How To Make Your Home More Environmentally Friendly On The Cheap

You don’t have to line your roof with solar panels, disconnect all your appliances and install a sun roof in every room to green up your home. Nor do you have to wage a destructive deforestation campaign against the green in your wallet to work your way into the good graces of enviro-snob acquaintances.

MSN’s Good Health blog offers some tips on simple, low-cost ways to make your home greener.

Among the tips in the post:

-Use less energy by turning off the heater and air conditioner when not needed, closing doors to unused rooms and shut computers down at night.

-Switch to fluorescent light bulbs. The upfront cost can be off-putting, but thanks to the energy savings, they’ll pay for themselves twice over within a year.

-Reduce the amount of water your toilet swallows every flush by keeping a water-filled two-liter bottle or sandbag inside the tank.

What methods do you use to cut down on energy use?

Cheap ways to make your home greener [MSN Good Health]

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  1. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    Heh, water-filled two-liter bottle. Not bad; using that, you know exactly how much water you’re saving, too! :P

    • Firethorn says:

      I’d say fixing leaking toilet takes priority. Just bought a house – turns out both toilets were leaking (why didn’t my inspector notice?). Anyways – rebuilt the tank on one, using a kit with an adjustable flapper. 1-10, with ’4′ being normal. I ended up having to dial it to 8 to get it to flush right. The other? I bought a new 1.28 gallon unit – handicap height and elongated bowl.

      It the 2 liter works, it works. On my old tank it probably wouldn’t flush right, and on the new tank it probably wouldn’t fit. The tank is a lot smaller. So, while cheap, I’d also say ‘not applicable in all situations’.

    • Rachacha says:

      A better solution would be to install a dual flush retrofit kit. They cost about $30, and they allow you to do a small flush or a large flush based on what actually is in the toilet.

    • My Head Hurts says:

      Or you could just adjust the water level with the float. Most of them you just turn it to raise or lower the level.

  2. Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

    Every one of these “save energy / go green” stories I’ve ever read has the same tired old tips. Has anyone had an original energy saving idea in the last 10 years?

  3. Virginia Consumer says:

    The refrigerator in our basement was a really old model. When it died earlier this year the landlord replaced it with a simple fridge costing about $400. My electric bill is running $50 to $60 less than last year/month. I also use a lot of CFLs, I could do a lot better if the kids didn’t leave the lights on in the basement so much.

    Still haven’t found bathroom globe bulbs I like. Tried some, but they burned out quick with the steam from the shower.

    • Power Imbalance says:

      Take cold showers.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      The CFL globes I have just take too long to warm up. They are hard to find and expensive. I just pulled them out and put in 40W incandescent bulbs, but also a motion sensor sense the lights were never turned off. The CFL bulbs were either 9 or 13W, so if I can cut the amount of time the lights were on by at least 75% I’m good, and I think I will approach 90%.

      The motion sensor doesn’t work with electronic ballasts, so I ended up swapping two other CFL bulbs for incandescent at the same time. I still think I am going to be ahead, at least until the incandescent lights are banned and I am up the creek (brand new $20 sensors too!)

      • shepd says:

        Try dimmable CFLs. Some of those might work for you with your motion sensors.

        Plus, newer CFLs aren’t so slow at startup, you might find some you like now. :)

        • Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

          Dimmable? Maybe. They buzz, and dimming is unpredictable. But at $10 a pop, Its still WAY too expensive to populate my 7 bulb candelabra base dining room fixture with CFLs.

          Some of my CFLs come on right away. Other brands, not so good. Try a different brand.

    • econobiker says:

      Had problems with compact globe CFLs also. These seem to be just the same CFLs as all others with a globe around the light and ballast section. I believe the heat build up inside the globe degrades the ballast quicker than the unglobed versions and kills them quicker. Only worth it for a little used “I want it pretty”(per my wife) half bath not the day to day master bathroom.

      Replaced 8! 40watt clear incandescent globes with 8 13watt CFLs (60 watt equivalent) in the master bath. Put them 8 energy hogs in a box to reinstall if we move from this rental…

  4. backbroken says:

    There is a reason your toilet’s tank is the size that it is…

    • DoubleBaconVeggieBurger says:

      Yep. You end up flushing twice sometimes, which offsets the 2 liter savings. I’ve seen a way to retrofit an old toilet to be a dual-flush toilet, that seemed helpful. We just got a new dual-flush toilet installed, it’s been really great so far, about a $10-15/ month saved on water.

  5. Power Imbalance says:

    Stupid solutions to a manufactured problem.

  6. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    “Shopping catalogs not only waste paper, but they tempt you to buy things you don’t really need (or want).” Not disagreeing that catalogs waste paper, but it seems overly preachy for the writer to suggest that people should abstain from browsing catalogs because there is no chance on earth that anyone needs or wants anything. I don’t order from catalogs, but I like that during the holiday season, many of them come with coupons or free shipping codes.

    • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

      I like receiving them too, because usually the pictures in the catalogs are more “true to life” with their colors, and sometimes they are better photographs than the ones they post online for the same items. I don’t order through the catalog, but I use it to help me to decide what to buy online.

      They send them to me anyway, so I might as well use them for something. Plus, they’re nice for just browsing. Online shopping is more of a “this is what I want, find it for me” thing, and a catalog shows me a little bit of everything they offer.

  7. Kevinsky says:

    Oh, I was hoping for ideas I hadn’t already implemented 5 years ago.

  8. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    We put in new windows this past year, switched over to CFLs about three years ago, and try to do little things like turning down the water heater when we go out of town, weather strip doors, and are a bit OCD with preventive maintenance on the house and our cars.

    Outside of that, I live in a 100+ year old house and there isn’t a whole lot we can do. We’ll repair appliances for as long as we can and eventually replace them with more efficient units. Due to the age of our house, insulating walls isn’t possible (exterior walls are plaster on brick), sealing off the crawl space can open up a huge can of worms with humidity build up (we have a vapor barrier and that’s it) and cause potential issues with the existing knob-and-tube, and insulating the attic can also cause problems in a house that’s designed to breathe.

    • Nighthawke says:

      Consult with a master contractor and see what he can offer you in options. We had an older home that had blown in insulation (Cellulose R-11, better than the air gap). The bills went down somewhat, but it was a poor design in the first place to use HVAC.

      You can seal off the crawl space on a seasonal basis, just don’t forget to open it back up when things warm up.

      Have you thought about tinting your sun-facing windows with reflective tinting? 3M has some great tinting products. Not really for the DIY’er, they are designed more for a professional installer to put on.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        Blow in insulation isn’t really an option. We’d have to stud and drywall the exterior walls — as it is, there’s no gap between the plaster and the brick.

        We already do that with the crawlspace. It would be nice to seal the whole thing up some day but that would require controlling the climate down there. Never looked in to any of the more modern strategies like reactive tinting. We currently use very heavy drapes in a similar fashion. We’re in an older neighborhood (our neighbors on 5 ft away on either side) on an east-west grid, so we don’t get much direct sunlight.

        • Firethorn says:

          This is the thing that gets me. At some point, even with a house, it’s more economical to tear it down and build new.

          Unless it’s ‘historical’, in which case you don’t want to be making serious changes anyways.

          knob and tube wiring? Talk about old school.

    • rpm773 says:

      We’re going through the same thing on our 90 year-old bungalow. Ours is plaster/lathe on top of cinderblock, but it seems to hold the heat ok. Our upstairs was reclaimed from attic about 30 years ago, and that has bigger issues with insulation and roof ventilation, as it’s hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and large ice dams form on our gutters. We’re currently starting to work on that.

      We also had knob and tube wiring when we moved in, but were able to get most of it removed for about $5500 (1.5 story/1900sqft house). I’d probably tackle that before the insulation issue.

  9. FatLynn says:

    Put your heat and A/C on a timer. They run about $20, and take about five minutes to install.

    Wash your clothing in cold water.

    Use a toaster oven instead of a real oven for cooking small portions.

  10. Nighthawke says:

    On mixing cleansers: Don’t! You accidentally mix one containing chlorine and another that has ammonia, they can interact and break down, breaking loose two oxygen-displacing gases that can put you down so fast, you won’t know what happened. Use water if you want to mix, put water first into the bucket, then the chemical, don’t do the opposite or you’ll get a major mess.

    Turning off your HVAC then turning it back on when you get home can be just as harmful to your energy bill and property if you left it alone. Invest in or request an intelligent thermostat that can automatically increase or decrease your set point on a regular schedule. If you have kids (or annoying people) that love to tinker with it, choose a digital ‘stat that has a password, or a locking housing to secure it.

    CFL lamps, be mindful of what color they give off, bright white is brighter than your normal incandescent lamps, and warm white is two factors above too. Test samples to see what ones are best. Be wary of unknown brands or newcomers until they are weeded out or become popular.

  11. SweetBearCub says:

    Hey Consumerist Phil – I can see how you might have thought this “article” would be something good to post. After all, it is somewhat relevant to consumers, as it might help some to save money. Though I personally fail to see how it furthers Consumerist’s agenda, which is summed up in the site logo “Shoppers bite back”.

    I agree with Sniveler – I’ve read these same tips for the lsat several years, and they’re the same tips 95% of the time. If you’re going to crib this post from another blog, at least add your own original tips to it to justify it!

  12. JiminyChristmas says:

    Reducing the toilet tank volume can be a bad idea. Any toilet manufactured after 1992 is limited to 1.6 gallons per flush. Reducing that to 1.1gpf, which is what putting a 2-liter bottle in the tank does, means: 1) One flush may not clear the bowl. 2) The toilet is much more likely to actually clog. An important caveat to reducing the tank volume in 1.6gpf fixtures is to keep a plunger handy.

    You may have better luck reducing tank volume with an older fixture that uses 3gpf or more. That said, the 2-liter bottle trick only gets you down to 2.5gpf, which is still very high. If you have an old fixture that is that much of a water hog it makes sense to replace it. You can easily buy a complete new toilet for under $150. Nor do you have to be extremely handy to swap out an existing fixture yourself.

    If you’re willing to spend a little more money on a new fixture there are now pressure-assisted toilets designed to 1.28gpf. Combine that with a dual flush valve and you will have the state of the art in residential flush technology.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I think reducing tank capacity is geared towards those of us in old houses. There are a lot of cities out there where the bulk of housing dates to before the 1930′s.

      • Firethorn says:

        True, but as Jim mentioned, putting a bottle in the tank might take you from 3 gallons a flush to 2.5, whereas REPLACING the toilet might cost $150, but take you down to 1.28 gallons and actually reduce the chances of clogs.

        In the last few years they developed a newer, more realistic testing system for toilets – mine rates at the max, 1000, many older toilets are in the 200-300 range. It might not use much water, but it doesn’t waste what it uses just swirling water around the bowl – it’s like a tsunami wave shoving everything down the hole.

        BTW, I just installed a new toilet this Saturday, so I’m feeling informed at the moment. ;)

        Buying a complete toilet kit in a box, the only extra part I needed was an extra long supply line because I was replacing a standard toilet with a taller handicapped one. Not that I’m handicapped; but reading showed that handicapped toilets actually flush better, on average. Plus, well, family is getting up there – If my grandparents visit I want them to be able to go comfortably.

        Tools needed: adjustable wrench, flat head screw driver, hacksaw*, putty knife(or other scraper).

        Removing old toilet: turn off water, flush, then remove remaining water however you like – limit is your squeamishness of dealing with toilet water. Wet vac, sponge, etc… Clean the toilet first if you like.

        Unscrew nuts off of floor bolts, lift toilet. If you like, remove the tank first, me, I just did the whole thing because the tank bolts were so corroded it was just easier dealing with it as a unit.

        With the toilet removed, scrape remains of wax ring off of floor and mounting plate. I definitely wore gloves for this.

        Follow directions for installing new toilet.

        *Might not be necessary for your kit. I haven’t actually bothered to cut down the floor bolts to be able to put the caps on yet.

        • Rachacha says:

          “then remove remaining water however you like – limit is your squeamishness of dealing with toilet water. Wet vac, sponge, etc… “

          Another easy way that keeps your hands away from the bowl is to turn odd the water, flush and hold the lever down so that most of the water drains out of the tank. Then plunge the toilet. If you do it right, you can force the water out of the bowl and down the drain, and the only thing that will remain is about 2 cups of water in the very bottom of the bowl/drain trap (about the same amount as if you were to scoop or suck it out.

    • shepd says:

      State of the art is dual handled low capacity toilets?

      Pfffft, how about this?

      http://www.totousa.com/WhyTOTO/Innovation/Washlet.aspx

      Now that is state of the art!

  13. webweazel says:

    Two that have helped us:

    1. Double-drawer dishwasher. (Only good for households of 3 people or less, and not suited for everyone.) It’s run more frequently, but runs for less time and uses less water and power in a cycle. I don’t even bother using the heated dry cycle. It never needs it, so more savings there.

    2. Induction hotplate. I bought one recently, and after trying it out for a while, like it so much I now use it for 99% of stove cooking. It is MUCH MUCH more efficient and uses TONS of less wattage to do the same amount of cooking. Some things actually come out BETTER than cooking on the regular stovetop. Since I can stick it right on my counter or tabletop, I also get more room around it to use without worrying about heat.

    (Both of these items we bought at significant discounts of less than half-price, so the cost of the items initially would offset any savings long-term.)

    Two on our wish list:

    1. Dual-flush toilets: We read about a $20 kit that can be installed in a toilet tank that would make it a dual flush. We haven’t tried them out yet, but plan on trying them out.

    2. Point of Use tankless water heaters: For the sinks in our two bathrooms. These run about $200 or less but need an electrical hookup also. Our water heater is located all the way across the house, almost diagonally, from our bathrooms, and takes about 5 minutes of the water running to work up hot water, which is a total waste of water, so we never bother to use hot water at the sinks unless someone is showering. Putting these under the sinks would pay off, not only from the water savings for when we DO need hot water there, but also the happiness of having hot water available at our sinks quickly, and not having to wash my face at the kitchen sink all the time. So, they probably would not SAVE us much overall, but the happiness factor counts for something, right?

    • webweazel says:

      Forgot to mention:

      Another two that helped us:

      1. Programmable thermostat. Mostly for the “set it and forget it” convenience, but also for the dollar savings of having the temperatures automatically set lower at night without having to freeze our butts off in the morning running to turn it back up. Nice.

      2. Programmable light switch: It gets installed directly into a wall switch box. It turns our front porch light on at a preset time, then turns it off again at a later time. We don’t burn extra power forgetting to turn it off at night or coming home in the dark forgetting to turn it on when we leave in the daylight hours. Perhaps just a little bit of savings overall, but the convenience cannot be beat. (Bonus: Uses a CFL bulb!)

    • JiminyChristmas says:

      A word of warning: the point-of-use heaters can dramatically reduce the flow rate of the fixture, which you may find annoying.

      An equal or maybe better option for you might be a hot water recirculation system. The equipment cost is in the same ballpark, around $200 or less. It’s basically a small pump that quickly moves hot water from the main water heater to the fixture, rather than relying on standard water pressure to move the hot water. Also, depending on your existing piping configuration, one recirculation system could serve multiple fixtures. If your two sinks and shower are all in series or near a main line, one recirc pump could pick up all three.

      • webweazel says:

        I’ve looked into those and have weighed the pros and cons thereof. They can be very difficult and/or expensive to install in some circumstances.
        For our house, it would not be practical. Our water lines are in locations impossible to insulate well. If we can’t insulate the lines, it would be just like pushing hot water into ALL the pipes to cool off, then reheating, then cooling off, etc. This would be energy wasteful overall. There are some other types which would be less wasteful, but there are some problems with those also.
        We would also have to use a switch or timer to run the pump, and would still have to wait a bit of time to have the hot water circulate to the fixtures.
        With the tankless, and the heater directly under the faucets themselves. the hot water would be almost instant and with no pumps to have to think about turning on and off.
        If the flow rate drops off, no biggie. We just use it for washing hands or face, so even lukewarm would be an improvement. It would be much nicer than turning on the faucet in January and feeling sleet.
        Thanks though. I will keep an eye on these systems and see if they improve over time.

    • Rachacha says:

      I saw some time ago, a device that you could install under the sink farthest away from the water heater. The concept was simple. You would walk into the room, flip a switch and it would connect your hot and cold water lines together, allowing cold water from the hot supply line to circulate back to the water heater until the how water from the tank made it to your faucet (essentially you purged all of the cold water in your hot water supply lines without wasting any water).

      Unfortunately I don’t remember what it was called, but it seems like a good concept as I know that I waste a lot of water waiting for the hot water to arrive to wash my hands or face or when taking a shower…a good 2-3 gallons each time I have to guess.

    • Firethorn says:

      Given my recent experience with toilet repair, I think that you should TRY the brick/2L trick first to see if your toilet functions properly with the dual stage flush. I know mine with the adjustable flapper didn’t actually flush(just filled the bowl up to slow drain out) until I’d set it almost to a full flush.

      The new toilet I put in the other bathroom uses about the same amount of water as the dual flush toilet in the store did for a light flush, but for ALL flushes. The dual-flush was rated at 1.1/1.6 GPF, mine 1.28 GPF.

  14. selkie says:

    Just my usual caveat whenever these type of stories come up- if you heat using a heat pump and want to go the programmable thermostat route, you need to make sure that you get one that’s specifically calibrated/designed for use with a heat pump. Some general programmable thermostats will try to crank the heat up quite quickly when they hit the ‘on’ point of the cycle, and cause the heat pump to switch to emergency electrical heat mode, which is a total and extremely expensive waste of electricity. A heat pump specific thermostat should finesse the warm-up cycle so that the emergency heat element never turns on.

  15. MrEvil says:

    Bricks also work in the toilet tank. a bag or bottle of water might float if there’s any air trapped inside.

    Also, depending on your computer you can sometimes leave it on and it acts as a space heater. I don’t run the heat in my apartment with my PC running. Almost makes my bedroom too hot to stand.

  16. kc2idf says:

    The price of compact fluorescents (CFLs) has just come down to about a buck apiece when bought in a four-pack. I bought such a four-pack last week at Home Depot for $3.98.

    Even before you consider the energy savings, the lifespan of a CFL is sufficiently longer than that of incandescent bulbs to offer a savings. At 50ï¿  apiece, you will spend $3.50 to $5.00 in incandescent bulbs to last as long as that one $1 CFL.

    As for energy savings, a ~15W CFL (usually closer to 13W) will replace a 60W. Even if the bulb is one of the shorter-lived ones (7000 hours), this translates to a savings of $12.60 to $78.75 (averaging $31.50) depending on what the local cost of electricity is. For 10000-hour tubes, the savings runs from $18.00 to $112.50, averaging $45.

    Really, for the most part, you can’t lose.

    • webweazel says:

      A while back, we replaced our garage fluorescent (tube style) with a T-8 fluorescent fixture. I heard they are more efficient. I can attest to the fact that the light is at least double the brightness of the old one, does not cast as many shadows, and seems to be a whiter light overall.
      Later, we replaced the tube fixture in the kitchen with a T-8 also, and now I can see plainly how crappy my cabinets and floor look. The old one pulled the wool over my eyes.

    • phil says:

      Regarding no-name discount CFLs commonly sold by mass retailers: In my experience, they don’t last long. I had a batch (sadly purchased before prices came way down) that all started dying at the 2-3 year mark – about what I used to get out of incandescent bulbs in the same location. I did some research and found some name-brand bulbs that have done much better.

  17. evilpete says:

    Many times the bottle or brick causes more problems then good.
    If you already have a low flow toilet you will find that solids will not always get flushes the first time thus causing you to use more water from multiple flushes.

    Also in some cases sewer lines can clog due to insufficient flow to push the wastes clear of the sewer lateral .

  18. evilpete says:

    Many times the bottle or brick causes more problems then good.
    If you already have a low flow toilet you will find that solids will not always get flushes the first time thus causing you to use more water from multiple flushes.

    Also in some cases sewer lines can clog due to insufficient flow to push the wastes clear of the sewer lateral .

  19. whitecat says:

    My bathroom motion sensor works fine with CFL globes. I don’t mind the slow warm-up – who needs instantly bright lights in the bathroom, especially in the middle of the night?

    I have the Smart Strip and it not only saves energy, it makes it easier to turn everything off at once. I have the modem, printer, speakers, USB hub/iPod charger and monitor plugged into the “smart” outlets and the phone and laptop charger plugged into the “always on” outlets. I can turn things off simply turning off my desk lamp. So not only do I turn things off at night, I turn them off when I leave the house just by turning off the light – which is a CFL.

    I used to use an oil-filled radiator to heat only my office during the day, with the door closed and the heat off, but it turns out that doesn’t really save energy. My winter power bills decreased by $75 a month when I stopped doing that and just used gas forced-air to heat the whole house to 68 (just wear warm clothes at home). Getting insulation blown into the attic also helped. It also helps that the house is only about 1000 square feet. Oh, and the house is 120 years old, so old houses can be energy-efficient.

    The temp gets turned down as low as it will go (55, via programmable thermostat) between 10:30 pm and 7:30 am. I never understood why anyone leaves the heat any higher at night. It’s much more comfortable to sleep in a cool room under warm covers. This way the furnace is effectively off for nine hours, and only kicks on on the coldest nights (like negative 10 degrees). The house retains daytime heat remarkably well.

    I guess water heater blankets are just assumed standard equipment, but mine (at the highest R rating available) makes a huge difference. And why no mention of line-drying clothes? Around here it’s so arid I can do this eight months of the year and it’s so much better for the clothes I hate having to use the (gas) dryer. Speaking of dryers, there’s another one I never see mentioned: get a self-closing exterior exhaust hood for the dryer.

  20. NumberSix says:

    My GOD that page is slow. Does it count as going green if I turn into fertilizer while waiting for it to load?

    Speaking of fertilizer, those tips are older than dirt. What we need are some NEW tips.

  21. james says:

    Three words – Programmable Setback Thermostat

    Heat and cool the house at dawn, stop when everyone has left for work and school, restart the “life support systems” just before everyone returns in the evening, and reduce the amount of heating or cooling after everyone has gone to bed. Save a mint. Get one that knows the day of week, and set up custom programs for weekend days.

    The best sixty bucks I ever spent. Paid for itself in two or three months, easy.

  22. econobiker says:

    Insulate the hot water pipes and hot water heater especially if it is in an unheated space. This saves both water and electricity/gas. Relatively easy to do for homes with pipes in unfinished basements or easily accessible crawlspaces.

  23. samandiriel says:

    CAVEAT: I hate those ‘slide show’ type things – having to wait for a page load every paragraph irks me to no end. So forgive me if this was mentioned already:

    (1) Dry your clothes on a line outside or on a rack inside. This saves *huge* amounts of energy, and *enormously* prolongs the life of your clothes! I have a few clothes I wear regularly that I originally got in high school 22 years ago that are still just fine. I do dry my towels in the dryer tho – air drying towels doesn’t seem to work too well :P

    (2) Wash your clothes on the ‘light’ wash setting on your machine or better yet just use the gentle/delicate settings. Most people sitting in an office all day don’t get their clothes dirty enough in one day to warrant a regular wash. It sounds gross, I know, but that’s just because of the way people think of the cycles on the machines :)