22 ways to green up your home and life in 2022
It’s a new year, full of possibilities and a natural point for many to take a new direction in their life. Sustainability is often part of New Year’s resolutions, and I expect even more so this year with the rising visibility of climate change, the broader understanding of the many personal benefits, and improved affordability of many measures.
I offer this list of 22 ways to green up your home and life in 2022. These 22 items are by no means the only ways to add sustainability to your home and life. They are simply a starting point; whether you are just beginning or further along on your journey. I hope they spark action. The great thing about this journey is that it happens differently for everyone, but it is always about taking the next step. You will also see us document many of these steps on the blog over the coming year. Happy New Year and much success on greening your life this year!
Free or may even make money:
1.) Shift use of appliances to off-peak times
This one is easy, but not often realized unless you understand how electric generation works. Home energy use varies throughout the day, but for most, it spikes in the morning as we prepare for the day, and in the evening as we come home and make dinner. To meet this rapid increase in demand, currently the electric utility has to bring “peaker plants” online. These peaker plants are some of the dirtiest methods of creating electricity, and many households are using their largest load of electricity during this production time. A simple way to reduce your energy load during these peak early evening hours is to shift heavy use items such as clothes dryers, dishwashers, charging your car, or water heating to later in the evening. Many of these devices have delay timers or settings to easily adjust the run time. The best part, once you set these up, you won’t even notice the difference. If a Time of Use electric plan is available in your area, you could even lower your electric bill.
2.) Learn what is accepted for recycling by your service provider
Recycling was marketed to seem so easy, but a myriad of market changes the past several years have led many curbside service providers to scale back what they actually recycle. Visit your local municipality or service provider’s website as they typically have a list of what is accepted prominently posted. The other side of this point is many of us do not recycle properly, we just throw things in the bin. Unfortunately, many times an entire bin or even truckload of recyclables is sent to trash due to contamination from items improperly placed in recycle bins by consumers. The most common contaminants are plastic bags (they get caught in recycler’s sorting machines) and food contaminated items (yes, you need to rinse your recyclables). Plastic bags and films should not be placed in a commingled recycling bin, they should be recycled separately. Often times grocery stores and recycling centers will accept these items.
3.) Earn money by trading in unused electronics, or recycle them
We all have old or unused electronics laying around in a closet somewhere. Electronics should not be thrown out with the trash, but properly recycled. Luckily, there are multiple ways to recycle your electronics, many are free and some may even earn you a little money. Some states add a small electronics recycling fee when purchasing new electronics and require retailers to take them back from consumers at end of life for recycling. If you live in one of these states, you have it easier than most. If you live in a state without these measures, you still have options. Many municipalities will host electronic recycling events each year, may accept them at a community recycling center, and some retailers such as Home Depot & Best Buy have bins for limited electronics. Retailers such as Apple and Amazon offer free recycling for their products that no longer work, and even offer trade-in credit for some models. We will review our recent experience using Amazon’s trade-in program in an upcoming blog post.
Inexpensive: small investments with lasting impact
4.) Switch to reusable bags and reduce single use plastics
This point seems cliché, but from my trips to the grocery store, this still has a long way to go. The good news is reusable bags are so easy to find these days, often times free or readily available at most grocery stores for $1. The other half of implementing the practice is actually using the bags. Give yourself some grace and put several in the trunk of all cars in your household. It takes a while to retrain your brain to remember to grab them before heading into the store, but you will succeed. I struggled to remember to grab bags from the trunk for the first year I had them, but now it’s just a natural habit. They can be used in more places than just the grocery store; hardware stores and other retailers also welcome their use and may provide a small credit on your receipt for each reusable bag used.
5.) Start composting your food scraps, with an option for all housing types.
When placed in a landfill, organic waste breaks down anaerobically (oxygen lacking environment) resulting in the release of methane which is more potent than CO2. Composting however, breaks down aerobically (with oxygen). It is better for emissions, and provides rich compost for growing more food. There are a myriad of options to compost at home based on space and time (even condo dwellers); the traditional compost pile in the backyard, weekly curbside pickup with companies such as CompostNow, and even simple worm composters.
6.) Purchase blocks of green energy, such as solar, from your electric company
If you cannot produce your own renewable power, many electric utilities sell blocks of green energy or community solar to help you offset some or all of your electric use with renewable sources.
7.) Stop feeding energy hogs and vampires
Energy hogs or vampires are devices with unnecessary energy usage, adding to your bill. Common culprits are electronics pulling small amounts of energy when plugged in and not being used like toasters, TVs, and computers. A simple way to stop this is unplugging after use (like a toaster), or putting the devices on a powerstrip that can be switched off when not being used. These small amounts really add up over time.
8.) Replace your HVAC filters on a more regular basis
This can’t be said enough. I show, and sell, so many homes with dirty HVAC filters. Set a calendar reminder and change these filters on a regular basis. Changing dirty filters offers many benefits for your health, comfort, and budget. Dirty filters fail to properly clean your air, increase energy usage, and can shorten the life of your expensive HVAC equipment.
9.) Switch to more natural cleaning products
Harsh cleaning chemicals are not only bad for the environment, but their high VOC content is dangerous for the person cleaning and others in the home. Like all sustainable products, natural cleaning products have come A LONG way over the past decade, with performance, availability, and pricing more in line with the traditional harsher products. Do the Earth and your lungs a favor, and switch to natural cleaning products this year.
Mid-level expense: may cost a few hundred dollars each
10.) Have an energy audit and blower door test of your home
Energy audits are a great way to get a baseline on your home’s performance. They can typically be performed for under $1,000 and may be eligible for local rebates. An energy audit looks at your home’s current resource usage, and tests the building to establish a list of improvements to lower consumption.
11.) Better insulate your attic
This item is likely to come up on energy audits. Even if your home already has blown-in attic insulation, it may have compressed over time or as people (or animals) crawled in the space. If this is the case, you’re no longer getting the same R-value and insulating benefits. New insulation can be blown on top, or can be completely replaced. Some homeowners will rent a machine from the hardware store, but it can also be professionally done. Be sure to check for local rebates! Another option is the have a professional turn your attic into conditioned space. This can be beneficial if your HVAC system or ducting runs through the attic.
12.) Air seal
Another low hanging fruit is air sealing around doors, windows, and other penetrations. Once cracks or air leaks are identified, it is easy to tackle them with a caulk gun or can of spray foam. This work can be DIY or professionally completed. Once again, check for possible local rebates.
13.) Automate to reduce use
Automating house functions is reaching mainstream, so cutting resource use with smart home tech is easier and more affordable than ever. Cut energy use by having lights turn off when a room is empty, or raise/lower the thermostat settings when you’re away, have smart plugs cut power to energy hogging devices when not in use, or have a bath fan set to run when humidity raises during a shower and cuts off after humidity lowers again. Save money and use less energy without even thinking about it!
14.) Switch to a bidet
Americans are prudish about bathroom topics and bidets, but we don’t have to be. After the great run on toilet paper in 2020 and reoccurring instances with each new strain, more people are exploring other options. Not only can bidets save resources by using MUCH LESS toilet paper or eliminating it completely, they also use less water and energy than you likely imagine. We switched to bidets for our 2 main bathrooms in late 2020, and I only wish we had done it much sooner. Bidets are more hygienic. They can also improve the health and comfort of your bottom, as I can attest.
15.) Add low-flow water fixtures
A constant hurdle on this list is overcoming outdated misperceptions, and low-flow fixtures have quite a reputation with many. Those reputations are largely due to experience or rumor heard about early iterations decades ago. If you live in a newer home or one recently renovated, you likely already live with newer low flow fixtures and can’t tell the difference, other than a low water bill. If you don’t have low flow-fixtures, check out retrofits available for existing toilets, shop for new fixtures, and explore available rebates in your area.
16.) Know your water usage before you get the bill with a smart water meter
Knowledge is power, and most people don’t realize they have a leak or other water waste until they receive a massive water bill. Today, we have several affordable options on the market, such as Streamlabs, to monitor your water usage, and detect leaks or abnormal usage. By alerting you of a leak or change in usage, you can take action quickly, avoiding high water bills and possible repair bills from a damaging leak.
17.) Track your electric usage with smart monitors
Much like the smart water meters above, there are several smart energy monitors on the market. Even though some electric utilities provide daily energy use on their customer portal, this does not provide granular data or help you understand what is using power and how much. Monitors such as Sense provide greater insight into live readings of usage, and can even identify individual devices. These monitors cost a few hundred dollars and can potentially pay for themselves by helping you lower your electric bill. We will share content later this year on both water and energy monitors.
Personal Infrastructure Changes: starting near $1k and up
18.) Now we’re cooking with induction
We have been marketed to have a deep connection with gas cooking, but the truth is electric induction not only performs better than gas, it also removes the danger of breathing gas combustibles in our home + more. We recently made the switch to induction in our own home, and will have much more content on the topic during 2022.
19.) Learn the many benefits of heat pump water heaters
Water heating is another gas combustion appliance that can be replaced with a cleaner, more efficient technology plus a few extra added benefits. We made the switch from gas to heat pump water heating in 2020, and I have shared a couple blog posts about our experience. Check those out and see how we bought a heat pump water heater for $300. If your current water heater is nearing replacement age, look into heat pump water heaters.
20.) Switch to efficient, but powerful heat pumps for space heating
Like the other sustainable measures above, heat pumps for space heating have come a long way the past few decades. Their efficiency, comfort, and flexibility are unmatched. These aren’t your parents’ heat pumps! We will be switching to heat pumps for space heating our home in 2023. More content will follow as we go through the research, selection, and design process.
21.) Jump to an electric vehicle
After 8 years of being an EV-only household across 6 different EVs, I can attest to their performance. As someone who has always been a passionate driver and whose cars have personality, EVs are not the boring appliances some think they are. The performance and acceleration are top notch, the savings on maintenance and fuel pile up, and their ownership simplicity is unmatched. 2022 is an exciting year for EVs as even more impressive models come to market, including trucks and commercial vehicles. Now is the time to learn more about EVs before you make your next vehicle purchase.
22.) Decarbonize your electricity by adding solar to your home
After you have switched your house to electric appliances and improved efficiency measures, it’s time to look into solar. If your home is a good candidate for solar you can have added energy independence & resiliency, decarbonize your electricity, and possibly add value. Check out our resources page for several reputable solar installers.
23.) Move to a greener home.
If you are considering a move or purchasing your first home, now is the perfect time to consider buying a home with some or all of the features above. Nobody understands sustainable homes in Atlanta better than us. We are here to help!