Whether you’re building a new home or renovating an existing one, almost every home improvement could be sold as “green”. However, there are things sold as eco-friendly that hardly have any environmental benefit, while other solutions lack a decent return on the investment. For example, there is no point in putting wind turbines in the backyard when you don’t get much wind. At the same time, many homeowners want to go far beyond installing energy efficient windows and adding extra insulation to keep both your home and heating and cooling costs comfortable year-round. Here are 12 ways that you could make your home more eco-friendly.
Install a Smart Meter and Thermostat
A smart power meter has a number of advantages. First, it can show you your energy usage over time and by the time of day. Depending on the degree of automation and sensor tech in your home, it could identify which appliances in your home are energy hogs and lead you to take steps to cut down energy usage without significantly impacting on your quality of life. This is far more actionable information than what you get from a fast energy audit. A smart power meter is also necessary to be able to get paid for any extra solar power you generate if you install solar panels.
A smart thermostat can be used to carefully control your heating and cooling systems, reducing energy usage. It can be programmed to only turn on right before you get home from work. Then the AC or heater doesn’t work as hard, and it doesn’t affect your personal comfort.
Install Solar Panels
Solar panels are a must-have for any eco-friendly home as solar power provides completely clean electricity. Don’t assume that a solar installation isn’t an option for you, though. For example, solar glass panels and solar shingles may be an option if your roof isn’t strong enough to handle conventional solar panels. The best solar companies evaluate each home and offer a solution that will last for years. What’s more is that solar companies like Semper Solaris can give you a whole system. For example, they can install solar panels, reinforce your roof, and set up battery storage so you can move completely off the grid.
You could also look into installing solar thermal panels. Solar thermal panels store heat or thermal energy for use later on. Solar thermal panels are a great way to get hot water without having to run a hot water heater. They can also be used to provide eco-friendly home heating, because the hot water can be distributed through the home, with the heat passively radiating out into the living area. However, a solar thermal panel system tends to be more expensive than a photovoltaic system, and you can’t use it to run your air conditioner or heat pump in the summer. Yet both solar powered systems are more widely useful than wind powered systems, since they’re too noisy and not efficient enough in most urban areas to be worth the effort.
Get Serious about Saving Water
Most advice on reducing your ecological footprint focuses on saving energy or reducing how much you throw away. Yet one of the biggest ecological problems we’re facing right now is a shortage of fresh water. This is why anything you can do to minimize water use and maximize water reuse is a great way to become more eco-friendly. One of the best first steps is having a plumber inspect your home for leaks and fixing all of them. A minor leak in the toilet wastes gallons of water a week. Worse yet, it is potable water that could have been used to drink or wash up. Fixing leaking water pipes in your walls and foundation reduce the odds of structural damage to your home, too.
The next step is to start looking for ways to reduce water consumption inside and outside your home. Switch to a low flow shower head so you don’t use as much water. Furthermore, don’t let the shower and faucets run while the water gets up to temperature. Another option is installing a toilet bowl with a sink in it. This allows you to wash your hands with water that will be used to flush the toilet. This can save quite a bit of water, and you don’t have to do any fancy plumbing to make use of this “gray” soapy water.
You can do more on the supply side, too, by capturing rainwater for use. Whether you capture runoff that would have gone down the drain and use it to water your lawn later or to flush your toilet depends on your situation. You could use collected storm water to flush your toilet or wash your car. In theory, it could be purified for drinking water. However, the most common use is in irrigation. Note that the rules regarding collecting rainwater vary across the USA, so you will need to check your state’s laws.
With regards to irrigation, learn how often your yard actually needs to be watered instead of turning on the sprinkler every day or two. If it has rained, leave the sprinklers off. The next step is to replace the landscaping with plants that are better adapted to your climate. Another option is putting in a roof garden. The roof garden freshens the air, capturing run-off, and has an amazing insulation value.
Upgrade to Energy Efficient Hardware
One of the most common tips for saving energy is putting in energy efficient light bulbs. These lights use less power than the incandescent bulbs they replace, and the latest generation of CFL and LED lights last longer, too. When you’ve decided you need to replace your refrigerator, dishwasher or other kitchen appliance, go with a model that uses less energy and water over the others on the market.
The greatest energy savings in the average home are found when you find more energy efficient ways to heat and cool your home. A modern heat pump will use less energy than an old air conditioner and furnace, and it does so in a single, smart appliance. Alternatively, you could install solar thermal panels on your roof. Then you only have to turn on the heater when passive solar heating isn’t good enough.
Use Eco-Friendly Materials
Are you planning on putting in wood floors or repaneling the living room? If so, you should choose sustainable, eco-friendly materials. This includes, but is not limited to, bamboo flooring and sustainably sourced wood. You’ll get extra points if you use reclaimed wood, whether it is wood from an older house that was torn down or wood pallets repurposed to make shelves.
Other building materials have a massive carbon footprint. This is why you should try to reuse brick and concrete where possible. Avoid using new plastic, but you can recycle what has already been made. For example, plastic concrete bricks have hit the market, though they’re not commonplace.
This should be part of the overall plan of buying recycled material as often as possible. For example, you can buy reconditioned appliances and recycled electronics in addition to recycled paper and upcycled wood products.
Go with Natural Cleaning Products
Many modern cleaning products contain harmful chemicals. When you wash away those cleaning chemicals in your sink, tub or washing machine, these chemicals go down the drain and enter the water supply. That water has to be purified before it can be dumped in streams or enter a reservoir. This is a good reason to shift to natural products like bicarbonate, citric acid and vinegar.
Make Your Kitchen Green
We aren’t talking about cooking more vegetables here. Instead, we’re suggesting that you try to make your kitchen more eco-friendly. Don’t leave the oven on when there isn’t any food inside of it, and don’t leave the oven door open. When you’re done with the meal, compost any food waste instead of throwing it out. It is a wonderful source of fertilizer for the garden.
Try to get rid of the disposable items in the kitchen, too. For example, get your drip coffee maker out of storage and use that instead of the unit that relies on a steady stream of coffee pods. And use your old coffee mug instead of paper or Styrofoam cups you throw away. Quit drinking bottled water too, and invest in a water filter instead.
Implement Passive House Design Techniques
If you’re building a new extension, renovating your home, or building a new house, you really need to look into passive house design techniques. These homes tend to have windows laid out to maximize natural light while preventing the room from getting too much summer sun and overheating. Rooms are laid out to maximize air flow while minimizing energy expenditures. You may even end up with a solarium that gives you a wonderful living space as well as a source of thermal energy that’s distributed throughout the house propelled by fans. A home built along passive house lines may not need any additional heating or cooling, or it may be able to maintain a comfortable temperature with a heat pump that can be powered by solar panels. It is possible for passive house designs to be entirely energy-neutral when it comes to heating and cooling.
Insulate Everywhere You Can
Insulation is one of the smartest ways to make your home more eco-friendly. It is relatively cheap to do, and it has an incredibly high return on the investment. It is something you can do to reduce both heating and cooling costs. You can use rugs on the floor, insulated drapes, and wall hangings to both retain heat and dampen noise. Area rugs can be used to prevent air seeping out under doors, too.
Note that double and triple glazed windows count as insulation, too. They’ll dramatically reduce heat loss in the average home.
Consider Speaking with a Sustainability Consultant
Many people may not be aware of this, but there are professionals out there who are dedicated solely to making homes more sustainable. They will be able to come in and look at the possible pain points in your house and look for possible ways to fix them. Every home has its own specificities, and not all locations are the same, so you may have different needs than others. A consultant will be able to run a thorough analysis of your house and help you make instant improvements.
Get Serious About Recycling
A lot of people do the bare minimum when it comes to recycling and think that they’re doing their part, but you could go a step further and really get serious about it. If you aren’t composting yet, you should start right away. You could easily turn your food scraps and any type of organic waste into fresh fertilizer for your lawn and garden. Not only will it allow you to reduce waste, but will also make you less reliant on chemical fertilizers.
Also, make sure that you buy recycled whenever you have the chance. This can be anything from kitchen roll to bathroom tissue. Look into reclaimed wood as well. These are all ways that you can reduce waste and help give a second life to old material.
Add Thermal Drapes
We touched on this earlier, but thermal drapes are another great addition you can make to any room. Not only will they block heat from entering the house, but they will also help it stay cool during the summer. They’re also a great choice if you don’t have the money for double or triple pane windows. These are fairly inexpensive and can be installed virtually anywhere. However, make sure that you go for organic cotton drapes if you can, since non-organic cotton products are responsible for a large portion of the total use of pesticides on the planet.
These are just a few ways to create a more eco-friendly home. Many of these tips will also help you save money in the long-run. However, the greatest benefits of these changes to your home and lifestyle are the reduced impact on the planet itself. And for many, that’s reason enough to make these eco-friendly additions to their home.