Eco-friendly Tips for a More Sustainable Home

Andrew Brusnahan
25 Min Read

Most people find that making small green changes around the home is fairly easy, and definitely more forgiving towards your wallet than, for example, a fleet of expensive solar panels.  From the kitchen to the bathroom, and everywhere else in between, the green possibilities vary by the room.  Sometimes though, this can prove to be overwhelming, conjuring up concerns of where to start (especially if you have a larger-size home).  Not to worry though, here are my eco-friendly tips to break your house down room-by-room, tackling each room from start to completion, and making sure you accomplish all the changes you set out to make.

Eco-Friendly Tips for the Kitchen

If energy consumption were a party, the kitchen would be the place to be.  This is where all the energy-sucking appliances gather, including the refrigerator, dishwasher, oven, microwave, and even smaller appliances such as mixers, toasters, and can openers.  It seems apparent that this area of the house could use all the help it can get in terms of reducing energy use.

Your refrigerator may not be as cold as you think.

To effectively chill food and drinks at an optimal temperature, while fending off bacteria at the same time, the temperature in your refrigerator should be between 35 and 38 degrees F.  Bacteria will grow eventually—it’s inevitable—however, the role of a refrigerator is to slow down the growth of bacteria, prolonging the life of perishables for as long as possible.

If you are suspicious about the temperature of your refrigerator, grab a basic thermometer meant for appliances and a glass of water.  Simply insert the thermometer into the glass, and place it as close to the center of the refrigerator as possible.  Allow it to sit there overnight, checking the temperature the next morning.

If you find that the temperature is too warm or too cold, locate the temperature setting knob and adjust it accordingly.  A refrigerator that is too warm will promote the growth of bacteria, causing your food to spoil more quickly.  On the other hand, a refrigerator that is too cold means your refrigerator is working harder to maintain that colder temperature.  This can lead to a considerable increase in energy consumption.

Usually sitting atop the refrigerator, is the freezer which also needs to be set to a certain temperature setting in order to function optimally.  The ideal temperature for a freezer is between 0 and 5 degrees F.  While the temperature of a refrigerator slows down the growth of bacteria, the temperature of a freezer is supposed to be cold enough that bacteria growth ceases completely.

One too many.

How many refrigerators are in operation in your household?  If you answer that you have more than one refrigerator, then it might be time to consider a reduction.  You’re not alone though—several households have a second refrigerator or freezer plugged up in the garage or basement.

If you have a legitimate need to have two refrigerators or two freezers, then you can’t help it.  However, if you open the door to the second refrigerator only to find a few cans of Pepsi, then it may be time to give the spare refrigerator the boot; especially if it is old.

You may even find that there are utility companies, charities, and other organizations in your local area that will arrange to pick up any unwanted appliance, as well as dispose of it properly; this could be a recycling center, a needy family, etc.

It’s getting hot in here.

With solar technology creating quite a stir over the past few years, it might be hard to believe that the sun can actually promote inefficiency.  Take a look over at your refrigerator periodically throughout the day.  Does the sun shine directly on it for extended periods of time?  If so, then your refrigerator might be working harder than it has to.

Direct sunlight, when applied directly to the metal surface of a refrigerator, can cause that surface to heat up exponentially.  In order to maintain a stable temperature internally, your refrigerator will have to work harder, consuming more energy than normal.

While it may not be the easiest method, physically, moving the refrigerator out of direct sunlight would be the easiest thing to do, logically.  However, if your kitchen is similar to many other kitchens, then there may not be any other locations where the refrigerator can be relocated.  Should this be the case, all you need to do is hang a curtain across the window to shield your refrigerator from the bulk of the sunlight.

Seal ’em up.

Your refrigerator and freezer rely on a rubber gasket to create a tight seal between the door and the rest of the appliance.  A proper seal is vital; otherwise, the cold air contained within will leech out through the breached seal.  Therefore, a visual inspection of the rubber gasket is necessary every once in a while to ensure the gasket is not worn, torn, damaged, or breached in any way.

To check the adequacy of the seal, all you need is a dollar bill.  With your freezer or refrigerator door open, place the dollar bill in the path of the door and then close the door on it.  Now, give the dollar bill a slight tug.  Were you met with any resistance, or did the bill slip right out?  If the bill came right out with ease, that is an indicator that there is not a tight seal occurring, and you should probably look into replacing the gasket.

The dishwasher saves the day.

Contrary to popular belief, the dishwasher can actually be much more efficient than washing dishes by hand.  However, that concept only applies to full loads of dishes, not a few plates and a glass.  Doing dishes by hand, on average, consumes more than twenty gallons of water (probably because most people tend to leave the sink running the entire time to rinse dishes).

A dishwasher, on the other hand, consumes far less.  In fact, if a dishwasher is Energy Star rated, then it may use as little as four gallons of water to thoroughly clean a load of dishes.  Besides, who likes doing dishes by hand anyway?

Eco-Friendly Tips for the Bathroom.

Yes, even the bathroom can cause your home to be more wasteful than it has to be; especially with water consumption.  Leaky faucets and faulty toilet components, among other things, can waste more than 5,000 gallons of water every month depending on the frequency of the leak.

Drip, drip, drip…

We’ve all heard that sound before.  It can only mean one thing—a leaky pipe or faucet.  Even the tiniest leaks can have a dramatic effect on water consumption.

Sure, a slow drip might only increase your water bill by a few dollars, but if left unattended, those drips can add up.  In the long run, the water produced from a leaky pipe can build up on the floor below.  Mildew, rot, and decay ensue, taking the meager fifty-cent cost of the washer the pipe needed to be replaced, and turning it into a pricey repair job.

Nothing like a long, hot shower.

Who doesn’t enjoy a long hot shower on a cold winter day?  While simple pleasures like a hot shower do not seem like much, the fact remains that a sizable amount of water is used with each and every shower.  Common sense would tell us that if we wanted to be more efficient in terms of water consumption, we should just take shorter showers.  While that is an easy option, most people would rather take a pay cut than give up their lengthy showers.

An alternative to cutting the length of showers would be to replace your standard showerhead with a low-flow showerhead.  Some showerheads are capable of producing four gallons of water per minute; therefore, a ten-minute shower would consume forty gallons of water.  Some might call that overkill.

When looking for a low-flow showerhead, look for one that produces only 1.5 to 2 gallons of water per minute.  Doing so can lead to substantial savings with regard to water consumption, as well as cut down on the cost required to heat the water.

I smell something burning…

That may be because the temperature on your water heater is set entirely too high.  The default temperature that most water heaters are set at is 140 degrees Fahrenheit.  Instead of keeping it set to that high, try reducing the temperature setting to around 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chances are good that you won’t even realize the change, at least not until you see the financial savings such a simple change can have.

Lowering the temperature setting of your water heater can actually work to prolong the overall life if the unit.  The lower temperature affects how the mineral deposits build up, slowing down the process, and ultimately slowing down the corrosion process as well.

Shut your flapper.

If your water bill is running higher than normal this month, perhaps you have a leaky toilet.  Should your toilet be leaking, depending on the size of the leak, you could be wasting a gallon or more of water every minute.

The usual culprit behind a leaky toilet is your toilet’s flapper.  The flapper is located within the tank of the toilet and allows water to flow from within the tank into the bowl.  They are made of rubber which, over time, can begin to deteriorate; usually due to exposure to toilet-cleaning liquids.

There is an easy way to tell if you need to replace your toilet’s flapper—all you need is a bit of food coloring.  Pick a color you like and squeeze a liberal amount into the tank of the toilet.  Run some errands, watch a movie, do whatever you can to occupy two hours.  After two hours have passed, check to see if any of the food colorings have leeched into the bowl of the toilet.  If any has, then that usually is an indicator that you should replace the flapper.

Eco-Friendly Tips for the Living Room

For entertainment purposes, the living room is the ideal place to gather.  With that being said, it should be rather apparent that the living room is oftentimes one of the most frequented rooms in the house.  Big-screen televisions, curtains, and yes, even light bulbs, can mean the difference between having a green, sustainable living room, and an unsustainable, ecologically-unfriendly waste of energy.

There are vampires amongst us.

Well, not literal vampires, fortunately.  Instead of taking the form of a bat, these vampires appear as average, everyday electronics.  What’s worse is that your living room is full of them.

The term “vampire” refers to electronic devices that are constantly consuming energy, even when turned off.  Ever notice how that little green light on your satellite box stays on, even when the unit is turned off?  Something has got to be generating the power for that light to shine, and that something will also increase your electricity bill!  Stereos, DVD players, converter boxes, gaming consoles, and even the television can all be labeled as vampires.

Manufacturers have gotten better over the past few years, producing products that provide more efficiency.  However, a simple solution to the problem is to simply plug all of your electronic devices into a power strip.  This method is an inexpensive way to fight back against the vampires lurking in your living room.

I see the light.

If that light is being emitted from an incandescent bulb, then it is probably much dimmer than it could be; not to mention highly inefficient.  Instead, consider swapping out that old light bulb for a highly efficient CFL bulb, or even better, an LED bulb.

While it may not seem like a big change, the impact it has is actually quite substantial; especially if you choose to go with LED lighting.  What sets an LED bulb apart from the traditional incandescent bulb is its lifespan, which is eighty percent more than the lifespan of an incandescent bulb.

All natural is the way to go.

Of course, replacing your old light bulbs with LED bulbs is a great way to promote efficiency.  However, wouldn’t cutting the lights off altogether be even more efficient?  Well, try it!  Instead of cutting on the lights the moment you walk into the living room, try opening the curtains and blinds.  This will allow the natural lighting to flood in, illuminating the room with a fresh, rejuvenating glow.

Consider giving your air conditioner the boot, too.  Instead of cranking up the air on a nice day, try opening up the windows and letting the breeze flow through your home.  Not only will this reduce costs in terms of electricity, but the EPA has found and confirmed that the air inside your home can be two to five times more polluted than the outside air.

Sometimes though, it is just too hot to open a window.  Should that be the case, do the exact opposite as above—close the window and draw the blinds.  Your blinds and curtains act as a shade, blocking some of the sun’s rays from entering your home.  This will keep the room cooler overall, as well as keep the room darker.

Don’t let your vacuum have all the fun…

A vacuum cleaner is a great way to clean up the living room, but it is also yet another contributor to your utility bills.  Cleaning up can easily be made more efficient by bringing green into your home, literally by placing a few plants around your living room.

A few plants can act similarly to an air purifier, recycling the particulates in the air.  If that were not enough, plants also renew the air.  The carbon dioxide we breathe out of our mouths with every breath acts as food to plants.  The plant will take in the carbon dioxide, and release oxygen as a byproduct.  The whole process is similar to how a re-breather works for a scuba diver.

NASA has been doing extensive research into indoor houseplants to determine which plants are better at filtering the air for use on the space station.  A few of the plants found to be better suited for the task include English Ivy, Devil’s Ivy, Peace Lily, Chinese Evergreen, and Golden Pothos to name a few.

Eco-Friendly Tips for the Laundry Room

If energy consumption were a contest, the laundry room is definitely a contender for first place.  Two gigantic, power-hungry appliances—the washing machine and the dryer—call the laundry room home.  Therefore, for anyone wanting to go green, the laundry room is an obvious place to start.

Get out of hot water.

Most people are accustomed to washing clothes in hot water, resting on the belief that hot water gets clothes cleaner.  The problem with that is that most of the energy used by clothes washing is devoted to heating the water.

Therefore, in order to save that energy, all we would need to do is wash clothes in cold water.  Lucky for us, that task is made as simple as the push of a button (or a turn of the dial).  Most contemporary washing machines are equipped with this feature.

If it were that simple, then why isn’t everyone doing it?  Most people are bound by the belief that cold water simply cannot get clothes clean.  While, yes, it is true that heat is one of the primary ingredients in getting clothes clean, this can easily be compensated for by washing with detergent specifically designed for cold-water use.

Giving up hot water when washing clothes will not only cut the amount of energy used by your washing machine, but it will also dramatically reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced by it as well.

Filled to capacity.

That is how your washing machine should be when you do a load of clothes.  Basically, you should refrain from doing laundry until you have a full load.  The same amount of energy applied to a full load is the same amount of energy applied to half a load or less.

Be warned though; it is quite easy to cross the line between full and over-full.  Stuffing a washer beyond its capacity can lead to under-washed clothing.  Furthermore, over time, the effects of over-filling will wear down the components of a washing machine, shortening the overall life of the unit.

All clogged up.

The washer is not the only thing that gets heated up to do a load of clothes.  Typically, a load of clothes leaves the washer only to be trapped in the dryer, where hot air circulates around the load until completely dried.  Based on that logic, it should be apparent that the dryer consumes a considerable amount of energy.  Therefore, it is essential that before you start a load of clothes in the dryer, you clean the lint filter every time.

Think of your dryer as a heart, and your lint filter as an artery.  As plaque builds up in an artery, your heart has to work harder to pump blood through the blockage.  A clogged lint filter can cause a dryer to work harder in order to force the air through the obstructed filter.  To make matters even worse, super-heated air and extremely flammable lint particles do not mix.  Hundreds of house fires occur every year that could have easily been prevented by just cleaning the lint filter.

Use it for all it’s worth.

Sad to say, but some homeowners are simply not using their laundry appliances to their full potential.  As more and more people began seeking high-efficiency appliances, manufacturers began giving the people what they wanted.  As a result, newer model washing machines and dryers are privy to a plethora of energy-saving features.

Perhaps one of the most revolutionary changes made to washing machines and dryers arises in the form of sensors.  For example, older-model dryers are usually set to operate for a certain length of time (ex: 60 minutes).  Let’s say you set your dryer to run for 60 minutes, but your load of clothes is completely dry after 40 minutes.  That means for 20 minutes, your dryer was in operation, when it didn’t have to be.

However, newer dryers are usually outfitted with a special sensor that automatically detects when a load of laundry has been dried adequately enough.  Upon reaching that level of dryness, the dryer will sense that the cycle is complete and the sensor will dictate for the dryer to cease operation.

In looking at a modern washer, you might find a feature labeled as “Suds-Saver,” or something similar.  This feature will save the sudsy water used in the first load of laundry and recycle it, using it again in the next load.  Since the water will obviously have soap suds already in it, not only can you cut back on water consumption, but you can also cut back on detergent use.

As you should easily be able to tell by now, if you have the itch to go green, it certainly does not have to be expensive.  This article was actually meant to show you ways to adopt more sustainable habits in the home for little or no cost.  At first glance, some of these practices may not seem like they will amount to anything substantial, but sometimes it’s the little things that matter, that add up, that create that warm “feel-good” sensation in knowing that we are part of the solution.


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