The Top 5 Things You Can Do to Your Home to Save the Planet

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Tuohy and Home Depot
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Our homes account for the largest part of our personal carbon footprint (unless you happen to own a private jet). Collectively, the 115 million residences in America today use an estimated 22.5 percent of the country’s energy. This means that one of the best things you can do to help save the planet from the impact of global warming is to make sure you are wasting as little energy in your home as possible.

To do this, you need to target the five main areas of the home that either consume or are responsible for wasting the most energy. These are, in order of impact:

1. Windows

2. HVAC (heating and cooling your home)

3. Water Heaters

4. Appliances

5. Lighting

Windows and HVAC systems are intrinsically linked, and by targeting these areas most aggressively you can save the largest amount of energy. While heating and cooling our homes accounts for nearly 50 percent of its energy use, windows are literally holes in our homes through which 10 percent to 25 percent of our energy bill flows. Replacing old, drafty windows with new, air-tight Energy Star-qualified windows is one of the most effective ways to decrease your home’s carbon footprint.

New windows are particularly effective if your home currently has single-pane windows, as replacing them with double-pane windows with high-performance glass will essentially double your home’s capability to keep the cold air out (or in, depending on the season). Low-e coatings also help reduce heat gain, keeping your home cooler in the summer months. In colder climates, low-e coatings combined with gas-filled windows (containing argon to provide extra insulation and efficiency) will reduce heat loss.

Installation of windows is critically important—if they are incorrectly installed, the seals will fail quickly. This is not a DIY job: Badly installed windows are likely to leak air and water and may rot and cause structural problems. Additionally, by hiring professionals to do the installation, you will be protected by a warranty, meaning if there are any problems over the next 20 to 30 years, you can make sure your windows will remain energy efficient at no extra cost to you.

Rounding out the top 5 energy suckers in our homes are: heating hot water (18 percent), running our appliances (13 percent), and lighting our homes (5 percent).

Water heaters. The easiest way to cut your energy use for heating hot water is to use less of it. Switch to Water Sense plumbing fixtures. Water Sense is the Energy Star equivalent for products that consumer water. Look for certified high-efficiency toilets, ultra-low-flow faucets and aerating showerheads. Insulating is also key to reducing energy use: Insulate your hot-water storage tank and the first six feet of the hot and cold water pipes connected to the water heater.

Appliances. By choosing Energy Star models when replacing worn out electronics and appliances, you can dramatically reduce energy use, especially when it comes to the refrigerator. The fridge is the biggest individual energy hog after the heating and cooling system, accounting for about 13% of a household’s appliance energy use.

Lighting. Switching to energy-efficient lighting, in particular LED bulbs, is one of the fastest and easiest ways to cut your energy bills. Timers and motion sensors save even more energy by reducing the amount of time lights are on but not being used.

Some of these steps are small, others very large, but if you can target them all you can be very proud of the fact that you own a “green” home, and your footprint on our precious planet will become substantially lighter.

Jennifer Tuohy writes on green homes and energy efficiency for The Home Depot. Jennifer’s energy saving tips on windows and insulation are aimed at helping homeowners save on heating bills. To view Home Depot’s windows installation services, you can click here. Read all of Jennifer’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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