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.

Getting Your Whole Family Outside This Spring

Today marks the first day of Spring. What better way to celebrate than to get your whole family outdoors? Being in nature can benefit your whole family's mental, emotional and physical well-being, so here are some ideas to get your whole clan outside this Spring.

Play outdoor games like freeze tag, Red Rover, hopscotch and Kick The Can.

Toss a Frisbee around.

Play catch.

Organize a neighborhood baseball, tag football, basketball or soccer game.

Color with sidewalk chalk.

Splash in puddles.

Jump rope.

Fly a kite.

Invest in a bocce, horseshoe, or croquet set.

Visit state and national parks in your area. Many offer great family friendly activities.

Go on a nature expedition at a local park, in your yard, or around your neighborhood. Bring along binoculars, a magnifying glass and a journal (young children can draw pictures of what they see) and teach your kids how to observe, enjoy and appreciate nature without disturbing it.

Make a nature journal. Have your kids decorate a notebook they can carry with them to note what they observe when they're outside. Even young kids can keep a nature journal by drawing what they see.

Explore the wonderful world of bugs. Check your local library for books about bugs and then head outside with a magnifying glass to see what you can find and identify.

Learn about birds. Check out some library books or use the online bird guide from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Then get outside with some binoculars and that nature journal and see what you can find.

Plant a tree.

Grow a garden together.

Build and/or decorate a bird house.

Set up an outdoor scavenger hunt.

Go camping.

Build a sand castle.

Have a picnic even if it's in your own yard.

Start an outdoor hobby together. The options are limitless – biking, skating, fishing, hiking, canoeing/kayaking, horseback riding, tennis, etc.

Build a fort. Use these simple directions from wikiHow or get fancy with these instructions from This Old House.

Go letterboxing. Letterboxing is an outdoor activity that dates back to the 1800s. It combines elements of orienteering, hiking, art and puzzle solving. Participants search for letterboxes hidden in public places, such as parks, by following clues from a catalog or web site. These letterboxes usually contain a notebook and a rubber stamp. Finders stamp their personal journal with the stamp to record their find and then leave their personal stamp in the letterbox's log book. Your own local parks and recreation department may have a program or you can check out one of the many web sites available to help you get started. If you'd prefer a more high tech treasure hunt involving gps tracking, try geocaching.

Learn about the solar system. Kidsastronomy.com has several great resources you can check out before heading outside to connect the constellations together.

World Water Day on March 22nd

Next Thursday, March 22nd, is World Water Day. This United Nations initiative, which started in 1993, is aimed at focusing attention on the importance of clean water, advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources, and garnering support for UN recommendations regarding water issues. The theme for World Water Day changes each year with this year’s them being Water and Food Safety.

Visit this year’s World Water Day web site to learn more what you can do, download educational materials, and find local events and activities.

Click here for Everyday Green’s Guide to Water Conservation.

Green Tip of The Day

Check out Family Circle's list of companies that reward you for being green. You'll learn about Costco's Trade-In Program, which allows you to trade in old electronics for a Costco Cash Card, and how you can earn a free MAC lipstick by returning six packaging containers. With nearly a dozen different programs, including ones from Staples and CVS, you're likely to qualify for at least one. Check it out today.

Green Tip of The Day

Recycle your plastic bags. While it’s best to avoid plastic as much as you can, it’s inevitable that you’ll end up with some plastic bags and packaging. Plastic bag recycling is becoming more widely available, so at least you don't have to toss those items in the trash. Drop off bins can be found at several major retailers, including many grocery chains, JC Penney, Lowes, and Wal-Mart. They accept not only plastic grocery bags, but plastic retail bags, paper towel and toilet paper plastic wrap, plastic newspaper bags, plastic dry cleaning bags, bread bags, produce bags, sandwich bags, and any clear bags labeled with a #2 or #4 recycling code as well. You just have to make sure they are clean and dry. Visit plasticbagrecycling.org for drop off locations in your area.

Green Tip of The Day

Make your own microwavable popcorn. Making your own microwaveable popcorn at home is an incredibly easy way to avoid chemicals (used to create “flavor” and coat the microwave bags) and save money. Simply buy a bag of kernels (less than $3 at the grocery store) and a stack of brown paper lunch bags (I bought 50 bags for a dollar). Place a handful of kernels in the bag, fold over the opening of the bag a few times, and pop in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes until the popping slows down. Pour on some REAL butter or olive oil and your favorite topping – salt, Parmesan cheese, cinnamon and sugar, chilli powder, etc. Give the bag a hardy shake to distribute the flavor and enjoy. It's that easy. Plus, it works out to about 8 cents a bag. Why overpay for fake butter popcorn when you can have the real deal at home at a fraction of the cost?

Green Tip of The Day

Take the 5-minute quiz at practicallygreen.com and find exactly how green you are. The quiz results include a personalized plan for how you can be more green and up your score. If you're looking to join a community of like-minded individuals, practicallygreen.com also allows you to share your personal action plan, view other members' goals, and share each others' progress and achievements.

Green Tip of The Day

Find out what materials are recyclable in your community. Most cities and towns employ recycling coordinators within their Department of Sanitation or Department of Public Works who can provide you with a list of materials that can be collected for recycling in your community. You can also check with your state's Department of Environmental Protection or Department of Natural Resources. Click here for a list of links to these state offices. For items not recycled by your local program, check out Earth 911, a web site that allows you to type in your ZIP code to locate recycling centers near you, or the National Recycling Coalition which provides a list of state recycling organizations.

Green Tip of The Day

Clean green with a HEPA filter vacuum. A lot of older vacuums kick up more dust than they clean. HEPA (short for high efficiency particulate air) filters are designed to trap very small particles that would normally remain in the air. A trademarked HEPA filter removes at least 99.97% of particles such as dust, animal dander, smoke, lead, mold and other allergens. When selecting a HEPA filter vacuum, check the label for a serial number and air cleaning test results before you buy. "HEPA-type" or "high-efficiency" filters are widely advertised and usually cost less, but can be up to 55% lower in efficiency than true HEPA filters. A true HEPA filter vacuum is another great tool to have in your green cleaning arsenal.

Green Tip of The Day

If you take a fish oil supplement, make sure your omega-3s aren't mixed with harmful pollutants like mercury, PCBs and dioxins. The Environmental Defense Fund has investigated the purifying process of 75 of today's most popular fish supplements. Make sure your brand comes from one of the companies purifying their fish oils to meet stringent safety standards. Don’t take a supplement, but enjoy eating seafood? Check out the Environmental Defense Fund’s Complete List of Seafood Eco-Ratings to learn which options are healthiest for you and the environment.