Green Living

No one enjoys being faced with a high energy bill. Unfortunately, with summer just around the corner and temperatures heating up, your home may soon be facing off with your electric company.

The good news is there are plenty of ways you can keep your home cool this season without digging into your savings account. Here are a few tips you can use to stay cool this summer while still saving energy.

  1. Have your HVAC inspected in advance. The early bird catches the worm with energy savings when it comes to your HVAC system. In fact, efficient HVAC systems need maintenance inspections at least twice a year. Maintenance ensures your system doesn’t have any issues that could cause it to overwork itself or malfunction when you need it the most. Be sure to change out your system’s air filters every three months while you’re at it to keep your home clear of allergens and debris.
  2. Use natural ventilation to your advantage. If you live in an area where the air cools down at night, consider turning off your HVAC system and opening your windows while you sleep. You can shut the windows again in the morning and close the blinds or curtains to keep the air cool. Certain air coverings such as blackout curtains can help to prevent heat gain through your windows.
  3. Use your water wisely. The average family of four uses up to 400 gallons of water every day. To help save on your water bill, turn off your sink or shower when you’re not using it such as when you’re brushing your teeth, applying soap to your skin, or scrubbing the dishes.
  4. Use fans to circulate the air. Ceiling fans and ENERGY STAR fans are a great way to get the cool air in your home circulating without turning down your thermostat. However, it’s recommended to turn these fans off when you’re no longer in the room to use them. Fans are designed to help cool down your skin by creating a wind chill effect. ENERGY STAR ventilating fans are recommended for areas where heat and humidity can build up in your home, too. These areas include your laundry room and your bathroom if you don’t have fans installed there already.
  5. Lower the temperature of your water heater. The last thing you want during a hot summer day is to get into an even hotter shower. As it turns out, water heating accounts for up to 18% of the energy that’s consumed in your home. To keep from scalding your hands when you turn on the sink and to help reduce your energy costs this summer, lower your water heater to the warm setting. This setting is around 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, make sure your water heater is in good condition in the first place — the standard water heater lasts 10 to 15 years before corrosion causes wear and tear.
  6. Make sure your attic is insulated. When you have poor insulation in your attic, your home attempts to equalize the temperature inside your home with the outside air. Your home’s heat or cool air escapes from the attic, leading to your home feeling too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. Call in your local professionals to seal up the cracks in your attic and you’ll reduce your energy expenses year-round.

There are many different factors that can increase your home’s energy bills. By following the tips above, you can help to keep your energy bills down this summer without foregoing your comfort.

No one can deny that society is becoming more environmentally-conscious; we are all aware of (and focused on) the impact our life has on this planet, from that piece of plastic we recycled to whether or not our groceries are pesticide-free. While not everyone is able to power their home with a renewable form of energy, there are plenty of things you can do — especially as spring fully takes hold and brings the spirit of change along with it. Let’s take a look at three things you can do this season that will have a positive impact on your environment, from the basic to the revolutionary.

Service Your HVAC System

Making the shift towards a cleaner, greener life doesn’t have to be extreme or costly; in fact, it can be quite simple. Energy use contributes to our carbon footprints in a big way, and our heating and cooling systems are often the main culprits — the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that between 25% and 40% of the energy used to heat and cool the home is wasted.

The easy and affordable act of replacing your unit’s air filters can go a long way toward improving its efficiency, mostly because it isn’t forced to work as hard to cool or heat the home. However, if your home’s windows and insulation aren’t up to snuff, you’ll have to do a bit more to ensure your house is completely sealed and airtight.

Install New Windows

One of the best ways to do that is by installing new windows. Energy Star products come with a number of benefits, the most long-term of which involves reducing your home’s energy use. Older houses are notoriously leaky; cool air escapes in the summer and lets the warm outdoor air in, while the opposite happens during the winter. With new windows, you can ensure that your energy system’s efforts aren’t being wasted by keeping cooled and warmed air right where it should be — inside!

Although new windows can be a costly investment, they’re always worthwhile. Not only will you be reducing your carbon footprint, but you’ll be saving money on energy bills every month; since fiberglass windows last at least 50 years (and often longer), it’s a savings that you’ll continue to see for as long as you stay in the house. Even if you have plans to move within a few years, your energy-efficient windows will only increase the value of your home.</>p

Remodel Your Kitchen

Installing new windows can have a big impact on the “greenness” of your home, but it won’t be one that you necessarily see and feel. If you really want to embrace the spirit of spring, you can have your kitchen remodeled in an energy-efficient way; whether you focus on complex or simple changes (from installing Energy Star appliances to Energy Star lightbulbs), you’ll be able to fully experience the difference in your home.

Since one-third of homeowners say that they led a healthier lifestyle after remodeling their kitchen — even if it wasn’t geared towards energy efficiency — the change will undoubtedly do you good. After all, if the most subtle remodels can alter our attitudes, consider the impact thinking BIG will have!

Spring is a season of change; it tends to inspire people to do any number of things, from losing a few of those pesky lbs to getting that new haircut. Fortunately, it can have a much farther reach than a simple physical change. By paying attention to our individual water and energy usage (and getting the eco-conscious kitchen remodel of our dreams), we can ensure that we are doing our part to keep this one planet we have healthy and safe.

As if the title wasn’t enough to make you smile, these three furry environmental helpers will only cause more. The bond between animals and the environment has always been a close one. Where human beings enter into the delicate symbiosis isn’t always in the best ways. Take a look at our relationship in a nutshell.

Sheepskin will absorb 30% of its weight in water, but still feel dry and remain warm. So humans make shoes out of it. Most paper products come from trees, millions of homes are made from trees, and the oxygen we breathe all comes from trees. We thanklessly use them without batting an eye.

Nature gives, we take. Animals give, we take. Very few of us give back to the creatures and environment that sustain us. But, there are still champions fighting for the preservation of the earth. Which brings us to an interesting relationship between human beings, a few dogs, and the forests of Chile.

It’s estimated that in the next five decades that 17 million acres of forest will be lost to urbanization and property development. When we’re not clearing forests that way, fire is a concern. In 2017, a wildfire in the Chilean region of El Maule — considered the worst in Chile’s history — burned 1.4 million acres, consumed some 1,500 homes, and killed at least 11 people. When the blaze was finally contained and put out, you can imagine the blackened devastation of a once glorious forest.

We talk about how much damage we do to nature, but it’s only fair to talk about how nature is resilient and can heal in the face of astounding odds. After the fire, some unlikely forest allies set to work to get the forest growing again. Three Border Collies named Das, Summer, and Olivia.

Das is the mother of Summer and Olivia. Their owners are sisters Francisca and Constanza Torres who are very familiar with the high-energy that Border Collies inherently possess. So, they sought to take that energy and help the forest along the way. The three dogs were given special backpacks that were filled with seeds of native plants and trees in the forest. When they’d spend hours running through the woods, now they’d also be spreading seeds all around, helping get some life back where it once flourished.

“They reeeeeally love [it]!! It’s a country trip, where they can run as fast as they can and have a great time. We come out with the dogs and the backpacks full of native seeds, and they run for the burned forest spreading the seeds. We have seen many results in flora and fauna coming back to the burned forest!” said Francisca Torres in an email interview with Mother Nature Network.

They four-legged crew can cover 18 miles of forest and spread more than 20 pounds of seed in a day. Where they’re most limited are the humans, who only have the energy to travel a few miles in a planting session. Still, where Millennials are expected to spend $1.4 trillion on travel by 2020, these sisters and their dogs are creating their own adventures to restore the beauty of an environment that too much of the world takes for granted. They’ve made it a point to travel to different forests that have seen similar damage. At the end of a day in the woods, the three energetic canine forest explorers are handsomely rewarded with well-deserved treats. Plus, all that ground to cover is hungry work.

On top of this, Francisca Torres runs a dog training school and community called Pewos. From day one, they’ve received some donations, but the two sisters mainly pay for seeds, travel, etc. from their own pockets. But, they don’t mind. In fact, they love it.

They reported that the dogs have spread seeds in 15 different forests in the region and have no intention on stopping. Which is definitely a good thing because forests need to be regrown and Border Collies never want to stop running.

Despite what we humans like to believe, our planet was not made to support us indefinitely. As our population continues to grow (the UN predicts we’ll reach a staggering 9.8 billion by 2050), space has become a major concern. Those already here are forced to deal with exorbitant home prices due to the fact that the number of people vying for a place to live has doubled in the last 50 years. Add in the fact that homelessness is already running rampant in most nations, and tiny homes present a perfect solution to all problems.

Tiny homes are defined by their ability to put everything a homeowner needs — such as a bathroom, bed, kitchen, and living space — into an exceptionally compact space. By taking advantage of every square inch available, tiny homes offer an affordable and entirely liveable alternative to a normal house. This is precisely why shipping containers and concrete pipes are so heavily favored in the tiny home industry.

Making Life Smaller

Most shipping containers are eight feet wide, nine-and-a-half feet tall, and either 20 or 40 feet long. On average, a used 20-footer costs anywhere between $1,400 and $2,800, whereas a 40-footer costs $3,500 – $4,500; include the cost of labor to make the material liveable and you can be sitting pretty on a tiny home of your own for around $15,000 — a significant savings over the average $200,000 home price in the United States.

As the most used manmade material in the world — and an inexpensive one at that — concrete has recently joined the tiny homes ranks. What originally started in Hong Kong as a way to provide affordable housing for the overwhelming population, OPods have proven their value; the two-and-a-half meter wide concrete water pipes have been transformed into 9.29-square-meter homes, allowing them to fit into narrow gaps between buildings and be stacked in self-contained low rise modular communities.

Since the debut of the OPod prototypes, America has been exploring the possibilities of concrete pipes: in a contest devised to show how making affordable housing can be a reality in an age where homelessness in the United States is a huge problem, Bolivia-born architectural student Sandra Guillen created her Pipe Dream. The 16-feet-long, eight feet in diameter concrete pipe was designed to offer 100 square feet of living space, complete with a shower/toilet room, a collapsible bed, workstation, and even a covered porch.

The ingenuity of creators like Guillen and James Law (who founded the studio that built the OPods) proves that the problems of a rising population, sky-high home costs, and even the homelessness epidemic can be solved. If we continue to persevere for the good of humanity, there’s no telling how much we can accomplish.

Despite the growing need for housing across the nation, houses are becoming more expensive than ever. This is putting them out of reach for countless Americans. In fact, the rate of new houses being built now is over 20% lower than the rates previously seen between 1975 and 2000, according to the National Review.

Just last year, the United States needed more than 400,000 new homes to be built in order to accommodate the growing population. Unfortunately, few Americans can hope to cough up the funds for building a home in or around productive cities like Los Angeles or New York City. The National Review notes that construction prices have risen by almost 33% in the last three years alone in the Bay Area.

But America isn’t the only nation struggling to match supply with demand.

One of the world’s most unaffordable property markets is making it impossible for even well-paid citizens to claim a home of their own. Hong Kong residents simply cannot hope to establish roots in the New Territories in the traditional housing market.

This is where steel shipping containers and boxes come in.

In Hong Kong, prefabricated steel containers that look like shipping containers are being sold by the dozen amidst the area’s housing crisis. One of the most popular container home costs around $19,100 for 30 square metersBloomberg reports that the cost of a down payment on an apartment could be more than double that price.

As a growing number of people move into these homes, however, more people are being put at-risk for legal consequences.

“Of all the prefabricated homes in the style of a container that I have seen in ads or online, I can tell you 99.9 percent aren’t in compliance with the law,” claims Vincent Ho, one of the managing directors for Freevision Ltd.

This is because a citizen needs to receive government approval before construction of the property begins. It also has to meet certain standards, akin to zoning laws and building permits present in the United States. For example, these container homes need to comply with certain fire-safety codes, ventilation standards, and zoning laws established by the government.

Regardless, the demand for this type of home has only grown. Steel container orders have more than doubled in Hong Kong since 2016 and estimates claim that 40% of these containers are being designed to serve as home residences.

In Hong Kong, citizens have managed to shirk these laws and avoid detection since the majority of these homes are being built in obscure locations. But construction companies have taken note of their popularity and affordability. With backing from the government, a non-profit called The Hong Kong Council of Social Service plans to build 90 legal container homes within the city’s poorest areas. These homes are not meant to be permanent dwellings, but they will serve as a necessary form of housing as citizens wait for public housing.

American businesses have dubbed these living quarters “modular homes.” These homes are prefabricated by an offsite manufacturer, shipped to the buyer, and then assembled on-site. Where an apartment building might take more than a year to construct and rely on a number of specialized industries to make the final product, a modular steel home can be achieved in nine months and rely on cheaper labor.

This has become an increasingly popular option in Florida. Though shipping containers aren’t often built to withstand extreme weather, many Floridians have fallen in love with the eco-friendly design, affordability, and timeliness.

Should a homeowner worry about their home blowing away in a hurricane, a solid foundation can put these thoughts to rest. New concrete foundations only take between two and seven days while raised concrete can be used almost immediately. Securing the modular home to a strong foundation will ascertain it won’t blow away during periods of inclement weather.

Should the steel container home ever blow away, you never need to worry about it taking on damage. Every modular home sold in the United States has to pass a floor test where a concentrated load of 16,000 lbs is pressed onto an area measuring 44 square inches. The strength offered by steel ensures that your home will take on minimal damage should an accident or other natural disaster occur.

The four most-common metals used in the construction industry are aluminum, copper, carbon steel, and stainless steel. Because these modular homes are typically made from steel, they’re easily recycled. Even the 2.5 million metric tonnes of metalworking fluid sold throughout the world can be recycled, making it a green building process.

Even snowy Brooklyn has begun to experiment with modular homes.

FullStack Modular helped create the world’s tallest modular tower measuring 32 stories. Now, New York City’s agency has begun to engage in further efforts for affordable housing, including modular housing for mixed-use development.

Are steel container homes the wave of the future? It’s too soon to say. But as this trend grows amidst the nation’s worsening housing crisis, we might see the housing market start to change.

In recent years, the gap between food production and consumers has closed considerably. People are giving much more thought to not only to where their food is coming from, be it meat or fruits and vegetables, but how it is grown. Even as meat consumption is increasing in the United States, with consumption projected at levels of more than 200 pounds a year per capita, the organic produce market is booming. As Americans take closer looks at their labels, one major trend is emerging: organic food is rising in popularity.

Organic food is currently the fast-growing sector of the U.S. food industry, despite its stringent regulations: the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established an organic certification program that dictates how foods are grown, handled, and processed. Because of these specifications, consumers know that their food is organic thanks to the friendly “Certified Organic” sticker adorning their products. Though the sector began in 1997 as a humble industry making a mere $3.6 billion annually, it now rakes in a staggering $50 billion; let’s figure out what changed.

A Change In Generation

The biggest catalyst is undoubtedly the growth of millennials. Defined as the generation born between 1981 and 1996, millennials comprise 42% of organic consumers and will continue to drive the market as they age. In an article posted on Forbes (written the same year organic food reached that iconic $50 billion mark), they describe the millennial mindset as turning the traditional food value equation on its head.

“When millennials make purchase decisions, they’re considering more than the traditional drivers of taste, price, and convenience,” said Kira Karapetian, VP of Marketing for cloud-based product data engine Label Insight. “They value authenticity, and make decisions based on the way they perceive brands to impact their quality of life, society as a whole, and how that brand may be contributing positively to the world.”

Because of those strict regulations that must be adhered to in order to produce organic goods, the impact on the environment is significantly lessened. The chemicals used in pesticides are eliminated, which protects our limited water supply (only 3% of the planet’s water is freshwater) and keeps our soil free from any long-term damage. Additionally, removing these harmful substances allows pollinators like honeybees to flourish and protects farmers from routine exposure. Since ingesting harmful pesticides is also good for our own bodily health, the shift from traditional farming to organic makes perfect sense.

Keeping Up With Demands

Despite the fact that this country boasts three million farmers — and that the organic business is booming –, only a small amount are dedicated to the organic trade. In California, a state that prides itself on its progressive and health-oriented nature, only 4% of the agricultural land is being farmed organically. The Golden State has recently calculated that a shift up to 10% organic acreage — a goal they’ve set for 2030 — would reduce emissions equivalent to 601,500 cars per year; going fully organic would be the same as taking 7.8 million cars off the road.

California has often been at the forefront of revolutionary ideas, and the organic revolution seems to be no different. Given all the benefits organic farming provides, we can only hope that other states will follow in its stead.

Though many areas through the U.S. are still in the throes of winter, it’s never too early to look ahead and start planning for a spring remodel of your home. Your basement, in particular, can become susceptible to water damage come springtime: even though most newer roofs are built (or are supposed to be built) to withstand snow loads of 15 to 30 pounds per square foot, when the snow melts at a rapid rate come springtime, inadequately insulated basements could become flooded more easily than you think. With that in mind, here are just a few pro tips to remodel your basement with a sense of modern style and sustainability for spring.

Install ICFs

ICFs, or insulated concrete forms, are growing in popularity, especially in basement foundation and insulation applications. ICFs make any basement feel finished as well as cozy, comfortable, and warm. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, ICF walls can save homeowners 20% to 25% on annual heating and cooling costs. And while ICFs certainly require an upfront investment, they can go a long way in your basement project and in improving overall sustainability.

Waterproof Walls

If ICFs aren’t a good fit for your home or your budget, you have plenty of alternative options. Waterproof paints and coatings can provide a solid level of waterproofing protection as well, although they won’t go quite as far when it comes to making your basement feel cozy, comfortable, and insulated. Waterproof paints and coatings are particularly ideal for bare concrete or masonry walls. And unlike other processes, this is typically an improvement that allows you to take the DIY route. Here’s how the process works:

“Start by removing loose material with a wire brush. Then clean off any white powdery “efflorescence” with masonry cleaner. The goal is to fill every pinhole to create a continuous waterproofing membrane. Add a second coat after the first dries,” says Family Handyman.

Re-Evaluate HVAC System

In a typical house, about 20% to 30% of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks, holes, and poorly connected ducts. Even if you aren’t planning a full remodel or finishing project, taking some time to evaluate the current state of your HVAC system can help to increase sustainability and add a comforting atmosphere to your basement. It can also help to improve air quality and minimize the risk of future breakdowns. Talk to your local HVAC company to determine where you can make changes and improve efficiency.

Modernize With Functional Features

Finally, those looking to add a higher level of functionality to their finished basement may want to consider installing elements of an in-law apartment. A half bathroom, a kitchen sink or countertop, or even a kitchen island can bring your basement space together and maximize functionality. To add some extra modern flair, stainless steel appliances are the way to go. Stainless steel is a generic name for several different steels that all are a minimum of 10.5% chromium by mass. A stainless steel oven and/or refrigerator can turn the space into an area where guests look forward to spending their time. Not to mention, adding this level of basement functionality can significantly increase the value of your home as a whole.

Ultimately, be creative and think about your personal and real estate goals before making final decisions about your basement renovation. Waterproofing the space beforehand can make or break your project, so it’s essential to speak to a professional to ensure that your basement remodeling dreams can become a reality.

People often make the mistake of thinking that making eco-friendly changes to their home is going to cost them an arm and a leg. Fortunately, this is not the case — there are tons of easy, inexpensive ways to make your home greener. So if you’re looking for some great tips on some easy green home upgrades you can do this year, keep reading.

One of the easiest places to start when going more energy-efficient is your light bulbs. Most homes still use halogen or incandescent light bulbs but more homeowners are starting to switch to LEDs. Not only do LED bulbs use less energy, but they last longer too. So you can save money by having to buy light bulbs less often and you’ll be using less energy. There are plenty of different LED bulbs to choose from so you can choose the light and brightness that best suits your home. While it may seem like something small, switching to LED bulbs can make a big difference.

Next, you should take a look at your windows and doors. One of the biggest wastes of energy comes from drafty windows and doors. In fact, if your windows are more than 15 years old, they’re probably drafty, which increases your energy bills. But the good news is that you don’t have to replace all of your windows and doors to be energy-efficient. One of the easiest ways to save energy is to add additional insulation around windows and doors. There are plenty of insulation materials, like caulk, to choose from and it’s generally pretty easy to do yourself. Fill in any cracks or gaps and you’ll notice less energy being wasted in no time.

If you don’t already recycle in your home, now is the time to start. Did you know that every year, 80% of marine pollution is caused by land-based sources? When you throw away recyclable materials, they end up in landfills, in water sources, and contribute to pollution in other ways. Fortunately, recycling is extremely easy to do. You should have a designated spot in your house for recycling to make it easy for your family and guests to make sure they’re recycling whenever possible. Recycling is easy and can make a big impact on the environment.

Along with recycling, you should take a look at how you use water in your home. Even if you’re good about turning off the water while brushing your teeth and only running the dishwasher when it’s full, there are even more ways to minimize water waste. One thing you can do is consider a tankless water heater, which is more efficient than a standard model. Additionally, you could consider installing a system to collect rain water. This can be done quite easily with some DIY work and can help save water when it comes to showers or watering the garden.

Going green at home doesn’t have to be difficult. If you consider even just one of these ideas, you’ll be one step closer to saving energy, water, and reducing waste at home.