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There are very few things we purchase for our homes – whether it be furnishings, fixtures, construction methods and materials, food and paper products, cleaning and household products, that don’t have a preferred “green” option to consider.
The term “Green” is applied to many things today. It relates to energy efficiency, recyclability, biodegradability, environmental responsibility, renewable energy, and conservation.
Perhaps the most impactful action we can undertake is the greening of our home. As the size of the average American home has increased by over 100% in the last 50 years, we must ask ourselves just what space we really need for ourselves and our families. With each square foot we build, heat, light, furnish and refurbish, there comes a significant cost to your pocketbook and the environment.
But – let’s assume you’re not moving any time soon and look what’s available to do now. Every year better ways are found to save energy. And I think this is no better illustrated than by looking at what’s happening in the commercial building space. There are several large and very profitable companies whose business is to retrofit commercial buildings with the latest energy saving options. They tell the building owner - let us implement these improvements, we will finance them on your behalf, and all you need do is continue to pay your current utility bill $$ amount for a certain period of time. Their energy savings entirely service the debt. And – they find they can do further retrofits every 5 years on the same building and the math still works. So – if your home is over 5 years old, or if it wasn’t maximized for efficiency when it was built, there are energy saving opportunities for you.
- Insulate and weatherize your home. Ceiling and wall insulation, seal air leaks, install energy efficient windows and doors. Use “Low-E” glass on south facing windows.
- Heating and air conditioning. Tune up or replace your existing heating/cooling system. Should be at least 90% efficient. Install a programmable thermostat. Consider a humidifier in low humidity climates. Heat your house to 68F while occupied and 55F at night and while you’re away. Provide each bed with comforters or blankets to sleep comfortably in a cool environment. Install an attic fan.
- Renewable energy. Consider solar panels to supplement power needs or to heat domestic hot water or swimming pools. Payback is dependent on your area and amount of daylight and sun. Geothermal heating is another energy saving system to consider for your home.
- Hot water. Install a high efficiency ENERGY STAR® hot water tank. Set tank temperature to 120F. Use less hot water. Don’t use hot water when cold will work. Insulate all accessible hot water lines. Buy water efficient dishwasher and washing machine. Install low-flow faucets and showerheads. Fix leaky faucets.
- Lighting. Replace all incandescent bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFL). Use task lighting to minimize ambient light requirements. Turn lights off. Use timers, automated switches (such as one that will turn a light on when a closet door is opened), motion sensor switches, and daylight sensors. Avoid energy wasting halogen bulbs. For ceiling cans, use “insulation contact-air tight” (ICAT) cans. Situate room furnishings to take advantage of natural light. Install skylights where possible for better daytime light. Use LED holiday and outdoor lighting.
- Water Conservation. Install low flow faucets and dual flush or low capacity toilets. 60% of water used in your home is grey water (water from bathtubs, showers, sinks, and washing machines). Install a grey water system that captures this and uses for toilets and irrigation. When using dishwashers or clothes washers, make sure they’re fully loaded. Flush less. When waiting for hot water, use a container to collect cold water and use for watering plants. Don’t run the water when brushing teeth. Take shorter showers. For the yard, avoid planting lawn. Water shrubs and plants deeply but less often. Clean walks with a broom instead of a hose. Water early – before sunrise to avoid evaporation. Install rain collection systems for irrigation water. Utilize soaker hoses where possible to prevent evaporation.
- Waste. Recycle all paper, plastic, glass, steel, and aluminum. Your local recycling service will typically collect these. If required, take care when separating as mixing may cause items not to be recycled. Recycle electronic components - TVs, computers, cell phones, stereos, etc... to proper recycling centers. Properly recycle CFL’s, motor oil, and tires. When shopping look for products with the least and most recyclable packaging. Buy products packaged or produced with recycled materials. Buy less. Compost food scraps. This reduces waste, produces rich soil thereby requiring less fertilizer.
- Food. Food is responsible for 1/3 of global greenhouse gas emissions. If you buy it, eat it. Don’t waste food and the energy and resources that were required to grow and produce it. Buy seasonal foods and regional foods. Move away from beef and cheese. Get your protein from chicken, fish and eggs. Don’t buy fresh fish if it isn’t local. Use frozen – preferably frozen at sea. If it’s processed and packaged, such as junk food, skip it. Buy beer and wine produced closest to where you live.
- Household. Replace older appliances with ENERGY STAR® appliances where available. Use phosphate free and biodegradable house cleaning products. This includes drain cleaners. Reuse shopping bags or use a canvas one. Go reusable with lunch box, thermos, reusable coffee mug, reusable glass or plastic food storage containers. Consider chemically untreated cotton for towels, bathrobes, bedding. Use beeswax/soy oil candles. Try cork flooring over synthetics. When painting, only buy what you need. Consider whether walls can be washed and avoid repainting.
- Office. Don’t print if you don’t need to. Use recycled office paper with highest % of post consumer content. And/or use paper products made from trees certified as sustainable. Put your computer into sleep or hibernate mode when not in use, or completely power down.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle