Water, wattage, walls, waste: Ways we can care for our world at home
Looking to reduce your impact and make more environmentally-friendly choices at home? More than three-quarters of us want to live more sustainably, according to a study of American and Australian participants.1 While the topic can feel overwhelming, it can be easier than we think when we start right where we are—at home.
We can make sustainable choices in nearly every area and aspect of our homes, from the laundry room to the roof. Steps big and small all count as strides in more sustainable at-home living and can make an impact on the earth we all call home.
From solar panels to composting, we’ve researched and shared some impactful ways to help do our part, whether you’re looking for steps you can take on-the-go or from the ground up.
When it comes to water use, there are several areas within the home in which we can establish more mindful practices.
Beginning with the laundry room, you can opt for washing clothes in cold water and in full loads. This helps to reduce the energy otherwise needed for a hot cycle (by more than half!), while also scaling back on the number of separate loads you’ll have to do.2 An energy-efficient washing machine might also come in handy—some of the best ones out there now are favored for their ability to use about 25% less energy and 33% less water than regular washers.3
In the bathroom, remember to turn off the water when you don’t need it (e.g., while brushing your teeth or shaving), and consider installing a low-flow shower head, which can save about 60% of water every month (and 2,000 gallons every year).4
In the garden, use any leftover water from water bottles to water plants, and start your sprinklers early in the morning (when the water is free from the risks of mid-day heat evaporation).
One way to help lower our carbon footprint is by exercising more energy-efficient practices, many of which affect the entire house and at-home lifestyle. Here are a few that can make an impact.
Consider registering for clean energy, or, if you’re building from the ground-up, a geothermal heat pump, which calls upon the earth’s constant temperature as its activity barometer (instead of air temperature).5 Another possible addition to the existing at-home model? Solar panels, a photo-voltaic framework installed on the roof to source clean energy entirely from the sun—as opposed to traditional energy, which comes from fossil fuels like coal and gas (the installation brings on a handful of other bonuses, too, from potential savings on bills to clean energy job creation).6
What about windows? While our windows help us to reap all the benefits of the sun, they might be letting more into the home than just vitamin D. Because our windows’ ability to control temperatures are responsible for 25%–30% of energy use, it’s wise to give thought to energy efficient ones, whether you’re looking for a renovation or new buildout altogether.7
And, of course, there’s always the option to unplug unused chargers and appliances, no matter the room you find yourself in—an easy task that can go a long way (if all Americans reduced their “always-on” inactive devices, a study by NRDC cites, we could save 44 million tons of carbon dioxide per year).8
Because air leaks aren’t always obvious to the naked eye, it may also be helpful to conduct an energy audit, an assessment that helps to provide insight on how much energy your home uses and what repairs should take priority in your efforts to live more sustainably.9 In the case of leaks, a particularly helpful step may be a blower door test, a depressurizing mechanism that helps to indicate the air infiltration rate of a living space.10 The upside to an audit, overall? The insights it might provide regarding any more insulation your home might require.
Interested in even more ways to reduce energy use at home? Jerry Forrest, Risk Management Consultant at Berkley One, dives deeper on these topics and more in a blog post on making your home more energy-efficient.
If you have the opportunity to dive into a larger project, insulation is a great place to start and one where innovation is making big strides. In addition to lowering utility bills, proper insulation has big-time eco-friendly effects, too. Take, for example, insulation made from recycled denim. “Recycled denim insulation is fun not only because it’s blue and because it’s recycled, but also because, unlike fiberglass insulation that is non-organic, it doesn’t cause itchiness or irritation when installed,” notes Dan Cuccia, Vice President, Risk Management at Berkley One.
When it comes to greener building, Cuccia also notes the importance of the building materials, themselves, making a reference to Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL), a more efficiently engineered wood product that uses smaller and overlooked species of trees.11 “LVL lumber is stronger than conventional lumber, so it can span greater distances—therefore, you need less of it,” he says. “It’s also incredibly straight—meaning you will likely need to purchase less, saving waste that might otherwise end up in the bin. Buying less building material means a lower carbon footprint in many ways—from ultimately harvesting less, to transporting less, to wasting less. Not to mention that a straight wall can make life much easier for the trades that follow—tile work, finish carpenters, electricians and more, allowing them to do a better, neater job which not only looks better, but can ultimately save resources, too.”
Much of our waste stems from the kitchen, which makes it a great area to focus on. In addition to looking for ways to reduce food waste, one impactful option to consider is composting, the process of recycling waste products into organic materials ready for farming and gardening.12 Composting can help create nutrient-rich, carbon-absorbing soil and create a regenerative cycle for organic waste. If you’re a newbie to the practice, you can start small—and still take pride in knowing that your efforts add up (in 2018 alone, Americans recovered more than 69 million tons of MSW through recycling, and nearly 25 million tons through composting).13 You can start a compost pile in your yard or garden, or if you live in an urban area, many places will have compost collection at local farmers’ markets.
The items we choose to stock up on are key, too—right down to the means by which we carry them. When you hit the store, consider bringing your own bags to load up, and ask yourself if you really need plastic when selecting produce—after all, Americans already use upwards of 100 billion plastic bags a year, requiring nearly 12 million barrels of oil to produce.14 Cut the plastic even more by searching for glass and aluminum packaging instead (both of which are recyclable) and round up this practice for your food storage, too. Finally, when it comes time to clean up, consider one of our favorite household items for the eco-conscious: reusable paper towels, which can be used multiple times before they hit that (full-load, cold-cycle) washer.15
Berkley One is a Berkley Company.