In this article...
Eco-friendly options are everywhere we look these days, and with good reason. If we can save ourselves money in the long run, while doing our part to help the environment at the same time, it’s a definite win-win situation.
When it comes to flooring, you’ll likely have varying materials throughout your home. You may want hardwood, or engineered hardwood in your living room and dining room, carpet in your bedrooms, and tile in the kitchen and bath. Fortunately, there are a number of eco-friendly options to consider.
- Wool Carpet
- Glass tiles
- E.T Berber Carpet
- Reclaimed Hardwood
Whenever possible throughout your home, opt for LED lighting or compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Replacing a single 100-watt traditional bulb with a 32-watt CFL bulb will save you at least $30 in energy over the life of the bulb, but more importantly, it prevents pollution equal to removing a million cars from the road. Why? Because they provide quality light with much less energy consumption and last up to 10 times longer than traditional light bulbs.
That said, make use of natural light whenever possible to reduce your overall home energy costs. If your home has access to a lot of natural light, you may want to consider installing solar panels to help mitigate your electricity costs.
Eco-friendly windows are energy efficient windows. There’s a wide selection to choose from, but we recommend going with a double-paned window so you get some extra soundproofing. The airspace between the two panes creates a buffer to help drown outside noise. You can go triple-paned if you have the budget, as this adds, even more, insulation.
If you want to take it a step further, look for glazed windows with a low-emissivity (Low-E) coating to help reduce the ultraviolet light from the sun. You’ll still get natural light, but you’ll get only the good stuff. The more panes you have with the Low-E coating, the better you windows are.
An often overlooked factor of the eco-friendly window is the frame material. You can find them made of wood, vinyl, metal, fiberglass, and composites. Wood, of course, is the most eco-friendly option, but you want to be sure they are locally harvested from sustainable sources.
The type of piping you use matters. Opting for steel or cross-linked flexible polyethylene (PEX) pipes helps to minimize waste and leakage. They maintain heat well and are durable. If you choose to use copper or plastic piping, add pipe insulators to help reduce heat loss by up to 80%. This means you’ll use far less energy to heat your water.
Beyond the pipes themselves, you can also insulate your water heater, or, if your budget allows, choose a tankless water heater system. You’ll need to pay close attention to your overall hot water needs, to ensure you get a system large enough to accommodate your home. Multiple tankless water heaters can be installed in the home, specifically for certain appliances like your dishwasher, or washing machine.
Tankless water heaters can be 24% to 34% more efficient for homes that use 41 gallons of water or less per day, but the higher your daily hot water consumption, the less efficient they’ll be. If you use 86 or more gallons per day, you could only see an 8% to 14% increase. But, if you install a tankless water heater at each hot water outlet in your home, you can get a savings of 27% to 50%. If you use an Energy Star qualified tankless water heater, your family could save $100 or more per year.
Costs will vary from around $120 to $350 for a single point-of-use tankless unit, while a whole house instant water heater will range between $800 and $3,000, depending on whether it’s electric or propane, and the capacity. The installation will add another $1,000 to $3,000 to the total bill.
Heating and Cooling
If your budget allows, there’s also the option to upgrade to a geothermal heat pump. This makes use of the natural ground temperature in your local area, to keep your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. It still makes use of a heat pump to circulate the air around your home, but because it circulates liquid through underground pipes first, little electricity is required to run the system.
Maximize the light in any given room by carefully selecting your paint colors. Choose light colors and reflective material for use on the walls, ceiling, and floor. But, be aware that not all paint is eco-friendly.
When shopping for paint, look for brands that are low-VOC, or better yet no VOC. VOCs are volatile organic compounds, which aren’t good for indoor air quality. The typical household paint is a combination of more than 10,000 chemicals, many of which are known toxins, and some of which have been linked to cancer. VOCS are released into the air as the paint dries, and will continue to seep for years, with only as much as half of them released over the course of the first year. Most low or no VOC paints are only available in light colors anyway, so you can really take care of lighting issues, too.
When possible, use scrap wood to create your cabinets. If you’re remodeling your home, check to see if the existing cabinets are in good enough condition to resurface. When possible, use scrap wood to create your cabinets. If you’re remodeling your home, check to see if the existing cabinets are in good enough condition to resurface. If that’s the case, you’ll be able to save money on your cabinets. Sometimes, all it takes is new hardware, and you’ll feel like you’ve got a brand new kitchen. Expect to spend anywhere between $289 and $397 per cabinet with labor, materials, and supplies.
If you must go brand new with your cabinetry, you’ll spend a bit more money. Choose a wood species that’s renewable, but durable. Check out this guide on cabinet materials to help you decide. You can always stain your cabinets to match another species, or better fit your overall design.
Opt for appliances with an Energy Star rating, as these are more energy-efficient, which will save you money in the long run. Though it can take some getting used to compared to a traditional oven, a convection oven is a more eco-friendly choice. It uses a fan to spread the heat around the food, allowing it to cook 25% faster, and saving energy in the process.
If you’re a fan of the side-by-side refrigerator model, the truth is these are less energy efficient than the top-bottom models. More cold air escapes through the side-by-side doors. Check your refrigerator’s energy efficiency with the dollar bill test. Close the door on a dollar bill. If it can slide out easily, it’s time to replace the seal.
Expect to spend a few thousand dollars on top-of-the-line energy efficient appliances.
Granite is a popular, yet expensive, and not eco-friendly countertop choice. If you just can’t get enough of the look and feel of granite, but want to go green while saving some green, look for recycled stone-chipped composite. They look and feel like granite, and you don’t have to sacrifice durability. Expect to spend an average of $4,036 to $5,852 on labor and materials.
If you’re completely remodeling, or you’ve got a cabinet to spare, consider installing a pull out drawer for recycling. If you can’t fit it into existing cabinetry, place a recycling bin somewhere in the kitchen to make it easier for people to remember. Ideally, you should have one bin for plastics and one bin for paper products, but if you can only fit a single bin, it’s always possible to separate later.
When it comes to curtains and chair cushions, look for wool or cotton. While man-made fabrics may have more visual appeal, they’re made with harmful chemicals. Plus, you can find wool and cotton in a variety of designs and color schemes to suit any design.
Bamboo & Cork
Both these materials are highly renewable, making them a great choice for flooring and backsplashes. If you want to make sure even the utensils you use in the kitchen are environmentally friendly, opt for bamboo. Cork flooring is an excellent choice if you’re trying to soundproof your home as much as possible because it absorbs sound. Plus, it’s resistant to mold and mildew and is hypoallergenic. If you love the look of porcelain, you can also get bamboo porcelain tile for flooring or backsplash.
Your cabinetry options are similar to what you’d expect in a kitchen, but many bathrooms stick to a medicine cabinet, and an over the toilet shelf, with a linen closet. Depending on the sink style you choose, you may not need any cabinetry to surround it.
Your countertop options here are also similar to your kitchen, except you’ll want to factor in the potential for extra moisture. A good option would be a recycled glass countertop, bound together with concrete. If you go this route, expect to spend $100 to $160 per sq. ft., installed.
You’ll want to choose an eco-friendly flooring that can withstand moisture, like cork or bamboo. Stone is a good choice, but it’s important to remember the slippery factor if you choose to go that route.
Showers & Tubs
Whether you opt for a walk-in shower or claw foot bathtub, focus your efforts on getting an efficient shower head. You can even get a gadget to help you time your showers and monitor your water usage.
Opt for a low-flow toilet. The newer models no longer require multiple flushes, so you save water.
Choose a high-efficiency (HE) washer and dryer. These are more energy efficient because they use less water, detergent, and energy to get your clothes clean and dry compared to traditional models. The HE washing machines are Energy Start compliant, but the program hasn’t been extended to dryers.
Implementing all these suggestions as you build or remodel your home can be an expensive undertaking, so choose the ones you feel will be the most effective and practical investments for your lifestyle.
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock