5 Insanely Easy Home Upgrades That Save Money, Energy, and the Earth All at Once
By Kimberly Dawn Neumann
Just about everyone seems to be adopting more environmental awareness these days, and while we’ve all heard of the virtues of recycling and electric cars, there’s now an array of far more surprising ways to save our planet.
Some examples: While watering your lawn during a drought is an obvious no-no, did you know you can paint your lawn green instead? Also, rather than LED bulbs, how about swapping in “turtle-friendly” lighting?
These are just a few of the more innovative upgrades homeowners can try to save energy, money, and the environment—all in one fell swoop. Whatever renovation you’re embarking on probably has an Earth-friendly option to explore.
1. Paint that improves air quality
Did you know that that distinctive new-paint smell is actually poisonous? Those fumes often contain volatile organic compounds, chemicals created during the manufacturing process of paint (as well as furniture, carpet, and other home goods) that are harmful to both humans and the environment.
In response, paint companies have released brands that have low or even no VOCs. Some paints can even improve air quality, such as Sherwin-Williams’ SuperPaint, which boasts an “air-purifying technology” that transforms any VOCs circulating in the nearby air into harmless, inert gasses.
Plus, the same technology that helps reduce airborne toxins also helps absorb and eliminate other odors, like from cooking smoke and your funky-smelling pets.
These purifying effects can last as long as a couple of years, making these paints a smart investment.
2. Grass paint
Homeowners who love a lush, green lawn have no doubt heard that wasting tons of water on this patch of grass is a huge faux pas. Fortunately, there’s a canned alternative: grass paint.
For starters, grass paint is not actually paint. It is technically a colorant made of nontoxic, biodegradable materials such as pulverized kaolin (a soft stone) and decayed plants. And it’s hardly a new idea; USGA golf courses and pro sports arenas have been using it for years, and the idea has since spread to residential homeowners in their effort to alleviate water shortages that can sabotage their home’s curb appeal.
Applied with a simple garden sprayer, grass paint is safe to use around kids and pets, won’t rub off if you feel like lying or rolling in the grass, and won’t run off if you do water your lawn (or have a rainy summer). It also saves homeowners the cost of “over-seeding” a lawn to try to keep it growing in the off-season, according to a study from North Carolina State University.
There are many brands of grass paint on the market, so be sure to search for ones that are marked as eco-friendly.
LawnStarter.com says a gallon jug of Endurant lawn colorant will run about $95 on Amazon and cover about 10,000 square feet of lawn. It can last for months, thereby markedly cutting down on your water consumption.
3. A water-saving showerhead
Probably the easiest swap of all to save water is a new showerhead. And these days, there’s even a certification for that: Look for the WaterSense badge, which means a product uses 20% less water than regular models.
The EPA created the WaterSense program 16 years ago to encourage manufacturers to create products that conserve this precious resource without a marked diminishment in functionality. So far, this program has helped Americans save over 16 trillion gallons of water.
“Most areas of the country have a maximum GPM, or gallons per minute, of 2.5,” says Jen Sommer, the builder and installer marketing segment manager for Moen. “However, by switching to a showerhead that flows 1.75GPM, you can save a considerable amount of water.”
For context, a 10-minute shower flowing at 2.5GPM would use 25 gallons, while a 1.75GPM flow would use 17.5 gallons.
“If you think about a family of four doing that every day, you’re looking at 100 gallons of water in a day versus 70 gallons,” says Sommer. “So the savings can really add up over time.”
4. Dark sky–compliant lights
While water and air pollution are firmly on people’s radars, light pollution is a lesser-known evil.
At night, artificial light coming from homes, cars, street lamps, and other sources contribute to the disruption of circadian rhythms and migration patterns in a variety of animals (humans included). Turtles and birds navigating by moonlight, for instance, have become lost and often die. Light pollution also keeps us all from seeing the starry night sky in all its splendor.
Many towns around the world have implemented “dark sky” regulations requiring lower lighting at night. A growing number of towns (including 25 in the U.S.) have even been dubbed “dark sky communities” for their dedication to the cause. Meanwhile, manufacturers have begun offering dark sky–compliant lighting so that homeowners can also do their part.
“These lower color temperature lightbulbs require less energy as they are not throwing high levels of light illumination,” says Brian Fitzpatrick, assistant product design manager for Visual Comfort & Co. The company even offers “turtle-friendly” lighting, which is critical for coastal areas with turtle populations.
“When turtle lay eggs on beaches in the sand, the hatchlings need to follow the moonlight back to the water,” says Fitzpatrick. “Turtle-friendly lighting is a specific color temperature that doesn’t distract or attract the new hatchlings away from the water.”
5. A smart ceiling fan
Sick of leaning on your energy-guzzling AC for relief from the heat? According to the U.S. Department of Energy, ceiling fans are a great energy (and money) saver. This is because fans work by creating a windchill effect on the skin so you feel cooler even if the overall room temperature is warmer.
Just make sure the fan you select is EnergyStar-certified (a designation given to products that are proven to conserve energy). Also, you can take it a step further by adding a smart fan to your home. It’s a small, cost-effective way to reduce your energy consumption.
“Smart fans are easy to install, easy to operate, and can integrate into other smart home systems,” says Stacey Rosenstein, vice president of builder sales for Visual Comfort & Co. “You can even integrate your smart fan with your thermostat so when the indoor temperature rises or falls, the fan comes on before the air conditioning for cost savings on utility usage.”
Just remember that fans generally cool people, not rooms, so also use that smart device to turn them off when you leave.