It is easy to get overwhelmed by all of the options for green home renovations, especially the larger, more expensive ones. For a simpler approach to greening your home, improving your health, and saving energy and money, consider the following recommendations for quick, inexpensive retrofits that you can do yourself.
To find out more ways you can improve your home's energy-efficiency, consider having a home energy audit conducted by a certified professional. To find qualified raters in your area, visit Energy Star's New Home Partner Locator and click on your state.
1. Replace your incandescent bulbs with CFLs.
CFLs use about 75% less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and can last up to ten times as long. By replacing the five most commonly used bulbs in your home, you can save about $70 every year on energy costs. The more you replace, the more you save. For more information, visit our green topic page on compact fluorescent light bulbs.
2. Unplug appliances, chargers, and electronics you are not using.
Vampire power (also called phantom energy) is the energy used by electronics that are turned off. This can account for as much as 10% of your home energy use. To help combat these unused power drains,
Keep outlets clear as much as possible.
- In areas where you have several electronics that are commonly used, consider plugging them into a power strip and turning the strip off when they are not in use. This will prevent the energy drain that would occur if they were plugged directly into the wall.
- To help avoid tangled cords (especially when unplugged), consider purchasing a charging station or labeling the ends of the cords using tape or small labels with the name of the electronic it powers. This will make it easier to identify what you're plugging in without having to retrace cords.
- Unplug electronics when they are fully charged.
- Lawrence Berkley's National Laboratory claims that aggressive measures taken to combat vampire power can reduce the amount of standby electricity utilized in your home by about 30% (http://standby.lbl.gov/cutting.html). For more information, visit http://standby.lbl.gov/standby.html
3. Install a programmable thermostat.
Programmable thermostats are a great way to lower your energy bills by offering you pre-determined control over your homes heating and cooling schedule. Not only does this save on energy by altering temperature to energy-saving settings while you are away or sleeping, it does it automatically according to your set guidelines allowing you to save energy without even thinking about it. Many models come with a filter sensor that tells you when to change your HVAC filters to further maximize energy efficiency. For more information on programmable thermostats, visit our green topic page.
4. Save water - Put aerators on faucets and install a low-flow showerhead.
Aerators attach to your faucet to decrease the water flow while maintaining high pressures. Since faucets make up around 15% of a typical home's indoor water use, decreasing the water flow on every faucet in your home can easily help save a significant amount of water. Low-flow showerheads essentially work the same way, minimizing the amount of water you use while running the shower. Look for hardware with the EPA's Water Sense label for products that are at least 20% more efficient than standard models. For more information on water savings, click here.
According to the National Recycling Coalition, the average American discards 7.5 lbs. of garbage every day! Recycling not only helps minimize this amount of waste being put into landfills, it helps minimize the use of natural resources and saves energy in manufacturing new products. And the best part is, it's easy! Put up bins in your garage or laundry room (if you have kids, let them decorate them) and sort your cardboard, paper, aluminum, glass, steel, etc. Once every couple of weeks, make a trip to your local recycling center and deposit your recyclables. For more information on the effects of recycling, check out http://www.nrc-recycle.org/theconversionator/shell.html.
6. Use eco-friendly cleaners.
In 2007, the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine reported that 15% of all asthma cases were caused by exposure to unsafe cleaning products. To avoid this and other negative effects, look for cleaners with the EPA Design for the Environment (DfE) label or the Green Seal. These products are held to rigorous standards ensuring the the safest ingredient in each class (bleach, sterilizer, etc.) is used. For a complete list of DfE products, click here. For a list of certified Green Seal products, click here.
7. Fill air leaks with caulking or weather stripping.
Cracks around your windows and doors can be a major energy drain on your home as they decrease the efficiency of your heating and cooling system by allowing air to escape. To avoid this problem, apply caulk or weather stripping around windows and doors or other spaces where air may be leaking through. To find these spots, consider having a home energy audit done on your home by a certified auditor. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Savings page on Caulking and Weather Stripping or check out our green topic page on sealing the existing home.
8. Plant a tree to shade your home.
Planting a six to eight foot deciduous tree with high spreading crowns on the south side of your home can help increase the efficiency of your air conditioner by up to 10%. Because of evapotranspiration (the process by which a plant moves and releases water vapor into the air), areas surrounding shade trees typically see a 9 degree temperature reduction, with a 25 degree reduction in the direct shade of the tree. This can obviously yield tremendous energy savings by helping keep your home cool without the extensive use of fans or A/C. For best results, plant a tree to the south of your home for maximum summer shading. (If you have a solar system on your roof, do not plant directly to the south as the tree may block direct sunlight from reaching the solar panels.) For more information, visit our green topic page on shade trees and windbreaks.
9. Insulate your hot water heater and furnace.
By putting a "blanket" of insulation around your hot water heater and furnace, you can reduce heat loss by 25-45%, reducing your energy bill by 4-9%. Some blankets come pre-cut and ready to wrap around your heater while others require cutting and forming to fit your specific model. These blankets are available at many home improvement stores or online.
10. Replace your HVAC filters.
Energy Star recommends that you check your filters every month for excess debris that can restrict air flow and cause dust and dirt to enter your ventilation system and decrease your home's indoor air quality. Filters should be replaced at least every three months or whenever they look dirty to avoid negative health effects and increase your HVAC's efficiency. For more information on how to maximize HVAC efficiency, check out Energy Star's Guide to Energy-Efficient Heating and Cooling.