The Cleaner Home: Make Your Home Environmentally Green

The old days of harsh bleach and chemicals used to clean the house are slowly fading out. Along with this trend is a desire of many consumers to adopt more environmentally friendly products for their home. This can be anything from the new countertops and floors to the groceries purchased at the local supermarket. In addition to what you bring in (and take out) of your home, the maintenance of your home is another way to become more green. According to the energysavers.gov website, "Americans spend more than $160 billion a year to heat, cool, light, and live" in their homes. Every option may not be appealing and some may find their budget does not allow for all of the products available. However, a few home improvements and informed purchases can save you money in the long run and also provide a healthier home for your family and the planet.

Initially, all the options to create a greener home can be overwhelming. But some of these tasks are simply good home maintenance and a few only need to be done once. The headings below break down some of the improvements and updates you may make to your home. These all can affect your home's performance and impact on the environment. Did we say performance? You bet! Making sure your home is running efficiently and smoothly is the number one way to helping the environment!

How efficient is your home?

Making your home work efficiently to keep you warm, cool and provide you with creature comforts is the perfect way to help other creatures of the world. Taking time to keep your home updated will help reduce the amount of energy you need and ultimately be easier on your wallet as well.

  • Lighting: You can cut electricity costs by taking advantage of natural lighting and choosing carefully the lighting you purchase.
    • Natural light is a great way to improve your home's efficiency. Skylights and easy to open window treatments can help you better regulate where you get your light during the day. Windows facing north and south can offer a great source of natural light and heat. West and east windows will offer light but may produce too much glare as the sun rises and sets.
    • Choose your artificial lights carefully. Selecting a few accent lights and then a concentrated task light for an activity such as reading is a better alternative to lighting up every square inch of the room with florescent bulbs!
    • Using environmentally efficient light bulbs can help reduce energy costs. However, research the bulbs you buy. Some may not work as well for task lighting. Others may not work with your older lamps and you may be better buying a new lighting fixture at the same time.
    • Keep your artificial lights working at their best. Even the simple task of keeping your lamp shades free of dust can improve the light quality in your home.
  • Windows: The windows of your home can be a great ally. Getting the right type of window treatments can help regulate your home temperatures.
    • Drapes: Drawn closed in the winter, these window treatments can help prevent heat from escaping by as much as 10%! Drapes can also help decrease heat coming into the home if closed against direct sunlight in the summer.
    • Blinds or Shades: These can help reduce the amount of heat coming through the window because of direct sunlight. Dual shades can be very useful. Use the light side to help reflect and keep out the warming sun in the summer and the dark side can be used in the winter to draw in more heat.
    • Shutters: Both exterior and interior shutters can be used to keep heat out in the summer. They do not work as well at keeping heat in during the winter. Another perk of having exterior shutters is that they can provide extra security for your home as well.
      • Window Panel: Similar to a shutter, a window panel is a product that pops into the window frame and provides extra insulation in the winter. An inexpensive addition, this may be ideal for windows not used for their light in the winter.
    • Screens: Although these don't really keep any heat in place, using screens on your windows allows for better cooling and airing of your home in the summer. Screens allow you to keep windows and doors open encouraging a natural movement of the air. Using open windows well in the morning and evening can drastically reduce your air conditioning bill. Thankfully this can be done without letting in all the bugs and critters!
    • Awnings: Window awnings can help keep the house cooler in the summer by reducing the amount of heat that is adsorbed.
  • Air Leaks: Get rid of air leaks! Insulation works to improve both the heating and cooling of your home.
    • Check around your doors and windows first. Many leaks escape through these portals the most. Replace weather stripping and caulk where needed.
    • Besides the doors and windows, also check for air leaks around vents, fans, phone and cable lines, and electrical lines.
    • Depending on the materials used in your home, you may also need to check any brick, stucco or cement construction for needed repairs.
    • Not sure if you have a leak? One option is to use an incense stick. The smoke will show any movement caused by air leaks. Another method is to have someone stand on the other side of the possible leak source while you shine a flashlight at the edges. If they can see the light on the other side then some updates should be made.
  • Insulation: Updating or adding insulation to your home, especially an older one, can help reduce costs associated with heating and cooling your home. The attic, crawl space, basement, exterior walls and space around service ducts are the areas that will need the most attention or improvement.
  • Reduce Water Usage: There are many ways to reduce your water consumption around the home.
    • The hot water heater can be an energy hog. Try insulating it if it does not already have at least R-24 insulation. You can also lower the temperature of the water from 140°F to 120°F to save on cost.
    • Make certain to fix any leaky pipes or faucets. Over time these will not only consume water but will also cause damage to the surrounding area.
    • To get better use of water for your money, consider installing low-flow water faucets and showerheads. You may also consider a water (and energy) efficient clothes washer.

What do you bring into your home?

Whether building a new home or shopping for the weekly groceries, the products you choose to bring home have a great impact on the environment. Taking some time to consider your choices before you buy is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

  • Renewable Construction: If building or remodeling a home, consider renewable sources for some of your construction needs. You do not have to use all or any of them, however, if you take the time to research some of these options, you may be surprised and find a good fit.
    • Hardwood floors are great in that they keep allergies as bay and are easier on the environment then synthetic carpet manufacture. However, a renewable wood is key here. Renewable floors such as bamboo or cork are much easier to replenish. Another option that has gained in popularity is reclaimed wood. This product is taken from demolition sites - everything from an old house to an old gymnasium floor. Research the product's history as some sealants and paints used on the wood may be toxic.
    • There are more renewable sources available. From recycled glass used as tile to recycled jeans used as insulation. Take a look at our links to the right for more information about these items and possible vendors in your area.
  • Buy Local: There has been a lot of encouragement for consumers to buy local recently. Buying locally should help cut down on shipping and packaging costs. Doing so can also help local farmers and businesses. Not always the cheaper option, trying to purposely buy some items locally can help the economy and ultimately the environment. In fact, some believe buying groceries from local sources provides fresher produce that ultimately could be better for your health.
  • Quality of Product: Being a savvy consumer who expects the best quality in their products is helpful to the environment as well as your pocketbook. Move away from cheaply made items; instead research your purchases and get ones that will perform well for a long time to come.
  • Check Labels: On anything you buy, take time to check the labels and be aware of any impact it may have on your environment - including at home. Consider carefully your choice in chemicals used for cleaning. When working on home improvement projects consider the options you have for glues, paints and other possible hazardous materials.
  1. THERMOSTAT: Lower your thermostat by a few degrees. Get a controller where you can specify different temperatures for day and night.
  2. LIGHTS: Turn off incandescent lights when not in use. Turn off florescent lights if you will be gone for more than 15 minutes. Optimize your use of natural light with work or reading places near northern or southern windows away from eastern and western sun glare.
  3. ELECTRONICS: Turn off power strips if nothing on the strip is in use. Unplug unused electronics.
  4. COMPUTERS: Turn off your computer monitor if you will be gone for more than 20 minutes. Turn off both your computer and computer monitor if you will be gone for more than 2 hours. Use the sleep mode if your computer has one.
  5. ENERGY: Consider purchasing green energy from your power company such as solar power, wind power, biomass power, geothermal energy or hydropower. If your power company does not have one of these options available, you may still be able to invest in future programs.
  6. LAUNDRY: Wash your clothes in cold water when possible. Clothesline dry your laundry on sunny days. Shop for detergents that list which toxic chemicals are not in the product. A generic statement such as "non-toxic" may be gimmick so read the label carefully.
  7. GROCERIES: Shop locally. Use a cloth reusable bag for groceries.
  8. COOKING: Use cookware that cooks at lower temperatures such as cast iron or clay. Save your baking for cooler hours.
  9. DISHES: Only run the dishwasher when it is full. Run the dishwasher at night.
  10. GARDEN GREEN: Check out our article on environmentally green gardening. Or see our article about pet safe gardening.

Planning a major home improvement project?

The American Society of Interior Decorators has produced a online regreen tool with directions for designers, contractors and consumers to consider for remodel projects:

REGREEN GUIDELINES

"ASID believes that, whenever feasible, interior designers should endeavor to practice sustainable design. Interior designers should meet present-day needs without compromising the ability to meet the needs of future generations."

Online Resources More ways to make your home green...

ENERGYSAVERS.GOV
U.S. Government Web site you can find information to help you save energy in your home, business, vehicle, or industrial plant.

ENERGY STAR
A joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices.

G2G - GREEN2GREEN
Green2Green.org features comprehensive information regarding green building products, materials and practices. The site offers side-by-side comparisons of products using a variety of environmental, technical and economic criteria.

GREEN BUILDING PAGES
Green Building Pages, Inc. is an on-line, sustainable design and decision-making tool for building industry professionals and environmentally and socially responsible consumer.

GREEN HOME ENVIRONMENTAL STORE
We are, as we enter our fifth year of operation, one of the longer-lasting environmental stores and resource centers on the Internet.

GREEN HOME GUIDE
GreenHomeGuide helps close the gap between intentions and practical realities. We're a trusted, community-based resource whose combination of tips, case studies, expert Q&A articles and regional directories of products and services helps create homes that feel good.

GreenSpec Directory: BUILDINGGREEN.COM
The online GreenSpec® Directory lists product descriptions for over 2,000 environmentally preferable products. To choose these products our editors conduct their own research based on GreenSpec's current editorial focus. Thus not all product suggestions we receive are selected for review. This independent research ensures that our product descriptions contain unbiased, quality information. Unlike many other directories, we do not charge for listings or sell ads.

THE GREEN GUIDE
Originated as a print newsletter in 1994, then expanded into a web site, thegreenguide.com, in 2002, Green Guide was acquired by National Geographic Society in March 2007, as part of NGS' global commitment to inform and inspire people to care about the planet.

LOW IMPACT LIVING
At Low Impact Living, we want to help you lower the environmental impact of your home and your daily life. To do that, we help you find the best green products, practices and service providers to help you achieve your environmental goals. And we will also help you understand the environmental benefits and economic trade-offs of your choices.

US DEPT. OF ENERGY: A CONSUMER'S GUIDE
Explore your options for saving energy and using renewable energy at home, at work, in your community, and while driving.

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