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20 eco-friendly home ideas to try now

20 easy, low cost ways to make your home greener

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There’s no denying that humans contribute to climate change. Experts around the world warn we must change our lifestyles to avoid a climate catastrophe and there are steps aplenty you can take to lighten your environmental impact.

1. Skip the electric clothes dryer and use the sun, says Emma Norton, energy conservation co-ordinator at the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre. A drying rack or basic clothesline kit costs $20–50 and installation should take about an hour.

2. Turn the lights off when you leave a room, even if you’re coming right back. It’s a myth that leaving a light on uses less energy than turning it on and off.

3. Switch your lightbulbs to LEDs (light-emitting diodes). They use 75% less energy and last 15 times longer than traditional bulbs, according to Take Charge NL, Newfoundland and Labrador’s residential efficiency program.

4. Install a dishwasher. A full load of dishes in an energy-efficient dishwasher uses less hot water than doing multiple loads by hand, according to Efficiency Nova Scotia.

5. Low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators can reduce water use by
30% according to Take Charge NL.

6. Use house plants to improve your home’s air quality. Plant-filtered rooms have 50–60% fewer airborne microbes like mold spores and bacteria, says the David Suzuki Foundation.

7. Consider turning down the temperature and bundling up on cold nights to reduce your energy usage. “Living with a slightly colder temperature and putting on slippers and a sweater, as old fashioned as that sounds, can have a fairly major impact on reducing your heating costs,” says Andy Collier, energy programs co-ordinator with EfficiencyPEI.

8. Even when a device is off, it draws electricity, a concept known as phantom loads. “The best way to avoid phantom loads is to unplug things,” says Collier. If that’s not practical, like behind a heavy a home entertainment centre, use a power bar you can reach.

9. Weather stripping doors and windows is a start, but other spots in your home lose heat. Check below sinks where the pipes enter the walls. Use caulking or spray foam to plug gaps, says Norton. “Those tiny bits of air sealing do add up to make a home comfortable.”

10. A surprising area of heat loss is indoor electrical plugs on exterior-facing walls. Install foam gaskets between the electrical switch cover and the wall cavity, says Brad Dunn, an energy adviser with AmeriSpec Inspection Services in St. John’s, N.L. A 10-pack costs about $5 and you can quickly install them yourself.

11. Install a timer on your bathroom fan, suggests Dunn. If you leave the fan on after your morning shower and go to work, the fan sucks heat out of your house for eight hours or more.

12. Smart thermostats learn your schedule and make adjustments to reduce your heating costs. The devices plug into your home’s Wi-Fi network, allowing you to control them remotely. Options include Google Nest ($230–270), Ecobee ($150–330), and Honeywell ($120–230).

13. Build or buy a rain barrel to capture rainwater from your eavestrough system. You can collect up to 600 litres of water in one rainfall and use it to wash your car; water your garden, lawn, and houseplants; wash laundry and more. You can buy a kit or a pre-built system with a filter for $90–200, depending on the level of filtering and aesthetics you want.

14. Even in cold air, there’s heat energy to be found, and a heat pump conveys it into your home. In the summer, it takes heat energy from inside a home and ships it outside to cool the home. On winter days where the temperature is around -15°C or colder, you’ll need a backup heating system.

15. But before a heat pump, there’s something else to consider. “[Heat pumps won’t] perform the way you want them to unless your house, the envelope, is as tight as it can be,” says Dunn. Hire an energy auditor to evaluate your home first. Your local efficiency organization can help you find one and may offer a grant to pay for the audit.

16. Dunn recommends triple-glazed windows. The cost has come down in recent years. Now they cost 10–20% more than double-glazed, but offer double the R-value (insulation) to keep heat in.

17. Consider a smaller home. “It’s a bit of a no brainer,” says Deanna Leaman, a co-owner with EnerGreen Builders Co-operative, a Sackville, N.B.-based passive solar home builder. A smaller footprint means lower capital and operation costs. For a family of four, Leaman recommends a home 1,300–1,700 square feet.

18. Orient a new home build toward the south to maximize the passive heat it draws from the sun in winter. Leaman says this can reduce heating and cooling costs as much as 50%.

19. Consider solar power. The four major electric utilities in Atlantic Canada all have programs to pay users who produce more energy than they use. The price of solar panels has lowered dramatically in the last decade. Today’s pay-back period is about 15 years, and the system’s lifespan is about 35. That’s 20 years of free power.

20. Big changes like a heat pump or solar panels can be more affordable via grants, rebates, and financing from your local efficiency organization. Some are even free. Efficiency Nova Scotia offers a program that installs LED lighting, low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators in your home at no cost.

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