People are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact that we humans are having on our planet. That’s why we’re making extra efforts to buy organic, drive less, and lobby our elected officials to support green initiatives. These are all important steps to making the world a better place, but with Americans spending an average of 62% of our waking time at home, we should be putting more effort into making our homes more eco-friendly. It’s good for the environment, often saves you money, and could even revolutionize your leisure time, so let’s look at how you can do it.
A quick guide to eco-hacking your home:
Cleaning and Maintenance
If your parents/grandparents grew up in the aftermath of WWII, as mine did, they know all about finding dual uses for things and saving money. Many of these skills also apply to being more eco-friendly.
Repurpose old clothes into rags
A few years ago, I was helping to paint my grandparents’ shed while staying at their house. The old clothes that I had worn were, of course, covered in paint by the end of it and so I attempted to put them into the rag collection at my local thrift store. That way, I’d at least stop the material from ending up in a landfill. But my grandma stopped me, insisting that they could be cut down and used as rags for the messier home maintenance tasks, like gardening, working on the car, and plumbing. Today, cut-offs from my paint-splattered t-shirt and leggings are still being used to get the mud off of the trowel after grandma tends to her roses or mop up the oil when my granddad’s in the garage.
Don’t buy a specialized cleaner for your electronics
The sales of those miniature vacuum cleaners to clean your keyboards has always perplexed me They never seem to work very well at getting beneath the keys on my keyboard – where I fear a million cookie crumbs have gone to die – which makes them a total waste of electronics (and the rare minerals that help make them). On top of that, they’re not very energy efficient. Instead, brush off crumbs with a microfiber cloth when you see them. If you need more intense cleaning, slip the top of a (clean!) squeeze-ketchup bottle over the hose of your existing vacuum cleaner and the task will be done better and quicker.
Ditch the harsh chemicals
My mother hates the fumes from your typical cleaning products and does almost all her cleaning with vinegar, bicarb, and lemon juice. This not only means that she saves money, but it also means fewer chemicals are being used. Thus, her house is both clean and green. Want some simple mother-approved tips to reduce chemical cleaning?
- Heat lemon juice in the microwave for eight minutes. The steam will loosen food particles and you can wipe them off with ease.
- Leave your shoes on the rack at the front door, preferably after wiping them off outside. Less dirt means less cleaning overall.
- Olive oil is a great wood polisher.
- Clean messes up quickly. It may take one wipe with a damp cloth to remove spilled food in the moments after it happens, but it’ll take a scrubbing brush and some harsh chemicals if you leave it overnight.
- For dried-on stains on your oven, dampen with a sponge and cover the stain with salt. Then, simply wipe off after a minute or two.
- A mixture of half water and half white vinegar is great for cleaning glass. There is a slight smell, but it dissipates over the course of an afternoon and won’t harm your airways!
- Use club soda to remove stains from fabrics.
- Cornstarch makes a great silver polisher. Just mix into a paste with water, cover the silver in the mixture and leave to dry. Then, gently buff off.
No one likes waste. First, getting rid of all our garbage is getting to be a major problem. Second, using up time, money, and resources to create a one-time product is mind-boggling. That’s why we should do all we can to cut the waste we produce and work towards a zero-waste house. Every little bit helps.
This is the digital age, but we still receive an abundance of paper in our mailboxes every day. One simple way to cut down on this (and literally save a tree) is to go paperless. Ring your bank/utility provider and opt-in for online statements; some even give you a bonus (i.e. free travel insurance) for doing so, because it saves them money. If you’re worried that you’d forget to check every month (and perhaps miss a payment), set a reminder on your phone or set up text alerts for new statements. Pro Tip: Invest in a sticker/sign for your mailbox that makes it clear that you don’t want any junk mail, be it Thai menus or political leaflets.
Most of us are used to recycling, whether at the curbside or the local recycling point, but fewer of us are used to composting. If you have your own garden (or even a communal one) see about installing a compost bin to turn your vegetable scraps and dead leaves into beautiful soil. If that’s not an option, you could:
- get a bokashi bin or a wormery – both small enough to fit in an apartment
- bury it in your potted plants (or those in communal areas in your building)
- give it away on Craigslist
- take it to the farmer’s market
- donate your compost to gardeners in your area, including schools or community gardens
Cutting down on Energy Usage
We all know that it’s important to cut down on the amount of energy that we use, especially if it’s derived from fossil fuels, but many of us find it hard to do so. That’s why we’ve created a list of ways to help you save energy easily.
Replace your bulbs with LEDs
These eco-friendly light bulbs will not only cut your energy consumption, but they’ll also save you money on your electricity bill and can last up to ten years. This means that you’ll save double the money by not having to buy light bulbs every other month. Don’t replace a halogen bulb while it’s still working, as that’s a waste of resources. Instead, wait until it’s worn out and have your LED bulb at the ready. Pro Tip: Recycle old bulbs at your local Home Depot. Other recycling points may be available near you.
If it’s not dirty, keep the washing machine on low
A lot of clothes can actually be washed at lower temperatures than the labels advise. This may not seem like a big thing, but given that the average household does 330 loads of laundry per year, it really adds up! Unless it is filthy (i.e., your daughter’s soccer kit or your baby’s onesie), wash your clothes on the cool setting to save energy, money, and protect your clothes. Side note: 330 loads per year? That’s six per week. How can we possibly need to wash that much?!
Dry clothes on the line/racks
We never had a dryer growing up, so the first time I used one was in college. Even then, I would often skip this and wheel my suitcase of freshly washed clothes back across the quad to my dorm room to dry on a rack while I went to the bar library. I’d tell you I attempted to be more eco, but I just really hated waiting in the laundromat for the dryer to finish – it took forever! I’ll admit that this is less easy for people who live in colder climates, don’t have a garden, or whose only access to a washing machine is at a launderette/in the basement of their apartment building. For those people, I offer this tip: place a dry towel into every dryer load to save energy and time.
Turn off your Wi-Fi/data on your phone unless you’re using it
It improves battery life, which is a massive boon for those of us who can never find their chargers, and reduces the number of times that you need to charge your phone in any given day/week. Thus, saving energy. Bonus: If you put your phone on airplane mode whilst it’s charging, it’ll take much less time to charge.
Cutting down on Water Usage
Cape Town, South Africa, was recently facing a major drought that could have seen water cut off from private homes on April 1, when water levels at the dams were predicted to reach a critical level. This would have forced the population to gather water from communal collection points. Thankfully, the residents drastically reduced their water usage and the apocalyptically named Day Zero has been avoided or delayed, depending on who you ask. While this is not yet such a massive problem in the USA, some of our sunnier states (i.e. Arizona) are experiencing massive droughts. As such, we should all do our bit to ensure there’s enough water to go around.
The dripping sound of a leaking faucet may not actually be keeping you up at night, but it probably should be:
- it’s wasting water
- it’s wasting money
- it could cause problems further down the line (burst pipes, water damage, etc, etc)
Most leaks are easy to fix, but some may need a professional’s help, particularly if you live in an apartment building where the plumbing is likely connected. The last thing you want is to inadvertently shut off water for another resident or flood the apartment below. Mrs. Herbert in 4B is already angry enough with your loud parties (or, as you call it, watching Game of Thrones on a level above zero).
Reduce tap pressure
There’s often no need to turn a tap on full, especially when you’re just filling a glass of water or washing your hands. Turning the tap halfway will do the job just fine and control water waste. If you need help, you can reduce tap pressure using a cheap low-flow aerator.
Importantly, you can flush the toilet every time you use it, while still conserving water. You hear me, dad?! If you don’t have a low-flow toilet, then you can create one using an old water bottle in the tank. The idea is that it will take up space in the tank and reduce the amount of water in there. Don’t worry, it still flushes just as well. Alternatively, you could save your bathwater (or shower with a bucket in the cubicle) and use that to flush the toilet. Easy Pee-sy!
Fewer washing machine loads
For a few months during college, I shared a room with a girl who hated the laundromat for reasons that I never bothered to establish. I think it was just closed one time when she’d lugged all of her stuff there and, in protest, she never used it again during that semester. She hand-washed all of her clothes in our sink (or the bathtub, after she’d had a bath if she was doing more than just underwear) using a purpose-made soap. I had my doubts about this actually keeping her clothes clean, but it did work! She also had some other nifty tricks for reducing washing, which surprisingly worked. These included:
- Wearing an apron when preparing food and a napkin while eating to pretend food spills
- Hanging up worn, but otherwise clean, clothes to blow on our balcony as a breeze would get rid of any minor smells. And, yes, this includes sweat – we were in Florida and both of us had come from colder climes.
- Treating messes as soon as they happened to avoid stains
- Drinking mostly water, as it wouldn’t stain if spilled
While the majority of eco-hacks for your home are about the old make-do-and-mend spirit, there are some cases in which it’s for the best to revamp your house with new eco-friendly products.
Get rid of drafts
A big contributor to wasted energy in any home drafts, which can allow heat (or even cooled air) to escape. In some cases, draft excluders will do the job, particularly for inside doors. However, in certain circumstances, you’ll need to invest in a whole new door/window with better draft protection.
Install a bamboo floor
- They’re incredibly durable: Strand-woven is ranked one of the hardest flooring materials in the world by the Janka Hardness Scale – above all other hardwoods. This means you can be sure that bamboo floors will stand up to years, or even decades, of a regular family, use without needing replacing or even refinishing.
- They can be refinished multiple times: Although it is highly unlikely you’ll need to refinish bamboo flooring in a residential setting, it can, in fact, be refinished multiple times.
- They’re made from an eco-friendly material: Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world, and Moso bamboo, the only type used for flooring, reaches maturity within 5-7 years. Compare this with hardwood trees, which are often cut down at 50-60 years old, and you’ll see that rapidly renewable bamboo is the greener choice.
So that’s my pick for the best ways to eco-hack your home, but now I want to hear from you. Do you have any other eco-tips that I missed or is there another green topic that you’d like me to cover? Let me know in the comments below.