Implementing some "green" upgrades in a home you own is almost always a great investment -- first, because it can often save you money as the homeowner, and second, because more and more buyers are looking for homes that are energy-efficient and have other environmentally friendly attributes.
But with so many options available to homeowners today, it can be tough to know where to start greenifying your own house. Consider some of these suggestions; you'll be sure to find one that will work for your budget and your lifestyle, and make your house look that much more appealing to any potential future buyers.
Start recycling if you don't already
This is one of the simplest ways you can make your entire household more environmentally friendly, and although it doesn't involve a direct upgrade to your house, you'll be able to state with confidence that recycling is available (and how often it runs) for any future buyers who might be interested in the property.
Call up your waste management company and ask them if they offer recycling pickup. This is usually available for an additional fee -- and sometimes if recycling isn't something they currently offer on your street, you might be able to wheedle them into it. If their cutoff point is right down the road and you can find a few other homeowners on your street who would pay for recycling, it's possible that you might be able to convince a manager at your waste management company that they should expand their coverage area to accommodate you. Then, find a place in your house to store your recycling items, such as a plastic bin next to your trash can, and encourage other members of your household to use it.
Get an energy audit
Many utility companies will offer you a free energy audit; all you have to do is ask. If you're interested in making minor to major improvements in your home's efficiency, an energy audit can really help you pinpoint what upgrades will make the biggest difference in your expenditures every month. It can also help you understand what's already working well for your house so that you can augment those efforts, and it's a useful report to offer future buyers who might be curious about your house's energy efficiency.
Make the sun work for you
As far as sources of heat and light go, you really can't beat Earth's own sun, so it makes sense to work with it when it comes to energy efficiency. Practically speaking, this means shading or protection from the sun when you want your house to be cooler, and encouraging it to shine when you want it to be warmer or to capture more light.
Make sure you have good blinds installed in windows that get a lot of direct sunlight in the summertime, and then use those blinds to prevent the sun from warming your house too much; by the same token, you'll want to encourage sunlight when it's cooler in the wintertime, so if you can install windows or open blinds where the sun shines in the wintertime, do it!
Use trees and shrubs to absorb sunlight where you don't want it
In climates where you want a cooler house overall, it probably makes sense to facilitate as much shade as possible for your dwelling; one easy and environmentally friendly way to do this is to plant trees and shrubs so they cast shade over your house and absorb the sunlight. Plant life that is native to your area works best. Consult with a local nursery if you're not sure what to use because they are perfectly equipped to answer your question and provide you with the best possible purchases.
Break out the caulk
It's probably not a big surprise that when your house is losing a lot of warm air in the winter or cool air in the summer, leaks or drafts are the culprit, and there's quite a bit you can do to prevent those by making sure that your caulking is up to the task. This is a quick and cheap fix you can manage on your own simply by investing in a caulk gun (if you don't already have one) and recaulking the windows throughout your house.
Rainwater isn't always safe for drinking, depending on the area where you live, but you can use it for tasks like watering your lawn, flowers, or vegetable garden -- and the rain that falls from the sky, unlike water that's obtained from a city line, is absolutely free. Buy yourself a rain barrel or two and place them outside where they can catch the precipitation from above, then use your collection to keep your lawn looking fresh and green without your water bill spiking or violating any water-day ordinances in your area.
Invest in a new roof
The best type of roof for your house will really depend on the climate there; in areas where it tends to be colder most of the year, then you might want to think about a roof that absorbs sunlight and heat instead of reflecting it. That said, in many warmer or moderate climates, a reflective roof can make a lot of sense. You might have learned in school that heat rises, and when you add the sun's heat to the warmth that might be trapped in your attic, it's no wonder that your house feels impossible to cool in warm months. A reflective roof can help mitigate part of that equation, and roof vents can also allow the heat to escape outside, making your house feel cool and fresher than ever.
Consider a solar water heater
One big energy expenditure in many homes involves heating up your water -- so what if you could get the sun to do that job for you? Solar water heaters capture the sun's heat to warm your water, and they can be a great solution in areas that get a lot of direct sunlight. For the best results, you'll want to make sure that the heat-absorbing panels are placed to get the maximum amount of sunlight possible.
... Or go tankless
A tankless water heater only heats up the amount of water you're currently using, which can be much more efficient than heaters that hold several dozen gallons and keep the water constantly hot throughout the day. Tankless water heaters are ideal for households where you aren't running a lot of hot water at once; they can become overwhelmed if you want to run a shower, a bath, and the dishwasher all at once. But if that's not something you'd ever do, then they can really make a difference in your home's energy efficiency.
Think about eco-friendly countertop replacements
Granite is one of the most popular countertop options, but if you're refinishing your counters, it's probably good to know that granite isn't necessarily the most eco-friendly of your choices. There are a ton of newer countertop materials that look just as swank as granite but are significantly more gentle on the environment, such as composites made of hemp or even paper. (We know, it sounds crazy, but these materials are just as durable as granite and can look absolutely amazing.) Recycled glass composites are another good countertop option, and if you simply must have a material like granite or quartz, you can always look into recycled options that come from someone else's newly remodeled kitchen -- especially if their kitchen or bathroom space was considerably bigger than yours, it shouldn't be too difficult to cut everything to fit.
Consider green flooring options
Hardwood floors or plush carpeting are perennially popular, but they also aren't the most environmentally friendly choices when you're remodeling your floors. There are several materials that look just as polished as hardwood floors but are significantly greener, such as bamboo (which grows super quickly, unlike most hardwoods) or carpet made out of eco-friendly weave, or even laminate flooring.
Replace toilets, showerheads, and faucets
Older toilets, showerheads, and faucets tend to use more water than is really necessary to get the job done, so if it's been a while since you updated your water-flow options, then it might be time to look at what's available. This saves water, which is great for both your environmental footprint and your wallet if you're paying for water by the gallon, and the modern fixtures you can buy are so efficient that you likely won't notice a difference at all -- even in the shower!
Consider a composite deck
Instead of using wood for your deck, think about buying a composite material instead -- many of them last a lot longer than wood, too, so there are many benefits besides making your deck greener. You don't need to repaint nearly as often, and repairs won't be necessary for many years, so although they might come with a heftier price tag upfront, they can save you a lot of money in the long run in addition to helping the environment.
If you mulch, use recycled mulch
It might be best to talk to a gardener or the experts at your local nursery before you try this one, but if you're a regular mulcher, then you might want to think about trying a recycled mulch -- some of them are much hardier than the wood mulches you typically have to replace every year, such as mulch made from recycled tires. But make sure you consult with an expert first, because some recycled mulches aren't suitable for certain plant types, so you'll want to either move those little green guys or consider something else for your mulching needs.
Check your products or materials against a good source
There are almost too many materials to list that are great alternatives to traditional options, and it can be difficult for someone remodeling a home or upgrading an appliance to keep track. Luckily, there are several organizations that certify materials and products as environmentally friendly, so when you're doing your research, check your options against lists or certifications provided by The Greenguard Environmental Institute (www.greenguard.com), the Forest Stewardship Council (www.fscus.org) or Cradle to Cradle (www.mbdc.com/cdc) if going green is a priority for you.
Reuse or recycle materials from a remodel
If you have remodeled your home recently, you probably have a ton of leftover materials that you could be putting to good use -- but how? The internet has a ton of ideas for you, but to name just a handful, you can use old flooring or countertop materials to build yourself a new shed in the yard; recycled bricks can make a lovely pathway from your driveway to your front door; and sometimes recycled wood can be turned into a hefty fence. Google has lots more ideas where those came from, too!
Energy Star appliances are the best choice for new appliances
When it's time to upgrade your appliances, whether that's a fridge or a washer and dryer, look for products that are certified by Energy Star. Many outlets also post information about how much an appliance costs each year to run and how much water it uses, so you can take those details and use them in your own shopping to ensure you're getting a good deal. Remember, some of these items might be more expensive upfront, but if you'll be saving a significant amount of money over time, an appliance could be well worth dropping a few hundred extra dollars on today.
Buy a water filter
Drinking water is really good for your body, but buying a case of bottled water every time you go to the store is not so great for the environment. Between the plastic it takes to make the bottles and the energy that goes into manufacturing and shipping, you're a lot better off getting yourself a decent refillable, washable bottle and using that instead. A water filter can help you get this done with little to no hassle, allowing you to refill your bottle whenever you're thirsty or before you leave the house. Plus, it'll save you money long-term -- what's not to love?
Go native in the garden
Seeding your garden with native plant and grass species is a fantastic way to be greener, and it's extra appealing to potential future buyers, especially because native species are usually much lower-maintenance than imported species, giving you both beauty and efficiency in one step. If you're not sure whether your garden is native-friendly, talk to a landscaper or stop by your local nursery and get a consultation; you're bound to find several species that you absolutely love and that require less water and care than you're currently investing in your garden.
Replace exterior doors or windows
If caulking didn't solve your draft problem, one of the best ways to eliminate drafts and keep the climate-controlled air inside your home is to replace exterior doors and windows. This can get expensive pretty quickly, so you may want to try caulking first -- but the good news is that once you replace those doors and windows, you'll be set for years (possibly decades) to come in terms of a sealed-up house that keeps the cold and warm air exactly where it should be.
One of the biggest expenditures of energy in most homes is lighting the rooms, believe it or not, and one excellent way to get more light into your house is to add a skylight. This way the sun is doing the work instead of your electrical system, so if there are ceilings where you might be able to add a skylight and get the room a bit brighter as a result, you should definitely consider it.
Get a programmable thermostat
Even if you don't use something as fancy as a smart home thermostat, there are lots of options these days that will let you program the heat and cooling appliances in your home for optimal use. When you're at work during the day, you can adjust the temperature accordingly, then make sure it's nice and warm (or cool) by the time you arrive back home to enjoy your space. You can also set a programmable thermostat to adjust its temperatures overnight, when most people don't mind if the house gets a little cooler than normal in the wintertime, and like many other items on this list, a programmable thermostat will save you money over time.
Replace your light bulbs
Compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs use considerably less energy to emit the same amount of light (or more) as a traditional light bulb, so if you haven't already swapped out the bulbs in your home for a more advanced version, consider this a nudge in the right direction. The more modern bulbs also last longer, so even though they might seem expensive, when you consider that you won't have to replace them for years (as opposed to months), the price is an absolute steal -- plus, as noted above, light is a big energy-suck in most homes, so you'll also save money on your utility bills every month.
Update your insulation
Depending on when your home was built, you may not have the latest and greatest insulation materials. This can be a much easier fix than you think, and it makes a huge difference when it comes to keeping your home at the temperature you like best without making your heating or cooling appliances work overtime. An energy audit can help you determine whether it's time to upgrade your insulation, but if you already know it's been a couple of decades since you gave the insulation any TLC, you might not need an auditor to prompt you to make this change.
There are plenty of energy-efficient ways you can upgrade your house without blowing the bank, and the best news is that most of them save you money over time, too. When you're ready to make some investments in the future of your home, consider one or several of these green updates -- you'll be glad you did when your utility bills come in or when you're getting ready to sell and can tout your house as environmentally friendly on top of its other many charms.
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