By Laura Firszt, Networx
A greener home is one that conserves energy, uses less water and other natural resources, and minimizes environmental toxins. It sounds Utopian in theory but what about in actual practice? How does the average Joe or Jane go about making his or her home more ecologically friendly? Here’s a handy list of easy, affordable steps that anyone can take.
Energy Audit. An energy audit is an excellent place to start. This test, performed by a professional technician, examines your home and your habits to measure how much energy you use. The energy auditor will pinpoint practical ways to make your home more energy-efficient. Your local electric company or other utility may even offer energy audits for free.
HVAC. Take a good look at your HVAC habits. Heating is the No. 1 energy gobbler in most homes, followed closely by air conditioning. However, their appetite for energy can be tempered in several uncomplicated ways -- sealing ductwork, insulation, setting the temperature lower or higher depending on the season and replacing windows with draft-resistant new ones. If your HVAC is more than 15 years old, it might be worthwhile in the long run to buy a new Energy Star-qualified system.
Hot Water. About 12 percent of the typical household’s energy use goes to heat water. Reducing that figure begins with a simple smart move – always operating washing machine and dishwasher with full loads. As an encore, turn down temperature settings (“Warm” instead of “Hot” for your clothes washer, for example). Consider a tankless gas water heater, which warms water on demand instead of wastefully keeping it piping hot.
Appliances. Electrical appliances also tend to be energy hogs. When they’re not in use, turn them off. Better yet, unplug them … or flip the master switch on the power strip they are connected to.
Light Bulbs. Change to compact fluorescent and LED light bulbs. They cost more than traditional incandescents to start, but you'll reap the reward of great savings on electricity over their long life.
Bathroom. Reserve baths as an occasional luxury; showers save water. Conserve even more by taking shorter showers and installing a low-flow or toggle shower head. Don’t run the faucet unnecessarily, as when you are brushing your teeth. When installing or replacing a toilet, opt for dual flush or other water-saving models – they’re less thirsty.
Garden. Your lush green lawn is another water guzzler. Consider trading the grass – at least part of it – for an attractive, low-water ground cover like succulents.
Whole House. A gray water system recycles water that has been “gently used" in your washing machine, sinks, bathtub and shower. It may contain some soap, food, grease or hair, but water which has come into contact with feces (from the toilet or a washer load of diapers) should not be used. The liquid is usually piped to nourish your garden. NOTE: So that you do not contaminate the water in the system, you'll need to buy biodegradable soaps, shampoos and dishwashing liquids and avoid pouring any harsh chemicals down the drain.
Furnishings. Choose items made from non-toxic, sustainable materials when purchasing furniture, ornaments and carpeting for your home. For instance, an un-mothproofed rug made from wool (a renewable resource) is a greener, safer choice than one manufactured of synthetic fiber, which may be toxic.
Paint. Select wall and trim paints that are low in VOCs (volatile organic compounds). A kind of airborne solvent, VOCs can cause symptoms such as dizziness and headaches, and are carcinogenic.
Building Materials. Choose construction materials that meet some or all criteria for resource efficiency, including local availability (Western hemlock lumber in Washington State, as an example), recycled (preferably post-consumer) content, renewability and reusability of both the product and its packaging. This is equally applicable whether you are building, adding an extension to, or remodeling a home.
LOW TECH SOLUTIONS
Some of the most cost-effective ways of greening your home are surprisingly low tech. Using an awning or shutters to shade your living room from severe weather conditions such as intense heat or strong winds is a low tech, relatively inexpensive method of reducing your HVAC usage. A few more examples are collecting rainwater, installing ceiling fans or painting your roof white to reflect the sun’s rays in warm climates. Or try the greenest solution of all – planting trees and vines to shelter your home.