Your home may be impacting the environment more than you realize, especially through water and energy use. This is especially true if you have an older house without the upgrades that more recently-built structures have. Yet, it’s possible to make every home more eco-friendly with a few changes.
Adopt Solar Energy
Solar technology has advanced significantly since the 1970s when solar panels first started to be installed on rooftops. Today’s solar panels are cheaper, more efficient, and easier to use than in past years. For home use, solar energy typically doesn’t completely replace conventional electricity sources, but it can have a significant effect on reducing fossil-fuel consumption and lowering your electric bill.
Most people who install home solar systems connect the system to the existing electric grid. This allows you to use solar-generated energy as much as possible, while any excess energy feeds back into the grid, thus reducing the need for fossil fuels. When solar is not available, your home can utilize conventional electricity.
Use Energy Star Appliances
The Energy Star sticker you see on new appliances means the product has been designed to reduce energy use. The designation was created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, and since it was implemented, it has helped to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Energy Star products also save consumers money on their utility bills.
Energy Star rated appliances include common household appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, freezers, and dishwashers. But you may not realize that other items you used are also Energy Star certified. These include light bulbs, water heaters, and room air conditioners.
Improve the Insulation
If you have an older house, your insulation may have deteriorated over time due to weather conditions and natural wear of the insulation material. Replacing older insulation with a newer and more efficient product can keep your home warmer in winter and cooler in summer, thus reducing your reliance on energy. The type and amount of insulation best for your home depends on your climate, the way your house is made, and other factors, so you should consult with a professional.
In addition to insulating walls and ceilings, also consider insulating your floors and foundation walls, either in a crawl space or basement. If you have an unheated attached garage, you may also want to insulate the walls adjacent to your living space.
Get Rid of Your Lawn
It sounds radical, but getting rid of your lawn can reduce your carbon footprint, conserve water, and cut down on pollution. A thick, green, manicured lawn requires lots of water, which strains community water tables and aquifers. Worse yet, runoff from pesticides and fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus pollutes rivers, streams, lakes, and other waterways.
Replacing grass with other plants and natural substances is eco-friendly and can be an attractive alternative, especially if you live in a shady area or arid climate. Hardy groundcovers and natural grasses that don’t need mowing are great alternatives, especially when complemented by garden rock. Covering your entire lawn with stone and pavers is also a possibility. There are many types of gravel or stone that can take the place of a water-intensive lawn.
Plant Trees and Shrubbery
Even if you decide to get rid of your lawn, do keep trees and shrubbery. Large shade trees can cut down on your energy use by providing natural cooling for your home. They require less water than lawns to stay healthy, and they benefit the environment by cleaning the air through oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange.
Trees and shrubs reduce soil erosion and even cut back on noise and light pollution. They also serve as habitat for environmentally-friendly wildlife, such as birds and butterflies. Be sure to choose plants that are native to your area.
Install Water-Conserving Plumbing
The average household uses up to 100 gallons of water per day. You can reduce that amount by installing water-saving plumbing fixtures. There are several choices for high-efficiency toilets that require less water per flush than conventional commodes. Some toilets also have a dual-option flush, where the user can choose to use a small flush for liquid waste or a larger flush if needed. Low-flow shower heads and faucets are also a good idea.
You can also install a pressure reducing valve on your incoming water main. This will cut down the overall water use in your home.
Buy a Programmable Thermostat
A programmable thermostat allows you to use heating or cooling when you need it the most and cut back on it when you don’t. For example, you can program one temperature while you are working away from home during the day, and choose a more comfortable temperature in the evening while you are home. The net effect is reducing your total energy consumption.
If you have zoned heating, you can also use a programmable thermostat to vary the temperature in different parts of your house. Newer thermostats will connect to your home WiFi so that you can use an app or home voice assistant to control the temperature.
Upgrade Your Windows
Windows impact both the light and temperature of your home, for better or for worse. If you don’t have a tight seal around the frame, you could be letting in cold drafts or leaking out your heated air. Check your caulking regularly for signs of cracks or deterioration and replace it every few years.
Window frames and glass can also affect your energy use. Double and triple pane glass or reflective glass can protect your home from heat or cold outside. However, you may not need to completely replace your windows; adding storm windows, reflective window tint, and light-blocking shades may yield similar results.
Living an environmentally responsible lifestyle involves many behavior changes, such as recycling, turning off lights, and using a reusable bag when shopping. Yet, you can also make several changes to home to reduce its environmental impact.
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