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Green Up Your Household

Keeping your house clean and in good operating order can bring many immediate benefits to the health of you and your family. But it can also benefit the environment at large — which, not surprisingly, ultimately benefits you, too. This broader effect is particularly true of the many things you do routinely in your home for operation and maintenance.


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Here are a few key strategies in some common categories that will help make your home more environmentally responsible.

Use Lighting for Light, Not for Heat

Want to save up to 75% on your lighting bill immediately? Simply replace all your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, which are offered in an increasing assortment of convenient sizes and shapes. Although their cost has decreased significantly, they still cost more than an ordinary bulb; but in a matter of a few years, they will pay back many times that cost and give you significant savings over incandescent bulbs. The reason is that compact fluorescent bulbs use only about one-quarter of the energy consumed by the conventional incandescent, which generates a great deal of heat in addition to light. The incandescent, after all, boasts technology more than a century old. Note that most fluorescent bulbs cannot be used with dimmer switches.
Take Advantage of Auto Turn-off Sensors
Obviously, avoiding use of energy when it's not needed is the best way to save it. But if you or others in your family just can't turn off the lights when you leave a room, consider getting a few occupancy sensors for home use. These devices sense movement (or lack of it) in a room, and turn off the lights when nothing has stirred for a set duration you can control. They are particularly useful in rarely used areas.

Don't Throw New Trees Down The Toilet

We're not asking you to reuse or recycle your toilet paper ... just not to use new trees. Perfectly good and comfortable bathroom tissue is made from fully recycled paper, including post-consumer waste that you put on your curbside for recycling. Of course, all the recycled fibers are thoroughly cleansed and processed before they are made into tissue. Look for 100% recycled tissue with the highest post-consumer amount possible. Extra credit: buy tissue not bleached with chlorine, which creates toxic substances in the waterways.

Use It Sparingly, Use It Again, Use It Recycled and Recycle It

In general, any material you use in your house should be treated as a valuable commodity, because the Earth's resources are finite and we are six billion and growing. First, use any material sparingly, only what you really need. Then, if possible, reuse that material or device, rather than discarding it for a new one; if, for example, you can refill a jug, that's better even than recycling it. But if you can no longer use something, see if it can be recycled. Finally, to close the loop, buy products with recycled content.
Keep Coatings From Choking You Up
Cleaners aren't the only chemicals in your home that can affect your health. So can paints and other coatings. There are now many good brands available that have low or no volatile organic content (VOCs), which means they cause less respiratory stress as well as outdoor air pollution. Choose Green Seal-certified coatings or those that claim no VOCs.
Change Filters And Maintain Engines
Chances are your home has at least one motor for producing heating or cooling, perhaps two (a furnace and air conditioner). You probably wouldn't consider going year after year without checking your car engine; you shouldn't do this with these engines, either. Get into a routine maintenance plan for your furnace and/or air conditioning unit, and be sure to change the air filters in the system regularly. Clogged air filters not only render your breathing air dirtier, they also make the whole system less efficient — which means it’s more costly to run.
Avoid Heating and Cooling Extremes
Speaking of heating and cooling, try to moderate your indoor air temperatures so that you don't use excessive fuel or electricity. This can be one of the biggest sources of energy use in a home, and that translates into more fossil fuel use and global warming in most regions of the country. Where hydropower is the main source, there are other issues, such as flow levels for fish. Depending on your indoor population’s age and vulnerability, you should try setting your thermostat between 68º and 72º in winter and 74º and 78º in summer.

Buy Organic, Local Food and Compost Where Possible

The food you and your family consume has an enormous effect on the environment, as well as on your health. You can help both by purchasing as much as possible from local producers (avoiding transportation and energy costs) and buying organic foods as much as you can afford. Organic food does not use artificial pesticides, fertilizers, or hormones, and it is growing fast in the industry so that its costs continue to fall. Also, many of your food scraps can be composted outdoors; fancy or simple compost systems can be bought or made.

Practice Low-Maintenance Landscaping

Finally, in the ecosystem closest to home — your own property and grounds, if you have them — you have an opportunity to reduce or eliminate chemical use and promote habitat for wildlife. The more you use vegetation native to the terrain in your area, the less maintenance you will have to apply to your landscape. This is particularly true for grass lawns, which are highly intensive to maintain. Having young children around may necessitate a lawn, but don't get worried about weeds here and there, and when the lawn is cut, spread the clippings as mulch.

These tips are just a start. If you follow them, you may achieve a greener household, which will benefit your health (and, in many cases, your pocketbook) and that of the world at large.


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Green Up Your Household:  Created on April 15th, 2007.  Last Modified on April 15th, 2007


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About Dr. Arthur Weissman

Dr. Arthur Weissman

Arthur Weissman is President and CEO of Green Seal, the leading non-profit green cleaning certification organization. Dr. Weissman has over 25 years of experience in environmental policy, standards and enforcement. He joined Green Seal in 1993 as Vice President of Standards and Certification, becoming President and CEO in late 1996, and he served as Chair of the Global Ecolabelling Network from 1994 to 1997.

Prior to joining Green Seal, he was responsible for developing national policy and guidance for the Superfund program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He also served as a Congressional Science Fellow and worked for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut.

He holds a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in physical geography and environmental science, a masters in natural resource management from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a bachelors degree from Harvard University.



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