Going Green: Eco-Friendly Home Building Tips
How to Create an Eco Friendly House
Green, sustainable, energy-efficient...there are so many ways to say “eco-friendly” that it can feel overwhelming to consider making some environmentally friendly changes. Creating an eco-friendly home can start small, with just a few easy steps. As you save money, you can move into bigger changes to save even more. You may be surprised to learn that saving the planet can also save your wallet!
Taking Small Eco-Friendly Steps
Find an energy calculator to assess your current energy usage.Many sites have calculators that will automatically tally up the energy efficiency of your house. It is also helpful if the site can also produce a graph or tally that can demonstrate what your house's potential could be after making some minor changes.
Slay “energy vampires.” Most electronic devices and appliances draw energy when they’re plugged in -- even if they’re switched off. Most Americans own 25+ electronic devices. You can cut your energy consumption by unplugging your appliances and devices when they’re not in use.
- You can also plug appliances and devices into power strips. Switching the strip off will prevent them from drawing power.
- Set your computer to “sleep” or “hibernate” when you’re not using it. You can pick up right where you left off when you come back, but your computer will use a lot less energy.
Replace your old light bulbs.Old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs waste up to 90% of their energy as heat. New types of light bulbs, such as compact fluorescent (CFL) and LED bulbs, can dramatically slash your house’s energy consumption for light.In most cases, you don’t have to do a thing to your existing light fixtures. Just buy different bulbs and swap them out!
- CFLs are like the fluorescent bulbs in supermarkets, but they’re shaped in a small coil and are about the same shape and size as incandescent bulbs. They last about ten times as long as an incandescent bulb. They’re usually a little bit more expensive, but they pay for themselves within a year.
- CFLs are a good choice for most home lighting situations. However, they usually cannot be dimmed, and they waste a lot of their energy when used in recessed or “can” lights. Because CFLs contain a small (but rarely dangerous) amount of mercury, they must be disposed of carefully. The Environmental Protection Agency has full instructions on their website.
- LEDs last up to 35 times longer than an incandescent bulb, and between 2-4 times longer than CFLs. LEDs are cool to the touch, so they don’t use much energy at all. However, they are usually still more expensive than either incandescent or CFL bulbs.
- LEDs are a good choice for most home lighting situations. Unlike incandescent and CFL bulbs, LEDs emit “directional” light, meaning the light is focused in a specific direction (like a spotlight). They are a great choice for recessed lighting. Only Energy Star-certified LED bulbs are specifically designed to replicate the omnidirectional light of a traditional light bulb. Look for the Energy Star label to make sure that the LED bulbs you buy give you the look you want.
- Even better, open curtains and windows during daylight hours to use natural light. This can really cut power costs and also save loads of energy.
Compost your kitchen scraps.Many things we throw away on a daily basis can be composted instead. Coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable peels, eggshells, even napkins and paper towels can be recycled to produce compost, which is great for gardens.
- Keeping food scraps out of landfills is good for the environment! It keeps them from building up methane gas (which is a major part of global warming) as they decompose in plastic trash bags, and it helps reduce the amount of waste in landfills.
- Even if you live in an urban area, you can keep a compost bin on a balcony or porch. Many online retailers sell ready-to-go compost kits.
Wash your laundry in cold water.80-90% of the energy used when you run your washing machine comes from heating up the water for hot-water washes. Use the “cold water” or “eco” mode on your washing machine to save energy.
- Several companies, such as Tide, make eco-friendly cold water detergents. If your laundry has tough or frequent stains, these could be a good option to help your clothes get clean even in cold water.
- Look for natural detergents and stain removers, if you can. These are usually plant-based and biodegradable, making them much more eco-friendly.
Turn off the tap.Most kids probably learn to brush their teeth while the water is running. Since dentists recommend that you brush your teeth for a full two minutes, that can add up to over 5 gallons of wasted water every time! Brush your teeth with the water off, and just turn on the tap to rinse.
Run ceiling fans instead of the air conditioner.If you have ceiling fans, use them whenever possible to keep cool in the summer. Air conditioners can cost up to 36 times more to run than a ceiling fan. In the United States, air conditioning accounts for more than a quarter of the average home’s electricity use.
Making Your House Eco-Friendly
Install a programmable thermostat.A programmable thermostat can monitor your house temperature, keeping it warmer or cooler when you’re not there. For example, if you’re away during the day at work, a programmable thermostat can keep the inside temperature warmer than you’d usually keep it, and trigger the A/C only when you get home. Using one properly can save you up to 0 a year.
- Do some research before investing in a programmable thermostat. If yours isn’t easy to use, it might not end up saving you money or energy.
Replace old appliances.Your old appliances, such as water heaters, refrigerators, and stoves, could be wasting alotof energy. Replacing them with Energy Star-qualified products will ensure that your home uses less energy.
- There are often tax credits for replacing old, energy-inefficient products with new eco-friendly ones. The US Department of Energy has a full list of these credits .
- If you can’t afford to replace your water heater, buy a specially designed insulating blanket and wrap it around the water heater. These blankets are available at most home improvement stores and take only a few minutes to install. This will help reduce wasted energy.
Replace your toilet.Traditional toilets can use up to 7 gallons of water per flush. These water-guzzlers create a lot of waste. Look for “low flow” toilets to be eco-friendly.
- Look for toilets with the WaterSense label. These toilets use about 20% less water per flush than standard toilets.
Swap out your showerhead.Showers account for about 17% of the average American’s indoor water usage. Swapping your old showerhead for a "low flow" or water-saving showerhead can reduce your water consumption by up to 2,900 gallons a year.
- Look for showerheads with the WaterSense label. These showerheads have been approved according to Environmental Protection Agency standards.
Insulate attics and basements.A lot of energy can seep out through your attic and basement. Insulating these areas can reduce your home’s energy consumption. It can also cut your heating and cooling bills by making it easier to maintain a consistent temperature inside.
- GreenFiber cellulose insulation is an eco-friendly alternative to traditional insulation. GreenFiber is made of shredded recycled newspapers. It can be blown through small holes into walls, so it is easy to use when you’re remodeling. You can find a dealer at their website.
Repurpose furniture.Rather than buying new furniture, consider hitting up thrift shops and websites such as Craigslist and Freecycle. Recycling an old treasure rather than buying a new piece can save trees and your wallet.
Use eco paints on your walls.Traditional paints contain damaging volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can continue being emitted into your home’s atmosphere for 5 years after painting. Look for paints that are plant-based and water-borne.
- If you can’t find plant-based paints, try to find paints that are labeled “VOC-free.” Many large paint manufacturers, such as Benjamin Moore, produce VOC-free paint.
Insulate windows.If your budget won’t allow for replacing older, inefficient windows, insulating them can be a good option to make your home more energy efficient. It’s easy to insulate your windows and keep your home cozy year-round.
- Use caulking and weatherstripping around windows to stop air from seeping in (or out). This can cut heat loss in the winter and keep you cool in the summer.
- Thermal or light-blocking window treatments can also help reduce energy waste by blocking sunlight. This is particularly helpful in hot climates.
- Make sure to use draught-stoppers at the bottom of doors, too. You can buy these at many retailers, or make your own.
Install motion-sensing lights.Motion-sensing lights are quite common outdoors, such as near garages or walkways. However, you can also install inexpensive motion sensors indoors. These will turn the lights on when you enter, and off when you leave a room. This could be very helpful if you have a hard time remembering to switch off the lights when you leave.
Use solar-powered outdoor lights.You can buy a variety of solar-powered outdoor lights, from high-powered driveway floodlights to small walkway lamps. If you live in an area that gets a lot of sun during the day, these are a great way to cut your energy consumption and still have the lights on.
- Most home improvement stores will have a variety of solar lights, but you can also find them at many online retailers.
Install solar panels.Solar energy is clean and renewable. With many panels, surplus energy can be transferred to a battery and stored for later use. Installing solar panels can reduce your home’s carbon footprint, on average, by 35,180 pounds. That’s equivalent to the carbon dioxide absorbed by 88 trees. Investing in solar power will require some upfront cash, but it will pay off in the long run, for you and the planet.
- In some locations, you can even sell surplus solar energy to the local power grid.
- Solar panels need to be wired into your home’s existing electrical grid. It is best to leave installation to professionals.
- Many U.S. states and countries offer tax incentives if you install solar panels.
Building and Renovating for Eco-Friendly Homes
Replace old windows with energy-efficient windows.If your house is older, your windows probably allow air to seep in. Single-paned windows don’t insulate as well as newer models. You can save up to 5 a year by replacing old single-pane windows with energy-efficient ones.
- In the U.S., several tax credits are available for replacing old windows with energy-efficient models. The US Department of Energy has a full list of these credits .
Install a skylight.When chosen wisely, a skylight can provide beautiful natural light to your home while reducing your energy consumption. It’s important to consider your home’s position in order to maximize your skylight’s benefits. Consult a designer or architect.
- An eco-friendly skylight is more than a hole cut in the roof with some glass in it. Many energy-efficient skylights exist on the market, but they should always be professionally installed to make sure that they are safe and efficient.
Use sustainable flooring.Hardwood floors add value and beauty to a home, but many of the trees used in hardwood flooring take years to grow. If your house is up for a new floor, consider using sustainable materials such as bamboo instead. Bamboo grows very quickly and takes less land to produce, but it’s still attractive and durable.
- Cork is another sustainable wood flooring option. Cork is softer than bamboo, so it absorbs noise and feels cushiony underfoot. It is sometimes less durable than bamboo.
Plant trees.Shade trees can reduce the amount of energy you spend to cool your house on hot summer days. If your property doesn’t already have shade trees, this is a step that will take some time before you see the full benefit.
- In addition to providing shade, trees absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide and release oxygen. A single tree can produce enough oxygen for four people in a single day.
- If you’re building a new construction home, try to work around existing trees. You could even incorporate them into your house design, such as building a deck under a huge shady oak.
- Place deciduous trees (trees that shed their leaves annually) near the south and west sides of your home. This will help them block harsh afternoon sunlight in the summer, but let sunlight reach your home during the winter.
Install a “cool roof.” Cool roofs reflect sunlight rather than absorbing it. This helps reduce your home’s energy consumption. It can also extend the life of your roof. These roofs are especially good for people who live in hot climates, since they reduce the need for air conditioning.
- Cool roof coatings are available at many home supply stores and warehouses. These coatings are like extremely thick paint and can be applied fairly easily. They are usually white or very light-colored with reflective pigments that reflect, rather than absorb, sunlight. (It is not recommended to apply cool roof coatings to shingle roofs.)
- If you have a steep-sloped shingled roof, consider replacing your current shingles with cool asphalt shingles. These shingles have specially fabricated granules that reflect sunlight.
- If you have a metal roof, it already reflects a lot of sunlight. However, these roofs absorb a lot of heat, which can increase your energy consumption in the summer. Painting your metal roof with a light color or using a cool roof coating can increase its energy efficiency.
Consider installing a composting toilet.Composting toilets usually do not use water to “flush” like traditional toilets. They can also recycle many types of human waste into fertilizer that can be used in agriculture. While they are initially more expensive to install than traditional toilets, they are far more eco-friendly and will eventually pay for themselves.
- Composting toilets are usually easiest to install and maintain in a rural or suburban setting. If you live in an apartment or urban high-rise, it may more difficult to install and maintain a composting toilet.
Use durable siding.Materials such as cedar naturally repel pests and water. They are also durable and low-maintenance. Replace old aluminum siding with a more sustainable option.
- There are other eco-friendly siding options, such as fiber cement board and particle board. These are durable and sustainable. Look for products that have been manufactured without formaldehyde.
Talk with a design team about a “whole-house systems approach.” If you are designing a new home or doing extensive renovations on an older home, consider talking with a design team about a “whole-house systems approach.” This extensive approach considers many factors about your home, including local climate, your site’s specific conditions, your appliance needs, etc. Because it takes all these factors into account, a whole-house systems approach can drastically reduce your energy consumption.
- Many designers and architects have experience in whole-house systems approach construction. Visit the National Association of Home Builders for more advice on finding a design team.
QuestionIs living in the hills with a very small cement house just for shelter with nothing inside and with no electricity, no running water (river water for baths), using human waste for fertilizer, hay for beds, etc. easier than making adjustments to these modern houses and more earth-friendly? I am considering this.wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt depends on the type of life you want to live. The scenario you are describing may become very tiresome for many people because of the isolation, intense physical activity needed to stay warm (chopping wood), gather food and water and disposing of waste. While our modern homes are not ideal, as far as energy and earth-friendliness are concerned, what you are describing is the other end of the spectrum and describes a very hard life with little in the way of creature comforts and modern conveniences, like heat and running water.Thanks!
QuestionDoes insulation cause the skin to itch?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt depends on what type of insulation you use. Fiberglass insulation could definitely cause skin irritation.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I be eco-friendly?Top AnswererThanks!
How do you get solar panels?
What do eco friendly houses do?
- Even little changes build up! Don’t feel as though you have to renovate your entire house to start being more eco-friendly.
- Do some research whenever you’re looking into buying new, energy-efficient products. These are continually being improved, so look online for products with good reviews.
Sources and Citations
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