You don’t have to be a complete tree hugger to want to go green. But now that it’s becoming increasingly clear that global warming is a very real problem, why wouldn’t you want to reduce your impact on the environment?
If the threat of global warming doesn’t spur you into action, perhaps this fact will: Most of the actions you can take to green your home are easy. And while they save energy and other valuable resources, they also save you a little or even a lot of green (read: money). I’m not expecting you to go off the grid, start raising all your own food, or anything that extreme. These are just easy changes that can be made around your house now to make a big difference.
So, without further ado, I present to you The Home Know-It-All’s Top 15 Ways to Go Green Around Your Home (in order from easiest to accomplish to hardest—although I’d say they’re all pretty darn easy).
1. Unplug household appliances and electronics (like the coffee maker, toaster, and cell phone charger) when they’re not in use. Even if they’re not on, appliances that are plugged in use energy. In fact, as much as 40 percent of all electricity is used to power home appliances that are turned off!
2. Get the most out of your appliances by only washing full loads of laundry and dishes. Minimize how often you open the refrigerator too. And keep the fridge full—an empty fridge has to work harder to stay cool than a full one.
3. Turn down the thermostat in cold weather and kick it up higher in warm weather. For each degree below 68 degrees Fahrenheit you set your thermostat during cold weather (or above 78 degrees Fahrenheit in warm weather), you’ll save 3 to 5 percent more heating energy. A programmable thermostat, below, makes this step easy. And using ceiling fans can keep you comfortable even when the thermostat is set higher or lower than you’re used to.
4. Bring your own (reusable) grocery bags to the store. Paper and plastic grocery bags are no good for the environment—in fact, according to Ideal Bite, about 12 millions barrels of oil and 14 million trees go into producing plastic and paper bags each year. Plus, reusable bags hold more than flimsy plastic sacks and are easier to carry around.
5. Replace burned out lightbulbs with CFLs, right. These fluorescent bulbs use about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescents and last up to 10 times longer. You can save $30 or more in electricity costs for each bulb over its lifetime! Learn more.
6. Remember the three Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle!). Note that recycling comes at the end of the list. The most important step toward going green is to reduce your consumption—buy less, and you’ll have less to recycle. In the home, that means buying materials, furnishings, and other items that are well-made, durable, and long-lasting (in other words, go for quality, not quantity).
Reusing is the next step. Getting new carpet? Tear up the old stuff to use somewhere else (we moved our old bedroom carpet to the basement to warm up the cement floor). Building or remodeling? Check out a local Habitat ReStore for used and surplus building materials, or look for local vendors of salvaged building materials. If you have items to get rid of, take them to your local Salvation Army or check out websites such as The Freecycle Network before you haul things to the recycling bin (or, god forbid, the dumpster).
Then, of course, there’s recycling. Recycle everything you possibly can—plastic, paper, bottles, cans, you name it. It’s important to recycle electronics, batteries, toxic household items, and more as well. Learn where to recycle. Oh, and buy recycled too—all sorts of household items from carpeting to dog beds to paper products are available with recycled content.
7. Use green cleaning supplies or homemade cleaning concoctions rather than chemical ones.
8. Paint with no- or low-VOC paints the next time you want to repaint rooms in your home. (Stay tuned for more on why you don’t want VOCs in your paint later this month.)
9. Insulate your hot water heater to save energy. Placing an insulative jacket around your hot water heater costs as little as $10 to $20, and pipe insulation is less than $1 per six feet. While you’re at it, turn the water heater down to 120 degrees for more money savings—and to ensure no one gets burned by water that’s too hot.
10. Plug air leaks around your house. Air leaks waste tons of energy, but they’re easy and inexpensive to take care of. Simply install weatherstripping and caulk around windows, doors, electrical outlets, and plumbing penetrations to stop drafts. Check the attic for leaks too.
11. Stop using chemicals on your lawn and in your garden. Here’s why. One way to reduce the need for chemicals (and lots of watering) is to try xeriscaping. And while you’re in the garden, here are some natural ways to get rid of garden pests too.
12. Save water by installing low-flow showerheads, faucets, and toilets.
13. Select Energy Star appliances when it’s time to purchase new ones. Clothes washers, dishwashers, refrigerators and freezers, dehumidifiers, and more with the Energy Star label incorporate advanced technologies that use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models—and they work well too!
14. Replace single-pane windows with double-pane ones to reduce heat loss in winter and heat gain in the summer. An added bonus: they’ll reduce noise pollution too.
15. Purchase sustainable materials for flooring, furnishings, and other home items. Flooring materials such as cork and bamboo are growing in popularity because they’re attractive, durable, and better for the environment than other options. Wood that bears the Forest Stewardship Council has been harvested using environmentally friendly methods—look for sustainably harvested wood furnishings, decking, and more. And check out TreeHugger’s guide to green furniture for more environmentally friendly furniture options.
So there you have it. Ways big and small to go green. This barely scratches the surface, of course. So if you want to learn more about these and other ways to lessen the impact you, your family, and your home have on the environment, check out some of my favorite online resources:
The Home Know-It-All