What Does It Mean to Be Eco-Friendly?
At its essence, being “eco-friendly” means you are not causing harm to the environment or people—but that can look like many different things. For example, greenhouse gases are almost inevitably emitted during the production and shipping of products. However, a company can work to minimize and even offset those effects (which is called having a “negative carbon footprint”) through its policies and practices.
On individual levels, we also inevitably impact the environment. On the flip side, we can also take steps to protect the environment, such as limiting plastic use, reducing demand for non-renewable energy sources, eating less meat and more organic products and so on. When it comes to eco-friendly home improvements, it’s even easier: With simple switches and updates, you can help the earth for years.
How to Tell If a Product Is Eco-Friendly
Once you understand the benefits of choosing eco-friendly products, it’s not a hard sell to start seeking them out. However, it is wise to be cautious about how a product is actually helping the environment. Unfortunately, some companies have seized on the marketing opportunity and advertise their products as sustainable or eco-friendly without that being true—this is a practice known as “greenwashing.”
To ensure you are investing in products that are truly eco-friendly, look for items that are certified by credible organizations, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Star program, USDA Organic orGreen Seal Certified.
Eco-Friendly Home Improvements
Many sustainable home improvement swaps can be done in a matter of minutes—like switching out your lightbulbs. Other projects call for more skill and an upfront expense, but the benefits that come from eco-friendly home improvements are priceless.
1. Switch to LED Light Bulbs
When you’re ready to dip your toes into the waters of sustainable home improvements, switching to energy-efficient lighting is a simple, inexpensive way to start: Next time a lightbulb goes out, just replace it with an LED bulb. Truly, using this option is a no-brainer.
Although LED bulbs are slightly more expensive to purchase than traditional incandescent bulbs, they pay off in terms of longevity and energy savings. You can use LED bulbs throughout the house as well as for holiday lights or landscape lights.
2. Upgrade Your Windows
Heating and cooling your home uses a lot of energy throughout the year—and old windows can be a significant contributor to your energy demands. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, about 25% of home energy is wasted through windows. The good news is that an effective way to cut down on that waste is by upgrading to dual-paned windows that are properly sealed. Although new windows can be costly, there is a good return on investment, and rebates or credits are often available.
3. Install a Tankless Water Heater
With traditional tank water heaters, water is continuously held and heated in the tank until it is needed. However, if you don’t need that much water, then you’re wasting a significant amount of energy each year just to keep an excess amount of water heated. As an eco-friendly alternative, tankless water heaters work by heating water on-demand as it passes through pipes—which comes with the added benefit of never running out of hot water. (No more cold showers!)
Although tankless water heaters are more expensive to purchase and install than tank water heaters, the energy savings and better lifespan can ultimately help offset the cost.
4. Update Your Plumbing
Since 1994, federal standards have required that plumbing fixtures use less water. That means if your toilet, bathtub, shower or other plumbing fixtures pre-date the early 1990s, you are likely wasting a lot of water (and money) each year. For example, by switching to a WaterSense labeled toilet model, you can reduce toilet water use by 20% to 60% annually. That translates to about $140 in savings each year, which can easily help pay for the new toilet within a few years.
5. Prioritize Energy-Efficient Appliances
There have been significant advances in the past decades when it comes to energy-efficient appliances—think less heat lost through the oven and more cold retained in the freezer.. If you are in the market for new appliances, prioritize ones that are Energy Star certified. This means the appliance meets U.S. Department of Energy’s strict criteria for energy efficiency.
Even if you aren’t ready to update your appliances, you can improve your energy efficiency by covering pans while cooking, using smaller appliances rather than bigger ones when possible (such as a toaster oven rather than a full-sized oven) and aiming to run your dishwasher or washing machine only when full.
6. Upgrade to an Eco-Friendly Fireplace
In many homes, the fireplace is a nice focal point that adds some ambiance during colder weather. But, that’s a missed opportunity: With an energy-efficient fireplace that helps heat your home with a renewable energy source, you can reduce your heating costs while helping the environment.
The most efficient, eco-friendly fireplace option is a natural gas fireplace. However, if you want to retrofit an existing wood-burning fireplace, a wood stove insert is a good option that can effectively help heat the home.
7. Install Energy Star Ceiling Fans
As heat waves become increasingly normal—even in parts of the world that previously had more moderate temperatures—the popularity of air conditioning units is on the rise. However, that isn’t without an environmental cost: Approximately 20% of Americans’ residential energy use is to power air conditioning units.
Even if an air conditioner is essential in your household, you can start to minimize how much you use it by setting it to a higher temperature and utilizing more fans throughout the house. With 60% more efficiency than conventional ceiling fans, Energy Star-rated ceiling fans can keep you cool while cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions.
8. Consider Switching to Solar
When you think about eco-friendly home improvements, solar panels often come to mind—but that’s for good reason. According to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, solar power can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, preserve water and limit air pollution.
Especially as the cost to install solar panels continues to decrease and the quality of panels improves, this sustainable home improvement is worth considering. Residential solar panels cost an average of $16,000 to install but can pay for themselves with energy savings within 10 years.