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You are concerned about the environment, and you try to support that concern in the way you live your life. But you don't want to compost or convert to solar energy or wind power.
It is becoming easier than you think to make your house environmentally friendly. In addition to a general concern about the planet, people are becoming more worried about rising energy costs and the health impact of environmental pollutants like leaded paint and radon gas. Spurred by this increased interest on the part of consumers, more builders and building material manufacturers are finding ways to make housing a little more green.
And you don't have to build an earth house or put in composting toilets. Even small changes can have a big impact on your health and the health of the planet. As a bonus, you probably will save money – at least in the long run.
If you are building or buying a new house, consider the environmental impact of the choices you make. If you want to minimize driving – as well as the pollution and cost that come with it – build or buy a house where you can walk to many places you want to go, or find a site that is convenient to public transportation.
Think small. Large rooms, especially rooms with very high ceilings, take much more energy to heat. Windows can be located in a way that makes use of passive solar heating, and thermal windows can cut down significantly on heat and cooling loss.
Choose a house with lots of shade, which will help keep your home cooler in summer. And if you are building, don't cut down more trees than necessary. Avoid big driveways or other large paved surfaces, because that increases the amount of rain that runs off your property and into the storm sewers.
Whenever possible, ask your contractor to use environmentally friendly building materials and processes. For help in identifying these materials, you can contact the U.S. Green Building Council; it has a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) program for commercial buildings and is developing a similar program for houses. Additional information is available from Greener Buildings and from other sources. Check the Web and talk to your builder.
Even if you are not building a house or doing substantial work on an existing house, you can do lots of things to minimize damage to the environment and save energy – and money. For starters, focus on these areas:
- Heating and cooling. You can reduce the amount of energy you use for heating and cooling your house by keeping more of your heat and air conditioning inside. Check your insulation and add more if you need it. Look for air leaks around doors and windows, or through other openings from the house to the outside. If you plug the leaks, you could lower your energy bills.
- Water. In many parts of the country, water is an increasingly scarce resource – and it can be expensive. Save water by installing low-volume shower heads and toilets. When buying appliances like clothes washers and dishwashers, choose models that use less water
- Electricity. Similarly, check the electricity usage on appliances before you buy, and opt for the more energy-efficient models. Replace regular incandescent bulbs with the newer fluorescent bulbs that can be used in your existing lamps and fixtures. They use substantially less energy, and they last longer – often as long as several years. Of course, turn off lights and appliances when you are not using them.
- Landscaping. Watering of lawns and gardens uses an enormous amount of water. You can reduce your water usage by watering only in early morning or later in the evening; more water will get to your plants and less will be lost to evaporation. Water your lawn less often. Grass will turn brown during periods of drought but come back to green as soon as it rains. And as a bonus, you won't have to mow as often – which cuts down on gas use and pollution from the mower. Even better, replace your lawn with perennial ground cover and fill your garden with drought-resistant plants, so you don't have to water as often – or at all.
- Recycling. Make it easy to recycle. Composting is great, of course. But you can significantly reduce the amount of garbage you send to the landfill simply by recycling, so set up a system that makes it easy to remember to recycle.
- Wood. For flooring and furniture, look for wood from managed forests rather than old-growth forests. Consider fast-growing woods like bamboo, which are quickly replenished. Don't use tropical hardwoods unless you are certain they are from managed forests. For decks, consider alternatives to wood such as those made from recycled plastics. In addition to being easier on the environment, these materials often require less maintenance. Or recycle materials from buildings being torn down.