How to green up your household for the climate

You don’t need to look far for ways to lower your carbon footprint. Learn five easy tricks for sustainable home living.

When people think ‘sustainable lifestyle’, they might picture themselves at a rustic farmers market, tipping locally-grown limes into a reusable cotton bag — or perhaps a man with thick gloves, smiling over a soon-to-be-planted baby tree. All fine things, but we can start closer to home. At around 20% of total emissions, residential energy use is a major contributor to climate change — up there with agriculture and transport. But unlike other emissions, our energy use is something we can personally control, daily. Let’s talk about an energy-efficient home.

20% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US come from home energy use.

How to shrink your footprint at home

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Slow and steady (cooking) wins the race. Ovens are a classic ‘heavy-draw’ appliance. In contrast, slow cookers can use as little energy as a light bulb. If you’ve never had one, they’re an easy way to cook soul-hugging meals like stews and paellas. They’re also undemanding; just let them do their thing while you go about your day. Want an easy step to cut your footprint? Weekly casserole night!

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Green up by switching your light bulbs. The next time a bulb breaks, try replacing it with an LED light. These are helpful in three ways. They consume less energy — fit enough of them and you might notice your electricity bill shrinking. They also last longer, meaning you’ll replace them less. And when they do eventually blow, they won’t leak toxic chemicals into landfill like your standard fluorescent bulb. Win-win-win.

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Be mindful about thermostat heating and cooling. You can reduce your footprint at home, quite literally, at the press of a button. Go easy on the AC this summer — even a moderately cooled home feels gorgeous on a hot day. Or try fans, which use vastly less energy. And when winter comes, lower the temperature when you’re out, or sleeping (luckily, science says the best temperature for sleep quality is around 18 degrees celsius, or 65 Fahrenheit). Pro tip: smart and programmable thermostats can help you keep on top of this.

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Never too late to insulate. If heating is one side of the coin, insulation is the other. The better you trap heat, the less you need to pump in. According to the EPA, Americans can save 15% on heating and cooling costs by properly sealing and insulating their homes. Our advice? If you have an older house, invite an expert to evaluate the structure, and point out where to improve. For those who plan to live in their home for decades to come, insulation could save you thousands overall. 

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Nothing wrong with nostalgia, but maybe not for appliances. Older appliances might have literally stood the test of time, but it's likely they were produced when environmental standards were laxer. New fridges, for example, use 40% less energy than pre-2001 models, and pay for themselves in savings within eight years. Do your research, and if you can afford it, start replacing old appliances with newer, energy-saving models. Renting? Check your contract for any language around renovations — your landlord may be willing to cover these costs. Or they could be open to persuasion, in return for a rent increase. Be shrewd: depending on the amount, and how long you plan to stay, you could make this money back through reduced energy bills. 

The big picture

Cutting your carbon footprint doesn’t need to mean ‘sacrifice’. True, some of the tips here are adjustments, but most represent a happy opportunity to fill your home with smart money-saving devices, or delicious new food. While one of these tips alone might not make much difference, sweeping them into a holistic, climate-conscious lifestyle may add up to big benefits — for your bills and our planet.

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