From the Experts

Simple, Low-Cost Steps to Greening Your Home

Michael J. Berens, Aging & Design Author

By Michael J. Berens
Freelance researcher, writer and editor with extensive experience in the converging fields of aging and design

Conserving resources, saving on utility bills, removing harmful pollutants, contributing toward a more sustainable planet: these are just a few of the reasons to green your home. Not so long ago, making the green choice meant paying more or compromising on the look you wanted. Today, when it comes to making the home more eco-friendly, homeowners have a wide range of green options to choose from.

Even if you make no other changes, you can do yourself and the environment a big favor by improving your home’s energy and water efficiency. You’ll save money, consume fewer resources and reduce pollution. For very little cost there are some simple steps you can take to lower your electric bill. When your old power-hungry appliances have exceeded their usefulness, replace them with Energy Star® models. Swap out your vintage dial-controlled heating/air-conditioning thermostat for a digital model that will allow you to pre-set multiple settings for peak and off-peak usage and those times you are away from home for an extended period. Insulate or increase the insulation to save money year-round, keeping the house warmer in cold weather and cooler in hot weather.

Similarly, many washers and dishwashers now come with water-saving settings. Flow restricting shower heads, sensor-activated faucets and dual-flush toilets can reduce wasted water, and many high quality, well-designed models are available. Consider adding a rain collection barrel or harvesting system for the garden. They come in a variety of sizes and styles and require little maintenance or upkeep.

These relatively low-cost improvements will more than pay for themselves over time with the energy and water you save. But why stop there? Many green solutions improve health and safety as well. Eco-friendly or green products, like low-VOC paints, sealers and finishes, non-treated woods, and natural fiber textiles contain few or no contaminants or toxins, thus improving indoor air quality. They are highly recommended if you have family members who suffer from asthma, allergies or other respiratory conditions.

Many homes are over-lit in some areas and under-lit in others, with an overabundance of overhead or ambient lighting and too little light directed to where it’s needed most. Adding energy-efficient LED task lights to a work area, such as a kitchen counter or island, in combination with a dimmer switch for overhead, ambient lighting, will help reduce costs, and it will provide better illumination, resulting in reduced eye strain and lower risk of injury.

If you’re considering a remodel or an addition, this is definitely the time to think green. Make sure any new studs, panels, drywall or cabinetry are green rated and free of formaldehyde. Select flooring products that are easily replenished, like bamboo or reclaimed woods, or free of harmful chemicals, such as PVC. Opt for furniture manufactured with natural materials, dyes and finishes. Maximize available daylight and choose window coverings that allow light to enter while ensuring privacy.

Be careful when purchasing products and materials. Many claim to be “green” or “eco-friendly” but are only partially so. Consult a green product certifier, like GREENGUARD or SCS Global Services, to find out which products best suit your needs and meet strict green standards.