Green Ideas For Your Home
Pictured: “Green” and “environmentally friendly” can be beautiful as well as practical. This photo is from a cottage update by Bonin Architects - more photos from this project are coming up next!
You’ve recycled for years. You faithfully drink your coffee and water from a reusable thermos. You walk or bike instead of automatically hopping in the car. You sacrificed, big time, by cutting back on precious morning shower time. But even if you’re doing all of these things, there’s one important way to go green still left to consider: making changes to your home.
Though you may not realize it, your home could be drastically affecting your ecological footprint just from day-to-day living. Leaky showerheads, long dryer cycles and drafty windows aren’t just irritating — they also have a negative impact on the environment, and it’s time to make a change.
“Many people choose to [make their homes eco-friendly] because of the immediate benefits realized in energy savings, better indoor air quality and a more comfortable and healthier home,” explains Jeremy Bonin of New London’s Bonin Architects, a company that specializes in green design. “Other important considerations are the effects that both construction and upkeep of a home have on the environment.”
Bonin says one of the most common mistakes homeowners make is wasting energy due to sub-par air sealing, insulation and doors and windows. That’s a problem, he says, both because using excess energy wastes already-limited resources, and because it jacks up heating and cooling bills.
“If you think of the home as a shell, its floors, walls and roof all contain the warm or cool air within the home. If that air is leaking out or the insulation or windows are permitting the transfer of that heat to the outdoors, it is simply energy wasted directly into the environment,” he says. “The first best step to conservation is to reduce heating and cooling energy expenditure.”
Chris Redmond — who co-founded Greenland’s Little Green Homes, an eco-minded construction and design company that builds houses that are just “big enough” as a way to counteract the “McMansions” trend of the ’90s —also stresses the importance of using energy effectively, especially with today’s skyrocketing utilities costs. “The fuel or power we use for either heating our homes or cooling our homes is only going to go up,” he says. “It’s all about having a more efficient home, and there’s just direct payback to doing that.”
And the first step to getting that payback, he says, may be easier than you think. “The first thing to do would be to have a home energy audit done,” he explains. “[Homeowners] can find some major gaps in the envelopes of their homes and get those sealed up, and they would be amazed at what you can save by doing [an audit] that’s anywhere from a $350 to $500 charge.”
Redmond says that for many people, an audit may only reveal small changes — but changes that make a big impact. “In comparison from jumping in and thinking that you need to change all your windows, that’s not always the case,” he notes, saying that, oftentimes, simple air-sealing techniques yield the best results. Bonin makes a similar point, recommending things like re-weather stripping old doors and insulating vents and fuel pipes as good places to start without making major adjustments.
And rest assured, Redmond and Bonin aren’t the only ones preaching post-energy-audit savings — the US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average homeowner can save 10 percent of total energy costs simply by improving air sealing and insulation.
Nonetheless, energy audits are, of course, not the only way to make a home green, and they do nothing for issues like water conservation. To achieve that goal, Bonin says switching out appliances is the next step on an eco-friendly path. He suggests updating old models to newer, more energy-efficient products, and investing in flow restrictors for things like faucets and showerheads. “Considerations given to reducing water use or collecting rainwater for irrigation, for example, place a home on the path for conservation of a critical resource,” he says.
Bonin also urges homeowners to consider investing in high-quality products that will stand up to the harsh New England climate and lifestyle instead of going for the all-too-tempting bargain buy. “Purchasing two or three of something of lesser quality consumes more resources and energy while adding more to the waste stream than the purchase of a single, higher-quality product,” he notes.
Splurging on a pricey appliance may seem like a financial loss, but this about it this way: With all the money you’ll be saving on energy bills, it’ll practically pay for itself.