How to greenify your home

By Charlie Fletcher

Now that we're in the warmer months, the sun and fresh air are great motivators to get green. And let’s face it: We could all be a little better about using only the resources we truly need in our everyday lives — an especially good reminder as the weather (and us) warm up. 

There are also plenty of ways to “greenify” a home, from making sure that everything is insulated (that there are no household leaks), to installing a “smart home” system, to developing composting habits and using green cleaners.

Let’s explore some ways that you can be more environmentally conscious with your home improvements going forward. 

Fix Leaky Pipes & Air Ducts

You’d be amazed to know how much water is wasted from household leaks found in pipes, faucets, shower heads and toilets. According to the EPA, 10 percent of homes in the U.S. have leaks that waste 90 gallons or more of water a day. “Minor” water leaks account for more than 1 trillion gallons of wasted water each year — enough water for 11 million homes annually.

To determine if you’re wasting water, look at your usage during a cold month like January or February. A family of four should not be exceeding 12,000 gallons a month. If your family is using more than that, the EPA says you probably have “serious leaks” that need to be addressed. Another issue you may need to address is water pressure. If your water pressure is too high, it can damage pipe connections, faucets and the water heater. You can buy an inexpensive pressure gauge at your local hardware store to do the testing at home.

During the EPA’s Fix a Leak Week from March 18-24, 2019, you can participate in events designed to help you find and fix your own household leaks.

Meanwhile, you also want to make sure your air ducts don’t have leaks. Air ducts are the delivery system that transports air from your furnace or air conditioner into the rooms throughout your house. Air ducts are probably the most important system in your home because if the ducts have leaks or poor insulation, you may notice steeper energy bills. The more air that’s lost, the harder your HVAC system has to work to get the desired temperature. About a fifth of air that escapes through air ducts is due to leaks, according to the EPA.

Conscientiously Choose Building Materials

More homeowners are starting to use natural and sustainable materials in their construction and remodeling projects because of health and environmental concerns, and for durability reasons. For example:

  • Natural linoleum lasts twice as long as vinyl flooring.

  • Granite countertops can last for generations, which is why they are becoming more popular.

  • Bamboo flooring will never need to be refinished; bamboo also grows in as little as five to seven years, compared to the 30 years it takes hardwoods to grow.

For those of us really committing to sustainability, choosing the right materials goes beyond aesthetics and cost. Other considerations include performance, availability, lifecycle, and the impact on the environment from manufacture to disposal.

Look for materials that will not emit toxic fumes and chemicals into the air — all sustainable products are not equal. Greenguard-certified products, for example, are designed for indoor uses and meet strict chemical emissions limits.

Ditch Harsh Cleaning Products

One way to make sure that your house stays green and healthy is to use all-natural cleaning products, usually consisting of some type of citrus and vinegar mixture, instead of harsh cleaners that might cause a chemical burn.

“Ask any green-living expert or organic devotee, and they’ll tell you that the best natural cleaning product is regular white vinegar and baking soda, with a little lemon or orange thrown in,” according to an article in The Strategist.

A simple orange-peel vinegar cleaner recipe includes mixing four orange peels with white-wine vinegar and letting it ferment in a mason jar for about three weeks. Strain the peels and pour the liquid into a spray bottle with equal parts of water. You could add a few drops of your favorite essential oil, too.

If you don’t want a homemade product, there are plenty of natural products on the market, but you should do your homework because there aren’t federal regulations that certify housekeeping cleaners as organic.

Use Plants to Detoxify the House

Did you know that indoor air pollution can be as much of an issue as the kind we face outdoors? Fortunately, there's an easy way to battle these pollutants — houseplants. Houseplants are a fantastic way to purify the air in your home and add a touch of nature at the same time. If you’d like to give your home a breath of fresh air, consider bringing in one of the following toxin-fighting plants:

  • Aloe Vera

  • Bamboo Palm

  • Barberton Daisy

  • Boston Fern

  • Broad Lady Palm

  • Chinese Evergreen

  • Chrysanthemum

  • English Ivy

  • Garden Mum

  • Heart Leaf Philodendron

  • Peace Lily

  • Red-edged Dracaena

  • Snake Plant

  • Spider Plant

  • Weeping Fig

If this is your first time taking care of indoor plants, don’t panic. Most of the plants on this list are extremely easy to care for. If you have pets, please look for ones that are pet safe before going on a plant-collecting spree. As long as you do your research, keep them in the right light, and water according to their needs, everything will be fine!

Little Ways to Save Water

Most of the developed world has been fortunate enough to have access to a steady supply of clean water. It’s a privilege that many of us take for granted. However, with attention turning to a future where we’ll all be facing water scarcity, more and more people are trying to figure out how they can conserve water on a daily basis. If you’re looking to save water at home, here are seven simple ways to do so:

  • Reuse your dehumidifier water: If you use a dehumidifier in your home (hello damp basements!), you can reuse the water it collects to water your plants!

  • Wash your fruits and vegetables in a pot of water: Instead of washing your produce under a running faucet, scrub them in a pot of water. You’ll be doing double water-saver duty by keeping too much from going down the drain and reusing the water in the pot to feed your plants.

  • Reuse your cooking water: If you regularly boil veggies or pasta, you can save the water you usually strain and drain for use in a vegetable stock, bucket flushing, or for watering your plants.

  • Take a bucket into the shower: Use a bucket to collect the cold water that normally goes down the drain while you’re waiting for the shower water to warm up. The collected water can be used for bucket flushing or watering your lawn and garden!

  • Water wisely: Water your outdoor plants in the early morning to keep water from immediately evaporating in sunlight and heat. Make sure to wet the soil directly so that the water goes straight to the roots.

  • Catch rainwater: Install a rainwater barrel and use what you catch to water you to feed your lawn and garden.

  • Turn off the tap: Brushing your teeth and shave using water when you absolutely need it. 

There are plenty of small things you can do in the upcoming year to go green, some of which have to do with developing new habits. Once you get into the habit of remembering to bring your recyclable grocery bags to the store, it eventually becomes second nature. The same goes for composting your kitchen scraps. Those are two easy steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint. Plus, embrace some of the tips above for a more complete lifestyle change.