5 Simple, Low-Cost Eco-Friendly Home Improvements

Clothes line

If you plan on doing some energy-saving and toxin-reducing projects around your home , consider these simple ideas to green your home.

Install a solar clothes dryer

Your parents probably called it a clothes line, which could be found in virtually every backyard across the country. While some people can’t install them due to property covenants, a clothes line is a great way to reduce your energy costs. Experts note that your electric or gas clothes dryer is one of the three most energy-intensive appliances in the typical home, right up there with refrigerators and hot water heaters. Expect to save 5-10 percent of your home energy bill.

Attach one end of your clothes line to an outside south-facing wall, and attach the other end to an upright pole about 15 feet away. Your local hardware or lumber store can sell you the wood, or even a steel pole. Or, buy one at www.clotheslineshop.com.

Install a ceiling fan

Before central air conditioning became virtually mandatory in homes, many people relied on a good ol’ ceiling fan to move the air and even out the temperature. In the summer, the fan saves energy by cooling your skin with a moisture-evaporating breeze. In the winter, a ceiling fan can push down the warm air that naturally rises toward the ceiling back down to where the people are. When you buy an Energy-Star-rated fan (about $100), it should have a small switch near the motor housing to reverse the direction of the fan. This is important to fully benefit from the fan in all seasons, so that you can raise the temperature setting of your air conditioner in the summer, and lower the heating thermostat in the winter.

To make sure your fan is spinning in the right direction, stand under the fan and look at the direction of the spin. If the blades move to the right, or clockwise, this is the correct setting to make the room feel warmer. The fan will create a slight updraft that pushes the warmer air down into the room. If the blades move to the left, or counter-clockwise, the room will feel cooler due to the breeze coming down from the ceiling. Remember, counter-clockwise equals cooler.

For tips on installing a ceiling fan, go to www.thisoldhouse.com

Hang drapes or shades to keep the sun out

It’s hip—and economical—to have functional window coverings to prevent the sun from warming up your house on a sunny summer day. And of course, you can also raise the shade or open the drapes in the winter to let the sunshine in.

Make your kitchen green when remodeling

The first place many families seek to improve in their home is the kitchen. That means replacing old energy-guzzling appliance with Energy Star appliances. They may cost a little more to purchase but can easily save you hundreds of energy dollars. Some appliances, like an energy-efficient hot water heater, may qualify for a tax credit in your state.

Other ways to make your kitchen greener—regardless of its color—include:
• Using recycled or renewable materials for the countertops, such as granite, marmoleum or bamboo.
• For flooring, use cork, bamboo or marmoleum.
• Install a simple $2 water aerator on the kitchen faucet, which can save you up to five gallons of water a day. Since much of the country is facing water shortages, this is a simple way to go green while reducing your water bill.
• Also, when cleaning your kitchen and the rest of the house, use non-toxic and self-made cleaners, which are safer and cheaper.

Use non-toxic paint

The next time you paint any surfaces inside your home, use low-toxic paints and coatings to create a healthy living environment for you and your family. Traditional household paints contain many chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are carbon-based chemicals that like to exist as a gas. The type and amount of VOCs in a household paint generally varies with the type and brand of paint, but traditional household paints usually contain many VOCs, such as benzene, formaldehyde, and toluene. Some of these VOCs have been linked in scientific studies to eye, nose and throat irritation, nauseau, headaches—and even cancer.

Paint with VOCs can “off-gas” from the walls into the air as the paint is applied or as it dries. This can cause people living or spending time in these freshly painted homes to have exposures to VOCs that are much greater than normal—as much as 1000 times greater.

There are several types of low- or no-VOC paints, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Latex or water-based paints, especially those that are largely free of formaldehyde and other chemicals to prevent mildew and mold, have lower amounts of VOCs as compared to oil-based paints. Flat-finish paints tend to contain fewer VOCs than glossy-finish paints, and white or pale paints have fewer VOCs than brightly colored or dark paints.

Many paint stores and paint departments in big-box stores like Home Depot carry “low VOC”, “zero-VOC” or “no-VOC” latex paints, which must have VOC levels lower than 100 parts per gallon. But remember that even paints labeled as “no VOC ” generally release some VOCs into the air, with the amount differing by brand. These paints can work as well as or better than a conventional latex paint. However, it’s important to do your homework and pick the right paint for you and your needs.

There is another class of paints that are entirely free of man-made chemicals, making them the least polluting and harmful options. “Natural” paints are composed of natural materials, such as linseed, citrus, and soy oils, pine and balsam-derived turpenes, minerals, plant pigments, lime, and chalk. Although they’re made from natural ingredients, “natural” paints may still emit significant amounts of VOCs from ingredients like turpenes or citrus oil, which can also cause eye or lung irritation in some people. “Milk-based” paints do not emit any natural or man-made VOCs, but can’t be used in kitchens, bathrooms, or other damp areas, take a long time to dry and require frequent repainting.

Looking for more ideas? Check out our DIY section>>

[ background=”#b6c4b3″ color=”#000000″ border=”0px solid #cccccc” shadow=”0px 0px 0px #eeeeee”]Richard Kujawski, Managing Editor of Living Green Magazine.

This article was originally published in Living Green Magazine.[/]

image: Dylan Luder via Compfight cc

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