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You’re the person in your family who makes sure every yogurt container and juice bottle makes it into the recycling bin. You like to turn out the lights, turn off the water, and conserve resources whenever you can. But can you make your home more sustainable without breaking the bank?

You can. Affordable sustainability is possible, and can be as simple as upgrading to energy efficient appliances, changing light bulbs, or adding insulation. Whether you’re building a new home, remodeling, or just looking to add more energy-efficient features to your current home, there are plenty of options to choose from.

Learn more about energy efficient steps you can take at your home, what kind of alternative energy might be a good option for you, and how to use eco-conscious building materials.

Energy efficiency

Buttoning up your house so it’s energy efficient is a great way to save not only the environment, but also on your heating and electric bills.

Some steps to take to make your home more energy efficient:

1) Sign up for a residential energy audit. This is a great first step to take to find out how you can make your home more energy efficient. A certified auditor will come to your house and show you any energy leaks or deficiencies.

The auditor will evaluate your HVAC system, look for air leaks, check windows and doors, and install items like energy efficient light bulbs and power strips. Plus, you could be eligible for rebates to upgrade your systems, add insulation, replace windows, etc. Auditing programs vary by state, so check for programs in your area.

2) Swap out your light bulbs. Light bulbs have come a long way in recent years, and replacing old ones offers a great way to save energy. Plus, they are easy to install, and an inexpensive way to save on your electric bill. LED bulbs shine for about 50,000 hours, versus 10,000 hours for CFL bulbs and 1,200 hours for incandescent bulbs.

LED bulbs also are mercury-free and use just 2 to 17 watts of electricity. They may be more expensive than CFLs, but will last much longer, and costs are coming down as technology advances. Plus many LED bulbs are dimmable whereas CFL’s require a special dimmer that never functions as well as you would expect.

Read more about ways to use decorative lighting in your home.

3) Add insulation. A poorly insulated house is a recipe for energy loss. Adding insulation to your home is the easiest way to make it more energy efficient, while also being relatively inexpensive.

Options include slag wool, rock wool, fiberglass, or spray foam insulation. The better the “R value,” the better job of insulating a product will do. Shoring up any air leaks from old windows or doors is also a good way to save energy and on heating and cooling costs.

4) Upgrade your HVAC system. When buying a new HVAC system, choose one that is Energy Star qualified. Also think long-term when buying a system. If you’re planning an addition in five years, for example, you’ll want to make sure your new HVAC system will support that build out.

Look for air conditioners with a high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER). Installing programmable thermostats can also save energy, while you should change your air filter regularly and have your HVAC system professionally checked and tuned once per year.

Alternative energy

There are great ways to avoid using fossil fuels to power and heat your home. If you’re building a new house, adding on, or just looking for an innovative way to “go green,” check out these alternative energy sources:

1) Solar. You’ve likely seen solar panels popping up on neighbors’ roofs. There are companies that offer leases on panels, or you can buy them. With a payback period of about 5 to 10 years, and a panel lifespan of 20 to 30 years, you could potentially produce enough solar energy to run your house for free for many years. You’ll need a south-facing, structurally sound roof that isn’t blocked by trees or other obstructions.

Installing a 1.5 kilowatt system would keep more than 110,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere over the next 25 years, and would prevent the need to burn 60,000 pounds of coal, according to

2) Geothermal. Geothermal heat pumps tap the thermal energy produced inside the earth. They can cost double the price of a typical heating, cooling, and hot water system, but have a payback period of 2 to 10 years for a system with a lifetime of 18 to 23 years. Check for rebates and incentives offered in your area.

3) Wind. Home wind turbines are less common than solar and geothermal, but could be possible depending on your home. You’ll need an average wind speed of about 9 miles per hour for small wind electric turbines. Systems can start at about $4,000 to $9,000, and rebates or tax credits may be available.

Building materials

When selecting building materials to use for your new home or renovation project, select ones that are more sustainable and have less impact on the planet.

  • Consider products that incorporate recycled materials, including for flooring, siding, and exterior trim.
  • Use reclaimed wood for floors, decorative areas, interior doors, etc.
  • Salvaged or locally produced building materials reduce the need to ship items long distances, and can add some vintage flair to your home.
  • Use low VOC products when picking out paint, carpeting, and plywood for construction and cabinet making.
  • Choose durable products that will hold up over time.
  • Buy energy efficient appliances and devices for your home.

Even the smallest energy efficient changes you make can have a big impact on the earth. Ask your design/build team about the products and materials they use. Also communicate your desires to use eco-friendly building materials, and find a way to make affordable sustainability work for you.

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