Thursday, April 16, 2009


Green Your Home ....
on a Budget
article by
Robin McComb
Photos by Melissa Carugati

I hate to be a killjoy but the party is officially over. After years of tossing everything in the trash and flicking cigarette butts out the car window, people have finally decided to start recycling and trying to preserve and protect the environment. It has been a long time in the making, but the majority of Americans are now on board with trying to make their lives a little “greener.”

We could point fingers all day at large corporations that dump toxic waste into public lakes down in South America, but in order not to seem hypocritical we need to start by cleaning up our own backyard. Once the majority of US citizens are putting forth the effort to live green and demanding the same from large corporations hopefully the companies that are still holding out will become pressured to act as well.

In order to keep things simple and cost effective, we need to focus on greening our homes in an easy and inexpensive manner. Try to complete as many of these green home improvement suggestions as soon as possible. The more expensive projects can always be done at a later time when money permits. It is possible to create a big impact with minimal damage to your wallet and as you will see most of these improvements will actually save you money in the long run.

Compact Florescent Light Bulbs

If you are still using the standard incandescent light bulbs switch them now to Compact Fluorescent bulbs. They use 75% less energy and produce less heat than regular bulbs. The added benefit is CF bulbs last up to 10 times as long as regular bulbs. The only time commitment you have is the time it takes to screw in a light bulb. As long as there are not a group of Aggies involved, this project should take about 15 minutes to change every light in your home.

The cost is about $4 to $8 per bulb, but over time the savings adds up. Replacing the 5 most frequently used bulbs in your home will save almost $60 dollars a year which means you will offset the entire cost of the bulbs and save money to boot.

Sealing Doors and Windows

Another portal for energy loss is cold air seeping into your home through doors and windows that are not sealed properly. Taking time to weather strip your home will lower your utility bills and conserve energy.

Before you start your project you will need to detect air leaks by going out at night and shining a flashlight at around your doorframe. If light shines through you have a air leak that is costing you a great deal of money. For windows, simply place a piece of paper on the window sill and close the window. If you can pull the paper out of the window with it shut you are loosing air.

One word of caution is that before you seal yourself inside your home you may want to check to make sure the air quality in your house is good and not filled with mold or pollutants. This is important because after you seal the air leaks there will be less fresh airflow coming from the outside.

Weather stripping is a project for a novice, just clean the surface of the door or window, measure the length, cut the roll of weather stripping to size with a utility knife, peel off the sticky backing, and press down on the door or window frame.
For a 2,000 sq. ft home it should take 4 hours or less to seal every door and window and the cost is only $5 to $10 per 10 feet of weather stripping.

If you have leaks the savings are substantial. Leaks account for 20% to 50% of utility costs. The average US home pays $1500 a year for utilities, so most homes could reap the benefit of $300 to $750 a year in potential savings.

Plant a Shade Tree

Not only do shade trees beautify your home and increase your property value, they provide substantial energy savings, and as an extra bonus they help clean the air. The type of shade tree is a matter if personal preference, but try to find one that will thrive in your climate zone.

You do need to strategize on where to plant the trees. To warm your house in the wintertime, plant only deciduous trees (trees that loose their leaves in the wintertime) on the south side of your home. This will allow the sun to warm your home in the winter. Also, focus on planting shade trees on the west side of your home to shelter your home from the strong afternoon sun which will reduce your energy bill during the hot summer months.

To make a run down to your local nursery and plant a tree should only take a couple of hours’ time. There are also many local community programs that provide free or low cost trees and may even plant them for you.

Only Run a Full Dishwasher or Washing Machine

Do not run your dishwasher or laundry machine unless they are full. It takes the same amount of electricity (and in the case of the dishwasher water) to run these machines regardless if they have a full load or one T-shirt. Quit being so proactive and let the dirty clothes and dishes pile up before starting the machine.


I know you have heard it a million times, but it is just as easy to pitch a plastic container in a recycling bin as it is to throw it in the trash. If you are one of the lucky ones, you have a recycling truck that comes through your neighborhood on a regular basis so all you have to do is put the bin on the curb. Worst case scenario, you will need to scope our your neighborhood parks, schools, and church parking lots to find the closest recycling dumpsters. Our economy also benefits since recycling creates 1.1 million US jobs. In addition to numerous other benefits, recycling one glass bottle saves enough energy to light a light bulb for 4 hours and one ton of office paper save 24 trees. The benefits rack up fast for minimal effort and the cost is free.

Homemade Low Flush Toilet

Flushing your toilet is the number one water waster in most homes, taking up an average of 27% of your home’s water consumption. Instead of buying a sophisticated low flush toilet that costs anywhere from $400 to $1,000 each, simply fill a small plastic bottle with sand or small rocks and place it in your toilet tank. . The plastic bottle trick works because the water will still fill up to the regular height in your toilet bowl to give the proper amount of pressure when you flush the toilet. You can tune the flush by moving the ball on the end of the rod in your toilet tank. Bend the rod just a bit so that turning it varies the ball’s height just a little bit – you can then adjust it until you get an acceptable flush. If you want to further reduce your water usage go buy a low flow shower head for about $20 at any home improvement store.

Buy Local Food Products

Go to your local farmers market to buy your fruits and veggies. When you buy local produce you are helping the environment by cutting down the amount of fuel required to transport the food to your geographical area. In addition, there is less packaging involved which cuts down the amount of paper and plastic products used. Why not make an impact since you have to eat either way?


Quit watering your lawn and start Xeriscaping. What is Xeriscaping? It is using native plants to landscape your yard so it can withstand drought conditions. The plants you use such as cactus, Mexican heather, and succulents have already adapted to the climate and water conditions in your area and will require less water and maintenance than lush green yards and exotic plants. Every year the water supply on earth depletes and becomes more expensive, so can we really afford to keep watering our lawns all summer long? You don’t have to completely eliminate having a lawn, but you can simply cut down the size of the lawn by adding a larger patio, shrubs, ground cover, pea gravel paths, and potted plants - the options are limitless.

Tankless Water Heater

You can save up to 20% off your water heating bill by switching to a tankless water heater. With a standard tank water heater warm water is sitting at the ready waiting for you to turn on the shower or faucet to use it. A tankless water heater provides hot water at a predetermined temperature after the faucet is turned on and the need exists. Tankless water heaters have a heating device that is activated by the flow of water and they actually have a larger capacity than a standard water heater. They come in gas and electric models and the price ranges anywhere from $200 to $1500. This is not a job to tackle alone, call a plumber to consult about models and the cost for installation. Added benefit, now you can use your water heater closet for extra storage space as well.

These are just a sampling of ideas and suggestions. Before doing any major home renovation or project keep in mind that there are green paints, flooring options, and appliances so it is important to do your homework first and we at SENSE can help you out with your research.

Robin McComb

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