No matter the politics, there is no denying that environmental issues are making front page news more than ever before. Articles and TV news segments examine climate, pollution and depleting natural resources.
There is also much attention paid to how our lives are affected by each of these, and how our behavior, in turn, affects the environment. Not only are topics like calamitous storms, rising temperatures and melting ice caps becoming more and more relevant to our daily lives, but many people who may never have thought about pollution and climate change are beginning to care deeply about these issues.
Having an eco-friendly home is becoming increasingly important to many people as well. They want a home that not only pollutes less and leaves a smaller carbon footprint, but one that is healthy to live in and has cost-effective systems. More and more, there are opportunities to make our homes, and thus our lives, healthier, cleaner, smarter and greener.
If having an environmentally friendly home is important to you (or even just having a home that drains less from your bank account), here are some easy things you can add to your home:
- Energy-efficient light bulbs.
- Water filter.
- Smart home climate control.
- Motion sensors for lights.
- Appliances that are full.
- Shoeless rooms.
Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs
Changing out incandescent bulbs for LED light bulbs is a major energy saver. They last longer and use less electricity, which means fewer trips to the store or ordering less often online (which saves plenty of ancillary resources like gasoline, packaging and more) and avoiding the annoying task of changing light bulbs on a regular basis.
As LED technology improves and becomes more common, these bulbs are becoming more affordable and versatile. On top of feeling good about minimizing environmental impact, LED bulbs use less energy, so you can feel good – or at least better – when you look at your electric bills, too.
Many people don’t like to drink out of the tap, but our bottled water habit in the United States creates a lot of waste – each bottle is single-use, and many don’t get recycled. Using a water filter from the tap creates less plastic waste. Filtered water from the sink also means your drinking water won’t be sitting in plastic as long, leaving less time for the water to absorb microscopic particles that we end up drinking.
Smart Home Climate Control
Years ago, a couple bought and then sold a townhouse they used for multiple purposes. They lived on the top two floors, ran a business out of an office on street level and then rented out a one-bedroom apartment on the parlor floor. The entire house had a single electrical meter, and the tenant’s electricity use in the one-bedroom apartment was not separated from the rest of the house.
This tenant liked her apartment freezing cold, and ran her air conditioner day and night, as she did not want to come home to a hot apartment at the end of a summer day. This used to drive the landlords crazy, as they were thus paying a very high electric bill to cool spaces that were not being used. Eventually, the relationship between the tenant and the landlords soured and they parted ways.
If the home had remote climate control, as many do today, whether through Nest or a different system, much of this could have been avoided, as the tenant could have turned on the air conditioning remotely prior to coming home. This would not only avoid high electric bills, but also make the home more eco-friendly.
Motion Sensors for Lights
One way to lower energy costs and electricity usage is to turn off lights when you leave a room. But the truth is that many people find it difficult to remember to do this, and kids can be especially careless. If a room is lit but not used, this is not only a waste of electricity, but also a waste of money.
Motion sensors have become increasingly attainable and available, and some smart homes attach the lighting to these sensors. If no movement sets the sensor off after a certain amount of time, the lights in a room can go off automatically. This is not only energy efficient for the planet, but it is also economically efficient for your electric bill.
Appliances That Are Full
Filling your freezer and refrigerator is energy efficient because most of the motor’s work goes toward cooling the air inside. If the space is filled with food, this means there is less air, and the motor doesn’t have to work as hard. That means less strain on the appliance, and more energy efficiency.
Similarly, run your dishwasher only when it is full. This means you will run the dishwasher less often, using less water over time. The water will also be used more efficiently, and dishwashers use a lot of water. While you should not pack the dishwasher so tightly that the water cannot move around the dirty dishes, you don’t want the water and soap used to wash empty space.
Some experts say that it’s a good idea to run your dishwasher completely empty and without soap on occasion to rinse away some of the grime or residue that might accumulate over time from dishwashing detergent. This occasional clean run can be offset by your more efficient use of the appliance otherwise. Your more efficient dishwasher practices can also be applied to washing machines.
[Read: How to Declutter Your Home]
In recent years, more and more properties listed for sale require visitors to take off their shoes before entering the premises. Homebuyers and agents either benefit from wearing shoes that slip off easily, or will be offered surgical booties to put over their shoes and keep the floors clean. As annoying as it might be for someone to ask you to take your shoes off before coming inside, there is a good reason to leave your shoes outside.
Taking your shoes off before coming inside isn't just a growing trend among home sellers, but more and more Americans are doing like the Japanese and Scandinavians by making it a regular rule. Not only is this better for your floors – and redoing floors can get expensive – but the fact is, our shoes pick up a lot of dirt, bacteria and toxins. Walking around on the street, no matter how clean it might look, we step in chemicals, feces and dirt.
Much of what is on our shoes will transfer to our floors, whether on tile or into carpeting, creating a home environment that is filled with potentially harmful things. Bacteria on shoes continues to build up, day after day, thus making the soles of our shoes some of the dirtiest objects in our homes. For those with children who play on the floor, it can be unsettling to think of a child rolling around in whatever your shoes might have tracked in from the bathroom floor of the restaurant you stopped in earlier in the day.
Cut down to save for the environment and your wallet.
Taking steps to improve the energy efficiency of your home doesn’t only help to reduce your impact on the environment, it can also significantly lower your monthly utility bills. When it comes to deciding what appliances to replace or what new systems to install, consider what will provide the best improvement compared to the cost. “The most important step is to understand where investment makes the most sense,” says Alex Wilson, co-author of “The Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings” and founder of BuildingGreen, an information and consulting company serving green design. Here are 10 things you can do to save energy and money in your home.Consult a professional.
Consult a professional.
Every home is different, from the way it’s built to how it wears down over the years. To figure out where your home is wasting the most energy, you can get a professional energy audit, which typically costs between $218 and $550, according to HomeAdvisor. Depending on the company performing the audit, how thorough you want the report and where you live, it can take one to five hours – or more. “It would be an in-depth assessment to look how tight the home is – where there’s air leakage in the home,” Wilson says. An audit can tell you where insulation may be less effective, or where windows need weather treatment to better keep harsh outdoor temperatures from disrupting your indoor heating and cooling.Or run a report yourself.
Or run a report yourself.
If you can’t undertake the cost of a professional audit, there are options like HomeSelfe, a free app and web service powered by utility information company Energy Datametrics. HomeSelfe shows you how to input information about your home, including the type of lightbulbs used and the age of your refrigerator, to tell you where you can make improvements, from simple fixes to replacing old appliances.Find rebates and tax credits for an upgrade.
Find rebates and tax credits for an upgrade.
Any new product or appliance can offer better efficiency, but a homeowner’s first concern is often the initial cost of the improvement. The federal government and many state and local governments offer tax credits for energy upgrades to homes, and many companies offer rebates on heating and cooling systems, new water heaters and more. “Most consumers don’t know they’re out there,” says Ameeta Jain, co-founder of HomeSelfe. You can find local tax breaks and rebates through a simple web search, or pull together a HomeSelfe report, which provides local rebate options to help you save.Replace your shower head.
Replace your shower head.
It might seem almost too simple, but swapping out an old shower head will reduce the rate of water flow, dropping your water usage without forcing you to take shorter showers. “By reducing the flow rate by two-thirds or three-quarters, as would happen if you replace a 20-year-old shower head with a new one, it can pay for itself within a matter of months,” Wilson says. Older shower heads can create a mist as well that will cool quickly and force you to use more hot water, he adds. Popular shower heads from Toto, Delta and DreamSpa all have significantly lower water flow rates than those manufactured 20 years ago, while continuing to offer highly desired "rain" showers.Unplug what's not in use.
Unplug what's not in use.
Another easy fix is one we all consider but don’t necessarily do: When you’re out for the day, unplug fixtures or switch off power strips not in use. Jain says getting in the habit of unplugging things as you leave your home can help to reduce “vampire energy,” or the power used up by appliances that aren’t on but are constantly plugged in. “Then in the morning when we unplug our phone, laptop, iPad, just turn the power strip off and you’re saving energy,” she says. You can even turn off the power source at the wall by replacing your existing outlet with a remote control outlet. Insteon offers a remote control dual on/off outlet, allowing you to cut the power on each plug independent of the others, for about $65.Insulate or vent the attic.
Insulate or vent the attic.
Because they’re largely unfinished, attics often don’t get the same insulation the walls of the rest of the home do, and as a result they are either cold in winter or extremely hot in summer. “Air conditioning is always trying to cool the floor below the attic,” says Sabine H. Schoenberg, a Connecticut-based real estate agent. By insulating the floor of the attic or installing solar-powered vents to help warm air escape during the summer and keep cold air from coming in during winter, your heating, ventilating and air conditioning system won’t have to work as hard to regulate temperatures inside.Replace old systems.
Replace old systems.
The older your air conditioniner or water heater is, the less likely it is to employ technology that helps to increase its efficiency. And with age any appliance will require more energy to function properly. The federal government's Energy Star website can calculate the savings an Energy Star refrigerator can have over an old model: A 20-cubic-foot fridge made in 2000 would cost approximately $170 per year to run in California, compared to $63 annually to power an Energy Star-certified model of the same size. But appliances may not be your first priority. “I would have to say the biggest energy suck is the HVAC,” Jain says. Replacing an underperforming system will cost you upfront, but it will help reduce your regular utility bills moving forward.Put solar panels on the roof.
Put solar panels on the roof.
It’s becoming increasingly common for multiple homes in a neighborhood to have rooftop solar panels, and Wilson says it’s for good reason: “The cost of solar panels has come down so much that it now becomes a very real solution.” Solar energy marketplace EnergySage reports the price of solar panels has decreased by about 12 percent in the last year, and combined with tax credits, the average 5-kilowatt solar energy system would cost a homeowner about $13,000. Solar panels on your property can cut up to 30 percent off your electricity bill, according to EnergySage.Landscape strategically.
What’s outside your home can reduce the stress on your HVAC and make it easier – and cheaper – to maintain your ideal temperature inside. When you’re planning landscaping, take into account the parts of the home the sun shines on. “Plant shade trees, or if there’s a shed that’s being built, have it shade the west side of the house that heats up most in the afternoon,” Wilson says. For homes in colder climates, Wilson recommends planting trees or bushes close to the home to block out wind, which tends to make the home work harder to heat the interior.Don't buy a product you can't trust.
Don't buy a product you can't trust.
There are always new products claiming energy efficiency, but you should always do your own research to feel confident you’re taking the right steps. Schoenberg says one product she warns against are compact fluorescent lightbulbs, which are energy efficient but give off a fluorescent, blueish tint and contain trace amounts of mercury. “There’s not one good thing I can say about them,” Schoenberg says. Instead, she recommends light-emitting diode lightbulbs, which are still more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs. Individuals or companies soliciting door-to-door or on the phone may also insist on energy-saving products, such as a particular attic insulation or solar panels. Always do thorough research before agreeing to anything to avoid poor installation or even outright theft of your money.Read More