(1) Cut Energy Use
Cutting your residential energy use will reduce your household’s carbon footprint and your electricity bill. With only a few modifications, you can make a big difference!
As much as half of your home’s energy use goes to heating and cooling. Try lowering your thermostat in the winter, and raising it in the summer: keep your house cool, not sweltering or ice-cold. Check up on your insulation and perform regular HVAC system maintenance to make sure your system’s running efficiently.
You can also make smart choices about the appliances and lightbulbs you use at home. Run your appliances on an energy-saving cycle, and when you remodel, choose Energy Star rated replacements. Shut down computers completely overnight, and unplug appliances when they aren’t in use. Replace incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient options, like Compact Fluorescent Bulbs. CFLs use 75% less energy than incandescents, and last ten times as long; although they carry a higher up-front cost, they’ll actually save you money over the long run.
(2) Conserve Water
We’ve all been told to turn off the tap while we brush our teeth, but did you know that the biggest water hogs in your home aren’t faucets? Outdoor water use, primarily in landscaping, accounts for a third of all residential water use; another quarter goes straight into the sewers, thanks to flushing toilets. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to make both your landscaping practices and your plumbing fixtures more efficient.
Operate your sprinkler system sparingly, and only turn it on in the early morning or evening to reduce evaporation. Consider reducing the size of your lawn, planting water-sensitive grasses, or grouping plantings according to their water needs. To further reduce outdoor water use, wash the patio with a water broom, rather than a power hose, and scrub down the car using a bucket of sudsy water.
Check your toilet for leaks, and install a fill cycle diverter or toilet tank bank to radically reduce the amount of water the toilet wastes with each flush. As for the rest of your bathroom, consider installing low-flow shower heads to cut water use without sacrificing your morning soak. Faucet aerators or instant-off features are great options for the bathroom sink– especially if you never can quite remember to shut off the tap when you brush!
(3) Avoid Toxic Products
There’s a reason why so many cleaning products are stamped with the poison control center’s contact information. Of the roughly 17,000 chemicals used in household cleaners, only about 30% have been adequately tested for their effects on human health. Many traditional products release Volatile Organic Compounds, particles that can reduce indoor air quality and exacerbate asthma and allergy symptoms. Phosphates in detergents and shampoos pollute steams and lakes, and phthalates in air fresheners have been linked to developmental abnormalities.
There’s no reason to bring something into your home that could make your family sick. Instead, choose non-toxic products that list all of their ingredients. Scent your home with essential oils or soy or beeswax candles, choose organic lotions and shampoos, and test your home regularly for lead and radon– particularly if you have young children. Finally, always read the label to make sure a product lives up to its green claims.
(4) Eat Your Greens
One of the best things you can do for the planet– and your body!– is to choose unprocessed foods, go for locally-grown and organic options and eat plenty of vegetables. An enormous amount of water and energy go into industrial agriculture. From the application of nitrogen fertilizer (typically synthesized from fossil fuels) to transporting food halfway around the world, from water-intensive irrigation to keeping food frozen, modern farmers make big demands on the planet.
Eating in season, from local growers, will cut your carbon footprint and introduce you to delicious, natural flavors at the same time. Try to do more home cooking, rather than hitting the drive-through, and consider reducing your weekly meat intake. When you do eat meat, reach for organic cuts that don’t contain growth hormones or antibiotics. Remember, eating right can do more than keep you healthy: it can help keep local agriculture systems strong and sustainable, protect the climate, and cut fossil fuel use. How delicious is that?
(5) Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Yep, the three R’s are as important as ever. Reduce what you buy, reuse what you own, and recycle everything you can: greening your home and lifestyle is really that straightforward!
Take reusable bags when you go shopping, so you aren’t lumbered with hundreds of plastic baggies. Fill up a reusable water bottle, rather than tossing a plastic bottle every day. Donate old clothes and toys.
As for recycling, be sure to recycle paper, cardboard and plastic, and take care to keep hazardous waste out of landfills. Electronic waste, including batteries, old cell phones and computer cables, leach toxic chemicals and heavy metals into the environmental and are fast becoming a major hazard. Participate in company take-back programs, or visit your local office supply or electronics store to drop off obsolete electronics for processing.
To make a big impact, consider composting your food waste. Between table scraps, rinds and food that’s gone past it’s sell-by date, Americans typically throw out about 1.3 pounds of food each day. That’s a lot of food– and a lot of wasted money! Although food will decompose naturally, in oxygen-starved landfills food items can take hundreds of years to break down. Consider starting a compost pile in your lard, or a compost bin in your apartment, to turn food scraps into nutrient-rich fertilizer. If composting sounds too labour intensive and messy, consider donating food scraps to farmers markets or local composting facilities, or investing in an automated home composter.
Even if you don’t have curbside pickup, you’ll be surprised at home many recycling options you have nearby, and how many home items can be recycled! Check out Earth911.com for recycling facilities near you, including mail-in options for e-waste and medications.
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