March 23, 2012

13 Steps to a Greener Home

A green home is a healthy and efficient home. Greening up your living space will benefit your health and your wallet, as well as the environment. Some steps are quite simple, while others will take a bit more effort. Never let going green overwhelm you though. Remember: Even the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Start your journey to a greener home here:

1. Swap your incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Energy Star-certified bulbs use 70% percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer. For those who don't like CFLs' bluish-white light or how long some of them can take to light up completely there is the Energy Smart hybrid Halogen-CFL light bulb by GE. It casts the same kind of warm glow as an incandescent bulb, but lasts eight times longer than incandescent bulbs.

2. Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat allows you to preset temperatures for different times of the day, so you can leave temperatures lower when you're out and warmer when you're home (reverse during the summer). A programmable thermostat is relatively inexpensive ($30 to $50), easy to install, easy to use, and can save you 10% to 20% on your heating and cooling costs.

3. Keep your heating system properly maintained. Check air filters once a month and clean or replace them when necessary. Oil-fired boilers should be cleaned and tuned annually, and gas systems every two years. Following these measures can save you 5% to 15% on heating and cooling costs.

You may even want to consider buying a new furnace (depending on the age of your current furnace). Furnaces today are significantly more efficient than they were 20 or 30 years ago, especially those with Energy Star certification. Although replacing a furnace is a costly expense, the increased efficiency will save you money in the long run. Energy Star-certified furnaces are 15% to 20% more efficient than even new standard models.

4. Make sure your home is properly insulated. Use weather-stripping and caulking to seal drafts and the energy they waste. Check around windows, doors, electrical outlets, and any spots where pipes come in. Also, check the insulation in your attic, ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors, and crawl spaces to see if it meets the levels recommended for your area. The U.S. Department of Energy offers an online Zip Code Insulation Calculator which provides insulation levels for your home based on your zip code and other basic information about your home.

5. Use less water. Install low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators to save water without sacrificing pressure. An efficient showerhead will save a family of four up to $285 per year. They are easy to install and can cost less than $20. Installing an aerator on all household faucets will cut water consumption by 50%. Consider installing a low-flow toilet which uses just 1.6 gallons of water per flush compared to 3.5 gallons per flush for pre-1994 models. Another option is to reduce the amount of water used per flush by displacing some of the water in the tank. Put an inch or two of sand or pebbles inside a plastic bottle, fill the bottle with water, screw the lid on, and place it in the toilet tank. Alternatively, you can purchase an inexpensive tank bank or float booster.

Of course you don't need to buy anything to save water. Behavioral changes can add up quickly. Turning the water off when you brush your teeth saves 4 to 6 gallons of water each time. You save 2.5 gallons of water for every minute you shave off your shower time. Running the washing machine and dishwasher only when they are full saves up to 1,000 gallons of water a month. For more water saving tips, check out Everyday Green’s Guide to Water Conservation.

6. Increase your hot water heater's efficiency. Wrap an insulating jacket around your water heater and secure (with tape, wire, or a clamp) foam pipe sleeves around the hot water pipes and three feet of the cold water inlet pipe. Also consider turning the temperature on the water heater down to 120 degrees to save money and prevent scalding.

7. When shopping for a new appliance, look for the Energy Star label. It will tell you the annual energy consumption and operating cost for each appliance so you can accurately compare both the upfront price and the monthly energy cost you'll be paying for the following 10 to 20 years. Energy Star-certified products are 20% to 50% more energy efficient than standard models, saving you money and reducing greenhouse emissions/air pollutants/water usage.

8. Select low or no-VOC paints and finishes. Conventional paints contain solvents, toxic metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are harmful to human health and the environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, paints, stains, and other architectural coatings are the second-largest source of VOC emissions after automobiles. When selecting low-VOC paints look for products certified by a third party such as Green Seal and make sure that the VOC levels are measured after the tints are added. For wood and concrete stains, opt for soy- or other plant-based stains. If you're feeling adventurous, try paint made of earth-based materials like clay and lime.

9. Swap those smelly, chemical-laden cleaning products for inexpensive, non-toxic, earth-friendly solutions you can make right at home. With a few simple products like vinegar, baking soda, and peroxide, you can get your house just as clean as with traditional cleaning products. [Click here for details.] You’ll save money on cleaning supplies, keep the plastic bottles they come in out of our landfills, and avoid harsh chemicals that harm the environment and your health.

10. Fill your home with air-cleaning plants. NASA spent two years testing 19 different house plants for their ability to remove common pollutants from the air. The most effective plants were proven to be philodendron (heartleaf, selloum, and elephant ear varieties), cornstalk dracaena, English ivy, spider plant, dracaena (Janet Craig, Warneck, and red-edged varieties), weeping fig, golden pothos, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, bamboo or reed palm, and snake plant.

11. Cut down on plastics. The list of health problems associated with plastic grows longer by the day. There’s also all the natural resources used to manufacture plastics and the pollution created in their production and subsequent disposal. While there’s no way to avoid plastics completely, there are steps you can take to guard your health and protect the environment. Invest in food and beverage containers made of glass, ceramic, porcelain, Pyrex, bamboo, or stainless steel instead of using bags, containers, and bottles made of plastic. Avoid heating food in plastic containers and washing plastic containers in the dishwasher (heat may cause plastic to leach chemicals). Filter your tap water instead of buying bottled water. Instead of a vinyl shower curtain, use one made of cotton, hemp, or polyester. Opt for housewares made of natural materials, such as organic cotton, bamboo, wool, and hemp.

12. Go fragrance-free. Fragrance almost always contains phthalates, so in addition to taking a pass on perfume and cologne choose fragrance-free soaps and detergents for your home. Avoid air fresheners and paraffin candles. Despite how nice they may look or smell, traditional paraffin candles and the smoke and soot they produce contain harmful toxins. The American Lung Association and the EPA have warned consumers that using paraffin candles can decrease indoor air quality. Paraffin is the last petroleum byproduct removed in the refining process (right after asphalt). The fumes released by paraffin candles are comparable to those produced by burning diesel. Greener options are candles made from soy or beeswax with non-lead wicks and scented with essential oil.

13. Opt for green home renovations. When you’re ready to get rid of dust-catching carpet or your vinyl floors wear out opt for environmentally-friendly options like bamboo or recycled linoleum or laminate. When it’s time to re-shingle, look for products made from recycled materials. If your siding needs replacing, consider fiber-cement products made from concrete and recycled fibers. Click here for more about Green Home Improvements.



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