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Low-cost ways to make your home more eco-friendly

Eco-friendly home upgrades
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Eco-friendly home upgrades
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Although industry is the major culprit, homes can contribute to the climate change crisis. In fact, 15.4 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from the residential sector, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2020” report, released in 2022.

While some eco-friendly improvements cost a lot, there are low-cost things to do — relatively quick and easy — to make your home more energy efficient and less wasteful. In fact, 68 percent of those surveyed in a recent Angi study spent under $5,000 in making their homes more green.

If you are looking to save energy, money and possibly the planet, consider these 10 simple, low-cost, eco-friendly home upgrades.

1. Power strips

Standby power is the juice consumed by appliances and electronics when they are plugged in but not actually in use. While it’s small, it adds up: Standby power accounts for $11.2 billion dollars in annual U.S. energy costs. By plugging devices into a power strip, which can cost under $20, you’ll have a single on/off feature that can control several at a time, ensuring your electronics are only consuming energy when you’re using them. (Just don’t use them to switch off computers or anything with a clock.)

2. Water filter

Purchasing water every week isn’t ideal, especially with U.S. landfills continuing to overflow with millions of discarded plastic bottles. A water filter is an eco-friendly upgrade that provides households with clean aqua to drink and use, reducing the debris. Easy-to-install faucet attachments cost under $50.

3. Steel door

A steel door can help you save on heating and cooling costs. Actually made of a steel skin with a polyurethane foam insulation core, it fits more snugly into the doorframe and keeps air from entering or exiting the home. And while they sound like something for a bank vault or jail cell, steel doors actually come in a range of colors and styles.

4. Window treatments

Adorning windows with blinds, shades or drapes can be viewed as more than a design statement. About 30 percent of a home’s heating energy is lost through bare windows in winter, making you turn up the thermostat; in warm weather, about 76 percent of sunlight that falls on standard glass enters to become heat, causing you to crank up the AC. Installing window treatments can conserve energy by blocking the warmth of the sun in summer, and trapping your home’s internally generated heat in winter. There are even special solar shades and blinds, starting around $150 per window, that allow only 5 percent of solar rays through.

Energy Star reports that glass windows without any type of shading allow a little less than 8 percent of transmitted solar energy into the home, which can drive up energy costs during the summer.

5. Low-flow showerhead

The EPA reports that 1.2 trillion gallons of water are used for showering in the United States annually, with the average family using about 40 gallons per day. A low-flow showerhead restricts the volume of water dispensed from the standard 2.5 gallons per minute (or even four from pre-1992 showerheads) to two or even 1.5 gallons per minute. So installing one reduces your water consumption and the amount of energy required for a hot shower. Low-flow showerheads cost about the same as conventional ones, and come in a variety of styles.

6. Faucet aerators

Similar to low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators are designed to control water consumption. A small, round gizmo that screws onto the tip of your faucet, an aerator creates a more consistent, splash-free stream of water, and also reduces the gallons-per-minute water flow. You can select various sizes for the different faucets around your home; however, the max flow rate should be no more than 1.5 gallons per minute if you really want to save. Also, they are pretty much for interior sinks — don’t use them on exterior faucets that produce large amounts of water.

7. Programmable thermostat

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, turning the thermostat up or down when you are not home or sleeping can save 10 percent in energy costs. A programmable or smart thermostat gives you more control over your home’s temperature, thanks to its scheduling features and your ability to set it with an app or even via your voice. These Energy-Star certified devices can be purchased for under $200 — a cost that quickly gets recouped with potential energy savings of $180 per year.

8. Smart light bulbs

Longer-lasting LED light bulbs have been a go-to option for homeowners and renters interested in cutting energy costs for a few years now. The latest wrinkle in LEDs is the smart light bulb, which allows lighting to be customized, scheduled and controlled remotely. Similar to the programmable thermostat, these light bulbs come ready to connect to an app on your phone or tablet via WiFi or Bluetooth, so you can schedule and adjust them wherever you are (no more “Darn, I left the bathroom lights on!”). Depending on the retailer, you could purchase smart light bulbs for a little over $10 each.

9. Outdoor light fixtures

While you’re looking at the lights, don’t forget your outdoor fixtures — they too can be driving up energy costs. An Energy-Star-certified light fixture can be just as decorative as a standard one, but it uses 90 percent less energy than traditional models using incandescent light bulbs and lasts up to 15 times longer. According to Energy Star, replacing outdoor light fixtures and bulbs with Energy-Star certified products can save homeowners $75 per year.

10. Climate-appropriate landscaping

Landscaping is a literal way to go green, and beautify the exterior of your home to boot. But to be responsible, you want to opt for local, climate-appropriate plants, flowers and trees. Climate-appropriate landscaping, officially known as xeriscaping, reduces water consumption because the flora you plant are designed to thrive in your specific climate and don’t require large amounts of water.

Eco-friendly behavior and habits

Making eco-friendly home upgrades is just a start. A few behavioral changes can also have a positive impact on your home energy costs and the environment.

Setting the clothes washer to cold

Washing clothes in cold water saves energy because the water will not need to be heated, which can account for 90 percent of energy used. Additionally, it will help the environment by reducing CO2 emissions.

Running dishwashers/washing machines at non-peak times

During peak times, when energy use is high, energy-intensive activities will cost more. But if you use appliances during non-peak times (like running the dishwasher or clothes dryer at night), you can save money and reduce energy consumption.

Switching to more eco-friendly cleaners and detergents

Harmful ingredients found in cleaning products and detergents can negatively impact your health and the environment. Switching to eco-friendly products that use all-natural or safer ingredients will protect both the planet and your body.

Spending less time in the shower

As mentioned, the average family uses about 40 gallons of water a day for showering. Not that we want to step on your style…but limiting showers to no more than seven minutes will reduce daily water consumption.

Written by
Kristina Byas
Insurance Contributor
Kristina Byas is a Milwaukee-based writer who specializes in personal finance and is a former contributor to Bankrate. In addition to Reviews.com, and The Simple Dollar, she has been featured in LendingTree, MagnifyMoney, Student Loan Hero, and DealsPlus.
Edited by
Senior homeownership editor