Yes, we all want to help save the planet, but a little more immediate pay-off would be nice, too. The ideas here are not just about what you give up, they’re about what you get – more comfort, more light, cleaner air, less expense, for starters, and as you’ll see, the more you do, the more benefits you’ll find.
Green Your Own Home
“Over 80 percent of the impact of buildings on the environment takes place in their operating phase, their use phase, -- that’s the time we’re living in them.” (Jennifer Senick, Rutgers Center for Green Building, Green Builders film)
Green starts at home, and here are ten ways to start living in your own green building:
1. Get some feedback. The more you know about where the energy is actually going in your house, the more fiscally responsible you can be about improvements. The average breakdown in energy use is 34 percent for space heating, 34 percent for appliances and lighting, 13 percent for water heating, 11 percent for electric air conditioning, and a whopping 8 percent for the refrigerator. That’s enough information to show you how important the next nine steps are, but not enough detail for you to make really good decisions about investment. You can hire a professional for a really thorough evaluation. There are also self audits available on-line (e.g. Energy Savers), and you can have an energy assessment of your home done through Home Performance with Energy Star
2. Follow the Energy Star. Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency. It rates home appliances, houses and commercial buildings for energy efficiency and environmental performance, and offers a range of tools for consumers and professionals. Replacing old, energy-hogging appliances with new refrigerators, washers, dryers, air conditioning units, water heaters and other appliances is a major way to reduce energy use and carbon emissions. Another way to compare performance is Consumer Reports' Green Ratings (Remember, even if you’re not quite in the market yet for a new appliance, you can still save significant amounts of energy by cleaning filters and coils regularly).
3. Take basic conservation steps. Probably the least glamorous measures are still the absolute basic foundation of saving energy in your house: caulk, weatherstrip and insulate properly. Otherwise a significant portion of the heat you’re paying for, now that the oil has been drilled, refined, tankered and piped to your house, is just flying out from the cracks and walls. Particularly cost effective spots to add insulation:
-- attic walls and floor
-- any portion of your ducts that pass through uninsulated space (e.g., basement, garage, attic, and make sure the ducts are clean, too, for safety and efficiency)
-- your water heater and pipes (if the heater is less than five years old this probably isn’t necessary, especially if you choose an Energy Star model).
4. Install better windows. Even installing storm windows over single pane windows will improve efficiency, but an investment in energy-efficient double-pane windows mounted in non-conducting window frames will pay big dividends in energy savings and comfort. Check House-Energy to start looking at some of the considerations, payback timeframes and very big benefits. It’s also worth noting that advanced window systems aren’t just for houses. For example, in the PNC bank buildings profiled in Green Builders, the glass systems were three times as energy efficient as windows in typical storefront shops.
5. Let there be light, but not incandescent. 60-70 percent of the use of electricity in buildings goes to electric lighting. Switch to compact fluorescent (CF) bulbs that last ten times as long and use 75 percent less energy than the old kind. CF bulbs do need to be recycled responsibly, as they contain very minute amounts of mercury, not hazardous while in use but not good accumulating in the landfill. Right now, the largest recycle of CF bulbs is Ikea. Check these additional possibilities for recycling options: EcoGeek and Energy Star.
Note that with a slightly larger investment, it’s worth trying an LED (light emitting diode) bulb that will last even ten times longer than a compact bulb.
6 . Save with auto-pilot. Install a programmable thermostat and you have one less thing to remember.
7. Buy green power. Innovative programs around the country now make it possible for consumers to support renewable energy. Learn more about buying green power and find out which organizations offer green power in your state.
8. Keep it clean. Don’t overlook small “upgrades” that don’t cost anything but a little attention. For example, clean coils on your refrigerator and defrost regularly, replace or clean your furnace filters once a month during the heating season, and check any other filters in your appliances or mechanical system.
9. Upgrade your systems. Often, rebates are available to take the sting out of the first cost of new systems. Check to see what is available in your state at Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (. (Example: New Jersey Warm Advantage Program and New Jersey Cool Advantage Program)
10. Plant a tree. We think number 10 on every list should be to plant a tree. When in doubt, plant a tree! A tree is for the future, but you’ll feel better right away. Just one tree can take a full ton of carbon out of the atmosphere over its lifetime. And a deciduous tree sited correctly (to the south of the house) will let sun in during the winter and shade it out in the summer.