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7 Steps to a Greener Home

Step 1: Reduce Bottled Water Consumption



Kick the bottled water habit.
Kick the bottled water habit.

The rise of the wholesale stores like Sam’s Club, Costco, BJ’s and the like have made it easier than ever for homeowners to purchase pallet upon pallet of bottled water for the home. Despite research to the contrary, the misconception pervades that bottled water is "safer" or "cleaner" than the water that comes out of the tap. These two factors have helped contribute to the 8 million gallons of bottle water consumed by Americans alone in 2008.

While bottled water certainly has its place in the home as a safe back-up should municipal water supply become compromised (due to natural disaster or some similar event), there is little question that the installation of a water filter will not only reduce plastic pollution but it will also save money over the life of the filter. If done on a wide scale it would make a dent in the 17 million barrels of oil required annually to meet U.S. demands for bottled water.

Consumers exploring a home water filtration system have no shortage of options. There are both faucet-mounted and under-the-sink filters as well as whole-home filters. The latter tends to be a project for a professional plumber, but the smaller, localized filters are easy for even the novice DIYer.
Watch How to Install a Below-Counter Water Filtration System

Veteran water filter shoppers will be no strangers to phrases like "carbon filter," "ionizer" and "reverse-osmosis." Options in water filtration method abound. Before opting for a system marketed as the latest and greatest, a homeowner should take the time to have a water test done on the home supply to determine what contaminants — if any — are present. Only then can an educated decision on water filtration type be made.
Read more on Selecting a Water Filtration System

Kicking the plastic habit at home is a great way to save money, keep plastic out of the landfills and reduce the county’s dependence on oil. It’s a perfect first step to a Greener Home.

Step 2: Conserve Water



Install a water-efficient showerhead for added savings.
Install a water-efficient showerhead for added savings.

Now that the water coming out of the faucets is clean, it’s time to use less of it. This is another money-and-Earth-saving step for the home that can be accomplished by those with very little DIY experience.

Since the birth of the EPA-partnered WaterSense program the list of certified faucets, showerheads, toilets and other fixtures has grown exponentially. Operating much like its big sister EnergyStar program, WaterSense imposes water-usage requirements in order for a product to earn the label.

Showerheads

The standard showerhead uses 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm). WaterSense-labelled high-efficiency showerheads use no more than 2.0. According to the water-saving site an average household can save more than 2,300 gallons per year by installing a low-flow showerhead.
See how easy it is to Install a Water-saving Showerhead

Faucets and Faucet Accessories
The simple act of screwing in an aerator can help cut the home’s water bill, especially given faucets account for over 15 percent of a home’s indoor water use. Installing a WaterSense labelled faucet or faucet accessory can save the average household over 500 gallons of water a year.
Learn how to Install a Faucet

Toilets


Look for WaterSense-labeled toilets like this dual-flush by Caroma. Photo courtesy of Caroma USA.
Look for WaterSense-labeled toilets like this dual-flush by Caroma. Photo courtesy of Caroma USA.

Toilets have enjoyed the lion’s share of attention when it comes to water consumption and water-saving advances. A fixture that once consumed 3.6 gpm, newer low-flow models can require a scant 1.28 gpm, exceeding federal standards. Dual-flush models offer a flush option for liquid waste that uses even less water per flush. 
Watch a how to video on Installing a New Toilet

Incentives
Although WaterSense does not offer rebates, many states feature programs that do. Be sure to scan the WaterSense rebate page for rebate offers from participating WaterSense partners in your state.

Small Fixes
These bigger fixture swaps are attention-grabbers and excite the shopper in us, but they shouldn’t overshadow some smaller fixes and upgrades that can also contribute to significant long-term water saving in the home. These include:

Take a day over the weekend to evaluate these potential leak points in the home and break out the plumber’s wrench!

Step 3: Plant a Garden



Start a garden -- or four!
Start a garden — or four!

Living green is largely about doing what’s good for the environment and for Mother Earth. There’s no better way to feel connected with nature than by starting a garden for the home.

The feel of the dirt in your hands, the sun on your back and the smell of natural growth establish a connection to your home’s immediate outdoor space that cannot be undervalued.

And while a flower garden certainly counts, a vegetable garden adds practicality and actually provides for the family. Growing your own vegetables and herbs lowers your food costs and also reduces demands for foods that require a lot of oil to be grown and shipped to your local market.

To get started, you’ll want to learn some of the basics on how to maintain a vegetable garden. For example, it’s important to keep the top 6 inches of soil moist for seedlings and the younger plants. Also, a 2- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch around the plants will suppress weeds and help maintain soil moisture.
Read more on Maintaining a Vegetable Garden

Growing herbs requires a slightly different approach and techniques. Small containers or window boxes can make great homes for growing herbs. Just keep in mind that most need at least 6 hours of sun a day. Some herbs like chives, cilantro, mint and dill can tolerate more shade. Read more on Herb Gardening Basics

Every home produces waste. But a good portion of that waste can be turned into compost, which in turn can go right into the garden. Creating a compost pile requires a little more effort than simply dumping the coffee grinds and banana peals in a hidden corner of the yard. To do it right, consider buying a composting bin or building your own compost heap enclosure. This will contain the project and help ward off curious critters. A healthy compost pile consists of a balance between brown and green ingredients. Brown compost ingredients includes old yard waste (leaves, bark, dried grass, etc), wood chips and coffee filters while green waste includes fresh yard waste, vegetable peelings and tea bags. Once assembled, the pile will require some monthly maintenance to keep the chemical breakdown working properly.
Read more on Starting a Compost Pile
Watch how to Build a Compost Heap

Don’t forget to use organic fertilizer!

Browse through this Photo Gallery of Backyard Gardens for design ideas and inspiration.

Step 4: Use Earth-Friendly Garden and Landscaping Products



Use non-toxic pesticides and fertilizers in your garden.
Use non-toxic pesticides and fertilizers in your garden.

Gardens and lawns beg for more care than regular watering, weeding and mowing. An entire industry has been made out of America’s quest for the greenest lawn and brightest flower garden. Unfortunately that industry has encouraged the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers to help homeowners accomplish their landscaping goals.

Conventional pesticides and fertilizers are often toxic. Children, pets and even the plants we are trying to preserve can suffer harmful effects from the poisons sprayed and spread. According to the EPA, 95% of the pesticides used for residential lawns are probably carcinogens.

Thankfully there are safer alternatives available to the green-thumbed homeowner. Before you go shopping, it’s important to do a little brushing up on pesticide options, including the non-toxic choices like baking soda and sabadilla as well as the more dangerous chemicals like diazinon and malathioin.
Read more on Pesticide Options

It’s just as important to use organic fertilizers on your lawn and garden for truly green living. Familiarize yourself with the types of organic fertilizers available on the market, including plant, animal, mineral and, of course, compost.
Read more on Organic Fertilizers

Finally, if you’re still not convinced, do a little reading on the latest findings on pesticide levels found inside homes. Yes, you read that right. Pesticides get tracked indoors through a variety of methods, greatly reducing the indoor air quality of the home and increasing the risk of inadvertent poisoning, especially among kids.
Read more on Pesticides in the Home

Step 5: Green Cleaning



Do you know what's in your cleaning products?
Do you know what’s in your cleaning products?

While on the subject of indoor air quality, there’s one simple step that every home should take in order to green up the indoor living environment: pitch the toxic cleaning chemicals. Don’t know what to replace them with? Relax, it’s easy.

Start by looking for the Safer Product Label, part of the EPA’s Design for the Environment program. These products, which include cleaners and detergents, meet the program’s stringent requirements for human and environmental health.

You can also check out the American Cleaning Institute’s Ingredient Central site, where member companies have to give information about their products’ ingredients.



Check out ACI's Ingredient Central site to find out!
Check out ACI’s Ingredient Central site to find out!

When it comes to detergents and cleaners, consider going frangrance-free. Many of the fragrances in these products contain phthalates, which are harmful chemicals linked with cancer. They also can trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions.

Step 6: Install Energy Efficient Lights



LED bulbs last for years and cast a light comparable to incandescent.
LED bulbs last for years and cast a light comparable to incandescent.

It’s never been a better time to switch out those obsolete incandescents for a more energy-efficient light bulb. With the sweeping changes being made to the lighting industry and incandescents specifically, yours can be a home on the good end of the trend by opting for next-generation CFLs and long-lasting LEDs.
Read more on the Phasing Out of Incandescent Light Bulbs

Current CFLs can last for upwards of 15,000 hours and have the potential to save a home almost $1,000 over the lifetime of the bulb. And that’s just for one bulb.

Recent breakthroughs in lighting technology have introduced us to the Electron Stimulated Luminescence [ESL] light bulb, which harnesses accelerated electrons to stimulate phosphor within the bulb. They are completely non-toxic, fully dimmable and last for upwards of 10,000 hours. What’s more, they throw off that soft glow that made us fall in love with incandescents in the first place.
Read more on ESL Light Bulbs

Once you’ve made your own Great Lightbulb Switch, replace those lights switches with dimmers, which will also reduce the electrical bill.
Watch how to Install a Dimmer

Step 7: Make Recycling Easy



Create an easy-to-follow recycling system in your home.
Create an easy-to-follow recycling system in your home.

Those blue bins may be omnipresent, but according to the EPA Americans in 2009 produced about 243 million tons of municipal solid waste. That’s 4.3 pounds of waste per person per day. Currently only 33.8% of our waste gets recovered, recycled or composted.

Clearly we all can do more.

It starts in the home. It starts with a plan.

The best way to recycle all that you possibly can is to make the process as simple and as easy as possible. With a system in place the practice can become habit and spread to all members of the family.

It’s first important to know what can be recycled. The Recycling Revolution website has a handy guide to what homes can recycle. Some waste materials may or not be recyclable by your local program, so don’t be afraid to check up, first.

Once you know what can be recycled, set up a home recycling station that keeps materials sorted and stored until it’s time to take out the bin. Under the sink or in the mud room are two options. Be sure to rinse out food and drink containers to avoid unwanted smells and hungry animals.
Read more on Creating a Home Recycling Station

It’s more than just pasta sauce jars and Coke cans that can be recycled, of course. Appliances that have broken and need replacing should be disposed of properly.
Learn how to Recycle Broken Stuff

Armed with the facts and a system, you can help reduce the waste going to the landfill, which will help keep our planet green for many centuries to come.