Doing your part to protect the environment once meant separating paper from plastic in your recycling bin and buying organic greens that you carried home in a reusable tote. But these days, there is a lot more you can do to create a green and healthy home.
Global warming, soaring energy costs, and other environmental concerns are front-page news -- and eco-friendly living means conserving natural resources whenever and however we can. It also means making some lifestyle changes to help save the planet. But the good news is that these changes will help keep your family healthy, and they don't need to cost a lot - in either dollars or time.
By Marguerite Lamb
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"You don't necessarily need extra time or money, or the powers of a superhero, to do your part to look after the planet," says Joanna Yarrow, author of 1,001 Ways to Save the Earth. Yarrow is a sustainable living expert and co-founder of Beyond Green, a company that focuses on sustainable communities. "Pretty much everything we do has an impact on the natural world. So changes to any of our daily activities represent an opportunity to look after the planet better without adding too much to our 'to do' list."
It turns out that "going green" doesn't have to mean expensive investments like solar panels, sustainable wood flooring, and nontoxic paints. Experts say that simple changes in your everyday life are all it takes to make your home a healthier, safer, greener place to be. But don't forget that human beings are creatures of habit, and change takes time. Begin with small steps. For example, make a commitment to change just one habit every month.
To help you get started, WebMD asked experts on environmentally friendly living for tips on how you can turn your home sweet home into home green home.
Creating a green and healthy home: Save energy
Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs: These bulbs - now available to fit many light fixtures - use just a quarter of the electricity of regular incandescent bulbs. Plus, they last up to 10 times longer, Yarrow says in 1,001 Ways to Save the Earth.
Turn off the lights: If you or others in your household are forgetful, install movement sensors so lights only activate when needed. Another way to save energy is to install automatic timers for lights frequently left blazing in empty rooms.
Set cooling and heating temperatures correctly: Your refrigerator and freezer are probably the biggest electrical energy consumers in your house. Take steps to make sure they're not working harder than necessary. Fridges do their job at around 37 F. Freezers set at -3 F keep things nice and frosty. Be sure to close the fridge and freezer doors. Leaving them open for just a few extra seconds wastes a lot of energy. Get an electronic thermostat so your furnace heats your home to a lower temperature while the family sleeps and returns it to a toastier temperature before you get out of bed. In the winter, set your thermostat at 68 F in the day and 55 F at night. In the summer, keep it at 78 F. Water heaters work most efficiently between 120 and 140 F.
Get unplugged: Electronic appliances, including TVs, computers, and CD players can consume almost as much energy when in standby mode as they do during the relatively small amount of time they're being used.
Use appliances efficiently: Wait for a full load before turning on the washing machine, dryer, or dishwasher. Clear the lint filter after every dryer load and air-dry clothes when weather allows. Use the air-dry function on your dishwasher. Preheat your oven only when necessary.
Let the sun shine: The cheapest and most environmentally sound heat and light source is just outside your window. Open blinds, drapes, and shutters to let solar energy warm and brighten your home naturally.
Stop leaks: Plug, insulate, replace, repair, caulk, or seal to make your home as leak-proof as possible - and watch your utility bills drop. To gauge how your home stacks up in terms of energy-efficiency, you can conduct an energy audit by visiting www.eere.energy.gov/consumer.
Creating a green and healthy home: Clear the air
Ban smoking: The number one way to combat indoor air pollution is to never let anyone smoke in your home, experts tell WebMD. "It's like inviting a diesel bus into your living room," says Gina Solomon, MD, PhD, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council and an associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. "Cigarettes are full of toxic chemicals, and secondhand smoke exposure can cause cancer. It's a no-brainer. No smoking at home."
Grow plants indoors: Live plants around your home act as natural air filters, and some plants are particularly effective absorbers of harmful pollutants emitted from carpets, furniture, and electronic equipment. So clean your indoor air and "green" your living space by filling your home with spider plants, Boston ferns, rubber plants, and palm trees.
Install a carbon monoxide detector: Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas and exposure to it can be deadly. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, pick-up a detector at your local hardware store.
Check for radon: Radon is a radioactive gas that is naturally present in soil, and it can enter your home through cracks in your foundation. Radon is also the second leading cause of lung cancer in the US, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Radon test kits are available at most hardware stores.