Five ways to make your home more sustainable

Make your home more sustainable—from installing a clothesline to going off the grid

By Jessica Ross

wind turbine

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Reducing your home’s load on the environment isn’t a one-option task. Choices range from the ultimate in energy savings to the basics that still make a difference. So, which shade of green are you willing (and able) to undertake?

Reduce energy consumption

Extreme green: Install solar panels, a wind generator and a battery bank to take your home off the grid. Or, better yet, install so much power-generating capacity that you can sell power back to the grid and let the utility company pay you for a change.

Small steps: Say no to carbon by buying your electricity from a renewable-energy provider, such as Bullfrog Power. Use a power monitor to track down your energy-hogging appliances. Use a solar clothes drier (a.k.a. a clothesline). Put small appliances and electronics on power bars so that you can turn them off to reduce phantom loads.

Cut heating and cooling

Extreme green: Install a geothermal system with loops deep in the ground around your home and a heat exchanger to collect relative heat from the ground or to shed heat from your household.

Small steps: Reduce your heating and cooling load. Install awnings over your windows or hang opaque drapes to let sun in when you want heat and reflect it out when you want to keep cool. Upgrade glazing to triple-pane, argon-filled windows with non-conductive frames.

Save water outdoors

Extreme green: Xeriscape your property with rock gardens and plants that need only what the clouds provide.

Small steps: Reduce the area of your lawn by landscaping with native trees, shrubs and flowers. They’ve evolved to suit the soil conditions and climate, so they don’t require as much water, and they attract songbirds and other friendly fauna.

Eco-options for oil appliances

Extreme green: Collect used vegetable oil from restaurants and process it into biodiesel–fuel for your furnace and water heater.

Small steps: Reduce the load on your furnace. Raise or lower the thermostat a degree or two (you’ll barely notice a difference). Consider replacing your furnace with an electric model, which you can power with renewable energy. Want to try a fun DIY project? Make a solar air heater, which blows prewarmed air into your heating system. For instructions, see and click on “DIY solar heater.”

Cooler hot water

Extreme green: Install a solar hot-water system on your roof to preheat water for your hot-water heater with free energy from the sun.

Small steps: Install an on-demand (or “tankless”) hot-water heater in the bathroom you use most to provide instant, endless hot water for your sink and shower. Downsize your hot-water heater to fit your remaining needs. Reduce the temperature of your hot-water heater to 60ºC and, if it doesn’t have internal insulation, wrap it so it sheds less heat.

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