Love your living room
These simple tips will lead to a budget- and eco-friendly relaxation space.
Accent your area.
Lay a few area rugs down on hardwood, tile or linoleum for a carpetlike effect without harmful glues. Choose rugs made from natural fibers such as cotton, wool, hemp, bamboo and sisal, and look for vegetable dyes or no dye at all. Rugs made from recycled materials are another green option. Abundant Earth offers durable Recycled Cotton Rag Area Rugs in many colors starting at $55 each.
Set the mood.
Turning the lights down makes for an inviting atmosphere, and it saves electricity. A compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) has a 10,000-hour lifespan. New low-wattage CFLs work with conventional incandescent dimmers and cost about $20 per bulb. Visit GE to find them.
Finding free or cheap furnishings is tons of fun, and your budget will thank you. Check Craigslist, Freecycle, thrift stores and curbside pickup for unique pieces that need a makeover. Turn trash into treasure by giving your "new" items a safe, eco-friendly cleaning. Breathe new life into hand-me-downs by reupholstering with fresh, breathable fabrics such as organic cotton, hemp or linen.
Create a healthier kitchen
Follow this recipe to reduce, reuse and recycle.
Befriend your dishwasher.
In general, a regular dishwasher cycle uses less water than handwashing. Skip the prerinsing and save even more. For caked-on food, soak in cold water (to avoid using energy to heat the water). Some dishwashers have a heated dry feature; turn it off and either towel or air dry. If you’re in the market for a new dishwasher, an Energy Star model is the way to go; they start at about $500.
Don’t buy the water.
Fitness and energy waters may be all the rage, but there’s no beating pure, unadulterated water. If you’re concerned about the quality of your water supply, invest in an under-sink filtration system or a water-filtering pitcher. There’s none of the waste associated with bottled water, and it’s significantly cheaper in the long run. A case of bottled water is about 3 gallons and generally costs around $7; a Grand water pitcher from Brita costs about $32 and filters 80 ounces at a time; replace the filter about once every other month for only $9.
Down with disposables.
Paper napkins and paper towels are garbage waiting to happen. And while you can buy recycled-paper or other eco-friendly versions, they’re still not reusable. Switch to cloth napkins and dish towels instead. They may cost more, but you can use them indefinitely.
When buying dishes and flatware, avoid plastic, which is made from nonrenewable petroleum and may impart odors and hazardous substances into food. Instead, buy metal flatware from a secondhand or consignment store. It will be less expensive than new, and you’ll be promoting reuse—and you might come across cool, retro designs. For dishes, opt for lead-free, fair-trade or local ceramics that promote the livelihood of artisans; visit Wedge Worldwide.
A bathroom boost
About 65 percent of your home’s water use can be traced to the bathroom, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Tweak your throne.
The first sign of a troubled toilet is the sound of running water between flushes. Malfunctioning toilets can leak hundreds of gallons of water a day, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Test your toilet’s water-tightness with a few drops of food coloring in the tank; if the bowl shows traces of color after 15 minutes, you’ve got a leak. An inexpensive toilet repair kit, such as the MJSI HFX120 Hydrofix, costs less than $20. When it’s time to replace the toilet, opt for a high-efficiency one. For a couple hundred bucks, a 1.3–gallon-per-flush model will save $100 a year on your water bill, according to the EPA. Start your search for the perfect throne by visiting the EPA.
Soak up the savings.
Conserving water is simple with a showerhead shutoff button. While lathering up or shaving, hit the button to stop water flow. For less than $10 and in just five minutes, you could use 16 percent less water. A Rain Saver Inline Shower Shut-off Valve is $6 from Green Logic, and it can be easily installed between your showerhead and the plumbing.
Just say no to vinyl.
Exchange your PVC-vinyl shower curtain or liner for one made with hemp. The fiber is naturally antifungal and antibacterial. After showers, leave the curtain extended for even drying. To wash, scrub with a bit of borax or distilled vinegar added to water and hang to dry. Hemp curtains start at $69.
Step on this.
To improve bathroom air quality, replace your old synthetic-fiber bath mat with a sustainable cork one. Cork is naturally water-resistant, and its soft texture and resilience make it perfect underfoot. Gaiam sells a mat made from sustainably harvested cork for $24. If you prefer plush for your piggies, choose organic cotton. Organic Style retails mats in four colors for $28; .
The better bedroom
Get it covered.
Many conventional mattresses contain hazardous or irritating chemicals such as formaldehyde. While a natural-fiber or rubber-tree latex mattress is ideal, a natural mattress topper over your conventional mattress may be more economical. The Natural Sleep Store offers a full-size wool mattress topper for $260.
Dress your bed accordingly.
In summer, switch your AC off at night, then outfit your bed with lightweight linens and open a bedroom window. If you’re still too warm, invest in a small fan; it will draw less energy than cooling your entire home. In winter, lower your thermostat at bedtime—keep it set above 60 degrees, or your pipes might freeze—and add an extra blanket. Or use a space heater in the bedroom.
Simplify your sleep space.
The National Sleep Foundation calls televisions, computers and work spaces in the bedroom "sleep-stealing culprits." Move the burglars to another room. And if you’re considering adding a desk or entertainment center to your bedroom, don’t.
These minor changes equal major benefits for the environment and your bank account.
Airtight, everything’s all right.
A drafty home inflates energy bills. But it’s easy and affordable to plug those drafts with an eco-friendly sealant. According to the Energy Star website, if the job is done carefully and completely, it could save up to 10 percent on your energy bill.
Seal gaps around windows with AFM Safecoat’s zero-VOC Caulking Compound ($8.50 for 10.5 ounces).
Use expandable foam to fill gaps. Henkel OSI GreenSeries Pro-Foam II Minimally Expanding Sealant can be used to insulate and seal gaps around plumbing, electrical work, windows and in foundation. Zero-VOC sealant: $25 for 33 ounces.
Adding weather stripping to drafty doorways also cuts energy loss. You can buy weather-stripping packages at hardware stores, often for less than $20.
Screen the sun.
Solar screens, which control the amount of sunlight and ultraviolet rays that come through your windows, can help lower cooling costs. A wide variety of sun- and heat-diffusing options are available; expect to pay $30 to $50 per window. To further limit spending, buy screens only for the windows that get the most sunlight.
Try Hunter Douglas’ shades made from PVC-free, recyclable and non-outgassing Greenscape fabric.
Say goodbye to standby.
We pay to operate appliances and electronics we think we’ve shut off, when really they are in standby mode. These energy vampires account for 5 percent of home energy use, drawing 1 to 7 watts per hour. Eliminate standby draw by connecting your appliances to a surge protector, which you can buy for $20 or less, then click it off when appliances are not in use.
Also, look for electronics with an energy-efficient standby feature. Energy Star devices are usually the best.
Lose the shoes.
Here’s an easy one: Take your shoes off when you enter your home. Shoes track traces of dirt, dust and other toxins into the house, which leads to poorer air quality and more vacuuming and cleaning.Designate a place near your entryway for footwear.
Keeping your fridge well-stocked means the compressor cycles less often. It’s easier to chill food than the air surrounding it.
Baking soda and vinegar work magic on bathtub drain problems. Pour one cup of baking soda down the drain followed by a cup of vinegar (preferably hot) to unclog the drain. The baking soda fizzes after the vinegar combines with it, and it eats away at clogs. If your drain backs up, don’t use a declogging chemical; first try a drain auger or "snake." For small clogs, mini-snakes work as well as full-size snakes—and they’re cheaper.