You might have an environmentally friendly home that's off the grid (and that's great), BUT many of us choose to have services such as gas and electricity AND we enjoy them. So, how can we be kinder to our environment?
First, here are five "must-haves" for your environmentally friendly home.
Wrap your hot water tank in an insulating jacket to increase efficiency. These are available at most hardware stores.
Turn the setting down to “warm” or “low” when you are not there. On some water heaters there is a "vacation" setting, which uses minimal electricity or gas.
Consider replacing your conventional hot water heater with an on-demand system, which heats water only when required.
First, it is now possible to make your own solar panels and wind turbines. If you are fed up with high energy prices (and they're not likely to go down!), plus you like a good DIY project, check out Home Made Energy for step by step instructions.
Switch from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs. They last up to 10 times longer and use about one-quarter the electricity.
Turn off inside lights when you are not using them.
Have motion sensor outdoor lights with low-wattage lamps so they are only on when you need them. Not only will this save electricity but it will cut down on light pollution (and it's a good security feature).
Some electrical devices such as televisions, DVD players, stereos, and computers, continue to draw power even after they’re turned off. Unplug them when you are not there or not using them.
Flush less. If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down! (We've seen this message posted over the toilet in more than one environmentally friendly home).
A toilet dam or displacement device in the tank will reduce the amount of water flushed. A toilet dam is a simple tool that holds back water from the flapper valve. Displacement devices can be as simple as a full plastic water bottle in the tank (don’t use a brick; it can disintegrate, ruining the valves).
Natural toilet bowl cleaner - Put 1 cup of Borax and 1/4 cup vinegar into the toilet bowl before going to bed. In the morning, scrub and flush. Note: Borax is natural, but it can also be toxic. Less than 5 grams can kill a child or pet. Don't use Borax around food, keep it out of reach of children and pets, and make sure you rinse Borax out of clothes and off surfaces before use.
Install a low-flow shower head. This can cut the water flow by 50 per cent without lessening the spray.
Take shorter showers or better yet, shower with a friend! (now that's really an environmentally friendly home!)
Brushing your teeth with the tap running wastes water; a glass of water for brushing and rinsing does the job with much less waste.
When rinsing fruits and vegetables, keep a bowl under the tap and recycle the captured water to water your plants.
Stock up on environmentally friendly cleaning products. Many detergents and soaps contain phosphates, so watch what you buy.
Use good old fashioned cleaners like baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice (see above for the natural must haves and links to more natural cleaning ideas).
Cut a lemon in half and use it as a scrub brush.
Use salt to clean and remove odors from wooden cutting boards.
Never dump hazardous household chemicals down the drain. Everything that goes down the drain is going to go into your septic system, and can contaminate your ground and/or nearby water.
If you get a clogged drain, use boiling water or a drain snake to open clogs.
Retire your old fridge. It’s using more than four times the electricity of a newer, energy-efficient model, and costing you a lot to run!
Situate your fridge out of the sun, away from the stove, and in an area that allows air to circulate to improve its efficiency.
Check the door seal on your fridge - if it isn’t tight enough to hold a piece of paper in place when closed, repair or replace it.
Scrape your dishes, don’t rinse them. Don't soak your dishes unless food is caked or burned on. Avoid letting food dry on your dishes. (OK, so I let my dog lick my dishes before I put them in the dishwasher - but it saves water and he's happy!)
When washing dishes by hand, use the two sink or tub method: wash in one tub of hot water with soap, and rinse in the other tub of cold. Don’t let the water run.
Consider investing in a new energy efficient dishwasher. They use up to 10 times less water and energy as washing by hand. (Whoo hooo! A great reason to not wash by hand!)
Use the energy-saving cycle on your dishwasher.
Regularly clean the food gunk out of the filter at the bottom of your dishwasher.
Only run the dishwasher when full.
Use the air-dry setting instead of the heat-dry cycle, as it consumes between 15 and 50 per cent less energy. If you don’t have that option, simply open the door after the last rinse cycle to let the dishes air-dry with no energy use.
Whether you wash your dishes by hand or in a dishwasher, use detergent free of chlorine and phosphates. Check the label before you buy.
If you have a laundry at your cabin or lodge, you can wash your clothes with cold water to conserve energy and you can use environmentally friendly detergents.
The biggest way to make a difference is to use a wind and solar powered clothes drier... in other words, get a good old fashioned clothesline! There's nothing like the smell of clothes and sheets that have dried in the sun and fresh air. And unlike a gas or electric clothes dryer, the only energy it uses is yours!
Of course some communities restrict the use of clotheslines, so you'll need to check if one is permitted. And in this age of "green" perhaps there should be a move to eliminate these restrictions.
If you use a dryer, ditch the chemically laden fabric softening sheets.Instead, put 1/2 cup of dried lavender in an old nylon knee high or porous sock (you can also use a small muslin bag), knot it tightly, and throw it in with your load as it drys. It should last for about 10 loads. It's heavenly! I get my lavender from Lavender Basics but there are a number of online sources.
Use salt to lift liquid stains out of carpets. Sprinkle salt on liberally, then vaccuum when it's dry. It works well on red wine - I can attest to this!
Keep a kettle full of water on the wood stove. Even if you don't use it for washing, the warm water will continue to warm (and humidify) the room after the stove has gone out.
Keep curtains or blinds closed as much as is practical – they help hold cool or warm air inside. In the winter, curtains on south-facing windows should be opened during the day to let the sun in and closed at night to keep the heat in. Insulated curtains are an excellent way to increase your heat efficiency.
Install extra insulation in your environmentally friendly home to keep the heat in and the warmth out.
Solar panels or wind power - these are other options to consider for power in your environmentally friendly home.
To truly have an environmentally friendly home, you need to kick the lawn habit and the associated fertilizers and pesticides. Instead, consider replacing your lawn with low or no-maintenance native plants - or just let it grow wild. This might not be a possibility in the city, but out in the country you don't need a manicured lawn. I mow the vegetation (not grass - just whatever grows) around our lodge to minimize insects, reduce fire hazard, and to allow a space for little people to play outside easily.
If you must have grass, keep lawns more than 100 feet (30 metres) away from the shoreline, don’t use fertilizers or pesticides, and mow it no shorter than three inches (eight centimetres) high.
Have a rain barrel to catch water from your downspouts. By catching rainfall and/or snowmelt before it hits the ground, you can greatly reduce runoff and erosion. You can buy rain barrels with lids that will prevent small animals from falling in and drowning and reduce the reproduction of mosquitoes.
Composting - get a sealed compost container with a drawer at the bottom. These are available at most hardware stores. Put all your vegetable-based kitchen waste in it and then use the compost to fertilize (instead of purchasing chemicals).
Don’t use soap in the lake, ever. Even if a soap says it’s phosphate-free and biodegradable, don’t assume it’s safe for the lake. Soap can be harmful to fish and aquatic life.
Choose a canoe, kayak, or sailboat instead of a motor boat.
If you must have a motor boat, get a new engine. Newer engines are much cleaner and more energy efficient than old ones.
When you go fishing, switch to non-lead sinkers and jigs. Too often lead tackle ends up in aquatic feeders such as loons.
When you need to top up gas tanks for chainsaws, generators, pumps, or boat engines, do it away from the waterfront, in a shelter with a hard floor, and over a tray. Use a rag for mopping up any spills.
Take empty containers from oil, paints, solvents, etc. to your local waste management site for safe disposal.