Because You Asked: What green home improvement projects can help reduce waste? –Helen G.
Dear Helen: It’s easy to get overwhelmed by your green to-do list. The first things to focus on — those which will give you the biggest return on your investment of time and money — are organizing for recycling and/or composting, and completing projects that will help your home systems work most efficiently.
To get a list of some of the best tasks to tackle, we asked Harden Goldenberg, founder of Smart Space, an Atlanta-based company that works to make residential and commercial spaces more energy efficient, healthier, and more comfortable.
Here are some of her — and our — top suggestions:
1. Set up a recycling station. Most cities have recycling centers that accept more materials beyond just the paper, some plastics, and metal cans that curbside programs accept. A well-organized recycling station in your mudroom, pantry, or garage can make it convenient to collect various materials that aren’t accepted curbside, so that you can easily take them to a local recycling drop-off center once you’ve collected an amount worthy of a trip. Goldenberg uses tall black kitchen trash cans, each labeled for the recyclables her family generates most: glass, Styrofoam, mixed paper, cartons, and so on. “If households created a recycling station, they can reduce their waste significantly,” she says.
2. Insulate your hot water system. An insulation wrap for your hot water heater is less than $25 and can save energy by up to 16 percent. It’s a quick and easy DIY project that will take only a couple of hours. While you’re at it, you can insulate your water pipes in your basement or crawlspace, which can prevent pipes from freezing in the winter, will keep water hot while traveling into your house, and will help prevent condensation that can drip and cause moisture issues.
3. Conduct an energy audit on your home using a BPI-certified energy auditor (You can search the BPI website for a professional near you). This can range in price from $200 to $600. Among the things the auditor can test for are air leaks throughout the house; that gas appliances aren’t backdrafting or leaking gas; radon levels; and insulation gaps. “Often we find that all the leaks throughout your house, such as fireplaces, doors, plumbing holes, and attic hatches, add up to the equivalent heat loss of an open window,” says Goldenberg. A good energy auditor can also help you take advantage of energy efficiency rebates.
4. Amp up your insulation. You can significantly reduce your household energy use by insulating your attic with cellulose insulation. This blown-in insulation is made of recycled newspapers, and Goldenberg prefers it over spray foam because spray foam has been known to cause asthma and other health issues. You can hire a professional to do the installation or do it yourself with a rented blower.
5. Buy LED light bulbs. LED light bulbs are very efficient, safe and economical. According to Energy.gov, you can save roughly $75 per year on energy costs by putting LEDs in the most used light fixtures in your home. Not only that, LED bulbs save more energy and last longer than incandescent and CFL light bulbs, and LEDs cost less in annual energy costs. The cost to purchase LED bulbs is a little higher than the other bulbs, but because they last far longer than CFLs and incandescent bulbs, purchasing LEDs actually saves you money, making them a win-win for you and the environment.
6. Seal and insulate your ducts. Goldenberg says this project is not expensive, and done right, will never need to be done again. “It improves your indoor air quality and reduces moisture issues immensely,” she says. It also helps improve the efficiency of HVAC systems. Goldenberg estimates that sealing the ducts and the duct boots could make them up to 30 percent more efficient.
And remember, the simplest way to start being more sustainable is to reduce waste and recycle as much as you can, because doing these helps reduce resource waste across the board: From the manufacture and sale of goods, to their disposal.