Between the rising cost of living and the holes in our ozone layer, the push is on for the world to “go green.” But just what is a “green house” and how can you join the movement? You’d be surprised when you learn just how easy it is – with just a little effort and ingenuity you, too, can become a lean green saving machine.
Just What is a Green Home?
Perhaps the best way to describe a green home is to say that it is one that conserves energy, uses less water than the normal home, and utilizes more natural and environmentally friendly products in their day-to-day living. Homes that have “gone green” end up producing less waste than their non-green counterparts, and are much healthier places to live in. And don’t worry about having to forgo comfort in order to protect the environment – green homes are surprisingly more comfortable as well.
Building the Green Home
If you’re looking into building a new home and you’d like to make it green, try talking with your contractors and see what they can do to help you. In most cases, there are a wealth of “green opportunities” that are just waiting to be put to use. For instance, if you are interested in installing beautiful hardwood floors throughout your home, something as simple as checking to insure that they use wood that has been certified by the FSC can help protect the environment. The FSC stands for the Forest Stewardship Council, and by using this wood, this means that you are using wood that has come from managed forests, rather than ones that have been laid bare for profit.
Another flooring alternative is to use fast-growing bamboo or, if you’re looking to put a floor into your kitchen, avoid the vinyl and go natural, trying something like cork or even linoleum. Both of them are easy to clean, every bit as beautiful as a vinyl floor, and are a step in the right direction, when it comes to keeping our planet a happier, healthier place.
Also in the kitchen, one can seek out cabinets which are made of formaldehyde-free engineered wood or wheat board, either of which provides a good green alternative. One mistake that is commonly made is purchasing “natural” granite countertops for the kitchen. While the stone is natural, be wary of the fact that granite is not a renewable product, as well as noting that the sealants that are commonly used on these natural granite counters can be very hostile to the environment. Instead of granite, perhaps the better bet is to go with FSC certified wood countertops or look into trying some fast-growing and inexpensive bamboo.
The bathroom is another place where you can really benefit by being more environmentally conscious. Installing new showerheads can do wonders – limited to 2.5 gallons per minute, the new showerheads can save homeowners thousands of gallons per year. Definitely a way to save some pennies. Another great option is to install hands-free faucets in your sinks; also limited to 2.5 gallons per minute, these unique faucets will turn off unless activated by your hands.
Even toilets can save you money. Since 1994, the latest toilets have been limited to only 1.6 gallons of water per flush. Dual-flushing models can save even more by using either a 1.6 or .8 gallon option, where one can use a “short flush” that uses less water, just to eliminate liquids. And if you’re looking to really play the hard-core environmental cards, why not try utilizing tiles that consist of 100% recycled glass? These make wonderful countertops and look beautiful on the wall, especially when coupled with a floor that is made up of a 55% recycled glass and mineral blend.
Staying Green While Keeping Cool
Heating and cooling options can weigh heavily upon the homeowner and, quite often, the last thing that people want to worry about is whether or not these processes are environmentally friendly. More often than not, they are more considered with cost and efficiency of the product. Are green units more expensive? Time and time again, studies have shown that, while you may pay a bit more in initial costs, that the green appliances will pay for themselves in a short amount of time, while the others will continue to cost you money.
Ceiling fans are an excellent example of how green products can not only look elegant, but can also provide comfort, while still managing to go easy on the wallet. For a very small amount of money, one can purchase ceiling fans to install, that will help to keep things cool in the summertime, and will help to circulate the heat during the winter. You simply can’t go wrong by installing a couple. Ceiling fans in the bathroom will help to cut down on mold and mildew, and ceiling fans in the bedroom will help to ensure a more comfortable and relaxing sleep.
Changing your thermostats can also help significantly. Programmable thermostats maintain a constant temperature, cutting down on the times that your heating or air conditioning unit will run, as well as ensuring that you don’t have to hop up and down, just to get that perfect temperature in your house. Preferably, look for an Energy Star-rated thermostat that contains no mercury. Doing so will help to save you roughly $150 or more, every year.
The water heater is also another major pain in the proverbial neck of most home owners. Fortunately now, instead of dealing with these cantankerous units, one can install a tankless water heater that can provide you with the water that you need on demand. One downfall to this is that these units can only provide enough hot water for two simultaneous activities, such as two showers or taking a shower while running the washing machine. The rest of the household will have to wait for things to heat back up before they grab their showers, but the money saved will make it all worthwhile.
Installing Lean Green Saving Machines
When you go to purchase that new stove, garbage disposal or washing machine, pay attention to the ratings. The best products have received an Energy Star-rating, which means that they are more energy-efficient than their counterparts. While this means that you might pay a bit more to initially purchase the appliance, it will quickly pay for itself in the money that you save over the next couple of years. A good example of this would be to take a look at the latest Energy Star-rated washing machines. Studies have shown that these hard-working green machines can save you over $100, every year, in utility bills – just from the washing machine alone!
Looking for a couple more tips for laundry day? Take a look at your dryer and ask yourself if you really need to use it today. Clotheslines provide a wonderful free alternative to running an expensive dryer or, if that’s not an option, try utilizing a drying rack or drying rod. Even if you only partially dry your clothing in the dryer and then hang them up to dry the rest of the way, you will end up saving lots of energy and a great deal of money.
Another hint is to check to ensure that your dryer is ventilated properly. First off, the fastest, most direct route outside is always the best – having to force air through a long series of ducts only makes your machine work harder and have to run longer. Additionally, clean out the lint trap after every load of laundry. This will do wonders to make your machine more efficient and, from time to time, utilize a brush to clean out the duct around your lint trap; not only will this make your machine run better, but it will also reduce the risk of fire.
DÃ?Â©cor In the Green Home
Whether you’ve started and built a green home from scratch, or if you’re just seeking to make a few alterations and wanting to “go green” gradually, one of the best ways to round out the concept is turning to green alternatives when decorating your home. Are you familiar with VOCs? VOC stands for volatile organic compounds and these are the chemical compounds which contain vapor pressures high enough to allow them to enter and damage our atmosphere. These compounds have contributed to the global warming effect, can contaminate our soil and groundwater supplies, and often contain dangerous cancer-causing agents. Needless to say, no one wants these things in their home, correct? Surprisingly, a large number of paints and sealants not only contain these VOCs, but continue to give off VOCs even after they have been applied and allowed to dry! Be sure, before you go to buy paint, that you ensure that the kind you pick up is either of the no or low-VOC variety.
Everyone’s heard about changing their light bulbs. Originally, the drive was to switch to lower-wattage but more recently, companies have begun to produce CFLs. CFLs, or compact fluorescent lights, last longer than their incandescent counterparts and use less energy, while still providing soft, high-quality light. Another great way to save some pennies is to shop smart – whether you carpool with a friend or save up and only go to the store once a week, you’ll save energy and you’ll save gasoline. Another great hint is to simply buy locally; remember that it not only costs you to drive and get the products, but it also costs money for them to get shipped halfway across the country, or even imported from far-away lands.
When you go to buy furniture, why not check out the local antique stores, thrift shops and yard sales? While some people may scoff and turn up their noses at such behaviors, beautiful pieces are commonly available for purchase from these places and what better way to help our planet than to recycle the products we’ve taken from her? In fact, you can even go a step further and choose linens that are made of organic materials, such as hemp, bamboo fibers or linens, and even your rugs can be environmentally friendly. Jute, sisal, coir and sea grass are all readily renewable materials that rugs can be made from. Soon, your floors will not only be planet-friendly but highly fashionable as well.
Making your home a greener and healthier environment is an easy process, especially if you make the changes gradually. Easier on the pocketbook than a non-green home, you can’t go wrong when it comes to making your house a safer and healthier place for you and your family. Take a step in the right direction – you’ll certainly be happy you did when you watch those utility bills drop.