"What's the use of a fine house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?" ~ Henry David Thoreau

Think about what physically constitutes a home - building materials, appliances, furniture, décor, cleaning products, paint, insulation...the list seems endless. The U.S. residential housing sector is second only to China in terms of inefficient energy use. This makes our homes a major player in the depletion of precious ecological reserves. But, there is a bright green light lurking in the shadows of what seems like an environmental nightmare. It is the enlightened knowledge and awareness that so many people now have towards going green. Choosing sustainable products and choices for our homes and gardens can enable us all to make a measurable impact on our planet's dwindling resources.

Going green at home means making choices that will sustain us for years to come. It sends a message to our big, fat global economy that we value where and how our money is spent. For most of us, creating a home is an ongoing process and every choice makes a difference. Getting closer to what our future generations will need to "Keep Calm and Carry On", can make an impact this Earth Day and beyond.

Here is why it makes a difference to do these 4 things at home:

Every Little Watt Counts

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that if every American home exchanged the five most frequently used bulbs with efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, one trillion pounds of greenhouse gases would be kept out of the air over the course of the bulbs' lives (a lifetime range of five to as many as eight years or so). That's equivalent to the annual emissions of 8 million cars, the annual output of more than 20 power plants, and $6 billion in U.S. energy savings.

Why it makes a difference for you and the planet:

Replacing traditional light bulbs with energy-saving fluorescents (CFLs) is a simple, effective way to slow the rate of climate change while saving money. It's good for the environment, it's economical, it's efficient, and it's easy.

3 things you can do:

1. Check the wattage. Look for a CFL's with a wattage of about one-quarter of the incandescent you're replacing. 2. Put your lights on dimmers. In order for a CFL bulb to work in a dimmer, it must be specially designed to do so. 3. Dispose of all bulbs safely. When they burn out recycle them safely. [b] Photo credit: Jupiterimages/Thinkstock Many conventional building materials release chemical vapors into the air, sometimes for decades after construction. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that building a 2,000 square-foot home in the United States generates an average of four tons of construction waste. A 10,000-square-foot house requires four times the resources of an average new American house under 2,500 square feet. Why it makes a difference for you and the planet: Healthy homes keep families healthy. But, it goes beyond that. The degradation of our environment compromises the survival of other living beings. Every square footage knocked off of the footprint of a new home saves precious ecological resources. 3 things you can do: 1. Build smaller homes. 2. Recycle construction waste and buy local when possible. 3. Renovate using eco-friendly and energy-efficient building materials and appliances for heating and fueling, and use green cleaning products. [b] Photo credit: Jupiterimages/Thinkstock A typical household of four uses 260 gallons of water each day. Much of this water is used in the bathroom. Toilets use 40% of the total, showers/baths and faucets use 35%. By contrast, 15% is used in the kitchen, and 10% for washing clothes. Why it makes a difference for you and the planet: When you conserve water, you are preserving drinking water supplies. It eases the burden on wastewater treatment plants and aquatic life continues to thrive. Curbing water waste saves energy and money. 3 things you can do: 1. Change to low-flow toilets that can save the average U.S. household about 25 gallons of water per day. 2. Take a shower instead of a bath. 3. Fix a leaky faucet. Plant Something Green Photo credit: © iStockphoto.com/Thinkstock One acre of new forest will sequester about 2.5 tons of carbon annually. Worldwatch Institute estimates that our planet needs at least 321 million acres planted to trees just to restore and maintain the productivity of soil and water resources, meet industrial and fuel-wood needs in the third world, and annually remove from the atmosphere roughly 780 million tons of carbon as the trees grow. Plants act as carbon "sinks." Organic compounds and chemicals pose a potential risk to plants. Why it makes a difference for you and the planet? The simple act of planting a tree helps the Earth filter pollution from the air, prevents soil loss, creates shade and shelter, and provides homes for animals and humans. Organic farming and gardens keep chemicals out of the soil and water. By planting a garden instead of lawn, you'll stop mowing and reap the benefits of enjoying the harvest. Three things you can do: 1. Create container and kitchen gardens. 2. Keep the chemicals off your lawn and/or plant your lawn with food. 3. Grow organic food. Happy Earth Day! Sources: Environmental Defense Action Fund McKinsey Global Institute News Observer Green Design: A Healthy Home Handbook The Green Guide National Association of Home Builders Worldwatch Institute