10 Ways to Greenify Your Home

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Living "green" is really just a set of simple choices, like using reusable bags instead of plastic or paper. See more pictures of green living.

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10 Ways to Greenify Your Home

The idea of what good environmental stewardship is has changed and evolved over time, and even the meaning of going "green" has shifted somewhat from actively making conscientious decisions and lifestyle changes that benefit the environment to buying green products. If you've become a little jaded because corporations use the term "green" indiscriminately to bolster their environmentally friendly reputations and market their product lines, don't get too discouraged. There are still plenty of good reasons to stay motivated.

While the term "green" has lost some of its power, the goal behind it -- adopting habits that positively impact the environment -- is still a good and important one. There are plenty of big and small changes you can implement every day to make your home and life more Earth friendly. Let's look at 10 ways you can become a steward of the planet by greenifying your home. Consider the potential benefits involved: You'll be doing something positive for your family, your community and possibly the entire planet. You'll also be teaching your kids that building a better future for everyone is a goal that deserves their effort and a few sacrifices.

Recyclers are dressed as bins and stand beside the world's largest recycling bin (at around 35 feet in height) in Berlin, Germany during European Recycling Week in 2004.

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10: Reduce

Many of us buy coffee on the way to work every morning -- it's simply convenient. All of those paper cups and coffee clutches tend to have at least some post-consumer recycled content, but once your Joe is poured, that's usually the death knell for their life cycles. What's more, while your car idles in the drive-thru line, you're emitting carbon dioxide. Instead, try making your coffee at home before you hit the road. It's a safe bet your favorite spot sells the same bulk beans they use to make your morning coffee. Get a reusable to-go cup, fill it up and you're all set. Just be sure to unplug your coffee maker before you leave; no point in having one more appliance vampire sucking juice while you're gone.

And morning coffee's just the beginning. Use your imagination: In what other areas can you trim you consumption? It won't take long for you to discover that some green practices are more expensive than what you're currently accustomed to. One nice thing about teaching yourself to reduce consumption is that it's an instance where greening your life is less expensive, too.

A young Nicaraguan searches for water in Los Chiles, one of many areas around the world hit by heavy drought, in May 2008.

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9: Reevaluate

You probably grew up taking some things for granted. The water coming out of your faucet is a good example. The developed world has water on demand. Just turn a knob and presto: running water. But this might not be the case for much longer. In the United States, some neighboring states are beginning to sue one another over access to shared water resources, and aging infrastructures are struggling under the ever growing demand for abundant, clean water.

When you reevaluate habits and practices you take for granted today, you teach yourself to conserve some resources and use others more wisely. One great way to start is by making your home a water-conscious zone. For starters, make sure your faucets and toilets aren't leaking. Some minor tinkering and a few dollars spent at your local home improvement store can mean the difference in several lost gallons of water each and every day.

Simply paying attention to how you use water can help you conserve this precious resource, too. For example, you can save water by shaving in the sink rather than the shower. And when you turn on your shower, place a 5-gallon bucket beneath the stream while you wait for the water to heat up, rather than simply allowing it to run down the drain. You can use this gray water in your garden.

Collecting rain in a rain barrel is another great project. These large barrels can be positioned beneath one of your home's downspouts to collect rainwater as it rolls off your roof. A spigot is usually attached to the barrel to accommodate a hose. Not only will your plants receive the benefit of captured rainwater, you won't spend as much money on watering your garden (or bend the law, if you're under an outdoor watering ban).

USDA Certified Organic Foods

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched its National Organic Program (NOP) in 1990 to provide guidelines for food producers who grow and raise organic certified products (you can tell who's made the cut by looking for the words "USDA Certified Organic" on the label of the food you buy). Under these guidelines, farmers can't use most synthetic pesticides or many kinds of fertilizers that can prove harmful to people and the environment, like sewage sludge. To produce certified organic goods, they also can't genetically modify or irradiate their products. A USDA "100 percent organic" seal means all of the ingredients in the product you're buying were produced under NOP guidelines. A USDA "organic" seal means that 95 percent or more of the ingredients are organic by USDA standards.

8: Shop Organic

It can be hard to justify paying extra to help the Earth, even during good economic times (let alone when grocery store prices are sky high). Still, you can probably afford to buy at least one or two food items from the market that are more environmentally friendly. Just paying attention to the labels of the products you buy can lead you in the right direction. Logos that credit an item as being organic tell you that you're buying a product that helps sustain the planet.

Organic foods are better for the environment because their production doesn't demand the use of cheap but harmful chemicals. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers have long shelf lives and can be reintroduced into the environment after their application. For example, excess fertilizer can be carried as runoff to watersheds when it rains, affecting the water quality in surrounding areas.

7: Reuse

There are a lot of items you may discard that can fulfill a second purpose around your house. Those coffee grounds, potato peelings, brown bananas and rotten peas are black gold as compost for your garden. Ironically, food you normally might throw away can be converted into fertilizer to feed a whole new generation of crops. You can purchase compost bins or make your own for little or no money. Not only that, you can make a small worm compost bin indoors and use it teach your kids that the cycle of life really is amazing.

Shopping at a local farmers' market rather than a grocery chain supports small business and you're sure to find organic items in vast abundance.

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6: Shop Locally

Paying attention to where the goods you buy come from is a good way to help lessen your impact on the environment. When you shop locally, you support your local economy, too. For example, when you buy produce at farmers' markets that allow only local farmers to sell their produce, you're cutting down on the number of miles the food travels to get to market. The fewer the miles, the lower the carbon dioxide emissions associated with transporting that food. There may be fewer energy and packaging costs, too. The same goes for buying from local artisans and retailers that specialize in locally produced goods.

5: Start a Vegetable Patch

You can also get in on the action yourself by starting a backyard garden. Production doesn't get any more local than your backyard, and there's no better way to ensure that the food you eat is organic than by producing it yourself. Growing some of your own food will lower your grocery bill and your family's environmental impact. If you have a bumper crop, you can donate the surplus and help others, too.

You don't even have to own a backyard to plant a "backyard" garden. Some communities offer free or low cost garden allotments, public lands set aside for citizen gardens that will set the "groundwork" for your very own vegetable patch. Check with your regional USDA Cooperative Extension Office for more information about the availability of allotments in your area.

A man in New Bedford, Mass., blows insulation into a home as part of a program that subsidizes energy-efficient home improvements for low income families.

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4: Seal Your Home's Envelope

If you look around your house, you'll probably find a few places where treated indoor air is escaping -- and harsh outside air is seeping in. The beam of sunlight that shines from beneath your front door, for example -- that's not supposed to be there. Adding weather stripping to your doors is one step you can take in an effort to keep your home's envelope, the bubble of air inside your home, nice and tight. Properly insulating your house cuts down on energy consumption by reducing your heating and cooling demands.

The envelope of your home includes any place where air can get in and out, like your doors, windows, roof, floor and outer walls. Making sure that your windows are properly sealed with caulk and that the gaps between your chimney flue (which carries away waste gases from your furnace) and your roof can all prevent air from escaping or entering your home. You should also ensure that you've got proper insulation in your attic, under your floors and along outer walls. Home insulation is rated by its ability to prevent air flow, and it's denoted by an R-rating. Generally, the higher the rating, the thicker and more protective the insulation will be.

Can You Be on the Grid -- and off the Grid?

Grid-connected residential solar power systems are plugged into the power grid that your utility companies operate. This means that when it's overcast for days on end, you can draw power from your utility company. It also means that when your system is providing more power than you need, you can sell it back to the power company -- yeah!

3: Develop Other Lean Energy Habits

Creating a positive environmental impact by reducing your home's energy demands doesn't stop with its envelope, however. There are some even easier, less expensive ways to keep your house cooler during the summer and warmer during the winter. Keeping your blinds or curtains drawn to prevent direct sunlight from streaming through your windows can help keep your home cool. Blinds and curtains also help prevent cold air from entering through your windows in the winter.

Another way to use less energy is by simply keeping your home a bit cooler in the winter and slightly warmer in the summer. The recommended thermostat settings during winter and summer vary depending on where you live, but the EPA suggests that you set your thermostat to a difference of 7 degrees when you leave your house and 4 degrees when you sleep. These kinds of small, mindful changes can make a difference over time.

Onlookers check out the SunTiles attached to the roofs of these newly constructed homes in Calif., in April 2008. The shingles are also solar panels and provide electricity to the homes beneath.

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2: Consider Alternative Energy

So what's an even better way to greenify your home than decreasing your electricity demand? Well, wouldn't it be great to generate your own clean electricity and stop relying on the big power companies every time you want to turn on a light?

Solar panels, geo-thermal power systems and even wind power options are being employed by clever consumers across the country to reduce their dependence on the large power companies and live somewhat off the "power grid." Although this may not be entirely feasible for many of us right now, new technologies and revitalized adaptations of existing technologies are making the dream of clean, renewable energy more of a reality every day.

As an example, converting to solar power makes a big environmental difference, but installing solar panels is a costly proposal even when taking into account the tax benefits involved. One big problem with a major change to another method of generating electricity to your home is that it could take decades to recuperate the costs and start seeing a financial benefit. Before the economic slowdown, people were staying in their homes an average of seven years before moving on. Adding an expensive alternative energy option to you home won't likely increase its value enough to make the purchase cost effective -- today, anyway. Stay tuned, though. As alternative power system costs come down and conventional energy costs go up, the outlook could change -- and quickly, too.

Develop Earth Friendly Habits

You may not be able to recycle everything yourself, but often you can locate others who will make use of items you'd otherwise throw away. Why not return wire hangers to the dry cleaner with your next drop off instead of pitching them? Most cleaners happily accept intact hangers to use over and over again. This is an example of a small change you can make to reduce your community's landfill, support a local business and make a positive change for the better.

1: Recycle

It has become easier than ever to recycle with the introduction of single-stream recycling, which allows you to put all of your stuff in one bin to leave at the curb. But exactly how much of this will get recycled largely depends on you. Tossing an un-rinsed laundry detergent bottle into the recycling bin probably won't amount to any recycled plastic. The residue will make the plastic the container is made from less pure and maybe even keep it from being sold. Clean waste is much more likely to be recycled; after all, it's easier to reduce back into its original parts. So, cleaning out your laundry detergent bottle and discarding its cap before you toss it into the bin will increase the likelihood it actually gets recycled. Just a head's up.

Recycling applies to not only what goes out of your house but also what comes in. Everything from roof shingles to drywall can be made with some recycled content. Just keep an eye out for the words post-consumer recycled material. This means that some of the ingredients lived a former life as something else and were recycled into what you're purchasing. The higher the percentage of post-consumer recycled material in an item, the greener it is.

Lots More Information

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