Maybe it's your first home, or maybe you've chosen an older house just for the love of the property. Most Americans don't live in new, energy efficient homes built following green construction guidelines. But if you're like many home owners, you'll want to improve your home the longer you live there. If you're interested in more eco friendly ways to make those improvements, there's no shortage of options.
Here are 7 ways to make your home more eco friendly, that don't require major modifications.
What Does Eco Friendly Mean? Why Is It Important to Be Eco Friendly?
Eco friendly, short for environmentally friendly, means that you/you're home/you're lifestyle is not harming the environment. While our lifestyles today do impact the environment, we're trying to less the impact by conserving the energy and water we use. It's equally important to do what we can to prevent air, water and noise pollution.
The US government has lots of programs to help homeowners make eco friendly purchasing decisions:
- EnergyStar labels identify products that meet certain energy efficient standards. There are lots of additional government resources to help you reduce your home's energy usage.
- WaterSense helps you find products that use water efficiently, like toilets and dishwashers.
- IndoorAirQuality (IAQ) focuses on learning how things you bring into your home affect air quality, things like VOCs in paint. The goal is to enhance ventilation to exchange fresh air from outside, with lower quality air inside your home.
Why is it important to learn about eco friendly updates for your home? You can protect the health of your family and help save the environment, one person, one family and one house at a time!
Eco Friendly Option #1: Ductless Heating & Cooling Systems
Say goodbye to hot spots and cold spots, drafts and the high heating and cooling bills that plague older homes. Ductless heating and cooling systems approach home heating differently, in zones that you can control independently. They don’t use ductwork, which means you can add one or more of these units to your home more easily than a traditional HVAC system.
Supplement your existing HVAC system, or replace it altogether with a network of ultra-efficient ductless pumps. And don’t let that name fool you. Unlike traditional heat pumps, some new models, such as the ones Mitsubishi manufactures, work perfectly in temperatures as low as 13 degrees below zero.
What's also amazing. Many of these mini-split systems, like the one shown here, can be installed by homeowners to save money.
Eco Friendly Option #2: Additional Insulation
There are few ways to wrap an older home and reduce energy bills as effectively as adding insulation. The more insulation you have, the more your home resists heat transfer. More heat stays inside in winter, and less comes in when it’s hot outside.
Blown-in insulation is quicker, and often less itchy, to install than fiberglass blankets. You can rent a machine to install this type of insulation because you can’t fluff it enough by hand. Some home-improvement centers let you use their machine at no additional cost when you purchase a certain amount of insulation.
Not sure how complicated this project is … or how to get started? Here's a great video overview from Owens Corning that walks you through everything you need to know. Next you'll want to check pricing which you can do online at HomeDepot.com so get going … and good luck! Then
… and my favorite, LED nightlights for kids (unicorn, dinosaur, bunny, whale and even a storm trooper).
Eco Friendly Option #3: LED Light Bulbs
When the energy-saving movement in the light bulb category started, it was all about the curly CFLs. But LEDs have overtaken CFLs, and there’s good reasoning behind it. They no longer look different from old incandescent bulbs and they're easy to find like the LED bulbs above at HomeDepot.com (most also available in stores). Yes, they're more expensive and worth it for their longevity and energy savings.
The U.S. Department of Energy says Energy Star rated LED bulbs use only a quarter of the energy that an incandescent uses, and they last between 8 and 25 percent longer. You can find the LED bulbs you need to replace 40, 60, and 100-watt incandescent bulbs.
Eco Friendly Option #4: Low or Zero VOC Paint
Older houses are filled with layers and layers of old paint. Some of it is likely latex, but older homes are likely to have some old lead-based paint. As long as lead-based paint is sealed, it’s not a major concern (read: 4 Types of Lead Paint Detection). But when you paint over it, you might want something that’s kinder to your respiratory system and to the environment. Low and zero VOC paints are the ticket.
VOC stands for volatile organic compound. Older paints with high VOCs off gas into your home for days, weeks, and sometimes even months. But newer paints with low or zero VOC won’t leave that chemical smell behind.
Eco Friendly Option #5: Cork Flooring Tiles
With the myriad flooring choices available, it’s hard to settle on one. But as with paint, many flooring materials off gas and the odor can cause headaches and respiratory problems. Many are also made from non-sustainable materials, or those that do replenish but not very quickly, such as hardwoods. Cork is highly sustainable, and it doesn’t leave behind gases to contend with. (Read: Cork Flooring Pros and Cons)
Cork flooring is available in tiles that click together, penny tiles that you can grout the same as ceramic, and in sheets that install the same as sheet vinyl. Cork is considered highly sustainable because the material is the bark of the cork tree. The material is harvested by shaving the tree, not cutting it down, and the bark replenishes.
Bonus: Cork flooring is warmer than wood, and click tiles are a floating floor so there are no nails or glue.
Eco Friendly Option #6: Recycled Glass Countertops
Twenty years ago, countertop options were fairly thin. You could install plastic laminate, which was by and large the most common material, or you could choose something spectacularly expensive, such as marble. But now, options such as recycled glass are much more ecologically friendly. They’re beautiful, too. (Read: Green Living Alternatives: Your Home Can be Green and Gorgeous!)
Recycled glass is a very similar product to terrazzo floors. Broken and ground glass is added to a base that’s often made of concrete. And once it’s set, the whole surface is ground and polished and buffed to a brilliant shine. Some recycled glass countertops realistically mimic granite. But others are designed with multiple colors of broken glass, and are as creative looking as they are durable.
Eco Friendly Option #7: Tankless Water Heaters
Water heaters use a lot of energy because they cycle on and off to maintain 30 or more gallons of water at a pre-set temperature … all the time. Most American homes still have tank-style water heaters, but the ecologically friendly trend toward tankless heaters is growing.
A tankless hot water heater is also sometimes called an on-demand water heater. As the name implies, they don’t use a large storage tank, rather heating water as you use it. Some larger homes might need two or more tankless water heaters. And while they’re usually more expensive than a traditional unit, they can save you a lot of money.
You don't have to tear out walls and build out your house from the studs to make it greener and more efficient. There are plenty of ways to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint without making major changes.
What are some ways you've added eco friendly elements to your home? We'd love to hear about your projects!