When conjuring up ideas for greening your home, look no further than your own common sense. We all know that using less resources not only helps the Earth but can save you cash as well. We also know that staying away from products that contain synthetic or toxic chemicals can enhance the health of your home environment. Here are some tips on how you can be the captain of your own personal "green team" without having to sacrifice style or beauty in the process:
Embrace Energy Efficient Appliances
When you are in the market to replace those prehistoric devices that raise your eyebrows when you receive the energy bill, always look for the Energy Star label to help you identify energy efficient appliances. Nowadays, there are more sleek, attractive appliances to choose from that don't have to be an eyesore when you are remodeling the kitchen. As dishwashers go, stick to those with features like a steam-cycle, soil sensing capability, no-heat drying, or condensation drying. Drawer dishwashers use less energy, like the Bosch Evolution line which exceeds the minimum federal energy efficiency standards by a whopping 147 percent. Its "EcoSense" button lowers the energy consumption one quarter by decreasing the temperature and prolonging the washing cycle by a few extra minutes. Don't forget to wait to run the dishwasher until you have a full load of dishes, stay away from that "high heat" wash button and consider insulating your hot water pipes.
Refrigerators are one of the worst home energy guzzlers, especially those that have automatic ice makers or front-of-door ice and water dispensers. According to Alex Wilson, author of "Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings," the refrigerator in the average American home constitutes 15 percent of gross electricity usage. Keep your eyes peeled for attributes such as a door alarm that lets you know when the freezer is open and a manual defrost cycle. Top or bottom freezers use less energy than side-by-side freezers. The Wolf Sub-Zero BI-30U over-and-under refrigerator/freezer comes in both a polished stainless steel look or overlay model and claims to use less energy than a 100-watt light bulb. Be sure to pick a spot for your fridge that is as far away from heat sources (oven, dishwasher, etc.) as possible. Remember to clean the coils on an annual basis and make sure the freezer is completely full even if you have to fill it with ice packs, as both practices will save energy.
Wolf Sub-Zero BI-30U
Enhance Your Landscape's Eco Factor
If you have crazy winters, create a windbreak that guards your home from the wind during those cold blustery months by using rows of shrubs, trees, or perennial grasses. Diverting the wind will help to keep your home warmer. For those in a hot climate, plant trees with a high canopy that are able to shade the house and thus keep it cooler.
When re-landscaping, utilize plants that are native to your area, as native plants tend to use less water and require less maintenance. Buying plants that have been grown locally decreases the miles those plants had to travel, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of your landscaping. Vertical gardens are especially on the rise (no pun intended), since they not only help insulate your home, but can be absolutely breathtaking to behold (such as these).
Start a vegetable garden. Raised beds not only give an organized, sophisticated look to your garden, but they use up less water and usually heat up more quickly when springtime rolls around. Opt for compost instead of synthetic fertilizers. Compost adds the positive, natural soil biology needed to keep your plants happy and healthy without the use of harmful chemicals. Integrated pest management techniques or organic fertilizers for gardening also help keep those unwanted critters away sans pernicious pesticides.
Try Residential Alternative Energy on for Size
If you aren't sure you are ready to turn your whole rooftop into a solar array or your entire property into a wind farm, the market offers a wide array of small scale alternative energy options. A "plug and play" solar installation kit is supposed to be as easy as opening a few boxes and assembling it within an afternoon. Do-it-yourself grid-tied solar panel kits such as Armageddon Energy's SolarClover or Clarian's SmartBox Solar Module both allow for seemingly simple installation. Residential wind systems are becoming more widely available, like the elegantly designed single wind turbine Helix. Mounted up to 35 feet high, the Helix can generate enough power for a single home or business at winds as low as ten miles per hour.
Armageddon Energy's SolarClover
Save that Precious H2O
According to Eartheasy, installing something as simple as a low-flow aerator on all of your faucets and shower heads can slash your yearly water consumption by half, not to mention the added perk of saving 50 percent of the energy it normally takes to heat up that water.
Low flow toilets have seen a surge, typically using up 1.6 gallons each flush as opposed to the 3.5-7 gallons for pre-1992 models. Niagara's new Stealth Ultra-High-Efficiency Toilet goes beyond the standard, using only .8 gallons per flush. But if you are a fan of your ancient toilet, try adjusting the float valve so that it admits less water into the toilet tank. Be mindful of some behavioral adjustments, as well: Keep showers as short as you can stand it, don't run the water while brushing your teeth or hand-washing dishes, sweep the driveway as opposed to hosing it down, put timers on your sprinklers and only do a load of laundry when the washer is full.
Purge Those Oh-So-Synthetic Cleaners
Your grandma knew what she was talking about when she extolled the humble virtues of the natural, home-made house cleaner, explaining that all it takes is a little bit of vinegar, baking soda, water and lemon juice to keep your home clean and eco-friendly. Most household cleaners are full of toxic chemicals that we aren't usually even aware of, products that are potentially harmful to the air we and our families are living and breathing in. Look for labels that contain bio-based ingredients (sage, rosemary, eucalyptus), such as those of Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyers, Dr. Bronner's and Eco-Me. Your best bet is to consult the Good Guide, which gives environmental and health ratings for thousands of household cleaning and other products.
Small vertical succulent garden photo: Flora Grubb Gardens