7 ways to make your home more sustainable and save money

FILE - In this Oct. 27, 2011, file photo, a wind turbine is seen at the First Wind project in Sheffield, Vt.Two key lawmakers say Vermont won't meet its goal of getting 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2017. And the chairman and vice chairwoman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee say they're scaling back a goal of 30 percent renewable by 2025 that had been outlined in legislation pending before the panel. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
Making your home more sustainable

Everyday, the 7 billion people in the world draw on resources, such as energy and water, to power their lives. Naturally, this takes a toll on the environment. But Mike Dieterich, CEO of Renew & Sustain Consulting and author of “Renew and Sustain: A cutting edge approach to being socially responsible, environmentally conscious, and incredibly profitable for businesses, schools, and government,” says if everyone reduced demand for these resources, the environment would be in much better shape.

“There are a lot of strategies people can utilize at home to help reduce their consumption of resources and energy, which translates into a reduction on the impact in the environment,” he says.

Many of the at-home changes are small, and while some require an investment, they all save you money in the long-run.

In the following slides, Dieterich offers his best tips to make your home more sustainable.

(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

Convention goers look at bulbs at the LightFair trade show Wednesday, May 18, 2011, in Philadelphia. Two leading makers of lighting products are showcasing LED bulbs that are bright enough to replace energy-guzzling 100-watt light bulbs set to disappear from U.S. stores in January. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A bright idea: Swap your light bulbs 

According to Dieterich, lighting accounts for about 12 percent of a home’s energy bill. However, swapping out a few conventional light bulbs for energy-efficient bulbs will greatly reduce that bill.

Dieterich says the halogen light bulb, typically used in track lighting fixtures and pot lights, ends up costing $13.35 per fixture, based on 2,000 burn hours per year. An LED bulb, on the other hand, ends up costing $1.87 per fixture, based on 2,000 burn hours per year. Therefore, replacing your halogen bulbs with LED bulbs will result in an 86 percent savings, Dieterich says.

While the LED bulbs save you money on your bill, some consumers hesitate to buy them because they are more expensive than traditional light bulbs. (LED bulbs cost about $20 to $22, compared to halogen bulbs, which cost about $10 to $12.) However, Dieterich says, don’t let the price tag be a deterrent; the investment is worth the upfront cost.

“What’s even more interesting about that is an LED bulb will last for 45,000 hours; a halogen bulb will last for about 3,000 hours. So you’ll replace the halogen bulb 15 times before you would the LED bulb. So you’re saving $150 in replacement costs,” he says.

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Adjusting Home Temperature
Program your heating and cooling 

While lighting makes up 12 percent of a home’s energy bill, heating and cooling accounts for about 46 percent of the electric bill.

One way to reduce that by up to 15 percent is to have a programmable thermostat. Dieterich says when you leave for work, go out to run errands and go on vacation, set the thermostat back by about 5 degrees.

“It reduces how much energy you’re consuming so it reduces your carbon footprint. It has an effect on the overall environment.”

(Thinkstock)

Contractor working on window in new home
Check the insulation 

If you’re looking to buy a new home, or want to learn more about the one you already have, Dieterich recommends an energy audit.

“A home inspection looks at whether your roof is leaking, it looks at whether you have the efficiencies in your electrical or structural elements of your house, but an energy audit looks at how well insulated your house is,” he explains.

During the audit, which costs about $200 to $400, a professional will create negative pressure in the house to find out which windows, doors and walls let the most air into the home. The report tells the homeowner where insulation can be improved.

And Dieterich says making improvements to your insulation is easy and affordable: spray foam will do the trick.

“You can go around your house and spray foam the cracks around doors. And if you’re replacing a door and you have the frame off, around the door frame there’s usually a wood frame and then there’s an air gap,” Dieterich says.

“You’ll end up having a tighter seal and you’ll end up not having that air gap which will make the space a lot more comfortable and it will reduce your heating and cooling bill.”

(Thinkstock)

MIAMI - APRIL 16:  An energy star washing machine is seen for sale at the Best Buy store on April 16, 2010 in Miami, Florida. Today the state of Florida started their federally funded 20 percent discount for purchases of Energy Star-rated dishwashers, clothes washers, refrigerators, freezers, tankless gas water heaters and one-room air conditioners. The state has $17.5 million total available and the program runs until the money runs out or April 25th.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Replace old appliances with energy efficient ones

If your appliances are 10-15 years old, it’s time to start thinking about replacing them. In more recent years, energy-efficient appliances have become the standard, due to the Energy Star certification initiative.

Dieterich says the newer appliances use about 60 to 80 percent less energy than their older counterparts. Therefore, upgrading your oven, refrigerator, washer, etc. will significantly reduce the amount of energy your home uses.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Herbal plants in carton, close-up
Plant a garden of any size 

It’s difficult to imagine that a few seeds, some soil and a small pot can help reduce your home’s carbon footprint, but even the smallest gardens improve your home’s sustainability. And you don’t even need a home to have a garden — all you need is a sunny window, Dieterich says.

“You can grow food in a flower pot – you can grow a tomato plant, you can grow some basil, you could have a little herb tray in a window box right outside your window.”

Growing your own food and herbs ultimately helps reduce the number of trips you need to make to the store, and also the number of trips the big trucks make.

“A lot of people don’t think about this, but transportation of your food from a farm to the supermarket ends up being one pound of fuel for every hundred pounds of produce. So by growing some food at home, you’re going to have access to really fresh, nutritious food …  and you’re also reducing this larger scale of transportation and fuel needed to get to the grocery store.”

Planting an outdoor garden also helps absorb storm water runoff, which keeps rivers and streams clean.

(Thinkstock)

In this Sept. 13, 2009 image released by Alice Snider, a decorated rain barrel, “Butterfly Garden,”  is connected to a downspout in a backyard, where it will capture rainwater for watering garden beds. Rain barrel usage is on the rise around the country, according to gardening and conservation experts.  (AP Photo/Alice Snider)
Stop runoff with a rain barrel 

Another way to absorb storm water runoff is with a rain barrel. These barrels attach to a home’s downspout to collect rainwater. They are also connected to a home’s hose, so when it comes time to water the lawn or the garden, the homeowner can use the water collected in the barrel.

It saves the residents money on the water bill, Dieterich says, “and also reduces that storm surge that affects our rivers, so it’s driving healthier rivers and ecosystems.”

He suggests checking with your local government about rain barrel installation; many cities and counties run programs to encourage rain barrel use, such as D.C.’s Department of Environment.

(AP Photo/Alice Snider)

This photo released by Abita Brewing Co. shows  their recently unveiled 340-panel 84 kilowatt photovoltaic rooftop solar system that it will use to power its brew house, Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Abita Brewing Co.)
Consider going solar 

Installing solar panels on your home’s roof is no small project, but Dieterich says it’s a great way to stabilize your utility bill, especially at a time when energy rates are increasing due to the recent deregulation of the energy industry.

The major hurdle, though, is the upfront costs associated with solar panels. “Often times, people don’t have $10,000 or $15,000 to put solar panels on their home, even though that would make your electric bill next to nothing,” Dieterich says.

However, there are programs and government subsidies to help offset the cost and encourage solar panel installation. In addition, some companies will enter into a purchase agreement with homeowners who install solar panels.

How this works, Dieterich explains, is the panels will be hooked up to your home’s meter, and the company will charge the homeowner slightly less per kilowatt hour than the energy company, over a 10-20 year contract. This helps to pay for the upfront costs of installation. When the contract is up, Dieterich says expect to have virtually no bill.

“When the duration of that contract is over, that system is yours and you’re going to not be paying for energy after that contract.”

(AP Photo/Abita Brewing Co.)

MULTNOMAH FALLS, OR - SEPTEMBER 26: The Multnomah Waterfalls, in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area are seen September 26, 2014 in Multnomah Falls, Oregon. Following considerable public outcry, the U.S. Forest Service announced Thursday it will delay finalizing restrictive rules requiring media to purchase special permits to shoot photos or videos in wilderness areas. (Photo by Natalie Behring/Getty Images)
Remember: Every little bit helps 

If you don’t think that simply swapping out your light bulbs will make a significant impact on the health of the environment, remember: every little bit helps.

“One rain drop raises the sea, so every little bit makes a difference. And it’s going to make a big difference in your budget at home,” Dieterich says.

“If everybody in the entire country implemented these things with changing over their lighting, cutting back on their heating and cooling, growing some of their own vegetables, we would be able to take out two coal-fired power plant, which would end up having a huge impact. Even though it might seem small for the homeowner, it ends up having a rip-roaring effect throughout the country.”

(Photo by Natalie Behring/Getty Images)

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FILE - In this Oct. 27, 2011, file photo, a wind turbine is seen at the First Wind project in Sheffield, Vt.Two key lawmakers say Vermont won't meet its goal of getting 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2017. And the chairman and vice chairwoman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee say they're scaling back a goal of 30 percent renewable by 2025 that had been outlined in legislation pending before the panel. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
Convention goers look at bulbs at the LightFair trade show Wednesday, May 18, 2011, in Philadelphia. Two leading makers of lighting products are showcasing LED bulbs that are bright enough to replace energy-guzzling 100-watt light bulbs set to disappear from U.S. stores in January. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Adjusting Home Temperature
Contractor working on window in new home
MIAMI - APRIL 16:  An energy star washing machine is seen for sale at the Best Buy store on April 16, 2010 in Miami, Florida. Today the state of Florida started their federally funded 20 percent discount for purchases of Energy Star-rated dishwashers, clothes washers, refrigerators, freezers, tankless gas water heaters and one-room air conditioners. The state has $17.5 million total available and the program runs until the money runs out or April 25th.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Herbal plants in carton, close-up
In this Sept. 13, 2009 image released by Alice Snider, a decorated rain barrel, “Butterfly Garden,”  is connected to a downspout in a backyard, where it will capture rainwater for watering garden beds. Rain barrel usage is on the rise around the country, according to gardening and conservation experts.  (AP Photo/Alice Snider)
This photo released by Abita Brewing Co. shows  their recently unveiled 340-panel 84 kilowatt photovoltaic rooftop solar system that it will use to power its brew house, Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Abita Brewing Co.)
MULTNOMAH FALLS, OR - SEPTEMBER 26: The Multnomah Waterfalls, in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area are seen September 26, 2014 in Multnomah Falls, Oregon. Following considerable public outcry, the U.S. Forest Service announced Thursday it will delay finalizing restrictive rules requiring media to purchase special permits to shoot photos or videos in wilderness areas. (Photo by Natalie Behring/Getty Images)

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