Jeannette Baum8-Minute Read
UPDATED: May 25, 2023
Between news of wildfires burning hundreds of thousands of acres out West and powerful winter storms freezing the South and causing extensive power outages, it’s nearly impossible not to feel a sense of hopelessness when it comes to matters of the environment. Is there anything one human can do that could actually make a difference?
Personal conservation efforts are not only important for helping to reduce the impact on the environment, but they’re also essential. By stepping up and making changes to reduce our individual ecological footprints, we can collectively make huge strides toward a healthier future for our planet and for humanity. Oftentimes, these efforts aren’t even sacrifices, but simple changes we can make at home that hardly affect our everyday lives.
Here are a few eco-friendly ideas for home that are easy to enact and help reduce your ecological footprint.
Some people may believe that building a green home is the only way to really reduce their carbon footprint – the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions they cause. But making even small changes to your home and your lifestyle can have a huge impact on environmental sustainability. While building a green home may involve big, expensive projects like replacing flooring, installing new windows and building with alternative materials, making smaller changes could involve replacing certain products, upgrading an appliance or changing your habits.
Follow these green tips for homeowners to start making progress on your sustainable home.
It seems simple, but reusing single-use plastics, and using less plastic in general, can make a more of a difference than one might think. There is currently a patch of garbage floating off the coast of California that’s twice the size of Texas. It’s called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and it’s the largest accumulation zone of ocean plastic on the planet. This plastic is lethal to ocean wildlife and can contaminate our food sources, too. By reusing your plastics, you can help reduce waste that may otherwise end up in a landfill or the ocean.
Reduce, reuse, recycle and, when possible, eliminate plastic use altogether. Swap out plastic wrap for beeswax wrap. It’s reusable, compostable, and is made out of all-natural ingredients.
Trade plastic eating utensils for reusable metal ones. Switch plastic straws for those made out of natural materials. The best option for reusable straws is bamboo. Bamboo is an easily renewable crop and a natural material, making it biodegradable.
According to energy.gov, you can save up to 10% on your heating and cooling bills by changing the temperature of your home 7 – 10 degrees for 8 hours of the day. Programmable thermostats ensure you don’t miss the perfect times to do so – when you’re sleeping or at work for the day. It can be hard to remember to change the temp in the morning, change it again when you get home and then again before you go to bed. Instead, you can program the thermostat to adjust to specific temperatures at different times of the day.
Older toilets use significantly more water, about 7 gallons on average. Energy-efficient toilets use about 1.6 gallons on average. Even using a bidet with your energy-efficient toilet would use less water than an average older toilet. Spending the money on an energy-efficient toilet now will save you money and precious water in the future. To ensure you’re getting the best energy efficiency from your new toilet, look for the Energy Star product label, which certifies the product is energy efficient. You may also want to consider getting a dual-flush system that conserves water by using less water to flush liquid waste than solid.
According to National Geographic, the equivalent of 270,000 trees is flushed down the toilet or tossed in landfills by humans every day. Trees clean our air and water from harmful toxins and, let’s not forget, provide the oxygen we need to survive. Unfortunately, the softer and fluffier the toilet paper, the more trees that are used to make it. Although a bidet might sound like a last resort for many Americans, it’s a much better option for the environment – and came in handy during the great toilet paper shortage of 2020, when widespread panic about the COVID-19 lockdowns caused many homes to hoard toilet paper. In fact, many bidet manufacturers saw sales skyrocket in 2020, some even running out of stock.
The bidet is also a much more sanitary option. There are many people who “forget” to wash their hands after doing their business. With a bidet, your hands don’t have to get involved, reducing the spread of germs.
If you simply can’t see yourself getting sprinkled on the bottom every time you go, there’s another option still much better than the thick, fluffy toilet paper that most Americans choose. Opt for sustainable toilet paper. The more recycled materials that have gone into the toilet paper, the better. The Natural Resources Defense Council and Stand.earth did research on how toilet paper companies are destroying Canada’s boreal forest. They even released a report featuring a Toilet Paper Sustainability Scorecard. Make it a point to choose toilet paper options in the A column, the most sustainable group of TP available in today’s market.
Another eco-friendly option that gained popularity from the COIVD-19 toilet paper shortage was using reusable toilet paper. Reusable toilet paper is made from cloth pieces and kept next to the toilet. After one use, the cloths are placed into a container (usually lined and filled with a antibacterial solution) and then washed and ready for reuse. This practice does require extra work, like cleaning and handling soiled cloths, and can cause you to use more water.
If reusing toilet paper isn’t your thing, there are other paper products you could considering switching out with reusables, including swapping paper plates and paper towels for reusable plates and washcloths.
“Green'' home cleaning products are not only better for the environment, they’re better for our families. Many cleaning products contain toxic chemicals that can do serious damage to our ecosystems and our health when used long term. Unfortunately, many of these products are still advertised as “green.” There are lists of chemicals to avoid when searching for nontoxic, eco-friendly cleaning products. The United States has banned far fewer chemicals than most European countries, so Americans have to be extra diligent when choosing safe ingredients.
Look for products in sustainable, biodegradable packaging without harsh additives, or make your own cleaning products. Pinterest and other sites are loaded with recipes for DIY eco-friendly cleaning products. You can even find recipes for DIY eco-friendly laundry detergent.
One impactful swap to use at home to save on energy is to wash your clothes in cold water. Using hot water in your washing machine requires 75% more energy just to heat the water up. Using cold water is also much better for keeping the colors of your clothes from fading as quickly as if you used hot water.
Another laundry trick to save energy is to skip the dryer and use a drying rack instead. This is already popular in many countries around the world. And why not? While you may have to wait a bit longer before you can wear your freshly washed clothes, hanging them out will keep them looking newer for much longer than if you were to dry them in a clothes dryer. Plus, you never have to worry about accidentally shrinking your favorite cashmere sweater ever again.
Unplug anything when not in use, even when electronics are turned off. If they’re plugged in, they’re still drawing energy from the outlet. All the electronics you keep plugged in without realizing it can quickly pile up your energy use, as well as your energy costs.
Energy-efficient light bulbs use up to 75% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and can last 10 times longer. Switching out lightbulbs is a quick, simple swap to make throughout the house that can save big time on your energy bill.
Do you feel like you’re constantly turning the heat up in your house in the winter or your air up in the summer? Consider implementing some sustainable energy hacks like beefing up your insulation. In many houses, especially older ones, there are little cracks and holes we can’t see. It’s through these holes that heat and cool air easily escape, running up your energy bills. You’d be amazed how much energy you can conserve when you insulate your house and refrain from accidentally heating the outside.
The need for renewable sources of energy is global. Not only do nonrenewable sources run out eventually, but the continued use of nonrenewable fuels heats the planet more and more. One popular renewable source of energy is the solar panel. Home solar panels use the sun to power your electricity and can greatly reduce your electric bill. And with the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit, you can save even more money by writing off a portion of your solar panel costs. The initial cost to install solar panels is an investment, which is typically paid off in 7–8 years in electricity savings alone. Of course, there are leasing or financing options available for some panels or other options like a cash-out refinance or home improvement loan to help you realize your energy-efficiency goals.
According to EPA.gov, one faucet that leaks at a rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year, which is enough to take more than 180 showers. Seal up the leaks in your home with a quick caulk and keep your hard-earned money and unused water from running down the drain.
Composting reduces the amount of natural material you’re sending to the landfills, saving space and resources used to transport waste. It also adds nutrients to the soil, benefitting organisms like earthworms that provide a vital role in the health of your garden.
There are heaps of how-to videos online for taking your first steps toward composting. A great place to start is with a small bin and work your way up as you become more familiar with the process.
Growing your own vegetable garden reduces your carbon footprint by eliminating the trip it takes – and the gas you waste – to get your vegetables or having them delivered to you. If you’re new to gardening, start with a few easy vegetables to grow, like leafy greens, root vegetables, tomatoes and cucumbers – all the fixings for a perfect salad.
One place homeowners can be more sustainable that’s commonly overlooked is home decoration. Some of us change decor with every season, and sometimes that means buying all-new materials every few months. Yes, shopping for new decorations can be fun. But the more often you purchase new things, the worse it is for the environment. Consider saving season-specific or holiday decorations and reusing them a couple of times before switching them out.
When it comes to everyday home decor, try to purchase from companies that are known for being environmentally responsible. You can also choose to stray away from plastics, and purchase furniture and accessories made from recycled or easily renewable materials like bamboo, hemp and organic cotton.
You could also peruse thrift stores, flea markets and used furniture shops to purchase and rehome used furniture and keep these big items out of the landfill. Just make sure you examine each piece for flaws or major damage and check for pests before buying used furniture.
Switching to a minimalist lifestyle can also help you buy less of the furniture and accessories you don’t really need that clutter up your home anyway. By purchasing only what you truly need for your home, you’re reducing the waste you’ll put out later in life, helping you make less of a negative impact on the environment
Another green tip for homeowners is to make small changes to help save water at home. This can be as simple as turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth or scrub your dishes, taking shorter showers or running the dishwasher or clothes washer only when you have full loads.
If you’re curious about how your personal ecological footprint makes a difference, footprintcalculator.org is a site that helps you calculate just that based on your current activities. It even allows you to compare with people in other countries around the world.
While saving the Earth is a collective effort, what we do individually is all we have complete control of. And it can arguably make the biggest impact. When we’re more intentional with swapping out current habits and materials in our home for more eco-friendly options, we can gain some peace of mind knowing we’re doing our part. If we each pitch in, we can make our way to a safer, greener home and hopefully make enough of an impact to prevent severe weather patterns and destructive fires in the future.