Creating a sustainable home doesn’t necessarily mean you have to purchase the latest green gadgets and install solar panels on your roof. Responsible maintenance and budget-friendly renovations can go a long way towards minimizing your home’s carbon footprint. Read on to learn about several renovations and improvements for sustainable homes.
Regular Home Maintenance and Repairs
Routinely checking to make sure your home and all its parts are working properly is the first step to household sustainability. Here are a few no-brainer tasks to throw on your to-do list.
Clean or Replace Dirty Air Filters
Dust is everywhere and it can accumulate fast. The buildup of dust can weaken HVAC system efficiency, causing it to work harder and use more energy to heat or cool your home. This constant strain puts your HVAC system at higher risk of breaking down and needing repair.
According to the Department of Energy, replacing a clogged air filter with a clean one can lower your HVAC system’s energy consumption by 5% – 15%. Not to mention, dirty air filters can trigger allergies and respiratory issues due to the accumulation of irritants in the air.
You should clean your air filters every two or three months, or more frequently if there is a greater presence of dust, animal fur or other airborne particulates.
Check for HVAC Leaks
Many HVAC systems contain a system of ducts that require regular maintenance. Leaky ducts can dump conditioned air into attics and crawl spaces, wasting energy and lowering HVAC performance. These leaks can also pull air from unwanted spaces, bringing airborne contaminants (ex. Particulate matter from insulation) into your living spaces.
Refrigerant, oil and water leaks are other potential issues that impact HVAC performance. Refrigerant leaks are typically due to long-term corrosion of the metal tubing containing the freon. HVAC refrigerant, often freon, leaks as a gas, making it difficult to detect and imposing a serious health hazard to humans and the environment the longer the leak persists. Not to mention the spike in your electricity bills because the system has to work harder to maintain indoor temperatures.
If there are issues with the compressor, your HVAC system may leak an oily residue, often mixed with refrigerant.
Water leaks are the most common HVAC leaks and easiest to fix. When a drain line is clogged (usually from debris, dust, algae, etc.), condensation cannot escape and eventually leads to a system leak and potential water damage.
Especially in the case of toxic refrigerant leaks, it’s highly recommended to seek out a HVAC technician to check for leaks and make the proper repairs.
Repair Plumbing Leaks
According to the EPA, 10% of homes waste 90 gallons of water or more each day due to plumbing leaks. However, fixing easy leaks can save homeowners 10% on their utility bills.
Common places for plumbing leaks include high-use areas around your home:
- Kitchen and bathroom faucets
- Toilet flapper valve
- Showerhead or flexible shower hose
- Behind your washing machine
- Hot water tank
More complex leaks can occur in a broken pipe in the wall (Note: Inspect your ceiling, walls and floors for discoloration, mold or mildew, or areas that are wet or damp) or in the main supply line (Note: Look for puddles in your yard, low water pressure, hissing or bubbling noises coming from pipes, foundational cracks, discolored water and increased water bills).
Reseal Windows and Doors
Properly sealed windows and doors are critical to maintaining effective heating and cooling of your home.
There are many easy fixes for drafty windows and doors:
- Caulk gaps where air is creeping through
- Add weatherstripping or foam tape
- Renew glazing putty to fill in any minor cracks and holes
- Apply shrink film to block drafts along window edges
Properly installed double or triple-pane windows offer the greatest insulation and temperature control, lowering your energy use and utility bills. Windows with a low-emissivity (low-E) coating have higher efficiency ratings as they minimize the amount of infrared and UV rays passing through while still maintaining optimal natural light and consistent indoor temperature.
The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) provides an ENERGY STAR product and manufacturer search for energy efficient windows, doors and skylights. A product’s NFRC label highlights various energy performance ratings such as air leakage and visible transmittance, allowing consumers to easily compare energy efficient products.
Eco-Friendly Products and Resource-Saving Cleaning Methods
The products you buy and the cleaning methods you use to keep your house tidy and free of pests and mold also tie into household sustainability.
Purchase Certified Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products
Purchasing certified products such as those with the Green Seal label guarantees these products are safe and non-toxic for people, pets and the environment.
Many conventional cleaning products contain harsh, corrosive chemicals unsafe for disposing down the drain. These products may also contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making breathing in these chemicals a potential health risk.
Sometimes, the most basic and natural ingredients make the best cleaners.
- Scrub a thick slice of lemon to rid your cutting board of odors and germs.
- Mix baking soda with water to form a paste. Lather inside your oven overnight and wipe away all the gunk in the morning.
- Mix baking soda with vinegar for a foamy toilet bowl cleaner.
- Create a 1:1 vinegar and water solution to wipe down windows and mirrors.
- Boil cinnamon or lemon for a natural air freshener.
Practice Resource-Saving Cleaning Methods
Being mindful of how much water and energy you use to clean your home can help lower your carbon footprint. Choose the most water and energy-saving cleaning methods such as:
- Damp mopping, a low water-intensive technique that uses a damp microfiber cloth to clean floors
- Reusing mop water to water plants
- Opening the windows to air out bad odors
- Using multi-purpose cleaners to cut down on cleaning costs and product packaging
- Making homemade cleaners in reusable bottles
- Reusing old toothbrushes
- Turning old t-shirts into cleaning rags or buying reusable towels like Swedish dishcloths (one Swedish dishcloth can replace up to 17 rolls of paper towel)
Responsible Lawn and Garden Care
Your environmental impact also extends into your backyard.
Use Natural, Non-Toxic Fertilizers, Pesticides and Weed Killers
Just like indoor cleaning products, lawn and garden care products matter too. Choose certified non-toxic and biodegradable fertilizers, pesticides and weed killers. This ensures that any residue swept up by the rain or wind doesn’t cause harm to human health and local wildlife.
Here are some reputable brands and products to consider:
- Espoma Organic Weed Preventer
- Green Gobbler 20% Vinegar Weed and Grass Killer
- Eco Garden Pro Organic Vinegar Weed Killer
- Doctor Kirchner Natural Weed Killer
- Natural Elements Weed Killer
You can also make DIY organic weed killer right at home. Common ingredients found in natural include: vinegar, cinnamon, rosemary, clove oil, tea tree oil, citric acid/oil, potassium salts, corn gluten and iron HEDTA (a deep red, odorless compound that falls under the lowest toxicity category, Toxicity Category IV).
Minimize Yard Runoff
You can minimize yard runoff and erosion by making some minor adjustments to your yard.
- Build permeable barriers – Lay a fieldstone pathway with a gravel, sand or pebble base to capture runoff. You can also strategically lay clusters of stones surrounded by perennial plants to intercept runoff traveling downhill. Consider purchasing alternative pavement materials such as interlocking tiles, pervious asphalt or plastic grid pavers.
- Use native plants as a vegetative buffer – Incorporating native plants into your yard is a great defense against runoff that requires minimal care and simultaneously supports biodiversity.
- Set mower height to leave taller grass – Setting your mower to cut grass at a longer length allows the grass to better trap surface runoff as well as grow deeper, denser roots which absorb more water, lower irrigation needs and aid against erosion.
- Improve soil texture – Fine textured soils like clay have a lower infiltration rate, thus higher risk of runoff. Add a layer of well-drained topsoil along with compost or manure to improve the infiltration rate of your soil as well as attract worms to continue conditioning your soil.
Install Water-Efficient Irrigation Equipment
According to the EPA, residential outdoor water use accounts for roughly 8 billion gallons of water each day, most of it used towards landscape irrigation. As much as 50% is lost due to overwatering caused by inefficiencies in the method of irrigation and the equipment.
Conserve water with the most efficient irrigation equipment and methods. WaterSense offers two types of water-efficient irrigation controllers: weather-based and soil moisture-based.
Weather-based irrigation controllers (WBICs) use local weather data and landscape conditions to determine the amount, frequency and timing of irrigation. Soil moisture-based irrigation controllers, also called Soil Moisture Sensors (SMSs), monitor moisture levels in the surrounding soil, preventing overwatering when plants don’t need it.
Compared to the standard clock-based irrigation controllers, WBICs and SMSs are more accurate in detecting seasonal changes and tailoring irrigation schedules based on these changes. In fact, if every U.S. home replaced their clock-based sprinkler system with a WaterSense controller, up to $4.5 billion in water costs and 390 billion gallons of water could be saved each year.
Here’s a thorough list of WaterSense certified WBICs which you can filter for brand, zone capacity, weather data source (either onsite sensor or local weather signal), and standalone or add-on devices. For a list of WaterSense certified SMSs, click here.
Microirrigation is also more resource and cost efficient compared to conventional sprinkler systems. Microirrigation is a low pressure, low flow rate drip irrigation method that delivers water directly to plant roots slowly over a longer period of time. This reduces the likelihood of evaporation and overwatering, and uses 20% – 50% less water than conventional sprinklers.
WaterSense provides two publically accessible guides on microirrigation:
Budget-Friendly Renovations for Sustainable Homes
Not all sustainable home renovations need to be costly remodels. Here are some budget-friendly green projects you can do over the weekend:
- Switch to energy-efficient LEDs – Next time you need to replace old bulbs, switch to ENERGY STAR rated LEDs which use about 75% less energy and last up to 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
- Refresh a room with zero-VOC paint – Zero-VOC paints do not contain Volatile Organic Compounds which has been proven to pose respiratory health risks and be pollutive to air quality.
- Give floors a renewed shine – Use certified non-toxic floor cleaners and waxes made from natural ingredients such as carnauba wax, beeswax, linseed oil, rosemary oil, and other plant-based compounds.
- Install curtains or blinds to keep rooms cool
- Enhance the natural lighting of a room – Add mirrors and opt for light colored walls, furniture and decor to enhance natural lighting. If you do plan on upgrading your light fixtures, keep it minimal and consider recessed overhead lighting that places light across the whole room rather than in one central location.
- Add indoor plants for a natural air purifier – Check out these NASA-approved air filtering plants that made the cut in the NASA Clean Air Study
- Give your home that vintage feel with second-hand items – Add a touch of vintage to your home with cabinet/door knobs, lamp shades, mirrors and other second-hand furniture and home decor you find at your local thrift shop. Not only do these items have an authentic story behind them, but buying second-hand is the sustainable alternative to buying new.
Not all sustainable homes need the latest green technology in order to lower its carbon footprint. Minor renovations and improvements for sustainable homes go a long way.
- Regular home maintenance and repairs
- Cleaning or replacing dirty air filters
- Checking for HVAC leaks
- Repair plumbing leaks
- Resealing windows and doors
- Eco-friendly products and resource-saving cleaning methods
- Use certified not-toxic and biodegradable cleaning products
- Practice cleaning methods that conserve water
- Responsible lawn and garden care
- Choose natural, non-toxic fertilizers, pesticides and weed killers
- Minimize yard runoff
- Install water-efficient irrigation equipment
- Budget-friendly renovations
- Switch to energy-efficient LEDs
- Refresh a room with zero-VOC paint
- Give floors a renewed shine with non-toxic floor cleaners and waxes
- Install curtains or blinds to keep rooms cool
- Enhance the natural lighting of a room
- Add indoor plants for a natural air purifier
- Give your home that vintage feel with second-hand items
Looking for more ways to make your home greener? Read our article “Buyer’s Guide for Sustainable Home Products”, a helpful reference for finding various green products along with rebates and incentives for sustainable homes.