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Easy going green: 4 weeks to an environmentally-friendly home

Karl Fendelander | Improvement Center Columnist | October 7, 2013

In just one short month, you can dramatically improve your eco-friendliness at home. Many environmentally friendly solutions call for massive investments of time, money, or both, but fortunately, there are other ways to go green that are quick, easy, and cost effective. Spend next month greening your home one week at a time with these tips.

Week one: stop wasting

You might not realize it, but your home is leaking. Small amounts of power, water, and heat are constantly sneaking out. Here are a few places to tighten things up:

  • In the bathroom: You may be letting money (or, more accurately, water) slip right down the drain because of a leaky toilet. Get a toilet leak detector tablet at your local hardware store, and check your toilets for leaky tanks.
  • At the outlets: In the digital age, chances are high that your outlets are choked with chargers and AC adapters for a huge number of devices -- devices that are sucking power even when charged or turned off. Make an effort to unplug appliances, adapters, and chargers when you aren't using them. Each device you unplug when not in use saves a little bit, and every little bit helps.
  • At the faucet: How much water do you let go down the drain waiting for it to warm up? Instead of wasting gradually warming water as the hot stuff finds its way to your sink, place a pitcher under the faucet and collect that water. You can use it for anything, from drinking and cooking to watering plants and filling up the dog's water bowl.
  • In the fridge: Test the temperature in your refrigerator and freezer. They should clock in at 37-40 degrees and 0-5 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. If you're running too cold, all you're doing is wasting electricity.

Becoming aware of how much water and power you're letting go right down the drain is not only helpful for the environment - it can also shave a few dollars off your bills.

Week two: take care of the little things

There may come a time when you decide to really go the extra green mile and get solar panels or a wind turbine, but you've got a lot more to take care of first. Here are some of the incredibly important tasks that won't take too much time or money:

  • Install weather stripping: Your doors and windows might be doing a great job keeping out the gusts, but if the seal isn't tight enough when they're closed, you're letting money sneak out through the cracks. If the weather is inclement enough for you to want your windows closed, you'll want them weather stripped and sealed, too -- and don't forget about drafty thresholds!
  • Seal those ducts: On average, a full 20 percent of the air moving through your ducts is lost to leaks, holes and poor connections. With a roll of duct tape and some determination, you can seal those leaks in an afternoon.
  • Insulate: Insulation can save you bunches of money on power. Wrap you hot water heater with an insulation blanket to keep it warmer. Make sure you've got sufficient insulation in your attic and walls, too. Think of it like putting a hat and jacket on your house.
  • Install faucet aerators: These days, most faucets are already aerated, but if you've got a throwback that isn't, it's time to install one of these handy water-savers. Adding air to the stream of water (aerating) gives the illusion of a nice, full blast while only using a fraction of the water.

Week three: reduce, reuse, recycle

After two weeks of eco-friendly thinking, you're ready to go beyond simply not wasting power and water. You're ready to reduce your usage. Here are a few tips:

  • Take shorter showers: Try reducing your shower time by two minutes every day and save gallons of water every time.
  • Adjust the thermostat: In winter, try wearing an extra pair of socks and a sweater around the house and turning the thermostat down a few degrees. In summer, take an occasional cold shower to cool off and keep the thermostat a few degrees hotter.
  • Wash with cold water: Save on water heating costs by washing your laundry with cold water as often as possible.
  • Skip the dryer: Air-drying clothes even just once a week can save you money. Better still, clothes dryers do a lot of damage to clothes, so air-drying makes your clothes last longer, too!

Think about other behavior, like recycling and composting, that you can start (or take up a notch).

Week four: think big

Until you're living off the grid in a home that resembles Biosphere 2, there's still more to do. You don't want to just get rid of appliances that work fine, but as the energy-guzzling old guard comes up for replacement, be sure to get Energy Star certified products. Here are a few ideas for taking things to the next level:

  • Programmable thermostat: If you don't have one, get one. If you don't use yours because it's too complicated, get out the manual or get online and find a way to make it work for you. These little devices can save you hundreds in heating and cooling every year.
  • Front-loading washer: Front-loading clothes washers use considerably less water than their top-loading siblings.
  • Edible landscaping: Start filling in spots in your garden with plants that you can eat so the water, time, and energy you spend on them isn't spent only on plants that just look good.
  • Energy efficient windows: Older homes in particular can benefit from installing new windows.
  • LED lighting: LEDs (light emitting diodes) use less power and last longer than compact fluorescent bulbs -- and they don't contain mercury. Try to replace all burn-outs with these lights.

The only limit to what you can do is your own imagination. Do your homework, and look into other ways you can go green at home. You could start making your own natural cleaning supplies or just close the fridge a bit sooner. Whatever you do, remember that every little bit helps when it comes to going green at home -- and that saving power and water also saves you money.