Tuesday, 27 November 2012

How to Go Green at Home

1) Everyday Actions

Turn off the lights when you leave a room

Turning off the lights saves both energy and money. For example, a standard bulb uses 60 watts of energy an hour and can chew through a whole kilowatt of energy over approximately 16 hours. A kilowatt hour of energy costs approximately $0.12. Leaving that light on unnecessarily for 16 hours a day all year adds up to 365 kilowatts of energy and $43.80 down the drain! Leave the lights on in a room with multiple bulbs and you will cost yourself even more. CFL and LED bulbs use less energy but they still should be turned off when you leave the room. 

If your household occupants are having difficulty remembering to regularly turn the lights off you can install motion or occupant sensors. These will automatically turn off lighting when no one is present and come back on when they return. There are also some creative systems designed to help you monitor your lights, like the Tio for kids!

Unplug your appliances/ electronics when you are not using them

Electricity continuously flows through the plugs of your electronic gadgets so they are ready to jump into action at any time; even if your gadgets aren't on they are still consuming energy to be ready when you are. Things that are not on but are still plugged in suck up to $4 billion a year in energy; just your laptop plugged into the wall and turned on can cost you $9.00 a year!

To remedy this unplug your electronics manually or plug groups of electrical items into Smart Strips. Smart strips stop drawing power when your gadgets are turned off so your energy emissions and costs are reduced. How do smart strips work? When a printer plugged into a basic smart strip goes into standby mode, its power consumption drops. Consequently the smart strips circuitry detects the change and cuts the power to that outlet but the rest of the outlets in use stay on.

Conserve water

Turn off the tap and shower when not in use, limit the number of baths you take, and only run a washing machine or dishwasher with a full load. You can even install a low-flow shower head and save as much as 60% of the water used by a conventional fixture! Dripping taps should be replaced because they can waste 9,000 litres of hot water each year.

Additionally, if you are watering your lawn in the summer purely for aesthetics, consider decreasing the amount of water you use on it and let it become brown. Grasses go dormant when they go without water, but do not die. A prolonged drought will eventually kill your grass but if you water it only a couple times a month (or it rains), your grass should still be fine.


Return your old bottles, cans, and juice containers to recycling depots. Most cities even have recycling programs for old newspapers, magazines, paper, and cardboards such as Vancouver’s blue box program. If you don’t already have a recycling box, check to see if your city offers a recycling program and get started.

Additionally, make sure to recycle your old electronics such as computers, cell-phones, televisions, cameras and kitchen appliances such as microwaves. Recycling all these items reduces the size and affect of landfills, helps conserve natural resources, decreases pollution, and saves energy. For example recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by more than 3,500 US homes in a year.  

There are many places you can take your items for proper disposal and recycling. If you are in the United States, Earth 911 has a quick search option for you to find recycling solutions for many different items. In North America, the E-Stewards Initiative provides locations for recycling electronics. For electronics in the US, you can use www.ecyclingcenter.com, www.ecyclingcentral.com, or www.greenergadgets.org to find recycling locations close to you. In Canada, Environment Canada has links to where and how you can recycle various items by province.

Call2Recycle is also a great resource to find locations for recycling your old batteries and cell-phones anywhere within North America. Additionally, many companies have recycling programs for their products, with some even offering you a credit or rebate for returning old products. For example, Apple offers customers gift cards for returning old iPhones, iPads, Macs or PCs. Apple will take care of the shipping costs if you mail it back to them or you can drop it off at any apple store.             

Go paperless

Go a step further than just recycling your paper; avoid initially using it whenever possible!

  • Cancel your paper delivery and use online news websites to keep up to date on important issues
  • Sign up for e-billing options wherever possible; most financial institutions, utilities, and electronic service providers now offer this
  • Send e-cards instead of paper cards for special occasions
  • Print only select pages instead of entire documents
  • Keep electronic copies (and backups) of documents on an external hard drive instead of printing them out for your records
  • Use cloths or sponges instead of paper towels
  • Cancel your yellow pages delivery
  • Switch to a metal mesh reusable coffee filter so you do not need disposable paper ones

Line dry your clothes

A clothes dryer is one of the largest energy hogs in your home. By relying on air and sun to do the drying work, you eliminate the use of electricity or gas, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and conserve non-renewable resources.

Sunshine acts as a natural sanitizer and whitener, eliminating the need for bleach. Air-drying is also gentle on fabrics so it helps them last longer, though dark items should be kept out of the sun or they will fade. When the weather is not very nice you can dry your clothes on racks inside instead.

Practice Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)

People are not the only ones going green; companies are as well. Spend your dollars on companies that have corporate social responsibility programs related to the environment and avoid dealing with companies that cause the environment more harm. Encourage the institutions you are affiliated with such as universities and banks to invest in companies that are improving the health of the planet. Many institutions may promote sustainable initiatives but still invest millions of dollars in fossil fuel stock so do some research before letting them handle your money.

Turn down the heat when you are not home

Why keep the heat running if no one is home? It is another great way to save money on your energy bill. If you are someone who is in a rush in the mornings and tend to forget, try installing a programmable thermostat instead. You save 2% on your heating bill for every 1⁰C that the thermostat is lowered. There are also electronic systems designed to help you manage the varying levels of heat in your home, like Tado!

2) Buy Green Products

Clean Green

Using green products in your household cleaning can be better for the health of the planet, yourself, your family, and your pets. Green products are typically made with natural ingredients and can reduce the amount of harmful toxins you are exposed to each day. Green products are also often packaged in recycled or biodegradable materials and offer bulk options to reduce waste. Research and read the labels of your green products, looking for words such as biodegradable, 100% recycled, certified organic, and green certified, to chose the ones that are right for you. You can also make your own simple formulas using ingredients like vinegar and lemon juice.

Choose alternatives to aerosol sprays

Aerosol sprays are convenient but if the sprays they emit miss their target those aerosol particles can remain suspended in the air for hours or even days. Consequently, the particles can become air pollution that is harmful when inhaled. Additionally, the chemicals used to actually propel the sprays out of the can include petroleum-derived volatile organic compounds like isobutene, butane, and pentane, which are unhealthy to breathe and create air pollution, too. Aerosol sprays are a key reason why ordinary household products, including cleaners and personal care items, are second only to cars as the Los Angeles region’s leading source of air pollution.

Buy energy efficient appliances and light bulbs

Remember to look for the EnerGuide tag when purchasing new appliances as it displays a product’s estimated annual energy consumption and evaluates it against the consumption performance of similar products. The Energuide label appears on major household appliances, heating, cooling and ventilation equipment, new houses, and cars.

Also, look for the ENERGY STAR label which indicates the most energy efficient major appliances, lighting products, electronics, windows, doors and skylights. Refitting your home with energy saving light bulbs labelled ENERGY STAR® not only helps the environment, but helps you save money on your electricity bill as well! Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs and can last up to 10 times longer. Light emitting diode (LED) lights are an emerging technology and are also 75% more efficient than incandescent bulbs. LEDs can last even longer than CFLs—lasting 15 to 20 times longer than incandescent bulbs. 

Wash clothes in cold water with coldwater detergents

In a typical wash, just heating the water accounts for approximately 75% of the energy use and GHG emissions generated from the load! To reduce energy and emissions companies such as Tide have developed cold-water detergents that compensate for the benefits of heat. This is done through adding different enzymes and surfactants that work better in cold water to the detergent. Tide’s Coldwater detergent has been ranked among Consumer Report’s top detergents; proof coldwater washes with the correct detergents really can get clothes clean!

Use recycled paper (when you cannot go paperless)

Paper products often offer at least one recycled version of a certain percentage, typically anywhere from 30% - 100%. Try buying the highest percentage you can afford for:

  • Tissues
  • Toilet paper
  • Printing paper
  • Paper towel
  • Greeting cards
  • Envelopes
  • And more!

Buy your clothes from second hand stores or buy clothes made from sustainable fabrics

Textile manufacturing uses large amounts of water while also emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases and pollutants. Buying your clothes second hand and donating your old clothes helps to reduce the demand for new textiles and thus reduces their environmental impacts. If new clothes are necessary many popular brands like Adidas, Levi’s and H&M offer clothes made from more eco-friendly material.

Switch to rechargeable batteries 

Rechargeable batteries are both better for the environment and save you money in the long run. Most batteries (even rechargeable ones) can release harmful metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium when taken to landfills. Rechargeable batteries are easy to recycle though and because rechargeable ones can be reused numerous times, they result in less energy and waste product overall.

Although rechargeable batteries cost more initially they typically can be recharged hundreds of times, consequently saving you from having to buy hundreds of single use ones which would be overall more expensive. You can even buy rechargeable batteries that can recharge through your computer’s USB ports!

Learn more about recycling batteries from our blog post, The Life, Death, and Resurrection of a Battery.

3) Eat Green

Buy reusable containers

Use reusable containers and make tonight’s dinner into tomorrow's lunch! That way you can reduce the amount of packaging used for a bagged lunch and eliminate the need to get take out. Use reusable coffee mugs and water bottles to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills. Plastic water bottles are a major source of waste in landfills with approximately 40 million plastic water bottles being disposed daily worldwide! Use a water filter in your home instead and use a stainless steel water bottle (which won’t leak any chemicals) when on the go.


By composting you can help the environment by naturally recycling a large majority of your household waste into nutrient-rich soil. Composting reduces landfill greenhouse gas emissions and toxins, as well as reduces the amount of space required for landfills. For more information and a guide to easy composting visit our Composting for a Greener Future page.

Buy food with small amounts of packaging

Food packaging generates large amounts of waste. The average American generates roughly 300 pounds of packaging waste a year. This makes up about a third of the typical household waste stream, and around 66% consists of food packaging alone. Additionally, plastic packaging is made from fossil fuels so buying food with less packaging can help reduce your environmental impact. Buying in bulk can sometimes facilitate this as it tends to have the maximum amount of product in a minimum amount of packaging. However, if your bulk goods are just going into the garbage in the end since you do not have a real need for them you may not actually be reducing your waste impact.

Eat less meat

Livestock can create about as much greenhouse gas pollution as cars, planes, and other forms of transport; the production of just a 1/4lb hamburger can release 6.5 pounds of greenhouse gases. Eating meat also takes a heavy environmental toll on land and water worldwide with 1,800 gallons of water being required to produce 1lb of beef. If all Americans did not eat meat or cheese one day a week, it would have the same effect as taking 7.6 million cars off the road for one year! Learn more about the hidden costs of beef in this animated short film from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Making the change to a full vegetarian may be a hard change to suddenly make but you can start out by cutting out meat from a few meals a week or being a weekday vegetarian.

Use reusable shopping bags

Disposable plastic bags harm the environment as only 1% of them are recycled and the degradation of them releases toxins. A reusable bag’s longer utility life equates for the production of many disposable ones offsetting a reusable bag’s initial production emissions. A key factor in reusable bags being more sustainable than non-reusable ones is the actual continued use of the bag; if each bag is used at least once a week, four or five reusable bags can replace 230 disposable bags a year. Overall reusable bags make more environmental sense than disposable ones but only if they are reused many times. Most stores no longer have plastic bags or charge a fee if you require one.

Buy sustainably sourced seafood

Today 85% of the earth’s fisheries are being harvested at or above capacity or have collapsed. The fishing industry also is a major cause of ocean habitat destruction due to catching methods like trawling. Farm-raised fish also can have environmental impacts such as pollution, disease, and contamination of wild fish stocks. When buying seafood look for the label of the Marine Stewardship Council, which indicates that a seafood product has successfully met requirements for sustainability.

Additional resources to determine if your seafood purchase is sustainable:

Purchase sustainably produced coffee

Coffee is just behind oil as the second most traded commodity in the world. Coffee beans are generally farmed in areas that are considered high priority for conservation. You can help maintain these forests and the wildlife habitat they provide by purchasing coffee that is Rainforest Alliance Certified. Approximately 1.3% of the world’s coffee is Rainforest Alliance Certified.

Eat local and in season

Produce that is grown in your area requires lower inputs to get to the store/farmers’ market/restaurant, and by buying seasonal produce you’re more likely to get produce that’s local. A good way to know if your food is sustainably produced is to talk to the farmer!  Buy farm-gate produce or shop at farmers’ markets whenever it’s possible.  Ask the farmer how they grow their crops. The farmers that are passionate about sustainable practices will enthusiastically share their knowledge. You can read more about sustainable agriculture on our blog here.

Another great way to make sure that your food is produced sustainably is to grow your own! Growing food in your own back yard or community garden ensures that the food is pesticide and GMO free (so there are no negative impacts on the surrounding soil, water, or organisms), energy used to produce it is minimized, and that transport emissions associated with it are very small. Learn more about the local food movement at Farm-to-Table: Local Sustainability.

Know your certifying bodies so you can eat organic

Certified organic food is regulated by strict environmental stewardship and resource conservation standards that seek to enhance natural processes that sustain plant and animal life in nature and avoid using synthetic methods to control pests and soil fertility. Organic food standards reduce pesticide use associated with the contamination and damage of ecosystems and prevent a number of negative human health problems linked to pesticide use.

Each piece of organic produce is certified, and each certifying body has different regulations about what makes the produce organic.  By having a general idea which bodies have regulations to ensure sustainable and ethical practices, you can make educated decisions while shopping. Canadian Organic certification indicates that products meet the Canadian standard for organic production, contain at least 95% organic ingredients and are not GMOs (genetically modified organisms).  In British Columbia, check out the Certified Organic Association of BC.

4) Build Green

Renovate or build eco-friendly

You can use this tool by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to estimate your household emissions and provide possible solutions to lower them. The tool breaks it down in both a dollars perspective and an emissions perspective for you.

Particularly make sure to seal and insulate your home well to ensure that your home is not unnecessarily losing heat through your windows, walls, and doors. Heating costs take up a large chunk of your home’s energy bill. You can even improve your home’s air tightness by installing caulking or weather-stripping. Double glazed windows are also a worthy investment.

Find more information on eco-friendly ways to retrofit existing building structures, eco-friendly home products, and eco-friendly green roofs here.

Install your own renewable energy producers for your home

Though some regions generate their grid power from cleaner energy sources such as hydropower other regions source their grid power from emission-heavy fossil fuel powered plants. To ensure that the energy that powers your home is sourced sustainably you can install your own renewable energy technology. Over the lifetime of your renewable energy producer you could save money overall and potentially make money selling some energy back to your region’s energy provider if it generates surplus energy.

Check out our pages on wind, solar, and geothermal energy in the home for more information.