10 Affordable Options for Building an Environmentally Friendly Home

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Home Renovation

Images of Sustainable Living Homeowners can make their homes and gardens more environmentally friendly regardless of their budget. See more pictures of sustainable living.
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Today, homeowners are more conscious than ever of the impact their appliances, lawns, and heating and cooling needs have on the limited supply of fossil fuels on earth. With the rising cost of these fuels, homeowners feel the impact of inefficient home energy usage, reflected in their monthly energy bills.

Many homeowners are seeking ways to make their homes more eco-friendly, either to protect the environment or to reduce heating and cooling costs. While some eco-friendly home improvements can be inexpensive and easy, others require more time, money, and expertise. In this article, we’ll explore ten popular home-efficiency tips that can suit almost any budget. While the best combination of these tips may vary for your home’s specific needs, the following home-improvement options provide a variety of projects and possibilities that could result in energy and cost savings for you and your family.

10: Identify Your Home’s Energy Weaknesses

Regardless of your budget, you can follow this tip: conduct a home energy audit. A home energy audit involves thoroughly inspecting your home, examining factors such as air leaks, insulation, and the efficiency of your appliances and electrical system [source: U.S. Department of Energy]. A professional energy audit, if affordable, can include high-tech assessments such as thermal imaging and precise airflow measurement. These tools can pinpoint exactly where your home’s energy weak spots are and how much they’re costing you in terms of heating and cooling bills.

Conducting a home energy audit is a sound first step in making your home more eco-friendly. Whether you hire a contractor or do it yourself, the audit can help you develop an effective plan of projects that can reduce your energy needs and save money.

9: Control Airflow


Efficient windows with no gaps can make your home more energy efficient.
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Leaks around doors and windows can waste a significant amount of energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nearly 20% of the energy used to heat or cool the average home escapes through doors and windows [source: Energy Star]. For an older house with poor seals under the doors or old, ill-fitting windows, the costs can be much higher. If you’re on a budget and want to find a project that will make a big difference in your heating and cooling bills, controlling airflow is an excellent place to start.

Air leaking into or out of your house is not the only airflow problem that can cost energy. Air creeping in from a cooler room, such as your basement, or from a warmer area to a cooler one can cause additional problems. Interior doors, improperly sealed ductwork, and even small gaps around switches and electrical outlets can lead to energy-consuming air leaks [source: Energy Star]. Check these areas as well.

To fix air leaks, there are various tools and techniques that can be used. One method is to use caulk to seal any gaps that don’t need to be opened. Another option is to use a draft-catcher under a door or along the base of a leaky window to control airflow [source: Howard].

Upgrading windows to better-sealed and better-insulated models can also help save on energy costs. Energy-efficient windows usually have multiple features to separate the climate-controlled air inside the home from outside air. This can include installing multipane windows with insulating gas, such as argon, or tinting and treating the glass with glazing material to reduce solar energy [source: Efficient Windows Collaborative]. These windows have a lower U-factor and SHGC, which identify them as more efficient [source: Putnam].

Reflective insulation is another option to control solar radiation from heating up the house. It can prevent wayward airflow and bounce the solar energy away from the interior [source: U.S. Department of Energy]. It’s often thinner than thermal insulation and consists of a reflective material like aluminum bonded to a backing material. It’s typically used along with thermal insulation for maximum protection from outside temperatures.

Lastly, insulation materials like batting, blown fill, and rigid sheets can prevent heat transfer through building materials and act as air dams to prevent airflow and drafts [source: U.S. Department of Energy]. These materials can be installed easily and are a great option for DIY projects to improve your home’s eco-friendliness.

Insulating your home can be done in a number of ways, from unrolling fiberglass batting in your attic or garage, to using a reflective barrier against the inside of a wall or roof. It’s important to consider the R-value of the insulation product you choose, as this will determine how well it insulates your home. More complex installations, such as blowing cellulose fill into finished walls, may require specialized equipment and the help of contractors.

Creating an eco-friendly lawn can be achieved by using native plants as ground cover instead of grass. By framing a smaller lawn with beds of wildflowers, you can reduce the amount of water and fertilizers needed, which can save both the groundwater and your lawn care budget. Strategically placing shade trees can also protect your home from excessive solar heating on sunny days.

Pervious pavement is a great solution to uncontrolled rain runoff, as it allows rainwater to soak through to the underlying soil and prevent flooding. Impervious surfaces like roofs, streets and driveways don’t allow soil to absorb rainwater, causing excess runoff and damage to local streams and rivers. Homeowners can make a big difference in their community’s runoff problem by using pervious pavement.

There are various types of pervious pavement materials available such as concrete-like pourable material, modular bricks or tiles which can be arranged in beautiful patterns. The material you choose depends on your taste, budget, and the amount and type of use it will see. If you want to replace your asphalt driveway with a pervious one, it’s best to hire a professional contractor. However, a tiled patio can be a weekend project that you can do yourself. Either way, you can feel satisfied knowing that you’re using the soil under your property for an essential public use.

3: Pay Attention to Water


While it may be costlier, a tankless water heater is the most efficient way to heat water.
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It’s estimated that water heating accounts for approximately one-third of a home’s energy consumption. Improving the efficiency of your water heater can be a smart investment whether you’re building a new house or trying to make your current home eco-friendly.

However, this kind of home improvement can be expensive. Tankless water heaters are among the most efficient heaters because they heat water only when it’s needed instead of storing it in an insulated chamber. They can cost two to five times more than traditional tank water heaters, and installing one in an existing house may require costly upgrades. If you have the budget for it, a tankless water heater is an excellent choice for efficiency.

If you’re on a tight budget, there are other ways to save on water-heating energy costs. Make sure your water heater is the right size for your home. An oversized water heater wastes energy, while a too-small heater may not meet your needs. Check the heater’s First Hour Rating (FHR) to get an idea of how well it meets your needs. Another measure to consider is the heater’s Energy Factor (EF), which measures how efficient it is compared to other heaters. The higher the EF, the more efficient the heater.

2: Timing is Key

Imagine having a personal assistant who makes sure you have hot water for your morning shower, adjusts your home’s temperature to the perfect level at the end of the day, and monitors energy costs to ensure you only use your power-hungry appliances when gas and electricity rates are low. Thanks to “smart” thermostats, this level of control is now available to homeowners who are tech-savvy.

Thermostats are no longer just temperature-activated switches for heating and cooling systems. Many models can monitor individual appliance energy use, energy costs at different times of the day, and appliance functionality. Some advanced models can even alert you via email if an appliance malfunctions and can be adjusted from your office computer or mobile device.

These thermostats can run appliances during off-peak hours when energy costs are lowest. When no one’s home, they can easily turn off energy-hungry appliances like water heaters and program them to restart in time to provide hot water in the evening.

Although smart thermostat units are more expensive than traditional ones, they offer a greater level of control. However, installing them may require upgrades to your broadband or phone line to ensure proper communication. Despite the initial cost, the precise and instantaneous control can lead to significant energy savings, even if your appliances are already efficient.

1: Increase Efficiency


Consider replacing old appliances with newer, eco-friendly models to save energy.
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Home appliances are like tools and eventually wear out, needing to be replaced. However, this presents an opportunity to make energy-conscious choices by shopping for more efficient models. The first step is to understand how efficiency ratings work for each appliance, enabling smarter and quicker shopping.

It’s also important to choose the right size appliance to prevent energy waste. An air conditioner that’s too small will run constantly, while one that’s too large won’t remove enough humidity and will waste energy. Proper installation can also improve energy efficiency, such as moving a water heater to shorten hot water pipes or ensuring air conditioning ducts are sealed and insulated.

New, eco-friendly appliances may be pricey, but evaluating your needs and researching options can help find a balance between cost and performance that improves your home’s eco-friendliness, regardless of budget.

Additional Information

Related Articles

  • Learn About Home Energy Audits
  • How to Apply Tint to Your Home’s Windows
  • Top 5 Energy-Consuming Appliances
  • 5 Factors to Consider When Constructing a Solar-Powered Home
  • What is the Cost of Building a House?

Sources

  • October 2008 Consumer Reports. “Tankless Water Heaters.” (Dec. 31, 2010)http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/appliances/heating-cooling-and-air/water-heaters/tankless-water-heaters/overview/tankless-water-heaters-ov.htm
  • Efficient Windows Collaborative. “Benefits: Energy & Cost Savings.” (Dec 29, 2010)http://www.efficientwindows.org/energycosts.cfm
  • Efficient Windows Collaborative. “Weatherization Assistance.” (Dec. 29, 2010)http://www.efficientwindows.org/weatherization.cfm
  • Energy Star. “Air Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR.” (Dec. 28, 2010)http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_sealing
  • Energy Star. “ENERGY STAR Qualified Products.” (Dec. 31, 2010)http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=find_a_product.
  • This Old House. “Smart Thermostat Shopping.” (Jan. 1, 2011)http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/article/0,,349567,00.html
  • Hillsdale County Community Center. “Impervious Surfaces.” (Dec. 22, 2010)http://www.hillsdalecounty.info/planningeduc0004.asp
  • The Daily Green. “20 Adorable Draft Snakes Fight Chills.” (Dec. 29, 2010)http://www.thedailygreen.com/green-homes/latest/door-draft-stoppers-draft-snakes-460109
  • The Jonah Center for Earth and Art. “Eco-Friendly Landscaping.” (Dec. 27, 2010)http://www.thejonahcenter.org/pdf/ecofriendlylandscaping.pdf
  • Lake Superior Streams. “Pervious Pavement.” (Dec. 22, 2010)http://www.lakesuperiorstreams.org/stormwater/toolkit/paving.html
  • TODAY. “Grow an Eco-Friendly Lawn.” (Dec. 21, 2010)http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/18926195/ns/today-today_home_and_garden/
  • GetWithGreen.com. “WINDOWS: U-Factor, Solar Heat Gain Coefficient…what does it all mean?!” (Dec. 29, 2010)http://www.getwithgreen.com/2008/06/13/windows-u-factor-solar-heat-gain-coefficientwhat-does-it-all-mean/#hide
  • Tennessee Valley Authority. “Choosing a Water Heater.” Energy Right Solutions. (Dec. 31, 2010)http://www.energyright.com/waterheat/choosing.htm
  • U.S. Department of Energy. “Insulation Fact Sheet.” 2008. (Dec. 25, 2010)http://www.ornl.gov/sci/roofs+walls/insulation/ins_01.html
  • U.S. Department of Energy. “Your Home’s Energy Use.” (Dec. 27, 2010)http://www.energysavers.gov/tips/home_energy.cfm
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Beneficial Landscaping.” Oct. 16, 2009. (Dec. 7, 2010)http://www.epa.gov/greenkit/landscap.htm

FAQ

1. What is eco-friendly home construction?

Eco-friendly home construction refers to building homes with materials and practices that minimize their negative impact on the environment. This includes using sustainable materials, reducing waste, and conserving energy.

2. What are some sustainable materials that can be used in eco-friendly home construction?

There are many sustainable materials that can be used in eco-friendly home construction, such as bamboo, reclaimed wood, recycled steel, and natural insulation materials like wool and cork. Additionally, using locally-sourced materials can reduce the environmental impact of transportation.

3. How can I make my home more energy-efficient?

There are many ways to make your home more energy-efficient, such as installing energy-efficient windows and doors, using programmable thermostats, and adding insulation. Additionally, using energy-efficient appliances and lighting can make a big difference.

4. What is a green roof?

A green roof is a roof that is covered in vegetation, such as grass, flowers, or even small trees. Green roofs can provide insulation, reduce stormwater runoff, and improve air quality.

5. What are some benefits of using recycled materials in home construction?

Using recycled materials in home construction can help reduce waste and conserve resources. Additionally, recycled materials are often cheaper than new materials, making them a more affordable option for eco-friendly home construction.

6. How can I reduce water usage in my home?

There are many ways to reduce water usage in your home, such as installing low-flow showerheads and toilets, fixing leaks promptly, and using drought-resistant landscaping. Additionally, collecting rainwater for outdoor use can help conserve water.

7. What is passive solar design?

Passive solar design refers to designing homes to maximize natural light and heat from the sun, reducing the need for artificial lighting and heating. This can include features like large windows, south-facing orientation, and thermal mass to absorb and store heat.

8. How can I use renewable energy in my home?

There are many ways to use renewable energy in your home, such as installing solar panels or a wind turbine. Additionally, using geothermal heating and cooling or a biomass stove can provide renewable energy for your home.

9. What is the cost of eco-friendly home construction?

The cost of eco-friendly home construction can vary depending on the specific materials and practices used. While some eco-friendly options may be more expensive up front, they can often save money in the long run through energy savings and reduced maintenance costs.

10. How can I find a contractor who specializes in eco-friendly home construction?

You can find a contractor who specializes in eco-friendly home construction by researching online or asking for recommendations from friends and family. Additionally, many green building organizations offer lists of certified contractors who specialize in eco-friendly construction.

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