When we celebrated the first Earth Day more than four decades ago, environmentally friendly "green" homes were considered the kind of thing that only people who drove VW buses might own. But we’ve come a long way since then. Like hybrid cars, recycling and energy efficient appliances, eco-friendly homes are rapidly gaining in popularity.
More and more people are building green homes from the ground up. And those with existing homes are retrofitting them to make the property more environmentally friendly and energy efficient. Homeowners understand that making a home greener not only saves limited natural resources, but also saves them money in the long run and has proven to be healthier as well.
There are so many new products on the market that it has become very simple to increase the energy efficiency of your home – everything from compact fluorescent bulbs to low flow shower heads and a programmable thermostat. Most of these products can be installed in less than an hour, but their benefits can last for years.
To get you started, here are a handful of tips to easily and affordably make your home greener and save you a lot of "green" in the process:
• Start by assessing your energy usage. Getting a handle on your home’s energy use is an important first step to improving efficiency. You can do a simple assessment using the online tools at ENERGY STAR, the organization run by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy. Go to www.energystar.gov. It will take just five minutes and you will need your last 12 months of utility bills. The site will provide guidance on home improvement projects to enhance energy efficiency, and even provide information on rebates and government tax credits.
• Seal and insulate. Sealing and insulating the "envelope" or "shell" of your home — its outer walls, ceiling, windows, doors, and floors — is often the most cost effective way to improve energy efficiency and comfort. ENERGY STAR estimates that a knowledgeable homeowner or skilled contractor can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs (or up to 10% on their total annual energy bill) by sealing and insulating.
• Make your HVAC system more energy efficient. As much as half of the energy used in your home goes to heating and cooling. So making smart decisions about your home’s heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can have a big effect on your utility bills. Change your air filter regularly. Tune up your HVAC equipment yearly. Install a programmable thermostat. Seal your heating and cooling ducts. Consider installing ENERGY STAR qualified heating and cooling equipment.
• Install low-flow showerheads and toilets. Older toilets waste large amounts of water. More than 30 percent of indoor residential water comes from toilets. New, low-flow models now use less than a gallon of water per flush vs. five gallons on older models. You can also save water and money, and still have ample water pressure, with a low-flow showerhead, which can slash bathing-water consumption 50 to 70 percent.
• Use energy efficient lighting. Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs) use 66% less energy than a standard incandescent bulb and last up to 10 times longer. Replacing a 100-watt incandescent bulb with a 32-watt CFL can save $30 in energy costs over the life of the bulb.
• Consider solar water heaters. A solar water-heating system can reduce the fossil fuel you’ll need for showering and washing clothes, and lower your utility bills in the process. But before installing one, determine whether you have a sunny enough location to recoup the up-front costs, which CNN Money says can range from $3,000 to $8,000.
• Choose healthier paints. Having a greener home is more than just saving energy. It’s also about the health of the home and protecting the environment. Conventional paints contain solvents, toxic metals and volatile organic compounds that can cause smog, ozone pollution and indoor air quality problems. These unhealthy ingredients are released into the air while you’re painting and even after the paints are completely dry. Opt instead for zero- or low- VOC paint, made by most major paint companies.
• Reuse and remodel. As CNN Money said in a recent article, "the house that you fix up will probably be much greener than anything you build in its place, no matter how cutting edge the new design or how much recycled material you use." With a total teardown, everything that went into building the old house goes to waste. Construction material is one of the largest contributors to landfills. So reusing and remodeling is a good way to limit your impact on the environment.
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