11 Green Home Improvements to Win You Brownie Points with the Planet
When you received the keys to your new home, you probably weren’t aware of the expensive and environmentally-unfriendly problems the previous homeowner stuck you with. But before you can become the eco-exorcist that expels water waste and energy waste from your home, you’ll need to know what non-green things to look for.
1. The Lawn.
Turns out that big swath of green is anything but green, and it’s going to cost you plenty of it. According to the journal Environmental Management, some 40 million acres of America are covered in lawns, making turf grass our largest irrigated crop.
Once the pride of any suburban American homeowner, green grass has come to symbolize waste because of the gasoline used to mow it, chemicals to fertilize it, time spent to care for it, and water to keep it green. If you still want some grass for kids and pets to play on, consider converting your lawn to a mixed landscape that still allows for some grass, but also uses alternative ground covers like clover or other ornamental grasses, plant gardens with native and/or edible plants, or add shade trees to reduce the speed your grass grows. Learn how to do it here.
When you saw the stainless steel appliances, you probably squealed with joy like someone on House Hunters. However, that enthusiasm was premature if you didn’t already check to ensure they’re also Energy Star-qualified appliances, which use 10-50 percent less energy than regular appliances. Since 20 percent of the average home’s energy goes toward powering appliances, more efficient appliances can save a lot of money over time. Hopefully your house came with front-loading washers and dryers because they typically use far less water and energy, wash and dry faster, and reduce wear and tear on your clothes. Learn more about water saving appliances here.
Whether you were thrilled by the pendulum lamps or horrified by the ornate chandelier (or vice versa), the lights that keep your home from perpetual darkness might be costing you dollars and sticking it to the planet. Swap out those incandescent bulbs for smarter, more energy efficient ones. Opt for compact florescent bulbs that use 75 percent less energy that incandescent ones, or go super green with LED bulbs that use 80-90 percent less energy and last around 100,000 hours. See alternatives here. You can also swap ordinary light switches for dimmer switches, which not only provide great mood lighting for any room, they also save you money, energy, and extend bulb life. So that’s pretty sweet.
If your home has single-pane windows instead of double-pane windows you might as well just go ahead and cry. Not only do single-pane windows poorly insulate your home from heat and cold, they also fail to effectively reduce noise and cost a thousands of dollars to replace. In the long run, this switch could save you more than double on your heat in the winter and AC in the summer, and you may even be eligible for a tax credit should you install them. Check out this window selection tool to estimate the energy costs for each window type.
5. Water Heater
Curses upon the previous homeowner who left you with a large and inefficient water heater. May his new home be filled with termites, popcorn ceilings, and stained tile grout. This wasteful device can be replaced with a more efficient tankless water heater, which could reduce your water heater’s energy costs by 30 percent. At a minimum, you can turn the temperature down to 120 degrees, wrap it in insulation, and make the best of it.
If the previous homeowner didn’t install a programmable thermostat then he’s probably off pouring oil on sea birds and driving his Hummer through acres of charred rainforest for laughs. However, what’s done is done. Switching over to a programmable thermostat will allow you to avoid heating or cooling your home while you’re sleeping or away, while still keeping it at the ideal temperature when you’re snacking on nachos on the sofa. Homeowners can expect to save around $180 each year by properly setting their programmable thermostats and maintaining those settings.
No low-flow or dual-flush toilet? Wow. Only 2.5 percent of the world’s water is freshwater and the previous homeowner seems determined to flush it all down the toilet. Correct this nature-hating feature by getting a WaterSense labeled toilet. According to the EPA, even though these low-flow or dual-flush toilet are more expensive they use less water and can save you up to $90 per year in reduced water bills, and $2,000 over the lifetime of the toilet. You can also just put a few bricks in the toilet tank to reduce water use (seriously), or purchase a dual-flush toilet converter that will magically turn your inefficient toilet into an earth-friendly one.
8. Furnace and AC Filters
Changing the filters every three months dramatically improves the efficiency of the furnace and air conditioner. Knowing that your home’s previous owner has an unyielding loathing for Mother Nature probably means those filters are filthy and old. Swap them out or buy washable filters you can reuse. Not sure how to change them or clean them? Search for it on YouTube and you’ll find dozens of bearded men eager to show you how. It’s like something men have to do when they turn 50.
9. Faucets and Shower Heads
If that saboteur of the planet didn’t turn on all the faucets and showers when he walked out the door for the last time, he did the next most wasteful thing by leaving you without low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators. He must be the same weirdo who always leaves the faucet running in the public bathroom. Probably doesn’t even wash his hands. Anyway, you’ll probably want to upgrade to faucet aerators for your sinks and definitely to low-flow shower heads, which can reduce your shower water consumption by 50-70 percent! It’s up to you whether to start taking longer showers to reward yourself.
10. Shingle Color
You’re probably thinking, “Are you kidding me? Shingle color? This is too much.” Sadly, this is one of the most overlooked features and one you’ll probably not want to bother with changing unless your roof needs to replaced. Basically, dark roofing absorbs heat while lighter colored roofing reflects it so if you live in a cold region then black is better, and if you live in a hot region then light grey shingles are better—white is even better if you’re in Phoenix and you don’t mind being visible from space or blinding skydivers. Tile, cedar, and medium gray shingles all split the difference so they work in either region.
11. Energy Audit
You’d think that ten would be enough to deal with, but there may be all sorts of other hidden problems that are ticking off Mother Earth and costing you money. While they cost between $150-$600 or more, a professional energy audit could save you up to $660 in the first year alone by identifying ways to make your home more energy efficient. A professional can identify air leaks causing drafts, dirty or leaky ducts, or other problems your home has.
So that was 11 possible things that could be hurting your homes ecological standing. You may not be able to fix all these things at once, but you’ll probably want to get started on some of them to start saving money, reduce your carbon footprint, and limit the chances of Bono and Al Gore showing up at your door to give you a lecture. And on the upside, a recent study showed that green homes sell for 9 percent more so hopefully you can turn your green improvements into more green in your pocket someday down the line.