Tips For a Greener and Healthier Home

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These expert home improvement tips will help you make your home more environmentally-friendly and a healthier place for you and your family.

Go Green and Save

With a greener home, you can save money (with more efficient use of energy and water), live healthier (better air quality), are more environmentally astute (by using materials that are more renewable and recyclable)- without compromising quality, aesthetics or budget. Learn how it's done with these 25 easy tips.

New Ways to Save Energy

Advances in both solar energy and geothermal energy have made it easy for homeowners to implement these money-saving methods into their homes. See how to get started with these tips and suggestions.

Use Low-VOC Paint

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), paints, stains, and other architectural coatings produce about 9 percent of the volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from consumer and commercial products, making them the second-largest source of VOC emissions after automobiles. If sealing wood or painting, choose products that emit low or no VOCs. Low-toxic, low-odor, water-base adhesives and caulks are the best choices because they emit fewer fumes and quickly stop releasing chemicals. Check labels to learn whether a paint is low-VOC.

Fuss-Free Flooring

Consider replacing carpet with easy-to-keep-clean flooring like bamboo. This fast growing grass can be selectively harvested annually, which reduces dependence on limited timber resources. Bamboo flooring is extremely durable and is harder than oak or maple.

More Bamboo Uses

Consider bamboo countertops as an environmentally-friendly choice. Bamboo countertops can be fabricated in different styles and patterns, and can be prefinished with a food-safe mineral oil/beeswax finish.

Save Electricity -- It's Easy

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) can save three-quarters of the electricity used by incandescent bulbs, and the cost to light your home with CFLs is less than one-third of the cost lighting your home with incandescent bulbs. While CFLs cost more, they last longer and use less energy. A $2 or $3 CFL bulb will last 10,000 hours, and will use only 27 watts of power to generate as much light as a 100-watt incandescent bulb, which cost about 50 cents each, but only last 1,000 hours.

Energy Sensors

Dimming lights saves energy while setting the right light level to improve mood and ambiance. Until recently, dimmers usually only worked with incandescent lightbulbs. But new types of dimmers are designed to work with CFL and LED bulbs. Integrating both dimmers and energy efficient bulbs into your home's lighting plan will help save energy and money.

Occupancy/vacancy sensors are ideal for rooms where lights are often inadvertently on, such as a child's room or laundry room. Daylight sensors not only save energy, they automatically dim the lights when there is sufficient daylight coming into a room, providing that perfect balance of electric light and daylight.

Save Water

Upgrading to more efficient fixtures will reduce both your water bill and energy bill, and you may receive rebates and incentives to make the switch, too. The latest ultra low-flow fixtures on the market conserve more water than the previous generation -- without compromising performance. Look for EPA WaterSense-labeled products when you're shopping for toilets, showerheads, and faucets.

Ensure Your Drinking Water is Safe

Investigate your home's water quality by calling your local municipality for water-test results. If necessary, rid your drinking water of harmful pollutants, such as asbestos and radium, by installing a water-filtration system.

Go Natural with Your Landscaping

Landscape with native vegetation to reduce the need for pesticides and fertilizers, both of which are easily tracked into the home. If you do use these products, be sure to remove your shoes before entering the house. To be extra safe, shower immediately after applying pesticides, and wash the clothes you were wearing separately from other laundry.

Energy-Efficient Roofs

If you're looking to replace your home's roof, start by researching your home's specific conditions, particularly climate, which will dictate what type of roofing is best for you. Specific roofing materials and installation practices can help reduce energy use by improving attic ventilation, conserve resources and maximize the use of recycled materials.

Add an Air Purifier

Indoor air pollution can be up to five times higher than outdoor air pollution, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. So consider an air purifier to control odors, chemical vapors, and pollutants in your home. HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arresting) filters in air purifiers remove microscopic particles. Some units pair a HEPA filter with a secondary filtration system, such as activated carbon, to remove odors.

Freshen the Air with Fans

Use exhaust fans in your kitchen and bathroom when cooking and bathing. A range hood helps keep kitchen air clean by expelling pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide, generated by a gas stove. Bathroom exhaust fans provide added comfort and reduce condensation that can lead to mold growth. and by installing a fan timer that automatically turns off the fan, you can also save energy and money.

Ventilation is Key

In the name of energy efficiency, new homes are often sealed so tightly that there are no leaks to supply fresh air. To counteract that, Mark LaLiberte, a building consultant with Building Knowledge, Inc., in Minneapolis, says homes should include a ventilation system to exhaust stale air and bring in fresh. The system should be based on the home's size, structural tightness, climate, and number of occupants.

Open Up Your Windows

To allow for natural ventilation during mild weather and air exchanges while cleaning, open up the windows. Keep windows operable and unobstructed so it's easy to do so. It's best to place windows on multiple walls to allow cross ventilation.

Control Dust

Conquer dust with these easy tips:

-- To minimize accumulated household dust, display hard-to-clean collectibles behind glass doors.

-- To keep dust mites at bay in the bedroom, put allergy-control covers on mattresses and pillows, and be sure to wash bedding weekly in hot water and dry on high heat.

-- Remodeling stirs up dust. After your project is complete, hire a licensed company to clean your home's duct system.

-- Limit the dust in your living space by choosing easy-to-clean window treatments. Flat-weave cotton and linen fabrics are smart selections. It's best to avoid heavily textured draperies and blinds, which can collect dust.

Smart Cleaning

Battle bacteria on kitchen surfaces. Sanitize sponges by tossing them into the microwave or dishwasher. Make sure countertops and cutting boards are nonporous, and clean them regularly. Also, look for cleaning products that are made from plant sources rather than petroleum and that are free of chemicals that can irritate (such as chlorine) or pollute (such as phosphates).

Upgrade Your Vacuum

Buy a quality vacuum to rid the house of allergens and dust mites. Look for a vacuum with an agitator, high suction, high filtration (such as HEPA filters), and tools for cleaning furniture, draperies, ceilings, and baseboards.

Upgrade Drywall

When finishing walls, consider using the new generation of moisture-resistant gypsum panels in lieu of standard drywall. The new wallboard panels feature special coatings designed to rebuff moisture and mold from both sides. They also offer added fire protection.

Install a Humidifier

Combat dry winter air with a whole-house humidifier (about $400). Attached to your heating and cooling system, these units reduce light-switch induced shocks, dry coughs, sinus problems, and dry skin (which flakes off and creates food for dust mites).

Stop Seepage in the Basement

Prevent mold growth in your basement by installing a dehumidifier. Also, make sure gutters and drain spouts direct water away from the house.

Central Vacuum System

A central vacuum system outperforms conventional vacuums in removing dust and allergens from your house, according to a study conducted by the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine. Most existing homes can be easily retrofitted with the systems.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Install carbon monoxide detectors, which notify you of the deadly, odorless gas. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends installing detectors near sleeping areas.

Upgrade Your Fireplace

Shopping for a new fireplace? Consider a sealed-combustion gas unit, which draws air from outside and vents it back out so that no fumes or particles pollute indoor air.

Does your fireplace belch smoke into the room? Break its smoking habit by mounting a fan on top of your chimney. Fans with adjustable motor speeds restore healthy ventilation and can refresh a room's air when the fireplace isn't in use. Fans can be used with wood-burning and gas fireplaces.

If you have a wood-burning fireplace, reduce indoor air pollution and creosote formation by using clean, dry, seasoned firewood.

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