Going green doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, an environmentally-friendly home can actually save you money while reducing your carbon footprint. Protecting our planet is everyone’s business, and you can do your part by making a few improvements around the house.
Here are 15 fixes, big and small, to help make your home, and planet, a healthier place.
A change of one degree on your thermostat could account for a four-percent difference in your home’s energy use. Invest in winter slippers and summer trips to the local pool. Also check the temperature on the hot water heater, and experiment with lowering it.
In the summer, running your ceiling fan in addition to air-conditioning can help reduce cooling costs by as much as 40 percent. In winter, reverse the direction of the fan and circulate warm air from the ceiling to the floor, saving 10 percent in heating costs.
“Phantom load” refers to the electricity used by electronic devices when they are turned off or in stand-by mode. The cost of keeping microwaves, TVs, computers, and other energy vampires plugged in 24/7 may account for up to 10 percent of your monthly energy bill. To reduce phantom load, unplug electronics that aren’t in use and plug as many electronics as possible into power strips that can be easily switched off (or, better yet, invest in Smart Strip powerstrips, which automatically cut power to devices that aren’t being used).
“Green” pricing is an optional service that encourages consumers to use utility companies that invest in clean, renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind power. As of the end of 2012, more than 850 utilities across the nation offer a green pricing option. Check out the U.S. Department of Energy website for information on what utility companies in your state offer this pricing option.
When shopping for lightbulbs, choose energy-saving incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), or light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Your electric utility may even offer rebates or other incentives for purchasing energy-efficient lamps.
Use collected rainwater to water your plants and garden. Also, the leftover water in the pet bowls can be used to spruce up the ficus.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, clothes dryers account for approximately six percent of a household’s annual energy consumption. Save the money and the energy by investing in a drying rack and some clothespins. It’s also better for your clothes, since dryers weaken the fabric, and the sun is a natural whitener, which reduces the need for bleach.
Replace all the chemical products underneath the sink with a few simple ingredients. The Internet has plenty of recipes, but the Farmers’ Almanac offers a good starting list. All you need is baking soda, vinegar, rubbing alcohol, salt, lemon juice, olive oil, hydrogen peroxide, club soda, borax, ammonia, and mild dish detergent to take care of most every cleaning need. Be sure to never mix bleach with ammonia or vinegar, which creates toxic fumes.
A compost bin is the best way to dispose of leaves, yard clippings, food scraps, newspaper, cardboard, and other organic wastes, diverting up to 30 percent of household wastes away from the landfill. And you can use the nutrient-rich mulch to fertilize your garden the natural way. Check out howtocompost.org for helpful tips and resources.
We all love a hot shower, but the greater your water pressure, the more water you use. Installing “low-flow” plumbing fixtures allow you to maintain water pressure while reducing water consumption and the cost of heating water by as much as 50 percent. In addition to showerheads, which are simple to install yourself, look for low-flow faucets and low-flow toilets when renovating your home.
When purchasing a couch, décor, or other furnishings, consider the product’s lifecycle and whether the constituents are natural or synthetic. Can the materials be reused or recycled when the piece wears out, or will it end up in a landfill? For inspiration, watch The Story of Stuff, which illustrates the route products take from extraction to sale to use to disposal. In fact, before you buy anything new, first check Craigslist and Freecycle.
When it comes time to choose carpeting, rugs, and window treatments, opt for natural fibers, such as wool, cotton, linen, or hemp. Look for materials that are untreated and free of toxins, like pesticides and chemical cleaners.
As a grass, bamboo can grow at a rate of up to 47 inches in 24 hours and reach full maturity in five years, while traditional hard woods can take 20 or more years to mature. It also requires no replanting, since the roots are left intact when the bamboo is harvested, and no irrigation, fertilization, or pesticides. Similar in appearance to hardwood, bamboo is also resistant to insects and moisture.
A professional energy audit is the best way to identify inefficiencies in your home, from air leaks to your home’s heating and cooling equipment. Learn how to prepare for a professional audit here, or learn how to do it yourself here.
Learn to estimate the energy consumption of your appliances here. Then, when you shop for appliances, electronics, water heaters, windows, and any products that consume energy, look for the ENERGY STAR® label, which indicates that the product exceeds the minimum federal standards. Even if the product has a higher purchase price, you’ll save money in the long run thanks to a lower operating cost.
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