Most of us would prefer to live an eco-friendly lifestyle if we could. We love the outdoors and want to preserve America’s famed wild beauty. We love our children, and we want them to inherit a wealth of natural resources unspoiled by industry and corporate malfeasance. Most of us would prefer to live in modern, eco-friendly homes. Unfortunately, financial realities force us to cut corners in our everyday choices ultimately at the expense of the natural environment and sometimes to the detriment of the health of our families.
When it comes to housing, the inconvenient, financial truth is that not all of us can justify the substantial front-end investment required. Net-zero homes today may be as little as eight percent more than a traditional home of identical size and style, depending on local climate. However, with kids to feed or put through college, bills, mortgages, inflation, and general uncertainty about the financial stability of the future, eight percent makes a world of difference. This is especially pertinent to those of us who have already settled in a house.
Below are five easy, affordable ways to green your home short of hiring a local eco-builder to slap some solar panels onto your roof.
Green Your Home
Leak Proof Your Castle
Probably the most cost-effective thing you could do to reduce unintended energy waste, and thus pollution, is to ensure that the building envelope performs to its full potential. The building envelope refers to the walls, windows, and other aspects of the house that separate the inside from the outside. When it comes to leak-proofing this envelope, your best friend is insulation. While batting insulation is the industry norm, and can be cheap and effective, spray-foam insulation tends to work better because spray foam tends to fill in all cracks and crevices creating a more complete barrier. Insulated windows are also very important. Insulated windows generally consist of two or more panes of glass sandwiching an air-space thus preventing conduction. Traditional single-paned windows are massively energy-inefficient and a thing of the past. Also be sure to maintain the caulking around window frames.
Shun Conventional Cleaning Products
Despite the convenience of these household products, they are effectively toxins. Aside from human health worries, many products when washed down the drain end up in lakes and rivers contributing to the decline of wildlife and the degradation of the environment. Why not instead use non-toxic, biodegradable alternatives? Spraying countertops with white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide kills 99 percent of E. coli bacteria, the same way that your conventional cleaner does, but costs pennies and is non-toxic. Other household substances can serve as inexpensive cleaners as well. For instance, baking soda on a damp sponge can also be used as a scouring tool. Use half a cup of vinegar and half a cup of baking soda to remove water stains from the shower or to clean chrome and bathroom mirrors.
The best way to save in this regard is to simply rely on natural sunlight. This means moving desks and table closer to windows or to corners where the light can be reflected off two surfaces. When natural lighting is not possible, such as during a cloudy day or at night, use task lights (desk lamps etc.) to illuminate only what needs to be illuminated (i.e. the task at hand). For general lighting, invest in compact fluorescent lamps or CFL bulbs which use one-fifth the energy of traditional incandescent bulbs and can last up to fifteen times longer. Whenever possible, turn off lights that are not being used.
Put an aerator on all household faucets and cut annual water consumption by half. Install a low-flow toilet. They use only 1.6 gallons per flush, compared to 3.5 gallons per flush for older models. Behavioral changes also add up quickly: using a broom instead of the garden hose to clean the driveway can save 80 gallons of water, and turning the water off while brushing your teeth can save as much as 4.5 gallons. Another proven and effective way of cutting water usage by 50% to 70% is to use drip irrigation as opposed to traditional sprinkler set ups. Traditional sprinklers typically throw water high into the air where it is immediately, and wastefully, blown away by the wind or evaporates. Also, you can look into Rainwater Collection.
This one should be common sense. Recycle everything, and recycle often. This doesn’t just refer to your recycling bin either. Almost everything can be reused. Food waste can be put into compost heaps to create natural fertilizer for the garden. Old shirts should be reused as table rags. Paper and plastic grocery bags can be used as convenient waste basket liners and so on. Remember, waste is as much about trash as it is about the unrealized potential of the things you trash.
While not all of us can justify living in a brand-new net-zero home, we can all contribute to the conservation of our planet and resources by making some easy, affordable choices in our daily lives.
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