The many things to consider to make your typical home more green and sustainable.
May 06, 2020
With words like "Green Energy," "Sustainability," and the like becoming the hot new buzzwords today, for the majority of people that can't afford to build a custom home, it may seem like an impossibility to turn your "typical" home into one that may be considered "Green." It may be easier than you think to make an impact, though. Let's go over some basics. Some improvements can be done immediately and are cost-free; others will take longer and require more investment.
Energy and Sustainability Overview
What does it mean? Here's the basics. Energy in, energy out. Heat in, heat out. Water in, water out. Let me explain. Electricity (Energy) comes into your home, where is it going out? Heat comes into your home, where is it going out? (Or maybe you'd prefer it didn't come in?) Water comes into your home, where is it going out? What is it used for? How much? These are the basics to consider when forming a game plan.
Energy Usage and Production
1) Know your rates. Many municipalities here in Northern California have what many refer to as "time of day rates." This means (for most) that the cost of electricity is much higher between 9am and 6pm than it is after 8pm. Check your Service provider for specifics, however it could save you a lot of money to simply run the dishwasher and laundry after the rates drop in the evening.
2) Use Less Hot Water. Whether you have a traditional gas-burner water heater, an electric tankless unit, or even a solar powered water heater, using less hot water will always save resources. Wash your clothes using the cold water settings, or use the energy saving settings on your dishwasher. It all makes a difference, and it adds up.
3) Energy Saving Appliances. While we're on the topic of Energy Saving Appliances, if you don't already have modern appliances with the energy saving icon, it's definitely a good idea to invest. Specifically appliances like clothes washer and dryer, dishwasher and refrigerator will have great improvements in reducing electrical consumption of your household.
4) Moderate your Air Conditioning Usage. We all love to come home on a hot day and the house is nice and cool, but how much is it costing you to keep the AC on all day? What's the point of running it, keeping the home at 72 degrees all day, if you're at work and not home?
5) Replace Incandescent and Fluorescent Bulbs with LED. The newer technology offers much longer life and less electrical consumption. They're definitely worth the initial cost of replacement when long term savings are considered.
6) Use Smart Power Strips. These nifty little power strips sense when your devices are actively being used, and cut power when they're in standby mode, saving power during idle time.
7) Use Microwave Instead of Oven. When possible of course. Microwaves use 50% less energy than Ovens.
8) When using the Oven, keep it closed! Opening the Oven for 10 seconds "just to check" can reduce the temperature inside by over 70 degrees, causing it to use more energy to warm back up when it's closed.
9) Solar Panels. Installing a correctly-sized solar panel array can be costly, but when considering the tax benefits of the install as well as the monthly electricity savings, over a 10 year period the panels can pay for themselves, providing essentially-free electricity for your household after that. Furthermore, a solar panel array coupled with a solar powered water heater, in a home with an electric stove and dryer, could technically establish zero gas bill as well as zero electricity bill. We think that's pretty cool.
10) Solar Landscape and Motion Lights. Aside from the convenience of not needing to run an electric circuit out to them, solar landscape lights and motion security lights provide a free source of lighting for warding off night time visitors, whether they're human or otherwise, and can even help light the way while you take the garbage out or show the path when it's dark.
Heating and Cooling Energy Usage and Production
1) Use Nature to Heat your Home. You can save money on heating your home by opening curtains and blinds to let in the natural light and warmth created by sunlight, and keeping them closed on the cooler shady side of the home.
2) Install a Smart Thermostat. Not only do they often have "learning" features to help provide comfortable conditions at reduced costs, but they also connect to your home's wifi and other smart devices, giving you control while you're away.
3) Maximize Insulation. It's a win-win. Installing or adding insulation to your home, especially in the attic, can reduce the temperature inside you home during the hotter parts of the year, and keep it warmer during the cooler times. You can take it a step further by insulating exterior walls that get lots of direct sunlight during the day.
4) Install an Attic Vent Fan. While we're on the topic of attics from our previous point, Attic vent fans are a great way to keep your attic area cooler which keeps your home cooler. Connected to a thermostat device, the fan, which mounted at a gable vent and pointed to wards the outside, turns on when the attic reaches a set temperature and blows hot air out of the attic, preventing the convection effect of hot air influencing your home temps.
5) Keep HVAC Ducting Sealed. By fixing any leaks in your HVAC ducting, you're maximizing your systems' efficiency and not wasting energy. You can take it a step further by adding insulation to ducts where they are exposed, which will maximize the thermal transfer process.
6) Seal up Doors and Windows. Drafty doors and windows are one of the biggest culprits of heating and cooling losses. Seal them up if they're not already!
7) Install a Whole House Fan. I love my whole house fan. Even though I have a programmable learning thermostat that I can control from anywhere I have my phone, unless its ridiculously hot outside, I often leave my AC off during the days while I'm away. The whole house fan allows me to cool the house very quickly once I've returned, giving my HVAC system a head start, and saving me energy costs by leaving my AC switched off for many hours during the day.
8) Upgrade your Windows. Upgrading to Double or even Triple Pane windows will provide significant energy savings over the old aluminum frame single pane windows a lot of houses are still equipped with. Furthermore, as an additional benefit they will make your living space much quieter inside with their sound insulating properties.
9) Replace HVAC Filter. Aside from maintaining a healthier indoor air quality, keeping your HVAC filter replaced regularly keeps the airflow moving more freely throughout your ducts and in your home. It also means the fan in your system doesn't have to work as hard to draw air through the filter, which will reduce the electrical draw on the fan motor.
10) Upgrade your Window Treatments. We spoke previously about opening curtains and blinds to let light in to warm your home naturally, however on the opposite spectrum there is the element of keeping light out for cooling purposes. Upgrading from traditional blinds to a heavier curtain on larger windows that get blasted by the hot sun all day can have a significant effect on keeping the heat out of your home. Blinds may be more convenient and have a cleaner look to them, however if you've got large windows or sliding glass doors that get direct sunlight all throughout the hottest part of the day, you'd be surprised at how effective a heavier curtain can be vs traditional blinds.
Water Collection and Consumption
1) Rain Water Collection. Collecting the "free" water that falls from the sky can be a great source of water to use for your lawn and garden. Many different possibilities for collection are available commercially, like downspout couplings that attach to simple barrels for instance. I've also seen much more complex systems that involve running downspouts to pipes that lead to huge underground cisterns with electric pumps to supply water for lawn and garden use. While that may be a bit much for the average homeowner to take on, there is something to be said about a simple rainwater collection system that makes use of natural resources.
2) Artificial Lawn. When it comes to suburban water consumption, lawns require more water than just about anything else to maintain, by far! This topic is honestly a pet peeve of mine. With all the plush green lawns you see in neighborhoods across the country, how many residents do you see out there enjoying them? Virtually none, and humans don't eat grass. They're for looks only. So why not consider the one-time investment of an artificial lawn that requires no water or upkeep if you're only interested in the look anyway?
3) Drought Tolerant Landscape. Having a drought-tolerant landscape using native plants and trees for the area is my favorite thing to see in any yard. Not only does it look amazing when done correctly, but it's the best way to work with the plants nature gave your area instead of forcing it. And of course, it requires a LOT less water than the traditional (and boring) lawnscape in warmer climates.
4) Dial-in Your Irrigation. I once had a neighbor who had his lawn sprinklers run 3 times a day, every single day of the week, rain or shine, summer or winter. It was very frustrating to see water pouring down the driveway and gutters constantly, his lawn didn't look any better than any of the other neighbors who had theirs programmed to 3 times a week, once a day, and if you stepped on his grass, it squished under your feet like walking through a swamp. Point being, check your sprinklers for leaks and alignment, use a well-equipped timer to set schedules that are appropriate for the climate and season. Fix any leaks. Check your automated drip systems for leaks as well.
5) Mulch and Compost. Using Mulch and Compost strategically in your Garden and Landscape will help keep the heat off the soil around your plants, keep the moisture in, as well as condition the soil for better long term health. Mulch around trees in particular can help keep the roots healthy as well as keep many weeds at bay. Composting kitchen scraps is also a great way to keep your household garbage production to a minimum and produce some great soil amendments.
6) Install Water Saving Shower Heads. You may be surprised at how great some of the low flow shower heads perform. Low flow does not mean low performance, and it will reduce your water consumption.
7) Water Smarter, Not Harder. I'll touch on a few things here. Only run your dishwasher when it's full, likewise with your clothes washing machine. Take shorter showers, turn the faucet off while shaving or brushing teeth. These are all simple things that can make a tremendous effect on the total amount of water used by a household. It's easier said than done, but when the little things add up, the cumulative effect can be great.
8) Save your cold water. If your shower takes forever to warm up, why not place a bucket in there to collect the water that would otherwise be wasted instead of just letting it run down the drain? It's an easy way to get maybe a couple gallons you could use to water plants in the home, on the patio, or even simply throw it on the lawn.
The Most Important Thing to Remember
Is that just because you can't or don't want to move into or build a new, more green or sustainable home, doesn't mean you can't take actionable steps to reduce your current resource consumption and save a bunch of money as well. This isn't rocket science, really. It's a matter of making a conscious effort to play an active role in the environment, even if you only reduce your resource consumption by 10%, just think of the impact if that 10% were extrapolated across the entire state of California. That would be a heck of an accomplishment overall. Thanks for reading along in this guide I've put together. See you next time!