Guide to a Green Home

Practicing simple energy-efficient strategies in nearly every room and area of the home, such as the kitchen, family room, office, bedroom, bathroom, laundry, basement and yard will result in drastic energy savings for families and the environment. Making sustainable living or ‘green’ living choices includes reducing the use of electricity and water, in addition to eating all-natural foods and using natural, non-toxic products that don’t have a negative impact on the environment, as well as recycling. Reducing power use shrinks electric bills and reduces pollution from power plants. Improving insulation maintains the heating or cooling levels in the home. Check insulation levels and air leaks, particularly in the attic and add insulation if necessary. Get rid of inefficient appliances, which produce heat, unplug electronic equipment when not in use and replace incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent ones. Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows and plug gaps around ducts, pips, vents and fans that go through exterior walls to keep air from escaping. When painting the exterior of the house, choose light-colored paints and as it comes time to replace roofing or siding, select “cool” products, which can reduce the home’s cooling requirements by approximately 10 to 15 percent.

Water conservation is critical in nearly all regions and helps prevent water pollution in local watersheds, and nearby rivers and lakes. Check faucets and toilets throughout the home to ensure they don’t drip or run water, and consider switching to low-flow water fixtures in bathrooms and kitchens whenever possible. A small drip from just one faucet can waste approximately 20 gallons of water per day. Checking the water meter will reveal hidden water leaks by reading it before and after a two-hour interval when no water is being used. If the meter doesn’t display the same numbers before and after, the home has a water leak.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) American consumers produce approximately 1,600 pounds of trash every year. Reuse and recycle plastics from household cleaners, laundry detergents, toiletries and shampoo bottles to conserve resources and protect the environment.

Kitchen

To conserve energy in the kitchen, install water-efficient appliances and low-flow faucets, as well as energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances, which conserves approximately 10 percent more energy and 12 percent more water on average, than standard models. Conserve water by not running the faucet when washing vegetables or dishes, and use a clean pan of water instead. Run the dishwasher only when there is enough for a full load and don’t use the pre-rinse cycle. Choose non-toxic kitchen cleaning products or consider making them using natural ingredients, such as vinegar and lemon juice. Avoid using cleaners labeled “danger” or “poison” and select products that are low-VOC, which means easily biodegradable and free of solvents. Use kitchen exhaust fans just when necessary in colder months and to keep as much heat as possible inside the home.

Family Room

Home heating and cooling inefficiencies are the leading cause of an excess use of energy. Keep the thermostat near 68 degrees in the winter and 78 degrees or higher in the summer or consider installing a programmable set-back thermostat. When leaving the home or going to sleep, turn thermostats down by 5 to 10 degrees, which will also have the added advantage of reduce heating bills. Lighting is responsible for approximately 25 percent of an average home’s electricity bill. Turn lights and lamps off when leaving the room or when not in use, and change single-watt bulbs to more energy-efficient fixtures. Instead of using air conditioners in the summer, cool the home’s air by movement and ventilation using ceiling fans and house fans. Consider using clear, plastic shades in windows, which will reduce heat loss during winter and keep heat out in the summer. When replacing carpeting, select sustainable flooring options, which will minimize indoor pollutants and prevent health problems associated with carpets treated with carcinogens, such as benzene and formaldehyde.

Bathroom

The most significant cause of excess water use in the home occurs in the bathroom, the majority of which comes from the toilet as a result of flushing. Installing low-flow, high efficiency toilets can save approximately 14,000 to 25,000 gallons of water per day. In addition, consider using a tank float booster, which can save in excess of 10 gallons of water daily. Check toilets for leaks by dropping a small amount of food coloring inside the tanks. If the color begins to appear inside the bowls within 30 minutes, there is a leak. Don’t use toilets as trashcans, as it causes from five to seven gallons of excess water to flush. Install low-flow shower heads, which will save water and limit showers to the amount of time it takes to wash and rinse off, without standing for long periods of time. Bathroom tissue and paper towels account for one of the largest segments of the paper products industry, most of which is unrecyclable. Choose tissue and towels made with recycled materials, which will reduce negative impacts on landfills by as much as 3.3 cubic yards for each ton of traditional paper-based products.

Office and Bedrooms

Locate heating thermostats on inside walls and away from doors and windows, since air drafts cause thermostats to keep the heating and cooling system running when not necessary. Close heating vents and rooms that aren’t being used and move furniture, floor decorations, plants and drapes away from heat registers and air vents. Use humidifiers in bedrooms, which provide humidity and an effective source of heat or cooling depending on the temperature of the room and results in energy conservation. Consider recycling batteries, cell phones, out-dated computer disks (CDs), computers and computer-related hardware.

Laundry Room

Switching to an energy efficient clothes washer can save approximately 40 gallons of water per load, reduce energy use by nearly 70 percent and save several hundred dollars in laundry detergent over the life of the machine. When washing laundry, select lower water temperatures when possible; choose water levels that match the amount of clothes being washed to avoiding wasting water; use only the recommended amount of detergent, fabric softener and bleach; and avoid using the permanent press cycle, which uses approximately 5 gallons more water than the typical rinse cycle. Use detergents that are free of phosphates, which are harmful to streams, lakes and rivers. Although phosphorus is a natural plant nutrient, an overload in area water supplies results in an overgrowth of algae levels and detrimental environmental effects. Clothes dryers don’t differ drastically between models and therefore aren’t required to disclose EnergyGuide labels. However, they are generally the second largest energy-using appliance in the home and can cost approximately $85 a year. Consider using a clothesline to dry clothes outside instead of an electric dryer as often as possible, which will save money and energy. Confirm homeowners’ association’s covenants, codes and restrictions (CC&Rs), since some prohibit clothes lines in private communities.

Basement

Inefficient furnaces are one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gases in the average home and most often responsible for the largest portion of energy bills. Replacing older furnaces with more energy-efficient models will reduce the effects of global warming and cost less money to use. Professional contractors can perform a heat-loss, heat-gain calculation to assist with the decision in how large a home’s furnace should be. The assessment typically takes into consideration the size and layout of the home, how many levels of insulation the home has, the types and number of windows and the home’s orientation to the sun. Replace and clean furnace filters regularly and ensure it’s adjusted properly. Hot water tanks can use between 1000 to 4000 kilowatt hours each year. Water heating can be reduced by 10 percent by lowering the water heater’s temperature by 20 degrees. Remove built-up sediment on the bottom of the tank yearly, which can waste energy by blocking the tank’s heating element. Insulate water heater pipes and use two or more small heaters as opposed to one large central heater for larger homes.

Yard

Create landscaping with low-water requirements, using drought-resistant grasses, trees, shrubs and plants, which can consume less than half the water of traditional landscapes. Replace herbaceous perennials with native plants, as they use less water and are more resistant to plant diseases. Group plants and flowers according to their water requirements and locate plants on slopes, which will retain water and reduce runoff. Place a layer of mulch around plants and trees, which will hold water and discourage weeds. Water the lawn early in the morning for relatively long periods so the water reaches the roots and water only when needed. Check for leaks in hoses, pipes and couplings. Use rain cisterns, which can be used as a water resource for gardens during rainfall. Mount a bird house, which can be used as a pesticide-free form of pest control. And consider composting, which can be used as a healthy fertilizer for gardens, as opposed to harmful chemical ones.

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