For Earth Day 5 ways to make your home Green and Proud

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
For Earth Day 5 ways to make your home Green and Proud

Our homes are among the biggest consumers of resources on the planet, and if each of us can reduce our use of water and fuels just a little bit, the world will be better off for it. Here are a few tips to get started.

1) Save Water

Water has become one of our most precious resources, and saving water is an easy way to reduce your home’s environmental impact. You may have a leaky faucet or toilet. Or it may be time to upgrade.

A showerhead leaking at 10 drips per minute wastes more than 500 gallons of water per year, the same amount of water it takes to wash 60 loads of dishes in the dishwasher. It may take a simple O-ring to fix it, or a new faucet cartridge. Or you can opt for low-flow, WaterSense-certified fixtures such as showerheads, faucets and toilets.

Replacing older, inefficient toilets with new WaterSense labeled ones could save up to 13,000 gallons of water per year and nearly $2,400 in water and wastewater bills over the lifetime of the toilets. Low-flow and dual-flush toilets offer many water saving options. Or you can give your existing toilet low-flow performance with an upgrade kit.

You can also save water and reduce your water heater use with an on-demand recirculation pump. Instead of wasting water waiting for it to heat up before taking a shower or doing dishes, the pump delivers hot water on demand right when you need it. The pump is added to the plumbing, usually at the fixture farthest from the water heater. You won’t waste water down the drain waiting for the hot water to get to the faucet. The pump delivers it at the push of a button. The ACT D’MAND Kontrols System is a leading on-demand pump that’s being used in new and existing homes.

2) LED the Way

Today, one out of every three light bulbs purchased is a CFL or LED bulb. LED technology has experienced the largest growth − more than doubling in popularity during the last year − as prices have decreased significantly and customers have grown more accustomed to seeing LEDs in other consumer products such as televisions, computers and car headlights.

It’s a great time to upgrade to LED light bulbs as prices have steadily decreased while performance and appearance have improved. According to Lowe’s manufacturers, an average LED bulb will last more than 22 years (based on three hours of usage per day), and over its lifetime will cost about $30 to operate, whereas an incandescent bulb will cost $165 over the same period of time. Home stores now carry a wide variety of LED bulbs for almost every household application with prices starting under $10.

And, most new LED bulbs look like incandescent bulb so they will fit in lamps and fixtures around the home.

To help you choose a bulb you like, lighting packages are marked with helpful information on energy use and lighting style. Read more about lighting package information.

3) Clear the Air

When most people think of air pollution, their attention turns outdoors.

That’s where the well-known perils lurk, in the form of hazardous particles from vehicle exhaust, power plants, and other common sources. And on days when the outdoor air is particularly polluted, the rule of thumb is to stay indoors, where, the conventional wisdom goes, the air is clean and safe.

But as a recent study found, indoor air isn't always hazard-free. In fact, outdoor pollutants have a surprising, and worrisome, way of seeping inside.

That’s why home furnace filters are so important. But facing the wall of furnace filters at home store can be frustrating. There are so many choices, and so many prices, it's hard to know what you need to make your furnace perform well and improve indoor air quality.

There are filters designed for homes with pets or small children or for people with respiratory conditions. What do you really need?

To help decide, get to know MERV. MERV is simple acronym that stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value and is an industry-created standard that evaluates the effectiveness of air filters. The MERV rating is an easy way to determine at a glance how well a furnace filter will capture pet dander, dust particles, pollutants, allergens, and other debris that cycle through a home's air.

The value of the MERV rating is dependent on the size of the holes in the air filter. The size of the gaps between fibers is a direct reflection of the size of particle that can get past the filter and into your home's air. This rating scale ranges anywhere from 1 to 16, 1 being the least efficient and 16 being the most effective. In more simple terms, the lower the MERV rating, the bigger the holes in the filter, the larger the rating the smaller the holes letting less airborne particles through.

Read more about MERV ratings in furnace filters.

 4) Join the Underground

In the face of recent propane shortages and record high prices for the fuel, some rural areas reported deliveries as high as $8 per gallon, homeowners who rely on propane to heat their homes are beginning to consider more reliable, less costly alternatives.

With increasing frequency, many are turning to geothermal, attracted by its ability to reduce heating and cooling costs by as much as 70 percent while relying on a clean, renewable and unlimited energy source.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that geothermal heat pumps are the most energy efficient, environmentally clean and cost-effective space conditioning system available today.

In fact, according to the Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO), calculations from a major geothermal heat pump manufacturer show that at average prices during this year's blizzards, thermal energy from the earth saved:

  • 426 percent compared to fuel oil,
  • 81 percent compared to natural gas,
  • and 615 percent compared to propane.

A geothermal system takes advantage of free solar energy stored just below the surface of the earth. Using a series of pipes (a ground loop) buried in the ground and a geothermal (sometimes referred to as a ground source) heat pump, the geothermal heating and cooling system extracts heat from the earth and carries it to a building in the winter. An indoor unit compresses the heat to a higher temperature and distributes it throughout the structure. In the summer, the process reverses and the system extracts heat from the building and rejects it to the earth.

Read more about adding geothermal to your existing home.

5) Seal the Envelope

When you talk about a home’s energy efficiency, people immediately think of insulation. But that’s only part of the equation. It’s best to think about the whole thermal envelope.

The thermal envelope is, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, "everything about the house that serves to shield the living space from the outdoors. It includes the wall and roof assemblies, insulation, air/vapor retarders, windows, and weather stripping and caulking."

What's one of the major problems in old houses? And all too often it's a serious flaw in new homes? The answer is: a poor thermal envelope. When you think of an old house, you think of a drafty dwelling that's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Any money spent on heating and cooling goes right out through the walls and ceiling. The thermal envelope is not designed or built properly.  In a typical home, this air leakage can account for between 25 to 40 percent of the energy used for heating and cooling.

Air infiltration is the amount of air that moves into and out of the home in unplanned and unwanted ways. Air moves through joints in the walls, seams around doors and windows and other small avenues that may not be visible to the naked eye.

Knauf EcoSeal
Products like EcoSeal prevent air leaks and infiltration. 

In addition, when you stop air movement you stop moisture movement. The chance of mold and mildew is greatly reduced, as is the rotting of the wood framing. Outside noise infiltration is dramatically reduced when SPF is applied to roofs, walls and floors. With the insulation foam’s expansion qualities, small cracks, gaps and air pockets in the walls, around doors, windows and the sill plate are filled. There is little room for insects and other household pests.

Of course, insulation is important as well. Insulation is all about the R-value. Although there's lot of science behind it, R-value is simply a measure of a material's resistance to heat traveling through it. The higher the number, the more resistance there is and the more energy efficient a material is when it is properly designed and installed.

The requirements for R-value in walls and attics depend on the climate where the home is located. The walls in standard homes in average climate should have an R-value of around 13-15. Attic insulation should be around R-30, according to the Energy Star for Homes program. Depending on the location, the foundation such as a basement, slab or crawlspace should be insulated as well.

If you’re ready to tackle some home projects for Earth Day, these five areas are a great place to start to have a impact on your home and the world.

Read more about building green.

Topics: Building Green, Geothermal Heating & Cooling, Insulation, Lighting, Maintenance & Repair, Plumbing & Fixtures, Sustainability Trends & Statistics, Sustainable Products, Ventilation, Water Saving Devices, WaterSense

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

wwwView Gary Wollenhaupt's profile on LinkedIn

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