- GREENER LIGHTING. Removing a wall allowed more natural light in, and compact fluorescent bulbs and dimmer switches make the electric lighting as eco-friendly as possible.
- ENERGY-EFFICIENT APPLIANCES. The fridge and dishwasher were replaced with Energy Star models (reducing their energy consumption) and reconfigured to make room for a recycling center and compost bin.
- LOW-FLOW FAUCETS. Kohler faucets minimize water waste; plus, the tap filters the water, doing away with toxins—and any need for disposable bottles or plastic filters.
- ECO-FRIENDLY MATERIALS. Dennis chose Italian cabinets because of Italy’s high standards for reducing toxic emissions, known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The floor is Forest Stewardship Council–certified oak, the walls are painted with zero-VOC Benjamin Moore colors, and the countertops are Caeserstone, a 93 percent natural quartz that is stain and scratch resistant.
These take planning (and money) but make a big dent in your kitchen’s footprint.
Replace old appliances
Energy Star, the government program that sets energy efficiency standards for household products, is an important logo to look for when you’re shopping. To go beyond the basics, though, check out the Energy Guide Label. It’s a yellow and black sticker on most home appliances that explains energy use in kilowatt hours (or kWh/year). This will allow you to compare Energy Star products.
Top-mounted freezers use less energy than side-by-side or bottommounted models, even if they all have the Energy Star label (they’re held to different standards). Also, ice-makers and through-the-door ice dispensers add to energy consumption. Think about size, too. Refrigerators measuring less than 25 cubic feet use significantly less energy than larger ones, and are big enough for most families.
If yours was made before 1994, you’re likely wasting about 8 gallons of water per cycle. Look for machines with labels that say they use less than 340 kWh/year (that’s better than the federal standard and can qualify you for government rebates). One of the most energy efficient models on the market is the 800 Plus Dishwasher by Bosch. It uses only 1.5 gallons of water per cycle, 70 percent less than the average machine (from $1,649 to $2,099, bosch-home.com).
Though ovens and ranges aren’t in the Energy Star program, there are still energy-efficient choices to be made. If you want a gas stove, look for one with an electric ignition (forgo pilot lights, which can waste gas). Electric stoves come in three varieties: They can be heated with induction (most energy-efficient and most expensive), halogen, or electric coils (least efficient).
Once you’ve chosen your new appliance, look into recycling your old one. Sears offers a Responsible Appliance Disposal program: If you buy an Energy Star product, they’ll pick up and get rid of an old appliance for you. You can also call your municipality and ask about recycling programs, says Nadav Malin, the president of BuildingGreen, an independent resource for building professionals. Finally, find out if you can get money back from the government: Most states have appliance rebate programs, funded by federal stimulus money, which are under way now or begin soon. What you’ll get depends on where you live and what you buy, so check out energysavers.gov and dsireusa.org for information.
Adjust the Water
Cut down on water waste by installing a low-flow faucet. Most work by mixing air into the water stream, so you get less water—still plenty for washing veggies or dishes—without reducing the flow to a trickle. If you still want the option of filling a pasta pot quickly, consider Moen’s new eco-performance faucets “Anabelle” and “Dorsey.” They have three waterflow settings (from $158, lowes.com). You can also install an aerator onto an existing faucet: Look for models marked 2 gpm (gallons per minute) or less at a hardware store. (Aerators with very low flow—below 1 gpm—are better for bathroom faucets.)
Install new windows
Upgrading your existing windows can help reduce energy costs—and provide you with tax credits. Look for the National Fenestration Rating Council performance label on products you’re considering. The most important numbers are at the top: U-Factor and Solar Heat Gain Efficiency. The lower these numbers, the better. (They measure how well the window prevents heat from escaping and blocks heat from entering: The goal is to find a product that helps cool your home in summer and keep it warm in winter.) For a tax credit, these numbers both need to be below .30. Visit nfrc.org for more info on ratings and energystar.gov for details on the tax credits. A less expensive route is to install energy- efficient window coverings. Hunter Douglas offers designs that reduce heat transfer and qualify for tax credits. Look for the Duette Architella honeycomb shades (from $301, hunterdouglas.com).
Not ready for a big renovation? You can make these simple changes today.
4 quick fixes
1. Seal existing particleboard or plywood cabinets against off-gassing potentially toxic chemicals with a product like Safe Seal (afmsafecoat.com), says Sarah Bernard, an interior designer in Los Angeles.
2. Connect your dishwasher to cold water pipes, if possible, or turn down your water heater temperature to 120 degrees. You’ll save on energy bills without affecting the performance of the dishwasher, since all have built-in heaters to boost water temperature, says Jacob Talbot of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
3. Switch to cfl bulbs, which use 75 percent less energy than incandescent. For warm light, look for CFLs marked 2700 to 3000K. Be sure to dispose of them safely, says eco-sensitive designer Jillian Pritchard Cooke of Atlanta. Find details at energystar.gov.
4. Have a family meeting about conserving resources. Encourage everyone to recycle packaging, compost food waste, and use water wisely.
Little ECO Extras
|Letterpress-printed 9SpotMonk Color-In Placemats are 100 percent recycled and great for keeping kids occupied while you cook. ($12 for 24, giggle.com)|
|Using the Twist Euro Sponge Cloth will replace 17 rolls of paper towels. It’s super-absorbent, dishwasher-safe, and made from sustainable pine trees. (Set of three, $5, broadwaypanhandler.com)|
|Cutting boards from Preserve are made out of recycled paper—and unlike wooden boards, can be tossed in the dishwasher. ($13, recycline.com)|
Going greener: Resources
U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Home Guide has tons of detailed but accessible info for homeowners, plus a “Find a pro” tool for locating designers, contractors, and more (greenhomeguide.com).
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy offers specific tips for saving energy on dishwashing, refrigeration, and more(aceee.org/consumerguide).
Sierra Club Green Home makes greening your home simple and doable, whether you’re renovating or just looking for new ways to live more sustainably with what you already have (sierraclubgreenhome.com).
What is LEED for homes?
The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a voluntary consensus-based rating system created by the U.S. Green Building Council. It signifies that a building is exceptional in the areas of sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection (wallpaper adhesives, paints, shades), and indoor environmental quality. For a home, you’d have to undergo a major renovation or build new to earn LEED certification. However, by working with designers and contractors who follow the guidelines even on smaller projects, you’ll ensure you’re being as environmentally friendly as possible, whether you can officially earn the certification or not. Learn more at usgbc.org.