There are a lot of media stories about exciting new green buildings: LEED-certified buildings, net-zero buildings, buildings made out of recycled shipping containers, homes in New Urbanist communities, even “ultra-small” homes. But a new home can be pricey. Fortunately, though, all these innovative green ideas can be applied where you live right now. In fact, going green in your existing home might even be better for the environment than building a brand-new home.
If you wish your home could be LEED-accredited, focus on energy conservation and indoor air quality in your existing home. Upgrade to a high-efficiency furnace and air conditioner and consider adding central air filtration to your heating and cooling system. Install Energy Star appliances and WaterSense plumbing fixtures. For remodeling projects, use VOC-free paints and natural materials.
If you wish you had a “net-zero” home, consider geothermal – and insulate. Geothermal systems use 70% renewable energy and protect you against spikes in oil and utility prices. To increase your energy savings still more, tighten the “thermal envelope” of your home by identifying and sealing hidden air leaks and adding insulation.
If you wish you lived in a “recycled” home, get to know your local salvage yard. Many communities have “architectural salvage” shops and recycle/reuse areas in their landfills. When you do your next home improvement project, go shopping at your landfill first. This is not only great for the environment; it’s also great for your budget. Plus, you’ll end up with a creative, unique home. (Of course, make sure that you don’t re-use items containing lead, asbestos, or other contaminants.)
If you wish you lived in a New Urbanist community, start walking and biking in your own community. Experiment with replacing some of your car trips with walking or biking trips. If you find that your community isn’t pedestrian- or bike-friendly, work with local politicians to change this. Learn about your local public transportation options to see if you can fit them into your lifestyle. If you’re in the market for a new home, make location and proximity to work and shops a primary consideration.
If an “ultra-small” home looks like fun but seems impractical as a long-term residence, consider reducing the size of your own living space. If your kids are grown, it may be time to downsize to a smaller home that uses less energy. If you’re building a new home or an addition to your current home, build only what you need. Sometimes the greenest building decision you make can be deciding to build less.
(The “Not So Big House” website (http://www.notsobig.com) is a great resource for those interested in downsizing while maintaining a high quality of life.)