think twice before opening up those windows. Keep them open only at night when the temperature is lowest, then close them during the day to trap cool air inside.
Plants' natural process of photosynthesis, in which they use water and sunlight to create their own food, causes them to take in heat. They won't drop your home's temperature significantly, but they can certainly help—especially if you decorate with plants that require a lot of sunlight.3. Plug Air Leaks
This simple step can go a long way toward keeping your home at the temperature you desire, saving money on heating and air conditioning bills and more.
Window treatments aren't just for decor; they can play a critical role in keeping your home comfortable throughout the year. During the colder months, swap out flimsy window treatments for honeycomb or cellular shades to improve insulation. Hanging up thicker curtains can also help keep your home from losing heat. When the weather warms up, use eco-friendly bamboo shades to keep the sun out—as much as 30 percent of a home's heat enters through its windows.
Drafts can increase a home's energy usage by up to 30 percent by putting a greater demand on heating and cooling. This is especially true in older buildings. Hone your DIY skills and craft some window and door guards to keep out the cold.
For those who own their homes and have extra money in their budget, windows are an upgrade that may be worth investing in, as newer windows offer thicker glass and better insulation. If you can't afford to swap out your windows, sealing up cracks around your existing ones with caulk can make a world of difference.
4. Tune Up Your Heating and Cooling (HVAC) System
Have a checkup for your HVAC system every 2 years to make sure it is running efficiently. Be sure to clean the filter monthly during times of peak usage; a dirty filter can significantly reduce the efficiency of your HVAC.
Savings: Reduce your energy bill by $100 per year or more!
ENERGY STAR qualified products meet a high level of energy efficiency, which can translate into savings on electric bills. When considering the price of a new appliance, take into account not only the purchase price, but also the long-term savings associated with an energy-efficient appliance.
Savings: Reduce your energy bill by $50 per appliance per year or more!
6. Reduce Water Use
INDOOR: Use less water by adding aerators (available for a few dollars at your local home supply store) to your sink faucets and changing to low-flow showerheads.
OUTDOOR: Incorporate native plants in your landscape plan and minimize high-maintenance landscaping such as turf grass to conserve water, while still maintaining a beautiful lawn.
Savings: Reduce your water bill by as much as $100 per year!
7. Switch to Green Power
Green Power is an optional utility service for customers who want to help expand the production and distribution of renewable energy technologies. With green power, you do not have to change your electricity provider. Instead, customers choose to pay a premium on their electricity bill to cover the extra cost of purchasing clean, sustainable energy. More information on green power can be found at: http://www.eere.energy.gov/greenpower/markets/index.shtml.
Choose Green Products
8. Buy Local
Buying local produce reduces the amount of fossil fuels required for the transportation of products from other parts of the country or the world. It also reduces the amount of plastic and paper products consumed in the packaging of such far-traveling products. Buying local reduces consumption of valuable natural resources.
A good wool mattress pad provides insulation during the winter and also wicks away moisture to keep you cool in the summer. An all-season quality down comforter is also ideal since you can just change the duvet cover as the weather changes.
Cotton linens breathe well and stay cooler than other fabrics, which make them ideal for summer. Buckwheat pillows are also great, as they have hulls to help air to flow around you instead of trapping heat like feather and foam pillows.
Miss those brand new, shiny faucets? Cut up a lemon and use the slices to wipe away grime. The acid in the lemon will leave the metal shining.Ditch the germ-laden mop, bucket and Swiffer and use a steam mop to clean your floors. You'll also save waste with those disposable wipes, since most steam mop pads are machine washable.
Inprove your indoor air quality by switching to products that don't give off "volatile organic compounds" (VOCs). Some common low-VOC or no-VOC products include:
PAINT: A low-VOC paint is available from most major paint brands.
CLEANING PRODUCTS: Low-VOC cleaning alternatives are available for sale, or you can make your own VOC-free cleaning products using simple household materials like baking soda, vinegar and borax.
10. Use Wood Alternatives or FSC-certified Wood Products
The type of flooring and cabinetry materials you use can have apositive effect on your health and pocketbook while reducing your environmental impacts.
Consider using environmentally preferable and rapidly renewable products such as linoleum, bamboo, recycled-content tile or non-VOC carpet.
Choose wood products from sustainably managed forests, such as those certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Use locally sourced products when possible to reduce carbon emissions associated with the transportation of those products.
11. Use Rapidly Renewable Flooring Materials
Now there are affordable, durable, and rich-looking flooring options made from grasses and trees that mature in roughly half of the time (or less!) than it takes hardwoods to reach market size. Bamboo, cork, and eucalyptus flooring products are a sustainable alternative to traditional hardwoods.
Green Your Yard
12. Plant Trees to Provide Shade and Wind Protection for Your House
This simple step can help you save money on heating and air conditioning bills while providing beautiful views around your home.
13. Use Native Plantings
Native plants have been growing and evolving in your area for thousands of years and, as a result, have adapted to the local soils and climate. Due to this, they are more likely to thrive with minimal care, unlike exotic plants. That can mean less need for water, fertilizer and pesticides. Additional information on green landscaping techniques can be found at: http://www. epa.gov/reg2eds1/garden/.
14. Use Nontoxic Gardening Techniques
Many gardeners over-apply or improperly apply pesticides, putting themselves, their families, and pets at increased health risk. Nearly half of all households have pesticides stored within reach of children. About 230,000 people each year are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries relating to various lawn and garden tools. Our clean air and drinking water are affected by pesticides and garden equipment emissions.
Green Your Transportation
15. Carpool, Use Public Transportation, Walk or Bicycle When Possible
Environmental responsibility does not begin and end at your doorstep; green transportation means can greatly reduce your energy expenditures and carbon emissions from your daily routine.
16. Buy a High-efficiency Car
See the U.S. Department of Energy's list of most fuel efficient cars.
Visit the USGBC Web site.