There are countless ways to make your home more sustainable. From recycling your cans to building your own wind turbine, eco-friendly solutions can be incredibly simple — and even free — or costly and time-consuming. Deciding which options are best for you and your house is the first step in your journey.
Here are a few home solutions and projects to consider.
1. Change Your Lights
In 2018, the U.S. electric power industry generated 1.87 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. This greenhouse gas pollutes the air and prevents radiation from leaving the Earth’s atmosphere, thereby warming the planet and everything on it. As most ecosystems are sensitive to changes in temperature, this is negatively impacting wildlife worldwide. Reduce your personal impact and do your part to mitigate global warming by simply shutting off your lights when you leave a room.
Additionally, you can decrease energy usage by switching to more energy-efficient bulbs. Ditch those old incandescents and opt for LEDs instead. This type of lightbulb is 85% more efficient and doesn’t generate heat, helping to keep your home cool in the summertime. Make the switch for just a few dollars per bulb and watch your utility bills and your effect on the planet go down.
2. Use Renewables
If you have some cash saved up, consider switching to renewable energy. By installing solar panels, a small backyard wind turbine, a microhydropower system or a geothermal system, you can significantly reduce your impact on the Earth. Most of these setups release little to no greenhouse gases and don’t require coal or natural gas for fuel. Instead, they rely on renewable resources, at least a few of which are present right where you live.
Of course, these options are a bit of an investment initially, but they soon pay off. Using renewables is quickly becoming cheaper than electricity or gas as more people make the switch and technology improves. Over time, this means smaller utility bills for you and a better outlook for the planet. It’s a win-win.
3. Give Your HVAC a Break
Another way to cut your energy use is to adjust your thermostat. Switching it a few degrees higher or lower than usual can save as much as 10% a year on your heating and cooling bills. This decrease in use makes your home’s carbon footprint smaller, meaning it emits less pollution and is better for the environment.
You can also give your HVAC a break by utilizing your home’s design. South-facing windows naturally let in more light throughout the day as the sun follows its path across the sky. By closing the blinds on the south side of your house, you can keep your home relatively cool without powering up your AC during the day. Likewise, you can open the blinds and let the rays in during colder months to passively heat your home, thereby saving energy.
4. Increase Insulation
Insulating your home can save you money and help the environment by making your HVAC system more efficient. Often, heat escapes through thin walls and the attic during winter. Meanwhile, hot air can warm your home in the summer, making your AC work harder. Adding more insulation to your garage, attic and walls can maintain your house’s temperature. In turn, it requires less energy to regulate the inside climate.
You can also relieve your HVAC from doing all the work by sealing cracks and gaps in your home’s envelope. Doing so will require you to inspect all walls, doors and windows. Feel around for drafty cracks in the winter and look for peeling caulk in the summer. Then, make repairs to increase your home’s energy efficiency.
5. Minimize Waste
Trying to reduce your waste can be overwhelming, especially when you realize you produce about 5 pounds of garbage every day. However, if you begin to break down your waste into categories, you’ll quickly notice that food, paper and plastics make up most of your trash. Focus on minimizing waste in just one of these categories first. Once you master one, move on to another.
Regarding plastic and paper waste, consider purchasing and actively using a recycling bin. Recycling cans, bottles, mail and other items will give them a second life and keep them out of landfills. To combat food waste — which accounts for 15.2% of solid waste in the U.S. — try composting. Start a bin in your backyard and add decomposable items like rinds and cores. Then, use the soil to give your garden a boost of nutrients.
6. Landscape Wisely
Conserving water is also key to living sustainably. On average, Americans use 60 gallons of water per day, rapidly draining the world’s supply. Meanwhile, millions live without access to clean drinking water. Minimizing your usage can aid in conservation efforts and prevent waste.
One way to accomplish this is by landscaping wisely. Generally, plants that aren’t native to your area will require more water and may even die in harsh environments with little rain. However, native plants need less water. Additionally, collecting rainwater and creating rain gardens can save you from standing out in the yard with a hose or using a sprinkler for hours.
7. Upgrade Appliances
You can also conserve water by installing low-flow appliances. Often, you don’t need a ton of water to wash clothes, flush the toilet or run the dishwasher. However, unless you have a low-flow appliance, these devices will continue to contribute to unnecessary waste. Install low-flow toilets, faucets and showerheads to create a more sustainable home in a matter of hours.
Switching out your old appliances for ones with an ENERGY STAR rating can also dramatically minimize your energy consumption and establish yours as a more sustainable household. Simply look for fridges, ovens and microwaves with this label, and add these more efficient options to your home.
8. Use Natural Materials and Cleaners
Using natural cleaning solutions is a small yet incredibly effective way to reduce your impact on the environment and live more sustainably. Instead of using harsh chemicals like bleach and ammonia, which can release toxic fumes into the air, consider making your own cleaning solutions. Use essential oils, baking soda, vinegar and other natural ingredients to safely sanitize your home.
Additionally, when you do your shopping, opt for natural materials and products that aren’t synthetic. Often, manmade ingredients contain volatile organic compounds and other irritants that can affect air quality. Research different varnishes, paints, fibers and other materials you plan to bring into your home to ensure they’re safe for you and the environment.
One Step at a Time
With so many ways to live sustainably, you may wonder where to even begin — especially if you aren’t currently practicing any kind of eco-friendly living. Whether you’re brand new to sustainability or are looking to expand your horizons, the best thing you can do is take things one step at a time. Otherwise, you may become overwhelmed and discouraged. After all, you’re only one person, and everyone has to start somewhere.
Take that first step by picking a sustainable habit you think would be easy enough to incorporate into your everyday life. Then, work your way up to larger products and commitments. Inevitably, these small changes will add up and, before you know it, your whole house will be more Earth-friendly than you ever imagined possible.