Bob Vila’s 50 Shades of Green
While our 50 Shades may not be as sexy as the blockbuster novel, these green tips for the home promise gratifying results and earth-friendly fulfillment.
Standing in her kitchen, she knew the handsome stranger wasn’t like the other men in her life, when he pulled her close, gazed into her eyes, and whispered, “Can I fix your leaky faucet?” And that was only the beginning.
He adjusted her thermostat, put air in her tires, even convinced her to get up on the old bike again. She swooned at his knowledge of glorious things. Could this be the man, she wondered? The man whose desire for energy conservation would finally unleash her deep desire to recycle, repurpose, and live sustainably. As he drew a deep breath to speak, her heart leapt. Could this really be happening?
And so begins the 50 Shades of Green…
Plant a tree (or two). These hardworking beauties help prevent soil erosion, absorb C02 and produce oxygen, and provide sweet shade come summer. To determine the right species for your region, visit arborday.org.
Recycling is great but precycling is better. Choose products that create less waste from the get-go: If possible, buy grocery staples in bulk and opt for items with less packaging, such as a two-liter bottle of soda instead of a dozen single-serve cans.
You’ve it heard before, but remember to turn off the faucet each time you polish your pearly whites (or shave). You’ll save two to four gallons of clean water every time you brush
Volunteer at one of American Rivers’ annual cleanups and help collect some of the millions of tons of trash that wash up along the nation’s waterways. To locate an event near you—or find out how to become a sponsor—visit americanrivers.org.
Feed the birds, especially in winter, when providing food and water may really make a difference. If it dips below freezing in your region, invest in an electric deicer so your birdbath doesn’t ice over.
Fix leaks promptly. According to the EPA, leaks in American homes account for 1 trillion gallons of wasted water per year—or the annual water use of Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami combined!
Buy clothing that doesn’t require dry cleaning—and the toxic chemicals that entails—whenever possible.
Brew organic, fair-trade coffee. No chemicals are used on the fields, famers make a living wage, and the tasty java costs just pennies a cup! And if the beans are shade grown (which most organic coffee is), the trees that shelter the coffee plants provide habitat for birds and mammals, too.
Save water and energy by only running your washer and dishwasher when fully loaded.
Does your car need cleaning? Use a bucket of soapy water to tackle the grime, saving the final rinse for the hose.
Carry a reusable tote on your errands—and do your part to reduce the estimated 100 billion plastic grocery bags Americans throw away each year!
Buy local and regionally grown fruits and vegetables. This simple act bolsters family farms, cuts down on the fungicides required to ship foods around the world, and reduces the amount of fossil fuels needed to transport out-of-season produce.
At four to six gallons of water per flush, the toilet reigns as the largest single water user in a home. If possible, invest in a model that bears the EPA’s Water Sense label or a new high-efficiency toilet, such as American Standard’s Cadet 3 Right Height, which uses just 1.28 gallons of water per flush. Bonus: many municipal water suppliers offer consumers substantial rebates on models that conserve H20.
If replacing your old commode isn’t an option, place a plastic bottle filled with water in your toilet tank, thereby taking up space and reducing the amount of water needed to fill the receptacle between flushes.
Invest in organic cotton dinner napkins—and vow to use them regularly instead of single-use paper ones.
Then consider ditching paper towels for more eco-friendly dishcloths, too.
Check the weather before you fertilize your lawn. A surprise rainstorm could wash the chemicals into your local waterway.
Clean produce in a big bowl of water, not under the faucet, and save gallons of fresh water from slipping down the drain.
Let indie rocker Jack Johnson and the students from Sunset Beach Elementary School in Hawaii teach your kids the 3 R Song (reduce, reuse, recycle).
The average adult in America receives roughly 41 pounds of junk mail a year. Clear out your mailbox by cancelling unsolicited mail and catalogs at dmachoice.org. (There’s a $1 processing fee.)
Wanna take it a step further? To stop receiving preapproved credit card and insurance offers in the mail, visit optoutprescreen.com.
Save even more trees by signing up for paperless bank statements, credit card bills, and utility invoices.
Host a clothing or tool swap. Or join a scheduled event near you. Swap-O-Rama-Rama, a clothing exchange started in Brooklyn in 2005, has now spread to more than 100 cities nationwide.
Collect rainwater to use for watering houseplants, filling birdbaths, and tending your garden.
Tidy patios and walkways with a broom, not a hose.
Install a ceiling fan. The whirling wonders can reduce heating bills by 10 percent and air conditioning costs by as much as 40 percent.
If a new refrigerator, dishwasher, or washing machine is in your future, look for appliances that bear the Energy Star label, an EPA designation awarded to energy-efficient models.
Use baking soda on carpets to eliminate pesky pet odors. Simply sprinkle it on, let sit overnight, then vacuum.
Improve gas mileage by as much as 5 percent just by inflating your car tires to proper pressure and using the grade of motor oil the manufacturer recommends.
Close to 90 percent of the energy used to wash clothes comes from heating the water. Just switching from hot to warm water can cut energy use in half—and save you more than $60 a year.
Choose zero-VOC paints for DIY projects. Benjamin Moore’s Natura line, Behr Premium Plus, Sherwin-Williams’ Harmony line, and Yolo Colorhouse are just a handful of the brands we trust.
And don’t forget old-fashioned (and all-natural) milk paint, which “decorators” have been using to spruce up interiors since the Colonial era; milkpaint.com.
Don’t turn on the shower until you’re actually ready to get in and shower.
Water your plants and lawn in the early morning or evening, when temperatures are cooler to minimize evaporation.
Millions of unsolicited phone books land on consumer’s doorsteps each year. If you don’t want a copy, opt out by logging on to yellowpagesgoesgreen.org.
And while we’re on phones. Remember to recycle old cell phones, Blackberries, and rechargeable batteries. Visit call2recycle.org and enter your address to find free drop-off sites in your area.
Another thing: unplug your phone, iPod, and laptop chargers when not in use. They all use electricity even when they’re not charging. Ditto for idle coffeemakers, toasters, microwave ovens, and hair dryers.
Check out energytaxincentives.org to see if your utility company encourages energy conservation through appliance purchasing assistance programs, energy rebates, and tax incentives.
Love your lawn? Consider Toro’s Xtra Smart Soil Moisture Sensor, an innovative new gizmo that wirelessly communicates with most in-ground sprinkler systems about whether or not your grass needs watering. If moisture is adequate, sprinklers stay off, saving water—and money. To learn more, click here.
And speaking of saving water: More than 12 gallons travel through a regular garden hose per minute. Consider buying an H2O-conserving hose attachment. It’ll allow you to turn water on and off as you work in the garden and adjust the flow and volume according to the job at hand.
Vow to ride your bike to work or to run errands at least one day a month in 2013. You’ll save gas, get a little exercise, and reduce your carbon footprint. Pedal in style with Public’s seven-speed Sierra Club bike ($595), which features a steel frame, memory-foam seat, and a handy rear rack. Best of all, a portion of each sale benefits Sierra Club’s conservation programs; publicbikes.com.
In case you haven’t done so already, install inexpensive low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators throughout your house. No plumber needed!
Make your own cleaning products. White vinegar and water clean grimy windows for next to nothing, a paste made with inexpensive washing soda cuts grease, and lemon juice and baking soda work miracles on bathtubs and countertops, minus toxic odors.
Support your local beekeeper and the pollinating wonders they tend. Use more honey and purchase chemical-free beeswax candles, which burn cleaner and brighter than their paraffin cousins.
Hold the ketchup! When ordering takeout, remind the restaurant not to include napkins, plastic cutlery, condiment packets, and straws if you don’t need them.
Donate to local and national conservation groups working to safeguard the environment, keep our oceans clean, and save endangered habitats and animals. Some to consider: National Audubon Society, World Wildlife Fund, and the Nature Conservancy.
Download Seafood Watch, a free app for iPhones and Androids from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which recommends the most sustainable and ocean-friendly seafood to buy at your favorite restaurant or fishmongers.
Pay it forward. Take your kids camping at a national park, start a backyard vegetable garden together, or teach them to locate the Big Dipper in the night sky.
And like your mom always said, turn off the lights when you leave a room. And shut your computer down at night. Screen savers save your screen, not energy.
Want more tips? Sign up for the EPA’s new monthly consumer email newsletter Go Green!