How to Make Green Home Improvements

man installing programmable themostat
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When you are ready to start a new home improvement project, take a look at environmentally friendly solutions or "green" ideas instead of traditional building practices. Many of these eco-friendly choices—from appliances to flooring—can help you save money, promote healthy living for your family, and preserve the planet's resources. Here are nine popular and sustainable home improvement options.

Tankless Water Heater

One of the most important things that you can do for the environment is to save energy, especially the energy derived from fossil fuels. With a tankless water heater, you can cut your energy consumption almost by half. Tankless water heaters heat water on demand, so you aren't wasting energy by continually heating 40 to 50 gallons of water when you aren't using it. You can buy tankless water heaters that heat water in seconds. You will never run out of hot water with a tankless water heater.

In addition to cutting energy use, they have other advantages over traditional water tanks: They last longer, are smaller, conserve water, and take up less space in landfills.

Gas or Electric Unit?

Tankless water heaters come in gas or electric models and can go inside or outside of your home. Electric tankless water heaters cost less, but gas is more cost-efficient.

Eco-Friendly Flooring

When it comes to the flooring in your home, there are plenty of green materials. Here are three popular choices.

Green Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo floors look and feel like wood, but bamboo is a grass that's grown mostly in China. It proliferates within three to five years, so it is a renewable resource. Bamboo is resilient, comes in a variety of colors and shades, and is self-generating, which means it does not need replanting after harvesting; it continues to grow.

Natural Linoleum Flooring

Linoleum flooring is manufactured from linseed oil, a binding agent obtained from pine trees (without harming the trees). Other components of the flooring include renewable wood products, ground limestone, and jute, a plant fiber. Linoleum floors are stain-resistant, do not absorb water, and are biodegradable.

Sustainable Wood Flooring

Certain hardwoods, such as Brazilian cherry or white tigerwood, are grown in South America and are harvested from well-managed, replanted forests. Tigerwood is a fast-growing species, making it a more sustainable alternative to the slower-growing ipe wood. Brazilian cherry is not a cherry tree at all, but rather a legume from the pea family. It is engineered wood made from three-ply construction using formaldehyde-free adhesives. It is generally more expensive but resilient and harder than oak.

Solar Roof Panels

Solar power systems derive clean, pure radiant energy from the sun. Installing solar panels on your home reduces fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. It's best to install solar panels when putting in a new roof. Many utility companies offer rebates and credits to homeowners who install solar panels. The U.S. federal government provides incentives through the IRS to those who switch to solar power. A great benefit is that excess electricity collected from your panels can go to the utility company, netting you a credit.

Roofing Hurdles

Sometimes, your house is situated in a way or surrounded by too many trees that prevent the sun from hitting your roof the right way for solar panels. Look into ground-mount systems and community solar gardens as a way to bypass roofing challenges.

Cool Roofs

About 90% of roofs in the U.S. have dark, non-reflective, heat-absorbing materials. These roofs may help heat up the home in the winter a little, but in the summer, it also heats dense, populated areas where the inefficient roofs collectively raise the ambient temperature, sometimes up to five degrees Fahrenheit. This collective ambient heating results in the "heat island" effect, forcing homes to require more energy for cooling in the summer.

A cool roof prevents heat absorption by reflecting the sun’s heat away from the house. A cool roof allows for a more comfortable and controlled indoor environment. Cool roof materials include metal, asphalt, or tile, and it is almost impossible to tell them apart from traditional materials.

Reclaimed Wood

Reclaimed or salvaged lumber from old furniture or buildings that are about to be demolished can be used to build walls, support beams, or in roof construction. Using reclaimed lumber curbs deforestation which decreases the demand for newly sourced lumber. Reclaimed wood is also a renewable resource that reduces landfill waste and reduces the environmental impact of manufacturing new products. Many green companies specialize in obtaining building materials from older homes that are about to be torn down or dismantled.

Dual-Paned Windows

Dual-paned windows offer insulation against the elements and soundproofing qualities. There are several types of dual-paned windows: air-filled, gas-filled, and silver-coated. Each type results in better thermal performance, keeping heat in during the winter and out during the summer. Many energy-efficient windows qualify for rebates and credits. They are available in any style and materials such as vinyl, metal, or wood.

Programmable Thermostat

By installing a programmable thermostat, you can set it to produce less air conditioning or heat when you are away or sleeping, which means your home uses less energy. This energy efficiency saves you money, and you'll reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and lessen your impact on the environment.

Standard thermostats stress and wear down your HVAC system by overworking your air conditioning and heating units. It takes a lot of energy for your HVAC system to heat or cool a space once you spike the thermostat up or down. Programmable thermostats take the stress off by creating smoother, less drastic temperature swings throughout the day and night, also saving you money on HVAC repairs in the long run.

No More Mercury

Programmable thermostats do not use mercury like many of the older thermostats, which are also a hassle to dispose of safely.

Energy Star Ceiling Fans

Energy Star is a government-backed program that identifies energy-efficient products and appliances, including ceiling fans. Energy Star-rated ceiling fans are 60% more efficient than conventional fans and use less energy to operate thanks to improved motors and blade designs. Many have a remote control. The receiver part of the remote is inside the fan's body. The control can mount on the wall or into the wall as a switch.

Low-VOC Paint

One of the least expensive ways to update a room is to give the walls and ceiling a new coat of paint. Traditional paint contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can off-gas for years, contributing to air pollution and causing respiratory problems. You might recognize the familiar, strong smell of paint, but it is not safe for the eyes, nose, and throat. It can also cause difficulty breathing, bring on nausea, and damage the central nervous system and other organs. By choosing low or zero VOC paint for a few dollars more per can, you'll preserve your health, the planet, and end up with a fresh and beautiful room.