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A Sustainable Home in Ten Simple Steps

It really is easy being green, especially at home. There are simple steps we can take to make our houses more sustainable, which can benefit more than just the earth. Small, manageable changes like the ones listed below will not only reward the environment, but can help us save money and simplify our lives as well.

1. Change your bulbs and recycle them.
According to GE, incandescent bulbs use heat to produce light, while a fluorescent bulb (CFL) creates light that is four-to-six times more energy efficient. When replacing your bulbs, use the chart below to compare wattages between the standard bulb and CFLs.

  • Standard Bulb/CFL Bulb wattage
  • 60w/13w–15w
  • 75w/20w
  • 100w/26w–29w
  • 150w/38w–42w

Just don’t stop there, because whenever your bulbs blow, you can safely recycle them to protect the environment from unnecessary mercury contamination.

2. Compost your food and use biodegradable bags for pet waste.
Composting your food puts it back into the soil where it belongs and lessens the production of methane and leachate formulation, which forms from waste materials liquefying into an acid water solution. If you have a garden, find out how to start your own compost pile. I like to use BioBags to line my compost bin, and they even make some for pet waste, though you should not compost your pet waste. My roommate pitched in by switching to biodegradable kitty litter and poop bags in the meantime until pet waste is used as an alternate form of energy!

3. Buy green cleaning supplies or make your own.
I choose cleaning supplies that keep my nose hairs away from chemicals that will fry them. Other householders like to make their own using what is already in their cabinets or under their sink. Other green cleaning supplies I use because I love their natural scents in my home and on my clothes are: Mrs. Meyers Clean Day, Seventh Generation fabric softener and Lavender detergent.

4. Put on a sweater and turn down your heat.
This was what my parents quipped every winter growing up in their home. Now that I pay my own heating bills, I finally heed their advice. In an apartment with a heating unit on the wall, I turn it on first thing in the morning for fifteen minutes to heat up my apartment, making sure to close all bedroom doors, and do the same in the evening. Then I turn it off. With adequate insulation, your home can hold the heat while you grab your grandmother’s Afghan or that hand-knit sweater that makes you feel cozy inside.

5. Move the three R’s in as an extra guest.
Reduce, recycle, and reuse should be your mantra for 2008. Repairing items is reusing them. Donating your old clothes to charities or thrift stores also reduces what goes into the landfill. Reusing an item is even better than recycling so that it doesn’t have to be reprocessed and then reintroduced into the chain of production. When you purchase long-term, durable goods, you reduce waste. The same goes for buying products with less packaging. According to the EPA, by 2006, curbside recycling programs served almost half of the American population and moved 82 million tons of material away from landfills.

6. Buy a laptop and let it sleep when you sleep.
Laptops use less energy than desktops and I shut my down every night. If you’re the type that wakes up in the middle of the night to use your computer, then just put your computer in standby mode, which on a PC you can do by going into your Control Panel>Power Options.

7. Wash in cold and dry clothes part-time on a line.
We’re lucky to have an Energy Star washer and dryer, but I change the temperature of each wash cycle from hot/warm to cold. Save the hot water for filthy laundry, and make sure it’s a full load. The same goes for our dryer; I switch it from high/medium to low and choose to line dry all of my intimate items and clothing that could use a break from fading and shrinking in the dryer.

8. Save some water.
Run the dishwasher only when it’s full. Take shorter showers instead of baths. Keep the temperature down in that shower and your winter skin will thank you. When you are waiting for the water to heat up, put a bucket in your shower to collect that water and use it on your houseplants. Think about installing low-flow faucets and showerheads.

9. Let your oven be your sous chef.
A clean oven is more energy efficient. Don’t preheat your oven unless your dish needs to cook for more than an hour. When cooking, use the broiler whenever possible since preheating uses more energy. Use the leftover heat from your oven for warming food and plates.

10. Cool your food so your refrigerator doesn’t have to.
See if your refrigerator has a tight fit and shuts on its own; if not, the gasket might need replacing. The best way to save energy is to turn the freezer temperature down and raise the fridge temperature.

Helpful Tools:
The Home Energy Saver
Carbon Footprint Calculators
Energy Saving Now!

Related Story: 50 Green Tips for Earth Day and Beyond

Updated September 28, 2008