Average home size in the U.S. has been rising steadily since 1973, hitting a record 2,679 square feet in 2013. This is a troubling development, as larger spaces require more energy and equipment to maintain. As the upward trend continues, opting for smaller homes is quickly becoming the sensible and sustainable choice.
Tiny homes use less energy
Heating and cooling bills are among the largest expenditures of property owners. These bills can be reduced drastically in a tiny home that is energy efficient by virtue of its size. With adequate insulation, heating a tiny home requires very little energy, while cooling the space can be as simple as strategically spacing open windows to take advantage of cross breezes.
Tiny homes require less maintenance
Cleaning a 1,000 square-foot home requires much less time and effort than a home twice its size. Less area also means a reduced need for harmful cleaning supplies. With a smaller space to maintain, you are more likely to willingly expend hard work rather than harsh chemicals to keep your space spotless.
Less space means less clutter
Having a tiny home is an anti-consumption strategy. You are less likely to purchase and accumulate stuff that you do not actually need if storage space is limited. Less clutter leads to a simpler and more organized lifestyle.
The quiet efficiency of tiny houses
Tiny homes make smart use of every available nook, turning corners into usable shelves and covered storage spaces. Larger spaces are often designed for multi-functionality, and traditional parts of a home, such as the dining room, may only exist in a tiny house as a portable table that can be positioned indoor or outdoor, depending on the season.
Using renewable resources
Given the energy load requirements for maintaining a tiny house, using solar panels or wind turbines may generate sufficient energy for the home’s needs. This means that homeowners can achieve off-the-grid status sooner.
Leaving a smaller footprint
Tiny homes require less construction material and smaller sites, which means more efficient use of available space. Outdoor spaces can be used for sustainable gardening or recreational areas to encourage physical activity. Tiny houses are affordable, creating a home ownership pathway for those who are willing to make the lifestyle change.
Energy Star has helped Americans live more sustainably for more than two decades. The Environmental Protection Agency created this program as part of the Clean Air Act. Energy Star certifies appliances, fixtures and buildings that consume less power and cut emissions. You can reduce your environmental impact by purchasing household items with Energy Star labels.
Shoppers and homebuyers make a huge difference when they ignore deceptive hype and choose certified products. In late 2012, the EPA estimated that Energy Star products had helped companies and homeowners save nearly $240 billion. These remarkable fuel and electricity savings have accumulated over 20 years.
Although its goals remain the same, the Energy Star program underwent two substantial changes in recent years. In 2012, it implemented strict new standards for Energy Star homes. Three years later, the EPA added a “most efficient” designation for machines with exceptionally low power consumption.
When most people hear Energy Star, they think of major appliances such as restaurant-grade ovens. However, the program also tests and approves electronics, building materials, cooling devices, lights and many other items. These goods range from vending machines to tablets. Additionally, the program has certified over 435,000 residential buildings in Texas alone.
Many organizations offer efficiency incentives that promote Energy Star products. Certain cities, state agencies, electricity suppliers and gas companies award rebates for efficiency efforts and the installation of certified equipment. For example, the city of San Marcos, TX, provides this incentive to locals who have received free energy audits.
Texans can also save money by purchasing Energy Star items during a sales tax holiday. Every year, the state waives taxes on certified goods for three days. This policy applies to most major appliances, ceiling fans, dehumidifiers, light bulbs and air conditioners.
To see what qualifies as an Energy Star item, you can visit the program’s certified product directory for a list of approved units in various categories. You can also use the website’s store locator to search for retailers that carry Energy Star goods.
The term “smart” thermostat refers to a programmable thermostat that allows the homeowner to perform the programming with a smart phone, tablet or computer. Programmable thermostats are widely hailed as energy-saving devices. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, lowering winter thermostat settings for at least eight hours each day – while sleeping or during long periods away from home – can reduce monthly heating bills by as much as 1% for each degree lowered. It’s estimated that proper use of a programmable thermostat can save the average homeowner roughly $180 per year.
One argument against lowering the thermostat at night or before heading out the door is that the temperature when waking or returning home isn’t always comfortable. Smart thermostats eliminate that annoyance by allowing homeowners to adjust the temperature automatically according to the time of day. You can use a smart thermostat warm up your space 30 minutes before crawling out of the covers or arriving home for the evening.
Remote thermostats also eliminate the need for complicated programming steps formerly associated with programmable models. Because the thermostat is accessed wirelessly, users can simply adjust the temperature from a smartphone while on the way home. There’s no need to carefully plan things out or consider a schedule. When the homeowner leaves, the furnace can be turned off. When the homeowner plans to return, a simple smartphone app allows the heat to be turned back on. When something unexpected delays arrival, the change is easy to accommodate.
Of course, programming is still necessary to make the heat kick on before the homeowner wakes, but the newest models of smart thermostats can do that automatically. Often referred to as learning thermostats, the newest devices use remote sensors to learn the household’s schedule and respond by adjusting the temperature. Over time, it learns to predict a household’s sleep and attendance patterns from collected data and adapts its programming to accommodate the occupants.
Smart thermostats can also help homeowners track utility savings by displaying real-time energy consumption. Many of them can even use weather and humidity conditions to fine-tune temperature settings.
Some people think you can save money and water by avoiding the commercial car wash, but statistics prove otherwise. Whereas a self-service car wash typically uses about 12 gallons to wash a single car, as much as 148 gallons can be spent when you do the job at home, and a wash center that puts your car on a conveyor belt uses a little more than 43 gallons.
Learning How to Conserve
Much of the volume you consume when you wash your car at home is wasted unless you use an automatic shut off nozzle. Until you review the statistics, you may assume that you are contributing to the welfare of the environment by not using car washes. However, professional car cleaning services use standard measurements to prevent waste and loss of profits. They improve their bottom line by keeping the cost of water, soap and wax as low as possible. They often use recycled water, and they send grey water to a recycling facility. If you choose to wash your vehicles at home, use these environmental tips:
- Install an automatic shut off nozzle on your hose.
- Park your vehicle on the grass to utilize water run-off.
- Use a bucket and sponge.
- Avoid washing your vehicle in the hottest part of the day.
- Use grime- and grease-cutting cleaning liquids that are non-toxic.
There are some key reasons to avoid washing your car at home, including the potential for antifreeze and transmission fluid to leak into the lawn and harm your home’s ecosystem. In addition, the chemicals in car wash detergents include sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid and methylene chloride that can end up in potable water supply.
Potentially harming people as well as wildlife is an unfortunate consequence of washing your car at home. By using professional car washes or by using water carefully at home, you can protect your car’s finish and conserve water at the same time.
Most homeowners have access to a variety of eco-friendly, tax-deductible modifications—from single solar panels to entire renewable energy systems—but what if you are a renter? In a world where the latest green technology involves long-term investments from property owners, options for temporary tenants seem limited, but you hold more power than you think. With capital improvements ruled out, there are smaller energy-saving changes and investments you can make that benefit both your bank account and the environment.
Have your home inspected
It’s natural to think of a rental as something that isn’t yours. But it in reality, a rented space does belong to you, at least for the time being. When your home furnace, plumbing system or appliances aren’t working the way they should, your wallet can take a hit. Landlords are responsible for all repairs and replacements, but it’s up to you to let them know when there’s a problem.
Use your drapes
You don’t have to install solar panels on your roof to take advantage of natural sunlight. Simply keeping your drapes open when you need heat and closed when you don’t is a surprisingly effective way to regulate the temperature in your home and minimize your carbon footprint.
Buy a more efficient cooling unit
Replacing your outdated air-conditioning unit with a more energy-efficient model is a smart way to save. Since you’ll be able to take your new air conditioner with you to your next home, its upfront cost is worth the monthly energy savings you’ll enjoy for years to come. Requiring at least 10 percent less energy than lower-grade models, units with the official Energy Star rating offer the best long-term value.
Trade up to a better programmable thermostat
Featuring advanced energy-saving capabilities such as precise temperature control and cross-platform connectivity, today’s programmable thermostats make it possible to significantly improve energy efficiency in rental homes with central heating and cooling systems.
While the above are great ways to save energy in a rental, don’t automatically assume that all permanent improvements are off the table. If more extensive changes like heat insulation or HVAC upgrades, can help you reduce your energy expenses, ask your landlord whether you can be fully reimbursed if you’re willing to do the installation work. Some landlords may be resistant to change, but many are happy to help tenants make their investments more valuable and attractive to future renters.
Striving to reduce environmental impact by participating in energy-saving activities is a noble goal, but many people get caught up in energy myths that steer them off the path toward conservation. These five energy myths often cause confusion, and getting to the truth can help people refocus their efforts.
Myth #1: Adjusting thermostat temperature throughout the day wastes energy.
Some say that programming a thermostat to adjust the temperature when people are sleeping or away from home wastes more energy than keeping the temperature constant. In actuality, turning the temperature up or down when no one is in the house will save energy, so it is beneficial to use a programmable thermostat when trying to reduce energy use.
Myth #2: Solar power is too expensive for the average homeowner.
While home-grown solar power does require a hefty initial investment, studies have shown that utilizing renewable resources saves money over time. There are tax credits available through local and federal government organizations geared toward offsetting the initial cost of installation, and many people who own solar panels find that their system actually generates more electricity than they use.
Myth #3: Car engines need to be warmed up in cold weather.
Cold weather does affect fuel efficiency, but idling for 10 or 15 minutes to warm up your vehicle’s engine wastes unnecessary amounts of fuel. Cars need just 30 seconds to reach maximum efficiency.
Myth #4: Using a space heater will cut down on heating costs.
The small size of a space heater and the fact that it is intended to heat a single room makes it seem ideal for reducing energy use, but these heaters tend to be much less efficient than whole-house heating systems. Electricity is more expensive than gas or oil, so using a centralized, gas-powered heating system is generally a better idea than cranking your space heater.
Myth #5: Electronics use no energy when they are turned off.
Most electronic devices or appliances that remain plugged in continue to sap small amounts of electricity. To eliminate energy waste, it is important to completely unplug electronics when they are not in use.
Appliances and technology use an average of 15-20 percent of a household’s total energy consumption. As these appliances begin to age and lose their efficiency, that level of consumption can increase drastically. When homeowners see their electricity bills rising, they often decide to dispose of these appliances and switch to new energy-efficient models. While this change is healthier for pocketbooks and the environment, there is concern over what to do with the out-of-date items.
The problem with storage and landfills
When finished with older models of appliances and electronics, most people send them off to storage or the landfill. But both of these are flawed destinations. Over time, electronics and appliances will rust and begin to break down. Rusting causes toxic chemicals to be leaked into the soil, ozone and, if stored in an attic or basement, your home. Outdoor chemical infections can contaminate water sources and the air necessary for plants and animals to survive.
Repurposing: a better solution
A better alternative to sending these old electronics and appliances to storage or trash piles is to give them new life through repurposing. Many obsolete electronics can be given new responsibilities throughout the home:
- Old televisions and desktop monitors can be hooked up to laptops for increased screen size.
- Refrigerators can become outdoor freezer chests.
- Inoperable blenders can be transformed into tabletop lamps.
- Coffee pots can be fishbowls or flower vases.
Local recycling programs
In addition to at-home repurposing projects, many appliance and electronics can be recycled. Most states have centers that will pick up and recycle these items in order to prevent damage to the environment. Some will even offer cash incentives to anyone willing to recycle their items rather than send them to the landfill.
Many major appliance centers also run recycling programs to help reduce waste. By collecting unwanted cell phones, refrigerators and other items, these stores often offer discounts or other incentives to customers who purchase new appliances and recycle their outdated ones.
As the deadline approaches for filing tax returns, Texans are searching for options to reduce their tax liability and keep more of their hard-earned money. Did you know that people who have made changes to their homes in the past year to improve efficiency and cut down on energy use may be eligible to apply for tax credits? This brief overview of energy tax credits available in Texas can help households reap the financial benefits of going green.
Renewable Energy Systems Property Tax Exemption
This statewide tax credit allows Texans to reduce the total amount of property tax that they owe if they have recently installed a renewable energy source such as photovoltaic solar paneling. With this exemption, property owners are not required to pay property taxes on the added value of a building when that value is due to installation of a renewable energy source. For example, if a building originally appraised at $150,000 is now worth $160,000 due to the installation of solar panels, the property owner will not have to pay taxes on the additional $10,000 in property value.
Local tax credit programs
While the Renewable Energy Systems Property Tax Exemption is the one statewide tax credit available to property owners, Texans in certain counties or cities may be eligible to apply for local tax credits. Examples of these tax credits can be found below, and the full list for the state is provided by the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.
- City of Friendswood—Property Tax Abatement for Green Commercial Buildings
Commercial property owners in Friendswood, TX, are able to reduce their amount of property tax owed each year by as much as 10 percent if they pursue LEED certification.
- Energy Star Sales Tax Holiday for Energy-Efficient Products
Texas residents who purchase Energy Star-certified appliances during the last weekend of May are able to receive a sales tax exemption. This exemption applies to big-ticket appliances including washers, refrigerators and even central air conditioning systems, so the savings can be significant. Not only is the 6.25 percent state sales tax removed from the sales price of these appliances, but any additional local sales taxes will not be charged during the three-day sales tax holiday.
Recycling is a great way to reduce the environmental impact of a household, but there are rules for properly disposing of recycled materials. When a household does not follow these rules, recyclable items are often thrown in the trash when they arrive at the recycling center. Follow the do’s and don’ts outlined below to ensure compliance and reduce waste as much as possible.
The do’s of recycling
- Bundle paper items together to make it easier for them to be collected and sorted. For example, newspapers can be tied together. However, be sure to check on local regulations related to the type of twine that can be used for this purpose.
- Recycle used aluminum foil when it is clean, but avoid putting foil that has food stuck to it in the recycle bin.
- Set aside batteries, light bulbs and electronics to be recycled at specialized centers. These items cannot be thrown into the recycling bin as they contain materials that need to be properly handled to avoid causing harm to the environment.
The don’ts of recycling
- Do not put broken glass containers into a recycling bin. Not only is it harder to process these items, but it is possible for a worker to be injured when handling broken glass.
- When recycling cardboard food containers, do not leave food inside. This includes any paper lining that is intended to soak up grease in a pizza box.
- Trash used paper products like napkins, toilet paper and paper towels.
It is important to note that the do’s and don’ts of recycling can vary according to location. The type of recycling center matters when it comes to how a household needs to sort their recyclable items. In cities that use single-stream recycling, all recyclable materials can be placed in the same container. This method makes it easier for households to participate in recycling programs without having to worry about sorting through their waste materials.
Other cities utilize commingling techniques in which different types of recyclable materials are sorted together. For example, all cardboard, plastic and glass materials would be sorted into separate groups. In areas where commingling is utilized, items that are not properly separated could be tossed in the trash.
Consumers have been demanding greener products for years, and companies have responded. Still, for the conscientious consumer, the choice can be difficult sometimes. When it comes to the argument of bottles versus cans, there is a good deal to consider. Which is more costly to transport? Which contains more recyclable material? Which leaves behind the biggest footprint during its initial manufacturing? In general, which is the right choice when you want to be as green as possible?
When it comes to the transportation footprint, cans win out over bottles. They are significantly lighter, so all other things being equal, cans are the clear winner.
However, this metric is less straightforward than it seems. For example, a local brewery using glass bottles may not be transporting its material very far at all. In a choice between a locally-brewed beverage in a glass bottle versus one from far away in a can, the glass bottle might be the better choice.
Both cans and bottles can be recycled over and over again, but cans have more recyclable content than bottles and it takes less energy to make a recycled can. Once again, all things being equal, cans win out over glass here.
There is one factor that complicates the conclusion that cans are better than bottles. At the outset, the manufacture of aluminum cans is extremely damaging to the environment. The manufacture of glass requires silica while the manufacture of aluminum requires bauxite. Bauxite mining is so damaging to the environment that some experts suggest any later gains from lighter, more recyclable cans are lost. By contrast, silica is easy to obtain, and the manufacture of glass creates much less of a negative environmental impact.
While cans may initially seem the greener option, the damaging effects of bauxite mining may cancel any gains from the lighter transportation load and the higher recycled content offered by aluminum cans. Glass may therefore be the better default green choice.
Experts struggle to definitively name one or the other as the greenest solution because so many variables are involved. As an individual making a choice between a few cans or bottles at any given time, you can weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.