If the phrase “eco-friendly home” makes you think of an off-the-grid hippie hut on one hand, or a bespoke LEED Platinum palace for those with Leonardo DiCaprio‘s budget on the other, we have news for you. Greening your home is easier than ever—and more convenient than taking on a full-blown renovation. If your 2017 bucket list includes learning how to go green, you’ve come to the right place.
The benefits of green upgrades, no matter the size, are far-reaching for both your global footprint and your wallet.
“You’ll have a home that is more comfortable, more durable, with lower energy bills,” says Eileen Oldroyd, a real estate broker in Mission Viejo, CA, and a National Association of Realtors® Green Designee, a distinction given to Realtors® who have completed training on energy-efficient and sustainable homes. “These upgrades will also be valuable if you ever decide to sell,” she says.
Here’s the scoop from green industry experts on the latest ways to slash your energy bills—and to do so while clearing your earth-conscious conscience!
Make your home a passive house
Forget LEED certification—the newly coveted green home credential is the deceptively named passive house standard. Unlike LEED certification, which speaks to how green the construction process was, a passive house is rated by how energy-efficient it will be when people are actually living in it.
“A passive house minimizes heating and cooling needs because it is sealed air-tight, meaning temperature-controlled air doesn’t leak out,” explains Ewen Utting, a passive-house builder in San Francisco.
Although turning your home into a true passive house would mean a major renovation, you can reap some of those energy-saving benefits by replacing outside door thresholds, swapping old windows for new double- or even triple-pane ones, or covering the panes with a reflective coating that will beat heat in the summer.
One change you can make without spending a cent: “Remember to lock all of your windows when they’re closed,” says Eric Graham, a green home expert with Sunshare, a Colorado community solar company. “It creates a better seal between panes to keep air from coming in.”
Get smart (home tech, that is)
Leaving a light on here or there causes small but significant increases in the size of your carbon footprint and your energy bill, but new technology can stop those little expenditures.
“New smart home devices let you turn off lights, radios, or just about anything you plug into the wall from anywhere in the world using your smartphone,” says Oldroyd.
Check out Wemo home automation products from technology company Belkin, which include smartphone-controlled wall outlets, slow cookers, humidifiers, and more. Smart thermostats from companies like Nest or Honeywell learn your heating and cooling preferences and can be controlled from your smartphone or tablet.
Filling your home with smart products is easy and more convenient than ever now that home improvement stores like Home Depot have started stocking whole sections with smart home products.
Choose the right paint
Volatile organic compounds are chemicals found in many paints and building materials that easily vaporize and may pose health risks. Until recently it was gospel that the green-minded should choose low- or no-VOC paint, but those labels are too vague to mean much, says Jason Holstine, owner of Amicus Green Building Center in Kensington, MD.
“Because of the way the government defines VOCs, many concerning chemicals aren’t covered,” he says. “Instead, choose paints that are no-VOC and don’t contain solvents, ethylene glycol, acetone, or formaldehyde.” Some great brands include AFM Safecoat, Mythic, Colorhouse, ECOS, and Bioshield.
Go native with your landscaping
Today’s sustainable landscaping is less cookie-cutter and more tailored to your climate.
“The most eco-friendly backyard features plant and grass species that are native to the area where you live,” says Cassy Aoyagi of FORM LA Landscaping. “They thrive without chemical pesticides and fertilizers and need little water.” Rainfall during a normal year is usually enough.
According to Aoyagi, replacing a traditional lawn with native grasses will require 50% to 70% less water and save you approximately 60 hours per year in maintenance, for a savings of up to $3,500 in thirsty climates.
In Southern California, where FORM LA is based, Aoyagi recommends grama grass and California fescue. In various parts of the country, covering your lawn area with clover or low-growing herbs such as chamomile, thyme, and mint is a beautiful and eco-friendly option.
Consider solar panels
Whether or not solar panels make fiscal and environmental sense for your house depends on your climate, the layout of your roof, and whether your state offers rebates. For an instant estimate to see if solar panels are right for your house, enter your address into Google’s Project Sunroof. In a matter of seconds you can see how many hours of usable sunlight your home gets per year, the square feet available for solar panels, and the amount of money you could save based on that information.
For a more detailed breakdown of costs and benefits, contact a solar expert like Sungevity, a company that creates custom solar energy systems for homes all around the country.
Get an energy audit
Greening your home isn’t a one-size-fits-all process, and a certified energy auditor can suggest upgrades that will lower your energy costs.
“Often, the rebates you’ll receive from your utility company or on your taxes will offset the costs of the audit,” says Oldroyd. Homeadvisor.com reports the average cost to hire a home energy auditor is $373.
The Residential Energy Services Network has an easy-to-search directory of certified energy auditors in each state. Look for an auditor certified to give your home a Home Energy Rating System index rating, which is a score of your home’s energy efficiency. Lowering your home’s HERS index score will likely raise the resale value of your home if you sell in the future.