There are many easy, low cost and very effective ways that we can make our current homes more environmentally friendly without breaking the bank. In this article I will talk about the most basic of steps as well as some that are a bit more aggressive, many of which you can start right now. You will be amazed at how much energy you can save by taking the even simplest of steps!
Turn down the heat. The easiest thing we can all do is monitor our thermostats. In the colder, winter months it is imperative to heat the home only when you are there. For example, if you are out of the home during the workday, then keep it to a minimal setting. Today’s homes heat fairly quickly and a few minutes of discomfort as your house warms up can greatly affect your heating bill and energy consumption. When you and your family are asleep, be sure to turn the thermostat back down. If your thermostat is not currently on a timer, you should look into having one installed. This will help keep the house cooler when no one is around and warmer for when you are around without you having to remember to change the settings on a continual basis. Every degree of heat below 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) during the winter months will save you approximately 3 – 5% in your energy bill. Nearly half of your home’s energy comes from heating and cooling. Clean your furnace’s filter once a month. If your furnace is an older model, and you plan on being in your current home for a while, you may want to invest in a newer furnace. The newer models are about 25% more efficient. Other ways to keep your home warm during the winter months involve just a few simple and basic steps. Check your windows and doors for drafts and caulk as necessary. Make sure your attic and walls are well insulated. Schedule regular maintenance checks for your furnace to ensure optimal performance.
Keep it cool. During the summer months it is best to keep the thermostat set to 78 degrees Fahrenheit (25.5 Celsius). Air conditioners use a ton of energy and electricity and their use should be kept to a minimum whenever possible. Standing fans, window fans and ceiling fans are all much better choices. During the day you can keep the house dramatically cooler by pulling down all shades and curtains. Whether you are building a new home, or you’ve been in yours for a while, consider adding deciduous trees and shrubs to the outside of your house to provide more shelter from the sun’s blistering rays. If you must use air conditioning, especially if you live in areas that are tropical or where humidity is an issue, consider replacing your older models for those that are more energy efficient. If you have central air, turn it off when you are not at home and set your thermostat to a timer.
Save water. It may seem so simple and likely you have heard it over and over again, but really you should turn the water off when you are brushing your teeth. For each time you brush and the water is off, you save 4.5 gallons of water. Likewise your morning shower can sabotage your water bill. By simply changing a shower head with a low-flow model you can save 15-25 gallons of water a day. It would be wise to also install low-flow toilets and add aerators to all your faucets. In the kitchen add a water filtration system (such as Britta) to your faucet and refill your own plastic recyclable water bottles which will reduce your plastic water bottle consumption, hence fewer bottles floating around.
Light up your life. Replace current incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent ones. Try to replace as many as possible. Just one light bulb swap will save over 400 pounds of greenhouse gasses. In some countries, incandescent light bulbs are no longer permitted. Turn off any unused lights. This may seem obvious but so many people still walk out of a room and leave the light on behind them. If you are like me and don’t like coming home to a dark house, instead of leaving a light on all day or all night long, place a lamp or two on a timer set to the times you would like the house lit. Not only do I dislike coming home to a cold, dark house at the end of a winter’s day, but I like to keep my house lit when I am not home – I like to give the impression someone is home even if they are not. I feel safer that way. (For more on home safety read my piece here.)
In this case newer is better. If your appliances are older you may want to consider replacing them with newer, more energy efficient models. This makes sense, not only if you plan on being in your home for a long time, but also if you plan on selling it in the near future. New appliances are very attractive to home buyers. Either way you will get your money’s worth as well as save on your electric bill. Do look for appliances with the Energy Star logo on them. If just one in every ten homes, according to the Energy Star website, used an energy efficient appliance, the energy saved would be the equivalent of planting 1.7 million acres of trees. Do unplug any unused appliance. If you have an extra refrigerator in your basement or garage that are not being used, do unplug them. If they are being used check to see what’s inside them. Can these items be brought inside and placed in your kitchen refrigerator?
Renovations. If you plan on doing any significant work to your home, home improvements or renovations be sure to look into all the possible environmentally friendly options out there. If you are planning on painting use a low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint. In the bathrooms opt for fixtures that save water and energy. In the kitchen choose materials for counters and floors that have been recycled or are organic and earth friendly such as cork and bamboo. Your builder or contractor will be up to date on all the latest, “green” technical advances. How energy efficient is your home?