Sustainable Living: 10 Tips for a Greener Home
Originally Written by by Lexi Klinkenberg
Imagine a house where every electronic component and device is powered by the sun. Where every raindrop that hits your roof is used to water the yard, even on dry days. Where your trash is turned into fertilizer, which in turn is used to grow produce for your dining room table. Surprisingly, this idea of sustainable living already exists for many homeowners and can also be a reality for your home. We’ve compiled a list of important changes you can make to your home to lessen your impact on the environment, reduce your utility bills, and achieve a more sustainable lifestyle.
1. For sustainable living, switch to LED or CFL lights
Lighting accounts for about 9 percent of a typical home’s energy use. A cheap and simple way to reduce your energy bill and your environmental footprint is to replace all your light bulbs with LED bulbs. On average, LED bulbs consume 80% less energy when compared to incandescent light bulbs. These newer bulbs also last about 20 times longer than regular bulbs, meaning fewer of them end up in the landfill. Another benefit of LED bulbs that is often overlooked is the amount of heat they emit. Standard bulbs emit a lot of heat, which means your air conditioner has to run harder in the summer to compensate. LED lights emit less heat, which directly and indirectly can save even more energy. LED bulbs have also evolved over the years to fit all types of needs, from recessed lighting to dimming switches.
2. Seal gaps around doors and windows
Older homes tend to have gaps around doors and windows that let in outside air or let heat escape in the wintertime. If your home has gaps, the air coming from your HVAC system will be going out the window. This will make your energy bill increase and your carbon footprint larger. Putting weather stripping around doors and windows will save you money on your heating and cooling bill, and will make your home more energy-efficient. You can buy weatherstripping from any hardware store and install it yourself in a matter of hours.
3. Fix leaking toilets and faucets
Leaking toilets and faucets may not seem like a big deal, but they can waste a lot of water. According to EPA.gov, 10 percent of homes have leaks that can waste up to 90 gallons or more of water per day, and the average household’s leaks can account for more than 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year. For more sustainable living, these leaks need to be repaired. Pay attention to any dripping noises you might hear around the house. And, pay close attention to your water bill. An unexplainable spike in your monthly statement can be a sign of a leak.
If you notice a leak, you’ll need to call a plumber to assess the situation. If left untreated, the fixture may need to be replaced or your pipes may need to be fixed. This will cost you much more in the long run. It’s especially important to stay vigilant if you plan to sell your home, plumbing is part of every standard home inspection. If there are leaks, it may signal to potential buyers that you haven’t been maintaining the home.
4. Create a recycling and compost station
Most cities will now pick up and process recyclable material, and several cities including Portland, OR, and Seattle, WA, will also pick up compostable food material and yard waste. To make recycling and composting as easy as possible, make sure to have bins for trash and recycling in more rooms than just the kitchen. A lot of recyclable material is thrown away in home offices and bathrooms just because the recycling bin is too far away.
Did you know that 50% of trash that homes produce is composed of food scrap? When these scraps of food go to the dump, they serve no purpose. But if you have a compost bin in your home, you can use those scraps to make fertilizer for your garden. Most outdoor composters cost between $100 and $600, depending on how large and secure they are. To avoid attracting pests, make sure to get one with a tight-fitting lid and a secure hatch at the bottom for removing fertilizer when it’s ready to be put to work.
5. Collect rainwater to water your plants
One night of rain can dump 300 gallons of water on the roof of your house, much of which flows into the street, collecting street pollutants like oil, fertilizer, cigarette butts, and animal waste. The runoff ends up in your city’s stormwater collection system, which dumps into public waterways. Meanwhile, most homeowners use sprinklers to water their lawn and garden, which is a waste of all of the water that could be collected naturally.
Rainwater collection barrels can be part of the solution, especially in drier, drought-prone climates. To install them, consider hiring a professional to clip your gutters and redirect them to pour into the barrel. You can attach a hose to the barrel, or you can simply use a watering can to move the water from the barrel to your plants or garden. This can have a positive impact on sustainable living and conserving water outdoors.
6. Insulate your attic and install an attic fan
Since heat rises and our roofs are known for absorbing the sun’s heat, your attic tends to be much warmer than the rest of your home during the summer months. If your attic is properly insulated, it will act as a tight seal for the air in your house, keeping conditioned air from escaping so your HVAC systems don’t have to work extra hard. The level of insulation that you need depends on where you live. You’ll need to hire a contractor to insulate your attic properly using a variety of materials.
Installing an attic fan is another excellent way to reduce the amount of energy spent on heating and cooling your home, and can reduce the potential for moisture buildup in your attic. Attic fans are mounted on your roof and push hot air out of your attic, helping to keep your home cooler in the summer months and reduce your air conditioning bill. These work particularly well if your attic is already well insulated. Attic fans can be programmed on a thermostat to turn on once the attic reaches a certain temperature, and there are even solar-powered options for even more sustainable living.
7. Install solar panels
Solar panels will reduce your energy consumption and your energy bill. Solar panels are an excellent way to practice sustainable living at home. For an average-sized house, the installation of solar panels can cost from $11,000 to $15,000 after tax credits. While that may seem like a lot, the panels will pay for themselves over time, and significantly reduce your carbon footprint.
As a homeowner, you have a couple of options for solar panels: you can lease or buy.
If you lease them, you will have to make a down payment plus pay some interest, but the company will monitor and maintain the system during the entirety of your lease.
If you buy them, you don’t have to pay interest, but the maintenance is your responsibility after the initial term of the contract runs out. Note that if you sell your home while leasing, the buyer will need to take on the obligations of the lease.
In most cases, the lease payment is less than your electricity bill, and if you purchase them, you won’t have an electricity bill at all. However, you may have to pay a small fee to your utility provider each month to connect the panels to the utility grid. Solar panels are an excellent way to conserve energy by producing your own, and can pay for themselves within 10 to 20 years.
8. Install low-flow showerheads and toilets
Older showerheads release approximately five gallons of water a minute, which adds up quickly, especially if you have multiple people showering in the house. According to EPA.gov, showering accounts for nearly 17 percent of residential indoor water use for the average family. Low-flow showerheads, such as those with the WaterSense label, use less than two gallons per minute, conserving more water and cutting down your water bill. Because these shower heads use less water they reduce demands on water heaters which saves energy as well.
Toilets are by far the main source of water use in the home, accounting for nearly 30 percent of an average home’s indoor water consumption. Older toilets use as much as six gallons per flush, while newer, more efficient toilets use about one gallon or less. You can reduce water used for toilets and money spent on your water bill by replacing old toilets with newer water-efficient models.
9. Purchase energy and water-efficient appliances
When it comes time to replace an appliance, it’s best to choose an energy-efficient version if you want to achieve sustainable living. If you need to replace any household appliances like dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, ovens, and refrigerators, look for Energy Star labels. Energy Star is a partnership between the EPA and appliance manufacturers. The label shows consumers that a third-party has verified that the product is low water and low energy. They cost more than a regular appliance but are offset by lower water and energy bills.
10. Maintain or replace your water heater
Old water heaters use gas to heat 50 to 70 gallons of water at all times, even when you’re most likely not using it. If you turn it down a few degrees, from 110 to 105, and put an insulating wrap around it, you will save a lot of energy. Installing a tankless water heater is even a better option. It only heats water when you need it, using electricity only when it’s engaged. And because it’s electric, it will work well with solar panels.
Gas water heaters only last 12 to 15 years, which means millions of them are dumped in the landfill every year. Tankless water heaters are much smaller and last about twice as long, so there’s less landfill waste. If you have an old water heater consider hiring a professional to come inspect it or even replace it with a tankless system.
Sustainable living can be achieved by making any or all of the changes listed above. Any action you take to make your home more green will certainly help reduce your environmental impact.