You’ve got your reusable stainless-steel straw, you’ve perfected your composting game, and now you’re ready to tackle an aspect of sustainability that’s a little little larger.
For many of us (especially these days), our homes are where we spend most of our time. Not only does this lead to stir-craziness, but for those of us living in the U.S., housing accounts for more than 33% of our total individual emissions—higher than transportation, services, food, and clothing.
We’ll leave you with that thought while we present you with some top tips for an eco-friendly home on a budget.
What Kind of Eco-Friendly Home Do You Need?
Let’s start out with the fact that we’re all in different situations and our housing needs will vary significantly across the board. That said, we’ll try to accommodate most situations by discussing eco-friendly home tips for people building a new home or retrofitting an old home.
If you’re building a new home, location is one of the most important considerations to make. Many of the tips we’ll touch on later will depend on your location (water, energy efficiency, etc.). Be sure to choose a site that suits your needs (i.e. trees for shade, access to natural water) and is also close enough to the destinations you’ll commonly access (school, shopping, groceries, hospital, etc.).
Unless you have plans to live off-grid (and the capabilities to do so), you’ll want to consider convenience at least a little. Cutting your housing footprint is great, increasing your transportation footprint? Not so much.
Then we get to perhaps the biggest determining factor: budget. Determine one and be prepared to be a little flexible with it—especially if you’re doing a new build.
Fortunately though, there are several eco-friendly home improvements/build tips that can satisfy even the lowest of budgets.
Know Your Home’s Weak Points
Regardless of if you’re building a new home, currently living in a modern apartment, or living in a home that existed long before you did, there will definitely be some weak points that can be easily addressed.
- Draughty windows
- Old appliances
- A less-than-optimal electrical systems
- Leaky doors, walls, or roof
- A site that doesn’t cool in the summer/warm in the winter
Doing an energy audit—or hiring a professional to take care of it for you—can help you find some of the low-hanging fruit to address before you get on to some of the other stuff.
And plenty of low-hanging fruit there is! According to Energy Star, 20% of the energy used to heat or cool a home escapes right away through windows or doors.
Some small and super-affordable tips and tricks can help to minimize this number: DIY door snakes can help address leaky doors, window plastic or window shrink can help with older windows, or window caulk (or even tape) can help seal leaky cracks.
If you’ve got the budget for it, a smart thermostat is another great thing to consider. It’ll allow for flexible temperature scheduling and remote access, and will save on HVAC energy needs. We like this one, from Emerson. (Psst, in many states you can get a significant rebate by purchasing one!)
If you’ve got a higher budget, you can also consider a Sense Energy Monitor. It evaluates your energy usage trends by day, week, and month and gives you a target for improvement. Not only will this save you money over time, but it will also help our planet!
Look for Recycled or Salvaged Materials
Regardless if you’re building a new home or finally replacing those ancient windows and upgrading to new cabinetry, it’s a good idea to check out recycled or salvaged materials first.
Here are a few places to look:
- Freecycle: Most cities have “groups” where people advertise products they’re getting rid of—and everything’s free!
- Craigslist: This is a great place to find bricks, cabinetry, lumber, roofing, and more (some can even be found in the “free” section)
- Planet Reuse Marketplace: This is generally for folks in New England or the mid-Atlantic states, but anyone can join. Not only can you look for commercial and residential building materials, but they even provide consulting services to help you incorporate them.
- Habitat for Humanity Re-Store: If you’re looking for a little more than building materials (although they have those, too) you can find new and gently used home goods, appliances, furniture, and more!
- Reusewood.org: The American Wood Council (AWC) and Canadian Wood Council (CWC) partnered up to create a wood reuse and recycling directory. Find several different types of wood products (board lumber, barn wood, fiber board, pallets, etc.) in your location!
You can also talk to friends and family (it’s amazing to find what people have but don’t use) or check out local residential construction dumpsters or tear-down sites—just be sure to ask politely first!
Incorporate Outside Elements
When building a new home, a suitable lot is one of the most important considerations—but there are also some outdoor improvements that can be made with an existing home.
Heard of the word insolation before? No, we didn’t misspell insulation, but the two are related. Solar insolation, as defined by ScienceDirect, is “the flux of solar radiation per huit of horizontal area for a given locality.” In layman’s terms, this could be considered the sun’s power to heat or cool a living space, which plays a big role in passive solar heating.
This design consideration is huge when it comes to eco-friendly homes and essentially means giving the south side of your home direct access to the sun’s rays so that south-facing windows can store heat.
Even if you’re not building a new home, you can still hone in on passive solar design by installing a roof overhang, vents or dampers, low-emissivity blinds, shutters, or awnings. Shade from trees can also work to support your passive solar efforts (i.e. a large tree that blocks the hot summer sun).
The lawn itself also plays a role in your home’s total environmental impact—and planting native plants, avoiding fertilizers, and minimizing your lawn so that a manual mower can take care of it can also help.
Watch Water Usage
When it comes to a new build, try to find a site that has natural water sources available so that you can construct a well. When installing appliances and faucets, look for those that are water efficient (taps, dishwasher, washer and dryer) and look for dual-flush toilets (or opt for a composting toilet).
You can also make some of these improvements to an existing home—and they’ll have a huge impact. By just switching to a dual-flush toilet, you could reduce 80% of your toilet water consumption!
Beyond that, there are ways you can capture or recycle water. Using a rain barrel to water your lawn and plants is a great way to save water, as is a greywater system. Both are available for a range of prices, meaning that they can fit into nearly any budget.
We should probably mention those amazingly luxurious hot showers—because they come with pretty big impact. Around 20% of a home’s energy consumption is a result of heating water—second to only heating and cooling!
While this is a more expensive addition to an eco-friendly home, a tankless water heater is better from an environmental standpoint (it only heats water as needed). There are also solar water heaters that may qualify for a federal and state rebate.
It’s Never Too Early to Start “Building”
It’s been suggested that 50% of a successful sustainable home build depends on timely and effective research and project management! Don’t expect to have the eco-friendly home of your dreams right away, but do expect that it will be worth the wait.
If you’re currently living in a sustainable home, we’d love to hear about it! Drop your favorite feature/tip in the comments below!