Eco friendly home improvements are a real win-win. Who doesn’t love saving money and the environment at the same time?
When you hear the words “sustainable living projects”, images of solar panels and elaborate terraced gardens might come to mind. But there are plenty of simple and affordable changes you can make at home to substantially lower your carbon footprint and energy use.
Even DIY novices can tackle most of these eco friendly home improvements with ease.
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Install low-flow or dual flush toilets
Toilets are one of the biggest water wasters in our homes. If your toilet was made before 1992, it could be using up to 3.5 gallons of water per flush!
Today’s standard toilets are required to use no more than 1.6 gpf. However, you can cut that water usage in half with a few eco friendly home improvements.
One option is to swap your dated toilets for low-flow versions (a.k.a. high-efficiency toilets), which use around 1.3 gallons per flush.
You could also choose to install dual flush toilets instead. These toilets give you the option of a standard 1.6 gpf flush or a 0.8 gpf flush.
Finally, it’s possible to convert a standard toilet to a dual flush version. You can buy a conversion kit with everything you need to replace your old flush handle and system. It’s a more cost effective option than replacing the entire toilet.
Add bidets to every toilet
Growing up in the US, bidets were a foreign concept. But after spending a couple weeks in Japan, the land of high tech toilets, I became a bidet convert.
Using a bidet significantly cuts down on the amount of toilet paper you need to clean up. Not only does it save you money–around a 75% reduction in TP costs–but it also saves hundreds of trees from being pounded into paper.
While European bathrooms have separate, free-standing bidets, you can easily and cheaply add one to your existing toilet. Bidet seats are the most common option in the US, though there are handheld options as well. Both of these hook into the toilet’s water supply, so no extra plumbing is needed.
Brondell’s line of bidet seats are a solid mid-range option, with features like stainless steel nozzles and warm air dryers.
And if you’re looking for a basic bidet attachment, the TUSHY classic is one of the most popular choices.
Swap in LED light bulbs
It seems like just yesterday that we were all rushing out to swap our old incandescent bulbs for CFLs. But there’s a new energy-efficient bulb in town, and it’s the LED.
LED bulbs have triple the lifespan of CFLs–25,000 hours vs. 8,000 hours–and are cheaper to power. Plus, they come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and even multi-color options. And unlike CFLs, they don’t contain any hazardous chemicals that require special disposal once they burn out.
Smart LED bulb sets like the Philips Hue system can be controlled by an app or linked to your smart home programming. You can control the brightness, colors, and timing of each light, setting the perfect mood for any occasion.
However, there are plenty of basic LED bulbs without the bells and whistles as well.
Upgrade to energy efficient appliances
Energy efficient appliances are becoming the new normal. But if you purchased an older home, there’s a good chance your dishwasher, fridge, and washer are sucking up a ton of energy.
While Energy Star-rated appliances are the gold standard, most newly manufactured models will use substantially less resources thanks to improvements in design and materials. For example, an Energy Star dishwasher uses between 30-50% less water than the six gallons used by standard machines.
Similarly, new front loading washing machines use around 50% less water and 1/3 the energy than older top-loading models. High Efficiency (HE) top-loading laundry machines also use less water and have higher capacities, which means fewer loads of laundry and less energy use over time.
When the time comes to trade your old appliances for new ones, remember the principles of low impact living. Local charities, churches, and thrift stores may be willing to pick up your old appliances assuming they work well. And you can also post them for sale on Craigslist or another online marketplace.
Mount dual direction ceiling fans
After living through two London heat waves with no air conditioning, I sorely miss my American ceiling fans! It’s amazing how much proper air circulation can cool down a room.
Most people think of ceiling fans as devices for blowing air downward. But in the summer, it’s best to reverse the direction to counterclockwise. This will suck up the warm air and disperse it outward, allowing the cooler air near the floor to accumulate beneath the fan.
When you combine ceiling fans with the eco friendly habit of opening windows for cooling, you’ll save a ton on energy costs.
Get a smart thermostat
When it comes to eco friendly home improvements, I’m pretty skeptical of techie solutions. There are just too many products out there with empty promises masked by fancy digital interfaces and buzzwords.
But smart thermostats actually do make a dent in energy use. And it’s all thanks to automation.
The average homeowner doesn’t micromanage their thermostat. Most people either leave the temperate set at the same level for weeks at a time, or they “set and forget” a program for an entire season.
Smart thermostats save energy (and money) by removing the need to manually change the temperature at the thermostat panel. They use a mix of WiFi controls (via an app or smart home speaker) and geo-location to make adjustments dead simple. If you travel or work an irregular schedule, you never have to worry about turning down the air or heat when you leave the house.
Models like the Nest and Ecobee even use machine learning to figure out your heating and cooling preferences and automate adjustments accordingly. Several models can also monitor your HVAC system and alert you of potential issues, like dirty filters, to keep your equipment performing optimally.
Most modern HVAC systems are compatible with smart thermostats as long as they have a C-wire (common wire). If your existing thermostat doesn’t have a C-wire, you may need the help of an electrician to run a cable from the HVAC unit to the new panel.
Go tankless with your water heater
Switching from a standard boiler tank to a tankless water heater is a serious quality of life improvement. And hot water on demand is more than convenient–it saves a ton of energy and water use over the old tanks.
While traditional tanks hold around 50 gallons of continuously heated water, tankless systems heat the water as it passes through. It only takes about 15 seconds to bring hot water to temperature, and unlike a tank, the hot water never runs out.
Gas-powered tankless water heaters can last 20 years or more, which is double the lifespan of traditional tank heaters. You’ll save several thousand dollars in energy costs over the life of the tankless unit, plus the cost of replacing a tank-type heater. It may not be a DIY project, but the impact is totally worth it.
Install solar panels
When residential solar panels started gaining popularity in the early 2000s, the costs were through the roof (pun intended). While prices have dropped significantly since then, many homeowners are still reeling from the initial sticker shock and believe they won’t achieve a return on investment.
Luckily, there are a number of state-sponsored rebates and programs in place to offset the cost of your solar panels. And when you combine them with the 70% decrease in price compared to 2010, it’s more affordable than ever to switch to green energy.
Like the tankless water heater, this is one eco friendly home project best left to the experts. However, you can start your own research by looking into your city and state solar energy programs and checking your utility provider’s website about solar panel metering. And if you live in an HOA, be sure to check the rules about solar panel installation.
Save me for later!
Xeriscape the lawn
Ditching our traditional green lawn for beautiful xeriscaping was one of the best sustainable living ideas I ever had.
Xeriscaping is a type of landscaping that requires little to no water aside from rainfall. It uses a mix of drought-resistant vegetation with soil, rocks, mulch, and pavement to dramatically lower or remove the need for irrigation.
Running a sprinkler system takes an immense amount of water. A 10’x10’ area of lawn requires over 60 gallons of water per week in dry conditions. With the average American yard size of 0.2 acres, that’s over 5,000 gallons a week being used to keep the grass green!
We transformed our Texas backyard from dying sod to peaceful oasis. Our landscapers used local stone, native plants, and poured concrete to create a stunning hangout space. They even left a small green patch for the dog (don’t worry, he got plenty of exercise in the greenbelt behind the house).
Increase your pantry space
Most of these eco friendly home improvements have been about saving water or energy. But this project is perfect for low waste living.
Having additional pantry space allows you to buy in bulk, which in turn cuts down on how much packaging and single use plastic you consume. Bulk shopping also reduces how often you wander the grocery store, where you might be tempted to buy sodas, snacks, and other packaged treats.
There are tons of creative ways to increase pantry space, whether it’s maximizing your current pantry or finding new places to store non-perishables. Open shelving, rolling carts, under-the-stairs cubbies… the possibilities are endless!
Create (or buy) a compost bin
News flash: those food scraps you throw in the garbage don’t decompose normally. When food rots in landfills without exposure to oxygen, it creates methane gas, a major contributor to climate change.
By composting your food waste, you allow it to decompose naturally. When combined with lawn clippings, cardboard, tea bags, and other sorts of compostable materials, it turns into a nutrient-rich mix that fertilizes lawn soil and gardens.
The less stuff you throw in the trash, the fewer garbage bags you need to buy. Plus, you get free fertilizer for your flower beds, vegetable garden, and grass.
There are pre-assembled compost bins that you can buy online or in home and garden shops. Plastic tumblers and towers are easy to maintain and don’t require any installation, while in-ground wormeries stay out of sight.
And if you’re up for an eco friendly DIY project, you can even make your own out of old wooden pallets, corrugated iron, or lumber planks.
Properly seal your doors
External door gaps can be a major source of energy loss. Cold air seeps in during winter, and your AC escapes outside during summer.
The easiest way to properly seal door gaps is with weatherstripping. Although modern doors come with weatherstrips, they do deteriorate and come loose over time. You can update weatherstripping quickly and cheaply with nothing more than a screwdriver and self-adhesive foam weatherstrips.
Replace mediocre windows
Windows have a surprising number of ways of being energy-inefficient. From the glazing of the glass to the method of installation, sub-par windows could be costing you hundreds of dollars a year in heating and cooling loss.
The biggest source of energy loss is the window glazing. The amount of heat transmittance is measured by the window’s U-value (lower is better), with thicker glazes forming a better barrier between inside and outside.
US windows also have an SHGC rating, which measures how much solar radiation (i.e. sun heat) can pass through. As with U-value, lower is better. It can mean the difference between your house staying cool or heating up uncomfortably on a sunny day.
Window frame gaps and poor installation practices often go hand-in-hand. If you bought a standard, builder-grade house, you should check for gaps and remedy them as needed (though you’re probably better replacing them anyway depending on the builder quality).
Hang light-blocking window coverings
Even the best windows can’t stop the sun’s rays from heating up your house. But thermal-backed curtains will make a huge difference. They not only block the sunshine entering the room, but also trap the heat behind the panels.
If drapes aren’t for you, consider other light-blocking window treatments. Thick Roman shades and shutters are both great at keeping the sun out.
Bonus: use reclaimed materials when making eco friendly home improvements
As you embark on your green living home improvements, remember the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Whether you’re shopping for pantry space solutions or renovating the whole kitchen, consider when you can buy secondhand items or use reclaimed materials. You’ll give new life to old items, and add a dose of unique character to your home.
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