This is a guest post by Emily Huddleston of RedFin.
A new year means a fresh start, a time for change. While this mindset typically applies to self-improvement, it’s equally as important for your home. As the New Year begins, this is the perfect opportunity to explore how you can implement a more eco-conscious approach in and around the house.
There are many different things you can do – some big, some small – to start making a difference. Some are minor lifestyle adjustments while others are long-term investments that will ultimately save both money and valuable resources. To help you get started, we asked experts on eco-friendly living for their best tips for creating a greener and healthier home.
1. Embrace green-certified cleaning products. A green-certified product requires environmentally preferred components that reduce toxicity that can linger in your air and on your surfaces. Green certified products are held to stringent green cleaning standards by third party organizations. If you’re considering a cleaning service for your home, be sure to ask if they use green-certified cleaning products.
2. Put your home on an energy reduction diet. Start by tracking your electricity use on a day-to-day basis with a smart energy monitor to discover how much energy your appliances and other devices consume. Use this information to eliminate energy hogs and shrink your home’s carbon footprint.
3. Invest in a faucet filter for your kitchen and reusable bottles. By avoiding single-use plastic water bottles, an average family of four can reduce plastic pollution by 5,840 bottles a year. Also, the manufacturing of reusable items uses less water and produces less CO2. To make a disposable 16oz water bottle, it requires 32oz of water, and with each ton of product produced, it generates 3 tons of CO2.
4. Be very selective choosing materials and furnishings for your home. Green Haven Living suggests choosing decor and furniture made from reclaimed, upcycled, or sustainably sourced materials. To protect your indoor air quality, opt for water-based paints and finishes with low (or better yet, ZERO!) VOC’s. Eco Collective adds, when choosing home goods and kitchen tools, choose natural and nontoxic materials like cotton, glass and stainless steel for a longer-lasting and more eco-friendly style.
5. Eliminate as many single-use items as possible. A great way to determine what to tackle first is to open up your landfill (trash) and recycle bins and look inside; then get creative about how to stop using those single-use items or swap them out with reusable alternatives. If you have a zero-waste store or refill station shop nearby, stop in to see what household cleaners, personal care products, and food items you can refill, and they might offer workshops to further support your journey.
6. Make sure your home is set up with curbside recycling and composting services. If these services aren’t available in your neighborhood, find a local drop-off center, or contact your city council to help your community get curbside services.
7. Organize your home to make sustainability work for you. Don’t expect your family to use one recycling bin; have one in every room, including the bathroom and garage. Have a bin for reusable bags next to your outside door; keep a bin in your car and replenish it when you leave home. Have a designated “reuse” area (a bin or closet) for storing items that can have a second life in crafts, upcycling projects or repairing other items.
8. Insulate and ventilate your attic. Your attic is one of the most ignored areas of a home, yet it’s the area that has one of the biggest opportunities for creating a more eco-friendly environment. You can reduce your passive energy consumption immensely by properly insulating and ventilating your attic. We find that very often, if you seal and better insulate your attic and add an air extractor (we like solar ones), you can lower a home’s energy consumption by 30-50%.
9. Make use of already existing resources for your home. Everything Bags Inc. suggests looking for sustainable alternatives like chairs made from ocean waste, recycled glass for countertops, carpets made from recycled plastic, window frames made from recycled aluminum cans, and more. Integrated Design 360 recommends using reclaimed wood when building or remodeling a home. Not only will you use a renewable resource you will have a story to tell if the wood is documented.
10. Rethink your roof. It’s a platform for solar in sunny regions and in rainier, colder regions it can support greenery. You can reduce your CO2 footprint by switching to solar or creating a green roof that absorbs CO2.
11. Protect your skin from toxins. Our skin is our biggest organ and is incredibly absorptive so transitioning to organic towels, sheets, and clothing can make a big difference in the number of toxins you are exposed to each day.
12. Reduce the use of plastics. There are many simple ways to do this. For example, using glass for food storage is an easy, high impact swap that will also save you time and water (reheat in the same storage container and pop in the dishwasher when done; hooray for fewer dishes!). You can also opt for natural cellulose sponges instead of plastic ones or try using beeswax wraps instead of plastic wrap.
13. Use eco-friendly flooring. Utilize bamboo, cork, or FSC-certified oiled wood for as many flooring surfaces as possible.
14. Go electric! Natural gas contributes to climate change and indoor air pollution. Not only are electric appliances better for your health, but they’re also better for our climate. So if you’re upgrading any of your appliances this year, look for electric appliances instead of natural gas. Induction cooktops are all the rage with celebrity chefs these days!
– Earthy B
15. Weatherizing Your Home. Consider weatherizing your home, or sealing the small leaks and holes in your home’s building envelope, in order to save energy and money and make your home more comfortable. If you add up all the leaks, holes and gaps, it would be the equivalent of having one window open every day of the year. You should start first with investigating your front door then move to your windows and you can seal these leaks with various materials such as caulk, rubber seals, weather-stripping, or foam rods.
– Cook County Department of Environment and Sustainability
16. Don’t forget about your septic tank. Use a green product such as Super SRV™ to treat your septic tank and break down sludge naturally. Doing so also eliminates odors and the need for periodic and costly pumping out of septic tanks.
17. Cut down on your waste in the kitchen. Purchase unprocessed whole foods, prepare the food yourself, eat everything you can, and compost the rest. We recommend using real dishes and silverware or eco-friendly disposables made from bamboo or paper, rather than non-compostable plastic ware.
18. Recycle correctly and know your community’s recycling rules and requirements. Every community has different rules and requirements when it comes to recycling. Millennium Recycling advises keeping your city’s “yes and no” list on your fridge or near your bin as a simple reminder. The Association of Plastic Recyclers reminds us that Items that can’t go in your curbside bin, like plastic bags & wrap, can often be recycled through separate programs. There are plenty of resources and tools on recycling best practices, do’s and don’ts, and tips on what is and isn’t recyclable, such as Recycle Across America’s free toolkit or Recycle Coach, which offers a search engine that tells you what goes where. By being better informed, you can finally stop tossing items in recycling hoping they’re recyclable. However, when in doubt, keep it out.
19. Properly dispose of used cooking fats, oils, and grease. This is a simple step you can take towards creating a green home and living a more sustainable lifestyle. Pouring cooking oil and grease down the kitchen sink leads to clogged pipes in your home and sewer overflows in your neighborhood, which damage the environment and pollute local waterways.
– Fog Safe
20. Switch to LED lighting in your home. ENERGY STAR-qualified LED bulbs can last about 25,000 hours or more, 25 times longer than incandescent light bulbs and 2.5 times longer than compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. You can save more than $65-$100 per year in energy costs just by replacing the bulbs in your home’s five most frequently used light fixtures, while also reducing your carbon footprint.
– District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility
21. Start small. Buy eco-friendly items that you use often, such as cleaners and detergents. For example, once you run out of your old floor cleaner, purchase an eco-friendly cleaner to replace it. This way, switching to a more eco-friendly lifestyle is less overwhelming and won’t break the bank in the process.
22. Wet mop or vacuum often. Toxic chemicals can attach to dust particles and settle on the floor. Infants and toddlers children who spend a lot of time on the floor are the most exposed to these chemicals. Use a HEPA vacuum cleaner if available.