When it comes to the environment, being a good global citizen starts at your doorstep. From recycling to using alternative cleaning materials, minor changes at home can add up to real benefits for the planet, not to mention your own health and happiness. Here are a few ways to green up your home.

1. Green up your appliances. Getting rid of that old refrigerator in the garage could save you as much as $150 a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Appliance use comprises about 18% of a typical home’s total energy bill, with the fridge being one of the biggest energy hogs. If any of your appliances is more than 10 years old, the EPA suggests replacing them with energy-efficient models that bear their “Energy Star” logo. Energy Star-qualified appliances use 10%-50% less energy and water than standard models. According to the Energy Star site, if just one in 10 homes used energy-efficient appliances, it would be equivalent to planting 1.7 million new acres of trees.

2. Watch the temp. Almost half a home’s energy consumption is due to heating and cooling.

  • Turn down the thermostat in cold weather and keep it higher in warm weather. Each degree below 68°F (20°C) during colder weather saves 3%-5% more heating energy, while keeping your thermostat at 78°F in warmer weather will save you energy and money. A programmable thermostat will make these temperature changes for you automatically.
  • Clean your furnace’s air filter monthly during heavy usage.
  • Consider a new furnace. Today’s furnaces are about 25% more efficient than they were in the 1980s. (And don’t forget to check out furnaces carrying the Energy Star label.)
  • To keep your cool in warmer weather, shade your east and west windows and delay heat-generating activities such as dishwashing until evening.
  • Use ceiling fans instead of air conditioners. Light clothing in summer is typically comfortable between 72°F and 78°F. But moving air feels cooler, so a slow-moving fan easily can extend the comfort range to 82°F, according to “Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings” by Alex Wilson.

3. Save water. The Web site “Water — Use it Wisely,” created by a group of Arizona cities, lists 100 simple ways to save water. We’ll share just a few here:

  • Put an aerator on all household faucets and cut your annual water consumption by 50%.
  • Install a low-flow toilet. They use only 1.6 gallons per flush, compared to 3.5 gallons per flush for pre-1994 models. If you have an older model, adjust your float valve to admit less water into the toilet’s tank.
  • Of course, you don’t need products to save water — behavioral changes also add up quickly: using a broom instead of the garden hose to clean your driveway can save 80 gallons of water and turning the water off when you brush your teeth will save 4.5 gallons each time.

4. Use healthier paint. Conventional paints contain solvents, toxic metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can cause smog, ozone pollution and indoor air quality problems with negative health effects, according to the EPA. These unhealthy ingredients are released into the air while you’re painting, while the paint dries and even after the paints are completely dry. Opt instead for zero- or low-VOC paint, made by most major paint manufacturers today

5. Want hardwood floors? Opt for bamboo. Bamboo is considered an environmentally friendly flooring material due to its high yield and the relatively fast rate at which it replenishes itself. It takes just four to six years for bamboo to mature, compared to 50-100 years for typical hardwoods. Just be sure to look for sources that use formaldehyde-free glues.

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