6 Green Ideas for the Home
More and more homeowners are looking for ways to reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals, reduce their impact on the environment and improve their own environments. Here are six green ideas for the home brought to you by a sustainability professional, Maria Gray.
Maria Gray began her career focusing on conceptually driven modern architecture with a recent transition to the nuts and bolts of sustainable built environments and healthy interiors. She has a Master of Architecture degree and a Master of Science in Sustainability Management, both from Columbia University.
Her work includes:
- Gray Area Design: project management for architecture, sustainability, and organizational change
- The Garden: personal wellness, focusing on nutrition, sustainability, and education
- 2016 Capstone: Biomass Energy Hub, Berlin Township, NY
- Barnard College: Urban Ecology and Sustainable Architecture
- Parsons School of Design: 20th Century Interior Design History, Theory and Sustainability
1. Install smart plugs
Think about how many phones and computers you have plugged in at any given time. Did you know that they draw power, even when fully charged?
Any chargeable device that is plugged in is using energy even if it’s off. To counteract this unnecessary energy use, Install smart plugs, which allow you to turn the outlet off, even if a device is plugged in, reducing your overall energy consumption. Doing this one thing can save you 5%-10% on your electric bill.
Fun fact: soon all homes will be wired with smart devices, until then we can retrofit our spaces with smart devices. Currently, Sidewalk Labs is designing a prototype smart neighborhood around smart technology for urban planning, homes and offices. designed around giving the individual transparency and control over their own electric use and carbon footprint. And, energy bills!
If everyone in the United States did this one simple thing, we could save a lot of energy!
2. Sign up to use renewable energy
Do you get those letters in the mail about switching to solar power or other forms of more eco-friendly power? Most electric companies now offer homeowners renewable energy, through partnering with wind and solar farms across the nation, instead of just offering power from traditional fossil fuel-procured energy. You may have received marketing on this – check your mail, or contact your power company and ask.
3. Check your indoor air quality
We all value having clean air to breathe, but what about the air inside your home? Many homes aren’t ventilated in a way that produces high quality indoor air. If you are getting your air through cracks in the attic, for example, or your air conditioning ducts are moldy you could be breathing air that is bad quality.
You can have your air quality checked by a professional, or, get an overall energy audit, which is usually reimbursed by your energy company. An energy auditor will test the quality of your air and make recommendations for improving it. Often, it’s a quick and inexpensive fix, such as sealing cracks, replacing filters, cleaning vents or installing new ones. Then, do this audit every couple of years to make sure your air stays high quality.
4. Purchase low VOC furnishings and paints
Wood furnishings are often protected with finishes, like polyurethane, which can give off chemicals into the air. Even things like mattresses can “off gas”, sending unfamiliar chemicals into your indoor environment. Certain types of flooring, such as luxury vinyl plank flooring (LVP) can “off gas” and often hardwood floors can be coated with polyurethane.
VOC stands for volatile organic compounds. VOCs have carbon compounds that can become vapors or gases. “Low VOC” or “no VOC” products contain fewer or next to no volatile organic compounds.
Luckily, there exist many alternative products for the chemically-conscious consumer. You can find low VOC furniture, wood flooring treated with eco-friendly alternates to polyurethane, and flooring like marmoleum that is an alternative to linoleum.
5. Embrace the “sharing economy”
More and more companies are popping up that provide resources you can share: cars, bicycles, work spaces, multi-family homes, even clothing! I’m trying out Vince Unfold – for a flat monthly fee they send me four clothing items one or two times a month, depending on how long I keep the first shipment. And don’t forget sharing books, otherwise known as your local library ;). Lots of green ideas in the sharing economy. In Europe, they even have a tool-sharing company (hopefully coming to the US soon).
By sharing, you’re saving money and reducing consumption and waste. A double win.
6. Add trees and plants!
Did you know that a UK study showed that “planting trees on 0.9 billion hectares of land could trap about two-thirds the amount of carbon released by human activities since the start of the Industrial Revolution”. Admittedly, 0.9 billion hectares sounds a bit daunting, but, let’s get cracking! Planting trees is an effective way to help the environment even on a smaller scale, and it’s easy to do. If Ethiopia can plant 350 million trees in one day, we can certainly do our part, too.
For indoor air, there’s nothing like bringing in some oxygen-producing house plants. They can be inexpensive, and if you pick the right plant, it can be very easy to care for, no matter what your climate. Ah, I feel better already!