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Nine Green Home Projects You Can Do Today

Between the economic meltdown and the push for green buildings, saving energy, water and money in your home is more popular than ever. Fortunately, greening your home doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive. We caught up with Eric Corey Freed, principal of Organic Architect, and author of the new book, Green$ense for the Home. Here’s his list of nine simple things anyone—renters and homeowners alike—can do in their homes today.
1. Change your light bulbs already! How many environmentalists does it take to change a light bulb? There are several answers to this joke (none of them that funny), but the real answer is: “all of them.” In your home, lighting accounts for nearly 30 percent of all electricity use. By using compact fluorescent bulbs, you can cut lighting costs by 30 to 60 percent, while improving the quality of the light and reducing environmental impact at the same time.
2. Convince your toilet to use less water. More water is consumed per person in the United States than in any other country. More than a quarter of all of the water used inside the home is flushed down the toilet, which is, literally, a waste. The toilet is the single largest user of clean drinking water inside the home, and it is also the easiest place to conserve water. Before you run out and replace your existing toilets, there are simple and effective things you can do to trick your old toilet to use less water, from flush adapters to flusher adjustments and tank tricks. And when the time comes to replace your working toilets, make sure you buy a low-flow or dual-flush model.
3. Use less water in the shower. Showers add up to nearly 20 percent of all indoor water usage and are the largest users of hot water. By simply installing a low-flow showerhead, you can save up to 4,000 gallons of water annually, and for every gallon of hot water you save, that’s gas or electricity you don’t need to use to heat it. If your average shower is 10 minutes long, upgrading your old showerheads to a low-flow model will save 25 to 55 gallons of water for every shower you take, and potentially shave 30 percent off utility bills!
4. Keep vampires at bay. In the average home, 75 percent of the electricity used to power home electronics—cable boxes, DVD players, video games, stereos—is consumed while the products are turned off. That’s money that could stay in your pocket. If something is plugged into the wall—a TV, a cellphone charger, an appliance- even if it’s not on, it draws electricity. We call this demand of energy “phantom loads” or, more appropriately, “vampire loads,” since they suck energy. While the amount of power used is relatively small, they can add up to more than 10 percent of your electricity bill.
There are several simple ways to slay vampire loads: Unplug any appliance with a standby light. Get a power strip for appliances, and flip the switch off when not needed. Or, consider Smart Strips, which sense when power is being drawn and shut off automatically—as simple to install as a regular strip, and you don’t need to worry about vampire loads ever again.
5. Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat operates only during the times you set. For example, a programmable thermostat could lower the heat at 10 p.m. every night, when you’re bundled under the covers in bed. It could also be programmed to return the room to a more comfortable temperature 30 minutes before you wake up. The average household spends more than $2,000 a year on energy bills—nearly half of which goes to heating and cooling. You can save $150 a year just by properly setting a programmable thermostat. Once set correctly, a programmable thermostat can cut your heating and cooling bills by 20 percent to 30 percent annually.
6. Put a coat on your hot water heater. If your home is like most, hot water is produced in a hot water heater. This large tank usually sits in a garage, closet, or basement and slowly heats up a vat of water, and keeps it hot all day and night. Nearly 20 percent of all of the energy used in the home goes just to the water heater, making it the second-largest energy user in homes after heating and cooling. Insulating a water heater tank reduces the heat losses by 25 percent to 45 percent. This translates into as much as a 9 percent savings in total energy usage. If everyone in the U.S. insulated their hot water heaters, nearly 11 billion kilowatt-hours of that energy would be saved—enough to power 11.9 million homes in a year.
7. Weatherize windows. The largest source of energy loss in your home is your windows. If you add up the area of all of the cracks and leaks around the windows of your home, it would total about the size of an entire window. Installing new windows can solve much of this problem, but that can be a big job. Simply weatherizing—sealing the cracks and leaks around your windows and exterior doors—can have an immediate impact on your energy savings and can be completed in an afternoon.

Purchase only caulking with low or zero Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Figure that six to eight tubes at a total cost of no more than $65 should be enough to seal a 3,000-square-foot house with 15 to 20 windows.
8. Install a solar powered clothes dryer: a clothesline. Today, 80 percent of households have a washer and dryer, but this convenience comes at a price. Electric clothes dryers eat up 10 percent of a home’s energy. Each load of laundry gives off around 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide per load. That adds up to more than 2,000 pounds of CO2 a year just from drying clothes. A solar-powered clothes dryer is a smart and highly energy efficient way to dry your clothes. Also known as a “clothesline,” this idea has been around for centuries and provides an affordable, easy alternative to the high cost of clothes-drying convenience.
9. Compost and recycle. The average American produces 4.6 pounds of trash a day, which totals up to 251.3 million tons a year. Landfills pollute our water, take up enormous amounts of space, and (surprise) no one wants to live near them. Most people don’t realize the biggest problem with landfills is the emissions they generate, namely methane and carbon dioxide gas, which contribute to global warming. By composting and recycling, we can reduce the trash in landfills and do long-lasting good for our environment.
Recycling and composting require nothing except the desire to do it. Contact your local trash pickup company and request a free recycling bin (you may also be able to get a free compost bin). While not every town recycles, many do and will have specific rules for how to separate the items.
Each of these steps will pay for themselves in less than a year. Plus you’ll rest easy knowing you are doing your part for our environment.

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(cc) by Flickr user Grant MacDonald

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