The Complete Guide to a Sustainable Home

From solar panels and home-scale wind turbines to sustainable farming and electric cars, there are myriad options for those who wish to reduce their environmental impact without needing to eschew modern technology.

One of the best ways for you and your family to reduce your environmental footprint is to work toward creating a more sustainable home. If you already own a home, you can take steps, over time, to retrofit your home with more energy efficient and sustainable features. If you are considering building your own home, you will have a chance to invest in sustainability from the ground up while designing and building your home. Even those who are renting their home and can’t make major modifications can make small changes to help make their home more sustainable in the long run.

Sustainable Homes Conserve Energy; Our Lives Run on Fossil Fuels

With the exception of homes powered by their own solar panels and wind turbines, one of the biggest forms of environmental impact created by housing is energy consumption. While there are some nuclear power plants and hydroelectric dams in the United States, the majority of homes are powered by coal-burning power plants. Not only is coal a finite resource that will eventually run out, its massive scale use is incredibly damaging for the planet.

Coal is environmentally damaging in a number of ways. First, coal mining invariably leads to land destruction via digging or even the removal of mountain tops. The process is resource intensive, as it requires machinery, human labor, and other resources to perform. Finally, when coal is burned, it releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases and noxious smoke, leading to climate change and decreased local air quality. Reducing your use of energy in your home can reduce the amount of coal being burned on your behalf. It can also save your family a lot of money over time.

Solar Energy Offers a Cleaner Alternative

Even in Northern states that receive less direct sunlight (and farther north, in Canada), solar power is a viable option for many homeowners. Solar panels are more efficient than ever, and companies are investing in creating more beautiful and long-lasting home solar systems (like Tesla’s Solar Roof). Efficient solar panels, combined with reduced energy consumption, can reduce or even eliminate your energy bills. In some cases, you may even generate a surplus that you can sell back to the local electric company.

If You Can’t Make Your Own, Use Less

Installing a home solar system or wind turbines isn’t a viable option for everyone. Maybe you rent, or maybe there are trees or other buildings that make solar collection impossible. In those cases, you should focus on reducing your electrical use. Investing in energy-efficient appliances, from your furnace to your refrigerator, can help. Modern appliances are much more efficient than those for sale even a decade ago. You can operate them using less energy and save money at the same time.

Investing in energy-efficient windows is also a cost-effective option. If your windows are in poor condition, you may want to replace them. Otherwise, consider installing window films. Options such as “Low E” films can reduce the amount of direct sunlight entering your home in the summer and reduce the amount of heat lost during the winter. They can save you money in any season by reducing your need to heat or cool your home. They also reduce interior glare and make your glass more secure, resulting in less risk of broken windows to replace.

Other Ways to Save Energy

Beyond major home upgrades, there are many simple steps you can take, such as using surge protectors for electronics (such as televisions) and turning them off overnight when not in use. Upgrade your interior lighting to modern LED bulbs. Change your furnace and air filters regularly. Install a programmable digital thermostat and set the programs to reduce usage when no one is home, such as during the workday. Be sure to turn off lights and gadgets when you leave a room as well. Finally, consider ceiling fans as a means of circulating air and reducing heating and cooling needs.

Sustainable Homes Conserve Natural Resources; Simple Tips to Reduce Water Waste

One of the easiest ways to reduce your water use is to invest in a high-efficiency washing machine. These devices use a fraction of the 40+ gallons that older machines use per cycle. A more efficient dishwasher can also help reduce water use in your home. On a smaller scale, you can save water by turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth, limiting your shower to ten minutes or less (and installing a lower-flow showerhead), and installing a dual flush toilet. Outside, you can use rainwater catchment to water gardens. Consider drought-tolerant ground cover instead of water-hungry grasses for your lawn.

Reduce Your Natural Gas and Oil Use

Some things we do that use gas are unnecessary, like replacing raking with gas-powered leaf blowers. For all but the most unruly yards, mowing can typically be done with a push mower instead of a gas-guzzling power mower. The same is true of snow removal in the winter. Forgo that loud and dangerous snow blower for a sturdy shovel.

When it comes to natural gas, which is used to heat your home and your water, efficiency counts! From more efficient furnaces and water heaters to programmable thermostats, there are many ways to reduce your natural gas consumption. Invest in insulation in your walls, under your roof, and between floors. Seal leaks around windows and doors. Consider installing window films to reduce internal heat in the summer and heat loss in the winter. Set your thermostats for less extreme temperatures when the family is gone during the day and in bed at night.

Reduce Your Waste of Other Resources Such as Plastics

The average American household throws out huge amounts of plastics, papers, and other waste every year. From food wrappings to product packaging, much of what comes home from the store leaves for the landfill eventually. Plastics, many of which are made with petroleum, are a finite resource, as is paper, which requires woody pulp for its creation. Reducing your use of these items over time can help conserve finite global resources.

Sustainable Homes Minimize Their Waste; Follow the Four R’s

One of the easiest ways to minimize the waste coming out of your home is to apply the Four R’s with everything you dispose of, from shoeboxes to milk jugs. The Four R’s are Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle. Try to find a way to do one of these with the items you dispose of most frequently.

Reduce is the best option, meaning to work to lessen the amount of waste you’re generating by buying items without packaging or just buying less overall. Reuse is quite simple. Items like egg cartons, for example, can be given to people in your community who raise chickens for reuse.

Repurpose means to take a used item and use it for another purpose instead of throwing it out. For example, milk jugs can be made into bird feeders. If you don’t have a use for an item, reach out to local groups such as daycares, scout troops, or grade schools, to see if someone else is interested in your collection. On a related note, there are companies that recycle or rebuild broken electronics, such as computers and tablets. Consider donating your old devices to one of these organizations instead of throwing them in the trash.

Finally, consider recycling. Many products, from plastics to papers, can be recycled. What is easily recyclable in your area depends on your municipal recycling offerings. Many cities and counties offer recycling pickup or drop-off at a centralized facility. Plastics 1-7 can typically be recycled, as can glass, paper, cardboard, and metals. Some companies may even pay you by the pound for recycling your scrap metal.

A little online research can provide you with information about nearby facilities and programs. They are generally free, and the only time involved is the process of rinsing and sorting your recyclables, such as cans, bottles, and jars.

Reduce Kitchen and Yard Waste by Composting

If you live in an area with a yard, you can build a backyard compost bin. Units such as compost tumblers are also available for purchase. A vermicomposting bin full of red wriggler worms can digest your food scraps and turn them into gardening gold! When it comes to food waste, most unprocessed fruit or vegetable waste can be composted. Check your local composting guidelines to determine which items qualify or what can be safely fed to a compost box.

Sustainable Households Use Sustainable Products; Find Lower-Impact Cleaning Products

Cleaning products are often an overlooked source of environmental impact. From the aerosol can that sprays the solution to the noxious chemical compounds within, typical household cleaning products are far from sustainable. The good news is that there are plenty of sustainable, safe-to-use products available on the market. If you prefer, you can make your own cleaning solutions by diluting vinegar and keeping hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, lemons, coarse salt, and rubbing alcohol in your home. A simple online search will provide you with recipes for anything you need, from window cleaners to carpet deodorizers.

Consider Sustainable Furnishings and Household Goods

From your television to your sofa, everything in your home has a limited lifespan. When it’s time to replace something, look into items that are locally made with sustainable resources, if possible. Some companies offer carbon offsets for big purchases like furniture and appliances. When shopping around for appliances, always consider a given appliance’s energy use before investing! Less energy and water usage is most ideal.

Even your windows, doors, and ventilation systems can be more planet-friendly. Look for insulated options for doors and windows, and look for recycled or sustainably sourced metal products for your home. Items you are getting rid of can be sold or donated if they are in working order. Sites like Craigslist and Freecycle can help you find homes for non-working items that others can use. Don’t just throw out that old couch or computer! Someone else will likely have a use for it. Those old windows could become part of someone else’s new greenhouse. Apply the Four R’s to anything you would get rid of.

Sustainable Households Consider Their Impact Daily

Did you know that the palm oil in your cookies may have come from a plantation where forests filled with rare animals once thrived? Did you know that large-scale red meat production is often unsustainable? You can make a million small choices to offset potential harm, from purchasing local meat and organic pantry products to using public transportation that can reduce your environmental impact. Drink fair-trade coffee to support fair labor and land usage practices. Buy clothing made from organic or transitional cotton.

Better yet, look into sustainable fibers such as hemp, bamboo viscose, and even modal, made from prolific and fast-growing beech trees. These aren’t the abrasive hemp materials of the 1970s. They are soft and comfortable, with excellent natural drape. From reducing your meat consumption in favor of more plant-based foods to investing in shoes with recycled rubber soles, every day and each purchase is a chance to make a positive change for yourself and the planet!

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