Efficient Express

By Valerie Lemke

October 3, 2008 5 min read

EFFICIENT EXPRESS

Home improvements are easy when they're green

Valerie Lemke

Creators News Service

If you're considering renovations to your home, it's good to know going green gets easier every day, according to Carter Oosterhouse, carpenter and host of two home improvement shows on Home Garden TV, including "Red Hot and Green."

"All different areas of living are ultimately better if you green up your lifestyle," he said. This includes not only the health of your pocketbook, but your health and the well-being of the earth.

The best earth-friendly tactic is using less. Conserving the energy that illuminates, heats and cools your interior environment can result in huge savings, Oosterhouse said.

"Seal the house up in the attic with more insulation and in all the rooms with weather stripping on the windows," he said. If the budget allows, double or triple-paned windows are ideal. "And don't forget your front door. A one-quarter gap at the bottom is the equivalent to a six-inch diameter hole in the middle of your house."

Another energy drain is a clogged air filter in the furnace. It forces the unit to work harder, Oosterhouse said. Change the filter every three or four months to keep the furnace running efficiently.

In his Southern California home, Oosterhouse has installed old-fashioned cooling units throughout to replace air conditioning. "I'm a big proponent of ceiling fans for cooling," he said. He said they're not only effective, but are comparatively very inexpensive to run.

"Energy efficiency is the first step toward going green and the cornerstone of any home improvement project," agreed Jonathan Passe, communications coordinator for Energy Star, the government-backed program whose logo has become synonymous with energy conservation.

Over fifty different consumer products -- everything from refrigerators to air conditioners, right down to windows, telephones and home electronics -- now bear the Energy Star symbol, and their use can save families about a third on their energy bill while being earth-friendly in the bargain. Visit energystar.gov for details.

With the house insulated and energy-saving appliances installed or planned for, you can turn your attention to the fun improvements, such as environmentally-friendly wall coverings, flooring, painting and new countertops. Here, the 3 Rs -- reuse, repurpose and recycle -- come into play, Oosterhouse said.

Recycled granite and glass for kitchen and bath countertops are comparable to the more expensive originals. Cork flooring, wall coverings and coffee tables of recycled sea grass, bamboo and paper are also inexpensive green alternatives for living and dining rooms.

If you'll be repainting rooms, use lower or non-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints and finishes. "Name brands are making products comparable in every way to regular paints and finishes except for the VOCs. Look for the seal," Oosterhouse said.

Be green and save on water and water bills with fixtures such as low-flow or dual flush toilets. If your budget is tight, install eco-conscious faucets in showers and sinks.

"You still get the same water pressure, but you're not consuming that much and you'd never know it," he said. "It's a great way to conserve water."

Oosterhouse and Energy Star's Passe are quick to offer other small steps on the path to a green lifestyle that will benefit your pocketbook and Mother Earth in the long run.

"The first step toward going green -- and the easiest -- is to replace your five most frequently used light bulbs with Energy Star qualified compact fluorescent bulbs that use about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs," Passe said.

"I'm big on non-harsh products for home use," Oosterhouse said. "Biodegradable washing products for dishwashers, washing machines and household cleaning are all available in a green form now. Not only do they clean as well as their toxic counterparts, they present no hazards throughout their transit from sink to sewage treatment plant."

Another easy tip: Create a recycling center in your kitchen with three receptacles -- one for recyclable trash, another for waste and a third covered container for materials that can be composted such as fruit and vegetable peelings, egg shells and coffee grounds. You can find directions for creating your own composting pile online. Practiced around the world for centuries, it's one of the most satisfying and earth-friendly tasks you can perform.

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