Earth Day: How To Green Your Home (And Why!)

Earth Day 2012 is upon us, and even if you aren’t the type to take to the streets about environmental issues, there are more than a few reasons to celebrate the day. In big and little ways, making your home environmentally friendly can really do wonders for your bottom line. From more efficient appliances to lower water bills and even government rebates and tax credits, going green can get you some green, and you’ll be able to feel good about doing it, too.

EnergyStar Appliances

Changing out your major appliances is one of the biggest ways to make your home more environmentally friendly. Big machines are the biggest energy (and sometimes water) eaters, and while they’re also some of the biggest monetary investments you can make in your home as well, these are truly items that pay for themselves over time – and not always just in utility savings, either.

  • Because environmental laws have changed a lot in the last ten to twenty years, if you have an older washer and drier, chances are they use significantly more water and energy than an equivalent model would today – even one without an EnergyStar rating. But advances in technology also mean that washers and driers work better than the used to – they need less detergent, and can often even wash and dry delicate clothes that an older model might ruin. Not only will swapping to new, more efficient models save you on utilities, but also on wear and tear on your clothes and even your dry cleaning bill.
  • The same goes for newer dishwashers – they use less water and less power, and tend to run much more quietly. If your current dishwasher is a noisy, churning machine, a new EnergyStar rated one could be a smart investment for your peace of mind as well as your pocketbook.
  • Modern refrigerators are also quieter and have a more stable cooling capacity – that is, they not only cool more efficiently, but they’re better able to maintain a consistent temperature, and are less likely to freeze your refrigerateables or ice up your freezer.
  • Induction cooktops are a relatively new in terms of popularity – they combine the speed and control of gas with the efficiency of electric cooktops and improve on both, cooking quickly and precisely at a fraction of the energy usage of a traditional cooktop.

Many of these hold true for smaller home appliances, too, like microwaves or even your home entertainment system – newer electronics, by law and by innovation, are less expensive to run and are typically much more capable machines. To get the most out of your Earth Day updates, though, you should first have a home energy audit to help find where your home is wasting (or worse, leaking) energy. A professional can help you pick, choose, and prioritize exactly what appliances and projects you should be taking on.

Better Illuminating

It’s common knowledge that you’re supposed to turn off lights when you leave a room. But even if you do this religiously, there are still more ways to make your lights work better – more efficiently and less expensively.

  • Use Compact Florescent bulbs. These days, they’re available in everything from your standard screw-in size to ones for special fixtures, like this GU24 bulb. These bulbs last much longer, so you don’t have to replace them as often, they use significantly less energy to produce the same amount of light, and produce almost no heat waste, all of which are good for your energy bill.
  • EnergyStar rated lighting fixtures, from wall sconces like this Stockholm Sconce to floor lamps to chandeliers all work more efficiently, again using less electricity to produce the same amount of light. It’s a change that won’t hurt to make – the quality and quantity of light stays the same, but your monthly bills will go down, making this an Earth Day upgrade that effectively pays for itself.

Water Efficient Bathroom Fixtures

Water conservation has been an issue since the very first Earth Day 42 years ago, and it’s one that doesn’t seem to be going away. But I’m happy to say that huge advances in low-flow technology have been made, and bathroom products especially are finally starting to catch up with environmental regulations. If you’ve been holding on to your old pre-regulation toilet or your favorite high pressure shower head, this Earth Day might be the day to replace them. Now, there are products that can meet or beat older models in performance while using a fraction of the water.

  • Low flow showerheads use increased pressure and aeration to recreate the feel of lots and lots of water. From the EPA regulated 2.5 gallons per minute all the way down to a lean mean 1.5 gpm, with many modern showerheads you can’t even feel the difference. Far from being  a shower deprivation, many luxury models, like this Danze Low Flow actually produce a decadent shower experience while saving you on your water bill, and helping preserve our limited freshwater supply.
  • Like low-flow showerheads, low-flow faucets use aeration to create the sensation of water pressure by adding thousands of tiny air bubbles created when the water is forced through very small mesh holes. This allows a significant reduction in water consumption that you’ll never notice.
  • Same goes for low-flow toilets. While initial resistance to them was totally justified – the technology simply didn’t exist when initial laws were implemented – the lingering resentment isn’t. The best models use as little as half a gallon per flush (as opposed to pre-regulation 7-or-so gallons), and are designed to clear waste in one flush, every time.
  • If you’re feeling particularly bold (or if you have a lot of men in your house), you can even install a waterless urinal. That’s right – urinals that use no water at all. They’re specially designed not to smell, and they require almost no maintenance – that means completely eliminating water consumption for all your guys’ “little flushes” – a huge reduction in consumption and a huge savings… Plus, it can make your guys feel special.

In the good old US-of-A we have the luxury of not really thinking about our water use. But what most people don’t realize is that we’re rapidly depleting our freshwater resources in this country, which could ultimately lead to widespread drought – maybe not in your lifetime, but almost definitely within your children’s. And with so many options available to inconspicuously reduce your water consumption, there’s really no good reason not to.

Green Construction

Greening your home runs deeper than fixtures that consume resources daily, like lights or faucets. It also includes all the stuff that goes into making and furnishing your home in the first place. Bathroom vanities are a great example – they’re a big, usually one-time or very infrequent purchase, but what kind of vanity you choose can have far-reaching implications.

  • There are more government incentives out there than you can shake a stick at. Choosing bathroom vanities made of environmentally friendly materials, like MDF can help qualify your bathroom remodel as a “Green Remodel” and contribute to qualifying your home as a “Green Home,” both of which can get you generous returns.
  • Many typical vanities are processed with chemicals like formaldehyde and use chemical adhesives that can build up in the air in your bathroom over time. To keep your indoor air breathable (and to prevent these chemicals from being used in the first place), look for an eco-friendly vanity that uses all natural adhesives, like those from the Wyndham Collection, or, if you’re sold on solid wood vanities, look for ones that use wood that is harvested sustainably and isn’t treated with formaldehyde, like those from Legion Furniture.

Of course, green construction isn’t just about one thing – it’s everything from your flooring to your insulation, your siding to your paint choice and everything in between, and every little change matters – not necessarily for your pocketbook (though many of them are great ways to save or earn money), but for our planet. Smart choices when making or improving your home can really make a difference – in our forests, rivers, streams, our skies and even our own back yards.

April 22nd was chosen for Earth Day because it falls between midterms and exams for college students – the perfect time to get them informed and get them involved. But it’s a great date for homeowners, too – it’s just the right time after winter but before it starts getting too hot to start making some changes to your home that are good for you, good for the earth, and good for your bottom line. What do you plan to do to observe Earth Day this year? If you’re serious about it, visit the Earth Day website to find out more about what you can do, and to pledge your Act of Green.