It's Earth Day and after 40 years of recognizing our lovely planet's needs, there's still plenty of saving to do. The good news is that some of those earth-improving tasks can happen right in your home. The trend of "going green" and living sustainably has resulted in major chain stores from Home Depot and Wal-Mart to your local grocery and convenience store making a green lifestyle easily accessible.
Susan Singer, New York's very first certified eco-broker spoke with us about the best ways to start building, retrofitting and developing sustainable living spaces right away. Here are 10 tips for greening your home today.
1. Weatherization is key in all seasons.
Lower your window shades to keep your home cool in the summer. Raise your shades to help heat it in the summer. To block strong sunlight and protect furniture from fading, Singer also suggests purchasing, at a hardware store, a thin film to place over windows. "If you have a south-facing apartment or home, it makes such a huge difference if you lower your shades during the day," she says.
2. Low-flow your showers, faucets and toilets.
New apartments in Manhattan are required to come with low-flowing apparatuses. Twist off the old shower and faucet heads and twist on the new ones to decrease the flow of water. A quick and cheap Singer tip for the toilet is to put a liter and a half of water in a plastic container and tape it to the corner of the tank to displace excess water. "That way when you flush and the water comes back in, there is less space to fill up with water," says Singer. "The bigger the container, the less water. You don't have to replace your toilet."
3. Minimize use of paper products and purchase only recycled ones.
"Even Proctor & Gamble is coming out with recycled products," says Singer. "Supermarkets and drugstores all carry recycled paper products." But besides buying the right product, the big change is not using as much of those products as you usually do.
4. Use your dishwasher (if you have one). Believe it or not the dishwasher is better for the planet than handwashing those dishes under the faucet -- just fill the dishwasher all the way up! "Don't rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher," says Singer. "Also dishwashers are more energy efficient when you run them at night. It's less expensive to do it at night."
5. Use no- or low-Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) paints and home products. Have allergies? VOC products aren't helping. The good news is brands like Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore have you breathing better thanks to products without VOCs or with low levels. "Home Depot has a great line of low- and non-VOC products," says Singer.
6. Use all-natural and low-toxicity cleaning products. Again most stores now carry them. Singer is a big fan of the brand Method and also likes Citridish for dishwashing detergent because it's bleach- and chlorine-free. "Method makes everything and uses a very high concentrate," says Singer. "Before it was mostly water with these products, and now it's high concentrate because you put it into water."
7. Light your home with Compact Florescent or LED lighting. "I love Home Depot for most of these products," says Singer. "They were the first company to really focus on the greening of you home. Wal-Mart is incredible too. They have taken their vendors to task on being green. You can only be a vendor if you are green now. All these companies are forced to be responsible in regard to our planet."
8. Use the timer on your air conditioner or attach a timer.
"You can begin cooling two hours before you get home rather than leave the air conditioner on all day," says Singer. "The cats will be OK, they don't need to have AC."
9. Reuse those delivery containers. You probably aren't going to stop ordering in, and leaving leftovers in the fridge for two weeks is a hard habit to break. But when it comes time to throw that hideous mass of mold away, "turn your head, throw out the food and rinse out the container," says Singer. "Don't throw the whole thing into the trash. Those containers are really horrible and take hundred of years to break down."
10. Don't leave your cords plugged in when not actively using the product. Power plugs, TVs, computers all can be shutdown when you leave the room. "Totally unplug them," says Singer."Those guys are huge energy suckers.
And for the really ambitious, purchase Energy Star rated appliances. You probably won't be picking up one on your way home from work, but you can take 20 minutes over lunch to research what you need. Remember: There are many that claim to be more efficient than they actually are so do your homework.