Home Improvement

Easy ways to get your home green without breaking the bank

Kermit got it wrong: Being green can be easy — at least when it comes to owning a green home.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, proper use of a programmable thermostat helps the average household save about $180 a year in energy costs. Ecobee via The Washington Post

Kermit got it wrong: Being green can be easy — at least when it comes to owning a green home.

Though some ecofriendly improvements can be expensive — installing a home solar panel system, for example, costs an average of $23,113, according to HomeAdvisor — there are a number of budget-friendly changes you can execute to make your house better for the environment.

Here are nine expert-recommended moves that will make your home more sustainable without draining your bank account.

■ Join a solar project: Traditional heating methods — coal, oil and natural gas — use fossil fuels. To switch your home to renewable, or ‘‘clean’’, energy, John Oppermann, a real estate broker and green home specialist in New York City, recommends joining a community solar project. ‘‘Such a project allows people in the area to lease a portion of a solar farm that corresponds to their own home electricity usage. Then the utility provider pays you for the electricity generated by your allocated solar panels,’’ Oppermann said.


Doing this can also trim your energy bill, Oppermann said, ‘‘as the [utility provider’s] payment to you is higher than your lease payment to the project. So it’s a win-win for you and the local environment.’’ You can find more information at earthdayinitiative.org/dojust1thing.

■ Clean green: When asked to pick the attributes they seek when purchasing all-purpose cleaners, 40 percent of people recently surveyed by research company Nielsen said they want to use environmentally friendly products. Unfortunately, many people still make the mistake of using home-cleaning products that contain substances that are toxic for the environment, Oppermann said. His solution is simple: ‘‘Using natural cleaning products like Seventh Generation, Method, Mrs. Meyer’s, and others are good ways of maintaining a healthy space at home.’’

Or, you can take the do-it-yourself route by creating a simple mixture of 1 cup water, half a cup of white vinegar, and one-fourth of a cup of grease-cutting dish soap — a combination that will clean most surfaces in a home, said Debbie Sardone, co-owner of SpeedCleaning.com.

■ Add some greenery: Looking for a way to spruce up your home decor that will also protect the environment? Karen Kalmek, cofounder of home design firm Green Home Chicago, suggests buying houseplants. Plants purify air by absorbing carbon dioxide. Also, studies have shown introducing certain plants into your home can enhance your mood, reduce stress, and improve your concentration.


Don’t have a green thumb? Consider purchasing spider plants. These low-maintenance plants are effective at removing formaldehyde from the air.

■ Plug air leaks: Air leakage in your home can drive up your heating bill. Chris Briley, a green home consultant and architect in Portland, Maine, advises homeowners to seal air leaks. ‘‘Common culprits could include attic hatches, bath fans without dampers, fireplace flues that do not seal when closed, or even windows that have been closed but not latched,’’ Briley said.

■ Insulate your attic: Adding attic insulation is one of the most effective ways to insulate a home, Briley said. There’s more good news: It won’t put a huge dent in your wallet. Although estimates vary depending on the type of insulation and where you live, insulating a 500-square-foot attic costs about $803 to $1,550, according to Homewyse.com; that works out to $1.61 to $3.10 per square foot.

■ Get a heat pump water heater: Instead of generating their own heat like a traditional electric water heater, heat pump water heaters (also known as ‘‘hybrid’’ water heaters) use electricity to move heat from one place to another. As a result, ‘‘they can be two to three times more energy efficient than conventional electric resistance water heaters,’’ according to Energy.gov.


Heat pump water heater prices range depending on their size. One 50-gallon model from Rheem costs $1,169.99 (plus installation); if you have a big house, though, you may need to purchase the 80-gallon model for $1,699.99.

■ Change your thermostat: Another way to clamp down on your home’s heating is by installing a programmable or smart thermostat. Both will give you better control over your heating and air-conditioning system.

A programmable thermostat functions as a ‘‘set it and forget it’’ product that lets you control when your home’s heating or air-conditioning system turns on according to a preset schedule. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, proper use of a programmable thermostat helps the average household save about $180 a year in energy costs. A programmable thermostat costs about $20 to $150, HomeAdvisor said.

A smart thermostat — which costs, on average, $200 to $300 or more — would offer even greater convenience. Typically, these devices let you adjust your home’s thermostat remotely from an app. Some can even detect when you’re away from your house by tracking your phone’s location.

■ Buy LED bulbs: Light-emitting diode bulbs generate less heat and last longer than traditional incandescent lighting. In fact, LED products produce light about 90 percent more efficiently than incandescent lightbulbs, EnergyStar.gov says. The caveat? LED lightbulbs generally cost more. However, ‘‘the cost of LED lights has dropped’’ significantly over the last decade, Briley said. LED bulbs cost about $10 apiece, while incandescent bulbs cost about $1 a pop.


■ Tweak some of your habits: Phil Kaplan, a green home architect based in Portland, Maine, at Kaplan Thompson Architects, said people can make easy, low-cost (or, in some cases, free) adjustments to their behaviors around the house that will benefit the environment, including:

— Using timers on electrical outlets to turn off appliances when not in use.

— Opening blinds or shades on south-facing windows during the winter to get solar warmth — and closing them in summer to keep your house cooler naturally.

— Turning off ceiling fans when not in use.

— Regularly changing air filters in HVAC systems.

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