The rewards of making your home eco-friendly are energy savings and a healthier environment. Even small eco-friendly home ideas, like insulating and composting, are important steps. Larger projects, like switching to domestic solar or wind power, are becoming more attractive all the time, and if you’re thinking about remodeling, use eco-friendly materials for long-lasting results. Making your home eco-friendly not only helps slow climate change, but it also lowers your power bills. Plus, some pretty significant government incentives mean being eco-friendly is more affordable than ever.
Eco-friendly Households in the U.S.
The average carbon footprint – total greenhouse gas emissions – for a typical U.S. household is about 50 tons per year, nearly five times the average worldwide. Driving and transportation like air travel are responsible for the bulk of these emissions. Electricity, natural gas, waste and food account for most of the remaining greenhouse gases while use of services completes the balance.
Eco-Friendly Home Ideas for Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
When you make changes in your home, save money by keeping the environment in mind. If you are remodeling your kitchen, for example, buy Energy Star appliances to replace your older, inefficient models, and you will use less power.
Switching out your older heating and cooling systems with high-efficiency equipment produces virtually instant energy savings. Add an annual reduction of 500 pounds of CO2 when you turn your thermostat down 5 degrees in winter and up 5 degrees in summer, and you shrink your footprint even more.
Unless you already drive a super-efficient car, trade it in for a model with better gas mileage. For example, if you drive a pickup, swap it for a hybrid. A car that gets just 5 more miles to the gallon saves you hundreds of gas dollars annually. It also cuts your CO2 emissions by more than 1000 pounds.
You can make a real dent in household waste emissions by recycling your glass, plastic, newspapers and cans rather than tossing them in the garbage. Your family will cut about 1000 pounds off your yearly greenhouse gas emission total.
All of the seemingly small eco-friendly decisions you make add up to a significant reduction in your family’s carbon footprint. Some other eco-friendly home ideas that are both inexpensive and effective in reducing your family’s environmental impact include:
- Cutting down on power by replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFLs and LEDs
- Tracking your energy use to identify and eliminate waste
- Using a programmable thermostat to automatically save on heating and cooling fuel
- Sealing cracks and gaps around your windows and exterior doors
- Replacing worn-out weather stripping
Adding Renewable Energy Economically
Solar and wind systems are cheaper than ever before. The cost of a whole house solar energy system ranges from around $15,000 for a 3-kilowatt system up to $40,000 for a system that generates 8 kW of power. When you account for the components, permit fees, installation and overhead, you should plan on paying between $6 and $8 per watt for an installed solar system. Be sure to subtract any government incentives, tax breaks or subsidies, and you will see your savings grow.
According to one case study on the costs of solar, replacing your electric grid power source with even a small 3 kW system reduces your household’s annual carbon emissions by around 3 tons, about the amount of CO2 you emit by driving your car for 7500 miles. What’s more, you will likely recover the cost of the initial installation in less than ten years.
You also have the option to install wind power as a renewable energy source if you have the land and the wind to make it work. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) states that a 5 kW wind system is enough to power an average home. AWEA estimates the cost of such a system to range between $10,000 and $70,000, with $30,000 being the average price. You must have a site with no obstructions, and an average wind speed of 12 mph or more.
Depending on what you pay for your wind system, the quality of the wind and your local electricity rates, you can recover the costs of equipment and installation in as little as 6 years. Better yet, wind power, like solar power, does not emit greenhouse gases, so the environment enjoys an ongoing benefit.
Federal Incentives for Residential Renewable Energy
If you find the initial cost of renewable energy for your home daunting, you’re not alone. The good news is that many federal programs offer financial incentives for households and businesses that convert to renewable energy, for example:
- USDA Rural Energy for America Program grants up to 25 percent of total cost
- IRS Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit covers 30 percent of the total cost
Most states offer financial help for household renewable installations too. This takes some of the pain out of the long-term gain.
Green Building Materials
When planning a remodeling project of any size, use green building materials to make it more eco-friendly. They are sustainable, lighter, stronger and more durable than traditional materials. Also, they don’t release toxic fumes the way some plastics and treated lumber do.
According to EPA, buildings in the U.S. are responsible for 38 percent of the nation’s total carbon dioxide emissions, so moving toward eco-friendly construction materials and methods means a healthier environment.
Look for materials that are:
- Manufactured efficiently
- Available locally
- Designed to reduce energy consumption
Making eco-friendly changes at home is simple once you get started, and the rewards are numerous. Next time you plan some changes around the house, factor in the environment to make economically savvy, environmentally sustainable decisions.