Green Homes
Building for the future, today – combining the best of historical wisdom and modern technology.

4 Ways to Give Gifts Sustainably

Whether you have the time to make gifts by hand or you want to shop online, these 4 ways can make everyone happy this holiday season, including mother nature, by going more sustainable with our gifts. 

homemade gifts

Homemade Gifts

By using less waste, packaging, and natural ingredients, homemade gifts are not only thoughtful but can be eco-friendly too. Consider re-purposing fabric scraps, old plates, pieces of lumber, and hat boxes to recreate new homemade ones!

This idea list from Shutterfly has 57 homemade gift ideas including homemade salsa, custom cutting board, dyed handkerchiefs, and teacup candles.

eco gift

100+ Eco Gift Ideas

Even the savviest green gift givers will likely purchase some of their gifts online this holiday season.

Realty Sage’s 100+ eco gift ideas list contains easy one-click purchases of sustainable products for everyone. Many of these products are made by small businesses, which help to promote local economies and entrepreneurship. 

Gift ideas include recycled plastic toys, zero waste starter kit, upcycled purses, Christmas tree scented soy candles, solar power banks, STEM toys, and more. View the full list of eco gift categories.



Instead of holding onto something which you may never use, give it to someone who will! This is a great way to reduce waste and save money, but this list of 10 rules, that all re-gifters should heed, are necessary to make sure that your re-gifting is successful.

For example, always make sure that the original name tag has been removed, that you are not re-gifting in the same circle of friends and that the gift makes sense and will be enjoyed and used by the recipient. After all, re-gifting in a sustainable way means that your re-gift will finally be used and enjoyed by the recipient. 

local business

Buy Local

Both purchasing from local stores and purchasing locally-made products are excellent ways to support local economies and reduce the environmental impact of shipping and additional protective packaging.

According to Sustainable Connections, “Locally owned businesses make more local purchases requiring less transportation and set up ship in town or city centers which generally means less sprawl, congestion, habitat loss and pollution.”

However you give this season, I hope that you relish in the delight of giving and the happiness that you will create. 

Happy holidays!

Photo credits: Holiday gift: Kari Shea,; Homemade candles: Jillien Minera,; Open business sign: Mike Petrucci,; Passing gift: Kira auf der Heide,

Kari Klaus is the founder of, a data-driven real estate platform which overlays sustainability intelligence onto home listings. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Converting from Home-Heating Oil to a Heat Pump, Part 1: Cost and Initial Assessment


This two-part series documents homeowner Peter Callaway’s experience in a region that relies predominantly on fuel-oil for home heating to convert his household to a heat pump system. This heat pump system supplanted fossil fuels used for Peter’s heating, cooling and hot water heating needs with a more renewable alternative.

Part 1 describes how the author took advantage of a free home energy audit to make energy-efficiency changes and explains why the switch to heat-pump technology was made and what benefits were expected and achieved. Learn how to estimate running cost savings based on a Central Hudson online tool and how to calculate actual savings from actual use. In Part 2, find out how to work with a contractor and get the job done, with Peter’s thoughts on cost, technology, and service contracts. The author does not intend this article to be a recommendation or endorsement for a particular technology or contractor.

I live in a 1,624 square-foot, ranch-style house that was heated by an oil furnace with baseboard and cooled by window-installed air conditioners. Hot water was provided by a coil in the oil furnace, which meant having the furnace on all year. To lower my household carbon footprint while increasing my energy security by moving away from oil, I converted to a heat pump-based heating and cooling system. My heat pump system has different units for the living and sleeping areas, a separate unit for the basement, and yet another smaller, specialized heat pump for hot water.

I threw out the 50-year-old, rusting, low-efficiency oil furnace, drained all the pipes, and left them in place but sealed off. In case of prolonged electricity outage, I have a propane gas insert fireplace unit in the family room in the basement, together with a number of standalone electric resistance heaters.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before ever moving forward with choosing a technology, I did a home energy-efficiency assessment, or home energy audit, to find out what needed to be done to minimize wasted energy due to leakage, inadequate insulation, badly designed or inefficient appliances, and other findings.

Home Energy Audit

In New York State, an energy audit can be done by certified contractors for free and everyone should have one done! This invaluable service is defined, sponsored and managed by: 

New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA), but quite a few other states have similar programs. (For those in New York, go to the section on “Residents and Homeowners”, select the program “Save Energy at Home”, go to “Home Energy and Audits” and click on “learn more about home energy audits and ratings”.

All is fully explained, including how to get an audit done and how to select a certified audit contractor in your area. Your auditor will come to your house and spend a couple hours going over a checklist. You will be provided with a free report on what needs to done, including an estimate of the cost, where possible. You will then be able to prioritize the order in which to take corrective measures based on urgency, cost, and your budget (or ability to borrow or your ability to do some of the work yourself).

Personally I was shocked at my audit report, because I thought I had done the most obvious things, such as to add about a 1-foot layer of insulation in my attic, seal off my open fireplace and replace it with a sealed gas insert, put plastic over most of my windows for the winter, switched to fluorescent or LED lamps, used power strips to make it easy to turn off all electronic devices not in use, etc.

No, what surprised me was that my built-in garage, located directly under my living room, has no insulation. It gets very cold in the winter, and its walls and ceiling are directly adjacent to my living space. Also, all house external walls are minimally insulated and the windows have become leaky and ill-fitting and need to be replaced with double- or triple-glazed instead of add-on storms and screens. Worst of all, probably, is that I have a cathedral ceiling in the living/dining area, which doubles the volume of air that needs to be heated and cooled without providing additional living space. Nice to live in but not at all energy efficient.

It soon becomes obvious looking at energy audit results that, in the U.S. post-World War II, when oil and gas was cheap and global warming unheard of, energy efficiency was not a priority and many houses, including mine, now require serious work to address the current global climate crisis. 

What is a Heat Pump?

Think of a heat pump as a highly efficient, reversible air conditioner. It’s called a heat pump, because it moves heat into the house in the winter and moves heat out of the house in the summer. You may have noticed when you run a standard air conditioner that blows cold, dry air into your house in the summer, that if you stand next to it outdoors, hot air is coming out. So if you turned it around in the winter, it would blow that hot air into the house.

But viewing a heat pump as a reversible air conditioner begs an important questions: How is warm air moved into your house from outdoors when its already very cold outside? The full answer requires a bit of knowledge about thermodynamics and advanced refrigerants, but we’ll skip that lesson and get right the practicalities.

One way is to sink a loop of pipes deep into the ground down to where the temperature doesn’t vary much from 50 degrees year round. You can extract heat from it in the winter when it’s 15 degrees Fahrenheit outside aboveground and extract coolness from it in the summer when it’s 80 or 90 degrees. That loop is called the geothermal piece, and it adds to the cost and maintenance of heat pump systems, especially in rocky terrain.

Until a few years ago you couldn’t do without a ground-sourced heat pump in the colder parts of the USA, such as the Northeast states. Now with advances in technology and refrigerants with lower evaporation temperatures, heat pumps are effective, with or without the geothermal piece, throughout the USA. Without the geothermal piece, they are called air-sourced heat pumps and they can now heat your house even when the outside temperature is as low as 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Below 0, the ability to extract heat decreases and drops off to nothing at -15 degrees. So, if you live in an area where it’s zero degrees or lower on a regular basis in the winter, you would need a geothermal loop or keep your oil and gas furnace, or propane fireplace, or standalone electric heaters as a backup.

Why Install a Heat Pump for Home Heating and Cooling Systems?

You can eliminate a major component of your carbon footprint from burning fossil fuels: heating and cooling your home and providing year-round hot water.

You significantly reduce the running costs of heating and cooling because of the technology used. Heat pump cooling is about twice as efficient as conventional air conditioning, while heat pump heating is four times as efficient as heating directly using electricity resistance devices. However, these savings may be significantly reduced by the increased service plan costs, because heat pump technology is much more complex than traditional technologies.

Service technicians may be required by the manufacturer to be factory trained, and there are multiple components, such as condensers, evaporators, inverters, as well as expensive and highly toxic (to our atmosphere) refrigerants that have to always be 100% tightly sealed within components and connecting lines. Contractors and heat pump technologies are relatively new and wide variation in purchase and service costs are likely to be encountered, so savings, if any, are likely to vary considerably until the industry is more widely established and settled and until government energy policies subsidize this industry over coal, oil, and gas industries.

You can increase the flexibility and efficiency of use of your heating and cooling by using ducted air distribution in bedrooms and bathrooms. With a ducted system, there is a central air distribution unit with insulated hoses leading to separate closeable vents in each room served. Rooms not in use can have their doors closed and vents closed off. In effect, you have a thermostat in each room, since the vents have variable closure settings.

Ducted bedroom/bath ceiling vent with adjustment screw

Non-ducted air distribution in the living/dining/family room areas can be directed left or right, up or down, or can swing between both limits. In July 2019, community-choice aggregation (CCA) was approved in New York State, allowing individual communities to source 100% renewable electricity for all (in my area, this is called the Hudson Valley Community Power CCA). This means for communities with CCA available, your home HVAC becomes totally fossil fuel-free. That energy source switch eliminates between 20 and 60% of your carbon footprint, depending on your lifestyle.

Wall-mounted interior air unit

Do Heat Pump-based HVAC Running Costs Really Save Money over Conventional Fossil Fuel Systems?

First, I used the Fuel Switching Calculator available on Central Hudson’s website. Second, I calculate my 2016/2017 winter heating costs based on fuel oil and propane gas heating and compare the five-month total (November through March) with my 2018/2019 winter heating cost, which uses data exclusively from heat pump electricity cost. This is an estimate, because oil delivery dates are not consistent, year to year. I omitted the 2017/2018 winter, because I was still using the old oil heating system downstairs. Service Plan costs are not taken into consideration.

Fuel Switching Calculator. Go to Central Hudson home page and click on “My Energy” button. Select the “Fuel Switching Calculator”. Select primary heating source as “fuel oil” and “Air Source Heat Pump” as the option to switch to. Enter the number of gallons of fuel used and look at the “Annual Fuel Savings ($) column. I entered three numbers: 550 gallons for a warm winter, 573 gallons for an average winter and 900 gallons for a long, cold winter. These numbers were based on actual usage over the 25 years that I used mostly fuel oil and a bit of propane. The calculator yielded savings of $573, $651, and $1,837 respectively.

Actual heating costs for my home. For the five months of the 2016/2017 winter, during which I used fuel oil, propane gas, and electricity, my total cost was $2,164. For the five months of the 2018/2019 winter, during which I used only electricity powered heat pumps, my total adjusted cost was $1,574. The actual cost was $1,749, but this has been adjusted to take into account the difference in heating degree days for the two winters and the difference in electricity supply costs. In other words, the adjusted cost is my estimate for what it would have cost had the two winters been equally cold and electricity supply rates had stayed the same. The savings resulting from the use of heat pumps was $590, or 27% — pretty close to the Central Hudson calculator’s estimate of $651 for an average winter.

 Bonus saving from hot water heat pump. My hot water heat pump is located in the old oil furnace room. It takes heat from the surrounding air and transfers it into the water tank. In the process, it takes humidity out of the air by condensation and the latent heat of condensation is given to the water thereby acting as an additional air conditioner and reducing the air conditioning load for the basement rooms. Think of all that heat and humidity your old air conditioner used to take out of your house and release into the outdoors — with a heat pump water heater, all that heat goes into your hot water for showers, dish washing, and clothes cleaning. That’s another reason heat pump water heaters are so much more efficient and energy saving.

Wait a minute, you say. What about in the winter? Isn’t your hot water heat pump making the basement colder and dryer?! Yes, and there’s an easy solution. Turn up your 24,000-BTU room heater heat pump a bit (it’s four times more efficient than straight electricity in heating). In effect, you have a cascaded water heater. The main room heat pump extracts heat from outdoors and pumps it indoors; then, your hot water heat pump takes that heated air and heats it up even more to bring your water to 120 degrees. It looks to me the next improvement will be to optionally eject the cold dry air from the hot water heat pump outdoors in the winter and leave it indoors in the summer.

Heat Pump Purchase and Installation Cost

My home required two Fujitsu Halcyon 24,000-BTU, extra-low temperature heat pump air conditioners for the main floor: one non-ducted mini-split for the living and dining area and one ducted for the bedroom and bathrooms. It required a third 24,000-BTU, extra low temperature mini-split heat pump for the finished basement (family room, bedroom, bathroom, laundry room, storage room).

Outdoor 24,000 BTU heat pump condenser

Hot water is provided by a 50-gallon Bradford White Heat Pump Water Heater. The Fujitsu units were $8,000 each, the Bradford unit $1,339 for a total cost of $25,339. Two-thirds of the cost was paid for with a 24-month 0% interest loan from Synchrony Bank. Costs included electrical hookup to the distribution panel. The panel had to be upgraded to a 200-amp unit with an extra two-phase, 240-volt breakers, and that was priced and installed separately. (This upgrade was also necessary to support a Level 2 Electric Vehicle charging station, so the price is not included in the HVAC cost.)

50-gallon hot water heat pump in old oil furnace room

Peter Callaway is a Philipstown Climate Smart Community Task Force member and veteran environmentalist in the Hudson River Valley region of New York. He took on this extensive heat-pump conversion project to respond to recommendation 42 of the Project Drawdown framework.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Simple Holiday Homestead Decor

pinecone display basket for fall 

The holiday season is a favorite time of year for me, and I always fondly remember Christmas at my Grandmother's farm as a child. I don't remember the toys or the food, but can still picture the yearly tradition of putting all of her Christmas cards up on the big center beam that was in the living room of that early-1800s home. She always modestly decorated, which helped to teach me that you don't need fancy lights or expensive wreaths to make the season joyful. The holidays are a time for family, friends, love, giving, and happy memories to be made.

The question I asked myself this year was, "How can I incorporate the land and surroundings into modest decorations?" In what way could I take material from the outdoors that is normally overlooked, and give it beauty by making it a part of the indoor festivity? Homesteading is very much about creativity for us, and so the possibilities would start to add up quickly. I then selected five different ways to keep home decor simple, and went to work.

Pine Needles

As the Fall winds arrived and began to make the trees dance and lose their leaves, we would often find clusters of green Loblolly Pine needles on the ground that weren't strong enough to withstand the wind. Stripping the needles from the branch, I tried my hand at making a hand broom and a miniature broom. I clustered a bunch of needles together and wrapped the area to be held in the hand tightly with twine. Then, I trimmed the edges evenly to make a functional and wonderful smelling hand broom. I also made a miniature broom with a small stick and a cluster of needles in much the same way. It had been some time since I'd last made an actual Sorghum broom, but nonetheless it turned out wonderful. A hole was drilled in the top of the stick and string ran through it, so that the miniature broom could be hung up for display.

pine needle hand broom 

A Pine needle hand broom and miniature broom. 

Muscadine Vines

Often times, wild Muscadine vines have made their way up trees that we have selected to cut for firewood. Once the tree is down, I pull the vines away and work them into hoops and wreaths later in the day. These wreaths can be decorated with a variety of material, and it is up to you what features you'd like to add. In the past, we made one for our cabin that featured corn husks from the year's crop. Pruning the Holly bushes at this time and saving their leaves to add to the wreath is wonderful. This year, we added a few Holly leaves, a burlap bow, and a few wild turkey feathers. Adding feathers from the backyard flock, spent shotshells, or deer hooves are other interesting options.

handmade muscadine vine wreath

A wreath made from Muscadine vines, decorated with Holly, burlap, and turkey feathers.

Wood Slices

When clearing land, I always keep my eyes open for Yellow "Tulip" Poplar, as I love to craft with the saplings and branches from this tree. We've given Poplar walking sticks as gifts in the past, but during the holidays I enjoy cutting slices from small saplings or branches to create coasters and ornaments. I don't deny the beauty of ornaments adorning trees each year that have been passed down through the family, but why not add a new memory by decorating wood slice ornaments with your children? Try painting your favorite pet's likeness onto one, or paste an initial onto the slice.

wood slice ornaments 

A variety of Christmas ornaments made from slices of wood, including different animal breeds. 


Fall in this region often finds the squirrels gathering pinecones to feast on, seen high in the trees chewing away on the cone. It is common to see the pinecones littering the ground at this time too, in many different shapes and sizes. We've used tiny Virginia Pine cones to hold name cards at the Thanksgiving table, or to decorate a wreath at other times. A basket of massive Longleaf cones makes for an impressive sight, and some people may choose to spray-paint these in red, white, gold, orange, or green to further add to their subtle beauty.

pinecone display basket for fall 

Longleaf Pine cones painted for holiday display.

Bay/Magnolia Leaves

After watching a holiday special last year that gave a tour of the state Governor's Mansion, I remembered seeing beautiful garland draped over the staircase made from Magnolia leaves. We have quite a bit of Sweetbay Magnolia growing here, and so I tried a few different methods of using the leaves to make garland. My favorite way to use it required few leaves, and easy enough to make by only requiring a sewing needle and fishing line. This particular garland was also great to wrap around the tree.

bay leaf garland on cedar 

Simple Bay leaf garland wrapped around a "living" outdoor Christmas tree (Eastern Red Cedar).

From using Longleaf pine needles to create a basket centerpiece, or making corn husk dolls for the Thanksgiving table, it's easy to make modest crafts that pay tribute to the great land around us. No matter how you choose to decorate this holiday season, just remember that a beautiful house becomes a beautiful HOME when loved ones gather and celebrate together. Have a joyous holiday season, and an even brighter New Year!

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Sasha’s Earthen Dome House in the High Desert

The following is an excerpt from Lloyd Kahn’s Small Homes: The Right Size (Shelter Publications, 2017), available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store. In one of 65 small home profiles, Sasha Rabin recounts her journey to this unique home after starting her natural-building career in 2002. She has taught extensively through organizations that she co-founded, including Seven Generations Natural Builders and Vertical Clay.

I grew up in Bolinas, down the road from Lloyd Kahn and Shelter Publications. My early years were surrounded by many of the wildly creative buildings that fill the pages of Shelter.

I started building with earth in 2002 with an internship at the Cob Cottage Company in Oregon, and have been creating structures with various modalities of earthen building and teaching workshops on these techniques ever since.

I fell in love with both the creative process of hand-sculpting shelters to live in, and as well as seeing people leave workshops with deep inspiration after gaining skills to build their own homes.

When I started this building, I wanted to make the building process fun. I invited five friends to come work with me for a month, and we got the basic framework up, and we did indeed have a lot of fun! Although I have been the main builder (working on and off between other projects finishing it), I have received a huge amount of help from all the community members I live with.

There are about 20 of us living in this beautiful canyon in the high desert of Southern California, and I am deeply grateful for all their help. Although the material cost of this style building is relatively low, it took a lot of labor. It almost necessitates community support, which results in beautiful community-building.

We host a lot of workshops, classes, and school groups, which has led to groups of college kids from Minnesota helping with the floor, people from an outdoor school in Washington helping with the plaster, and my Dad coming down and building the cupola on top of the dome, to mention a few. I would guess that close to 100 people have put their hands on this building.

This structure — with a floor area of 500 square feet (46 square meters) — is built of a combination of earthen building techniques, all of which utilize different combinations of clay soil and sand harvested from the land, and straw. The building is made of cob, earth bag, light straw clay, and adobe. The floors are made of earth, sealed with linseed oil and beeswax. The house is heated with a rocket stove that is also built out of cob. The roof is a sealed lime.

Lloyd Kahn is a sustainable living visionary and publisher of Shelter Publications. He is the author of natural building books, including Home WorkTiny HomesTiny Homes on the MoveShelter II , Builders of the Pacific Coast, and The Septic System Owner’s Manual (All available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store). He lives and builds in Northern California. Follow Lloyd on his blogTwitter, and Facebook, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Buying a Home? Why Sustainability Information Matters

Purchasing a property or improving an existing property can be one of the largest investments a person may ever make.  Realty Sage asked sustainability expert Miriam Gennari, President of MetroMakeover LLC, and real estate agent with Ikon Realty in Annandale Virginia, to share her story in a 3-part series about working in the emerging eco-real estate industry — the challenges, the opportunities, and the details about her career choice.


It’s really no surprise that the primary source of real estate knowledge for homebuyers is the Internet. According to the National Association of Realtors, 99% of Millennials search for homes using online websites, often before contacting a real estate agent to begin their home search. And Millennials are the largest group of first time homebuyers at 66%.

With buyers primarily gaining their knowledge early on from real estate sites, it is startling to know that buyers are not getting the full picture of the homes they are looking at online, and that includes the potential cost savings and other benefits like eco-friendliness, money savings as well as benefits for their health and comfort.

The features that often buyers don’t see include: higher quality building construction, which means lower long-term maintenance and ownership costs, along with more comfortable living conditions; high tech and automated features which bring about lower maintenance; and better systems and finishes which are not just more environmentally friendly, because they use less water and energy, but they can improve the air quality and save the homeowners money.

Knowledgeable agents, like Miriam Gennari, are working hard to fill that gap of information when they can. “I prefer to put the green features out in front.”  Miriam adds, “In my brochures and on the Internet, I make sure that customers and their neighbors feel informed about the sustainability of a home and where opportunities exist to increase the value of a property either before they list or even after they buy.”

Real estate sites often limit the display of important home information to the listing’s comment section. This means that homes with premium features do not stand out, and buyers don’t fully understand the differences and the benefits in the homes that they are considering. 

Home Features that Matter 

Buyers (and even agents!) are often unaware of the cost-saving features that many homes have, until the time of a home inspection. Homebuyers want — and will pay more for — sustainable features like energy-efficient appliances, windows and the like, alongside features that ensure better air quality, according to the Forbes article, The Increased Importance of Environmental Sustainability in Real Estate.


So when buyers ask Miriam which improvements they should make, she often tells them, “If you have to choose between a new kitchen and new windows, I tell my clients choose the windows.  What’s the point of a beautiful home if no one can enjoy it because you’re worried about the cost of utilities or you’re uncomfortable because of fluctuating temperatures?”

Eco-friendly features are not just environmentally sustainable, but they can provide a sense of fiscal sustainability too. Miriam believes that "In the future, nothing will be more important to home buying than controlling energy costs. Go solar if you can.” One good option for being able to compare the costs of solar from top providers is through Pick My Solar (a Realty Sage Partner). 

Online Resources for Buyers 

According to Miriam, “People are eager to learn about the value and benefits of an eco-friendly home and love to brag about it once they become aware.” And yet, while buyers would like to have eco-friendly, cost-saving and low maintenance features, they are not getting this information when it’s most important -- early on, during their online home searches.


One way buyers can obtain this information is through, a new real estate platform that enhances listings with more and new types of data, and gives buyers comparison tools, such as the Sage Score and Livability Categories

The e-Harmony of Real Estate

When buyers have expert real estate agents, like Miriam, help guide them through the process she can educate her buyer clients early on. But buyers being able to easily find expert agents, Miriam acknowledges has also been problematic in the real estate industry “...Until Realty Sage, I had not seen a site that spotlights the value of smart, eco conscious agents.”

The agent-finder Realty Sage Pros  is the only site which connects the best local agents to the real estate needs of buyers and sellers using data-driven matching based on their knowledge and experience with homes. This is innovative because Realty Sage Pros first evaluates the customer’s criteria the and cross compares that with the experiential data of agents in brokerages across the country, to find the most ideal local agents to work with those buyers and sellers.  It’s like e-Harmony for real estate agents and customers. 

 real estate agent

Miriam emphasizes that, “A home purchase is a big decision, and one that can have a huge impact on the wealth and success of a person’s or family’s future.”  Having both more information upfront and being able to connect to local expert professionals is essential for successful and educated home buyers to make the right decisions for their lifestyle needs.  

For updates with Realty Sage, sign up for the e-newsletter. You can connect with Miriam or your local agent through Miriam Gennari is in the DC area and Ikon Realty, serving Northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC. Read all of Kari Klaus' MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

5 Ways to Make Your Home More Comfortable with Energy-Efficiency Upgrades

Evenly distributed temperatures using construction, systems, and technology make a home more comfortable to live in. Here are five ways to utilize energy-efficiency and other home upgrades to make your home more comfortable to live in.

Smart Thermostat

1. Install a Programmable Thermostat or a Smart and Automated Thermostat to regulate your home’s temperature.  A programmable thermostat is designed to adjust the temperature according to a series of programmed settings to automatically reduce heating and cooling in your home when you don’t need as much, delivering savings without sacrificing comfort.  A Smart thermostat performs the same function, but it allows you to adjust the settings from internet connected devices, such as your smartphone. 


2. Install Window and Door Weatherstripping. Weatherizing your drafty windows and doors will reduce uncomfortable drafts, protect your home’s interior from the elements, particularly from sunlight, precipitation and wind, reduce energy consumption and optimize energy efficiency.


3. Improve your home’s ventilation to keep mold spores, mildew, smoke, dust, dust mite feces, pet dander, pollen, food odors, and other contaminants out of your home.  

An air purifier or air cleaner is a device which removes contaminants from the air in a room. These devices are beneficial to allergy sufferers and asthmatics, and at reducing or eliminating second-hand tobacco smoke, dust, pollen, pet dander, mold spores, and dust mite feces, that act as allergens, triggering allergies in sensitive people.  Smoke particles and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can pose a risk to health.  Active air purifiers use ionisation for cleaning the air.  Passive air purification units use air filters to remove pollutants, and are more efficient since all dust and particulate matter is permanently removed from the air and collected in the filters.  

Energy-efficient and tight envelope homes--both new and existing--require mechanical ventilation to maintain indoor air quality.  All of the fans, vents, and ventilation equipment in a home work together as a "ventilation system" to exchange indoor and outdoor air without wasting energy. (There are four basic mechanical whole-house ventilation systems--exhaust, supply, balanced, and energy or heat recovery).  

Make sure that your kitchen has a kitchen hood ventilation fan that has earned the ENERGY STAR rating.These use 70% less energy than standard models, improve comfort, and remove odors and moisture with less noise.  

Install window screens on all of your home’s windows. Windows provide the primary means to control air flow in most homes. People open windows to provide fresh air, ventilate odors and smoke, dissipate heat and moisture, and create air movement on hot days. While exhaust fans and central air systems can mechanically ventilate a room, opening a room to the outdoors is perceived as more direct and natural.  

Dry, well-ventilated bathrooms are important in preventing mold growth in bathrooms. ENERGY STAR certified bathroom ventilation fans provide better efficiency and comfort with less noise, and feature high performance motors and improved blade design, providing better performance and longer life.


4. When renovating your home, look for paints, sealants and adhesives with low off-gassing to maintain, or improve, your air quality. These are labelled Low VOC, No VOC, or Zero VOC.  A VOC is a  “Volatile Organic Compound.”  The way a chemist uses that phrase, the word “volatile” describes a liquid that evaporates at room temperature, and the word “organic” means it is a compound that contains carbon. 

Thousands of different VOCs, some natural and some man-made, can be found in the air.  In caulks and sealants, VOCs are used as solvents, or thinners, that work with the resin–the part that binds together all the ingredients of the sealant and allows it to adhere to the building materials.  The phrase “Low VOC” is used to describe a sealant product with a VOC content at or below 150 g/L. The number generally accepted for a low VOC paint is less than 50 grams per liter; a zero-VOC paint has fewer than 5 grams per liter.


5. One of the most important things about feeling comfortable at home is having good lighting.  Consider changing out the bulbs in the light fixtures you use most often, such as in a kitchen or in an entryway, for energy-efficient models.

LED (light-emitting diode) lights are up to 80% more efficient than traditional lighting such as fluorescent and incandescent lights. Ninety-five percent of the energy in LEDs is converted into light and only 5% is wasted as heat.  Quality LED light bulbs last longer, are more durable, and offer comparable or better light quality than other types of lighting.  

Smart and Automated Lighting is a lighting technology designed for energy efficiency. This may include high efficiency fixtures and automated controls that make adjustments based on conditions such as occupancy and daylight availability.

With wireless options (usually operated with wireless remotes), you can control light from around the room or elsewhere in the house. Being able to control lighting with a remote is a smart solution if you’re looking for how to improve lighting in a bedroom.  Once you’re cozy in bed, you don’t even need to get up to turn off or adjust the lights.    

Replace dated lighting fixtures with energy efficient ones.  LED is a highly energy efficient lighting technology. ENERGY STAR rated LED products use at least 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting.   

Lighting manufacturers have made it easier than ever to replace energy-hogging fixtures and bulbs with those that last longer and trim utility bills. When you're at your lighting showroom, simply look for products with the Energy Star label. Plus, old light fixtures can quickly date a space.  Replacing old chandeliers and light fixtures with fresh models can take years off your home’s looks.  

Dimmers and lighting controls save energy and the environment, increase safety, extend the lighting system life, increase productivity,  and allow individuals to adjust light levels for specific entertainment options, enhance ambience, and take advantage of daylight to reduce energy use.

Dimming reduces the amount of electricity a light uses and increases the life of low-voltage lighting such as halogen downlights. When you buy bulbs, check that they will work with a dimmer.  

Solar lights are versatile, lower energy costs, require little maintenance, continue working even if there is a power outage, install easily, give off no emissions so they are better for the environment, are safer for pets and children as they are cooler to the touch and there is no risk of electrocution, and use the sun--a renewable resource.  Many have darkness sensors, so they turn on and off automatically, saving energy and money.

Consider installing Solar tubes and skylights to provide natural light.  Natural light is better for your health, for the environment, and for your electric bill--daylight is free.  Once installed, your dependence on electricity is reduced.

Install skylights in darker rooms or as natural downlights in work rooms such as kitchens.  If you’re buying or building a new house or apartment, or are undertaking a renovation, position the rooms and spaces where you spend most time during the day to the north or northeast so they capture the lion’s share of daylight.  

Realty Sage uses Livability Categories that show how homeowners can potentially benefit from a property’s features, certifications and technology.  One of these Livability Categories is Comfort.

Find local real estate agents using RealtySagePros. We use data about agent's experience and knowledge to match you to your ideal local real estate professional.  No fees and no contracts to see who your local agent matches are! 


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Sustainability and Smart Home Technology: What New Buyers Expect of the Real Estate Market

This guest post is proved to MOTHER EARTH NEWS by Syd Ulrich-Dogonniuck, Sustainability Content Writer for Realty Sage. Note: This article contains affiliate links. Which means at no additional cost to you, if you click through and make a purchase, Realty Sage may earn revenue.

Millennials have changed nearly every aspect of life as we know it, so why wouldn’t the Real Estate market feel those changes, too? Here’s a look at what new home buyers want and how the housing market needs to change to meet those demands.

Online Accessibility

online working

Millennials are constantly online. It doesn’t matter if they’re on a laptop, on their phones, using Bluetooth headphones, or doing something with the intention of putting it on some social media platform later. No matter how you look at it, online is the only place to be.

While I understand you can’t compress a whole house into a zip file, everything other than the actual house needs to online and easily accessible. Millennials are a very do-it-yourself demographic, so instead of giving you a call or setting up a face-to-face meeting, they will do almost all their research on their own. They will look up everything they can on any homes that interest them—all the data, info on the neighborhood, even the street view on Google Maps—and come to you when they have already decided the house they’ve researched is a potential option.

This means that having accurate, up-to-date listings is a must. If a Millennial can’t find the information they are looking for or reach you online, they will likely bypass you for someone else who offers all the data they are looking for on a digital platform.

Reviews, Reviews, Reviews

computer reviews

Millennials are a cautious bunch. I know that’s probably not the first adjective you’d use with the Millennial generation, but Millennials base so much of what they do on what other people say worked for them (or didn’t) in reviews. The Real Estate market is no exception.

While it may not be possible to look up a review of a specific house, that will not stop Millennials from looking up reviews on absolutely everything else. Millennials will read reviews for the types of appliances in the house, they will compare reviews for a variety of real estate platforms, and you can bet your bottom dollar they will thoroughly research any real estate agents they are considering. If there is a review out there, it will be read.

Move-In Ready

new kitchen

Millennials value experiences more than any other generation—traveling, spending time with friends, going to events. All these things require time and money. Since putting down a mortgage is already very difficult for many Millennials, they do not want to spend any more money, or time, in fixing up a home they just purchased.

This also goes for updated appliances— Millennials do not have the money to do upgrades, especially after putting a down payment on a mortgage. This means that fixer-uppers are not appealing to most Millennials, although they are typically cheaper than a move-in ready home.

That isn’t to say that Millennials are cheap, however! Millennials continue to take on larger mortgages as compared to the Baby Boomer generation and research shows that Millennials are willing to pay premium rates for a move-in ready home.

Livability, Low Maintenance and Smart Home Tech

smart home

Some examples of this include a Smart Thermostat that can be controlled with an app, a Smart Water Sprinkler that makes decisions based on the weather forecast, or a load-sensing washing machine. Basically, appliances or systems that increase the livability of a home are highly sought after.

Sustainable Eco-Homes

solar home

Not only should the house be smart, it should be environmentally-friendly! 47% of Millennials say they want solar panels and with energy efficient storage on their house.

Green features are one of the few things that young buyers are willing to pay out of pocket, however they will be even more likely to consider purchasing a home that already has eco-conscious items integrated into the home. Additionally, younger buyers are aware that there is a very positive return on eco-investments, making Millennials more likely to make decisions based on eco-friendly aspects of a home.

As a result many Millennials are turning to more innovative real estate engines that not only compare the cost, square footage and commute time, but dig deeper. Realty Sage does just this: it compares all the standard categories and an additional 12 livability categories, including an Eco-Friendly rating, information on how the construction of the home affects Resident Health, what Smart Tech has been installed, and if there are any benefits from Low Maintenance aspects.  

Additional Resources

For more Millennial Real Estate Insights check out Busting the Millennial Real Estate Myth. Connect to local expert real estate agents who have experience and knowledge with eco-friendly homes with

Kari Klaus is the founder of, a data-driven real estate platform which overlays sustainability intelligence onto home listings. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

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