● By Kristen Castillo
“When considering how we can lower our carbon footprint, we should take a long, hard look at our homes,” says Roger Kilby of California Energy Services in El Dorado Hills. “For the average family, the home accounts for over 27 percent of the total CO2 emissions. “Since most of the housing stock in this country was built with little attention to energy usage, we’re left with uncomfortable living spaces and high utility bills. Going green at home is the right choice if you’re interested in limiting environmental impact, improving comfort and health, reducing utility bills, or all of the above!”
The health and quality of our lives is at risk, too. “Living a green life can also help to reduce pollution, contribute to the conservation of wildlife, and maintain the natural resources of the earth,” says Roseville real estate broker Nick Sadek. “Going green at home is an easy way to save the planet’s environment and save money for the family as well.”
Start with a few good-for-the-environment actions and add more over time. “Green living is built on commonsense practices, smart home construction and an awareness of how and where things are made—which makes it easy to apply to any room of your home,” says award-winning interior designer, author and multimedia consultant Kerrie L. Kelly, ASID, at Kerrie Kelly Design Lab in Sacramento.
Cost vs. BenefitsDon’t be intimidated by the idea of going green. Many sustainable decisions are free, low-cost or pretty affordable. “Going green is a personal decision and affects many when we decide it’s best to put the environment before cost,” says Jim Higgs, owner/operator of Higgs Construction in Folsom, who supports green living in his own home and for his clients. “With all of the building going on in our world we have to work together to be conscientious about what we put out in terms of our carbon print,” says Higgs. “Many think it’s too costly. However, even if there are upfront costs in doing so, we save not only individually, but collectively on this planet.”
From cutting air conditioning use, being water wise and making sure your home is insulated, there are many options for going green. Read on for 15 ways you can make your home environmentally friendly.
1/Audit Your Home EnergyStart your greening process with a home energy audit, which can help you understand what’s green in your home and what’s not. “An experienced energy auditor can pinpoint areas that deserve immediate attention and can work within your budget to craft a plan that works for you and your family,” Kilby says. Once you know what’s not good for the environment (and chances are, your budget), you can make eco-friendly changes at home.
2/Paint SustainablityA fresh coat of paint brightens any room. Just make sure the paint you’re using is good for Mother Earth. “There are paints that are eco-friendly,” says Bob Richards, owner of Richard’s Painting in Rocklin. “Low odor and zero VOC [products] are not only green but help people with allergies, too.” That’s because low- to no-odor VOC paint doesn’t give off “volatile organic compounds,” which might otherwise be smelly and aggravating, especially to people with allergies. “Why not consider using the new Pantone color of the year for 2015—marsala?” asks Jane and Mike Reed of Brush Strokes Inc. in Folsom, who also recommend making sure all rooms have shades or blinds to “help you keep cool in summer and warm in winter.”
3/Recycle“Recycling is just a small step that can lead to many more eco-friendly habits in a family,” Nick Sadek says. Recycling bottles, cans, paper and plastic is a great start and very sustainable. But don’t forget to recycle other unused and wasteful items in your home, including batteries, paint and old electronics.
Christopher Capra, public information specialist for Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), suggests looking in your garage for things to recycle, like an old refrigerator, which he says is “working extra hard in the summer to keep the stuff inside cool and is probably not very energy efficient.” A bonus? SMUD will haul away customers’ fridges for free, and they’ll give you $50 for it!
4/Be Water WiseAs California’s water crisis continues, it’s important to be vigilant about how much water you use. “I would first suggest fixing the home’s irrigation systems,” says Higgs, who notes, “Unfortunately, in Folsom, there is a great abuse of water. We talk about how we save, but we could do better.” Residents shouldn’t run their irrigation systems during the rain and should make sure the systems are properly installed, which means water will benefit lawns and won’t run off. Fixing broken sprinklers will help you be water wise too, since they’ll work more efficiently.
Inside the home, there are many ways to be water savvy. Bill Sadek, broker/owner of Realty West in Roseville, says kitchen and bathroom upgrades can be good for the environment, conservation and your wallet. “You can easily install low-flow toilets and upgrade shower heads,” he says.
5/Choose Appliances Wisely
Your refrigerator doesn’t have to be an avocado green color to actually be green. Choosing energy-efficient appliances are “by far the first step in making your home eco-friendly,” says Kilby. “Between the refrigerator, stove and other appliances, you can see huge reductions in energy usage by switching to Energy Star appliances and LED lighting.”
6/InsulateIf your home seems too chilly in winter and too steamy in summer, you may need to check out your house’s insulation, which “reduces the workload on your heating and cooling systems,” says Kilby. “It also eliminates dreaded cold, or hot, rooms. Best yet, modern-day cellulose insulation is made from 100-percent-recycled materials. Double green points.”
7/Don't Forget Eco-Friendly FlooringWhen you’re looking around your home for green products, don’t forget to look down. Your flooring can be sustainable too. “Going ‘green’ provides better air quality and fewer allergens,” says Pam Simcox of Granite Bay Flooring & Design. For example, she says Anson carpet from Shaw is made with 25-percent recycled [content] and it lasts longer: “Up to 20 years warranty against food/beverage and pet urine stains,” she says. Plus, when it’s time to replace the carpet, it can be recycled down to its base molecular structure and remade into carpet again.
Simcox also cites marmoleum vinyl as a flooring option, explaining it’s made from all-natural products like linseed oil and wood pulp flour, and qualifies for LEED credits.
Another sustainable carpet choice? “Wool carpet requires less water than polyester or nylon carpets, and it comes from a renewable resource: sheep,” says Simcox, noting it can be pricey.
8/LET THERE BE LIGHTKeeping the lights on at home can be expensive and wasteful if not done properly. That’s why green lighting options, including using energy-efficient light bulbs, timers and dimmer switches can be beneficial. The first change to make is swapping flourescent light bulbs for LED ones. Higgs recommends installing timers on bathroom lights, especially kids’ bathrooms, since kids often leave lights on. “With timers, the light turns off in a specific time,” he says.
Next up, install dimmer switches on lights that are used often. “Dimmers can not only set a mood, but also will conserve energy,” says Kelly. “They also help you custom-tailor light in a room for multiple uses and decorative effects.” Take the dimmer option a step further by getting lighting controls. “With the push of a button, you can use today’s sophisticated dimming systems to lower light levels to conserve energy and increase bulb life, alter the intensity of light to suit the activity, and create and save a number of different lighting scenes in each room,” Kelly says.
Whether you change bulbs or install timers or dimmers, don’t forget to keep it simple too: Use natural light whenever possible and remember to turn off the lights when you leave the room!
9/Clean GreenerBefore you clean your house with a fancy and expensive cleaner made of a myriad of hard-to-pronounce chemicals, consider greener cleaners. “Be careful of what products are used around the house,” says Nick Sadek. “Some cleaning supplies that contain harsh chemicals can become dangerous for children and the environment. Looking for safe cleaning supplies is a great alternative to ensure a safe and healthy household.” Using household products like baking soda and vinegar are probably already in your cabinet and work well as cleansers. And, no matter which cleaners you use, be sure to wipe surfaces with reusable microfiber cloths, not disposable paper towels.
10/Use the Power of SunFor high-efficiency energy, consider going solar. By installing solar panels, your home will have a reduced electricity demand. “Energy independence is within your reach and more affordable than ever,” Kilby says.
Holli Tamas of Granite Bay Energy recommends checking to see if you need a new roof. “Use a lighter color roof, install solar lights and solar attic fans, and add additional insulation,” she says, noting the insulation is an “immediate savings item that will keep your house cool and warm.”