10 Myths About Being Green at Home
This Old House debunks some commonly held misconceptions about sustainable household products and practices
Reality: Yes, there's plenty of so-called greenwashing out there. But aside from the SCS and FSC certifications, there are other third-party groups whose logos indicate products are as green as they say they are. The most widely known is the EPA's Energy Star logo, a legit measure of a product's energy-saving qualities. You can also look for logos from GreenSeal, which scrutinizes products' green cred, including the amount of recycled content used. Just recently, the century-old Underwriters Laboratories, a reputable third-party agency that does product safety testing, launched the UL Environment logo, an indicator that a product's environmental claims have indeed been validated.
Thanks to Andrew Padian, The Community Preservation Corp.
Reality: It would be great if we could all tap into solar, wind, and geothermal technologies, but those are still cost-prohibitive for many of us. In the meantime, you can lessen your demand for nonrenewable energy by up to 40 percent by simply plugging gaps, holes, and other air leaks in your house. Be sure to check beneath insulation batts in your attic for holes drilled to accommodate wires. Filling them in can be more efficient than adding another layer of insulation.
Reality: A lot of people ask us if their toasters and lamps are sucking up energy when they're turned off. The answer: Unless it has a power adapter, indicator light, standby function, or clock, it's not burning energy. The worst vampire by far? Your cable box, which uses half the juice of an Energy Star fridge, even when you're not watching HBO. So plug that sucker into a power strip and switch it off when you're away.
Reality: America's 16 million acres of lawns present some serious eco-challenges, it's true. They demand an outlandish amount of water, and many rely on pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers to stay healthy. But you can mitigate the damage by using native turf grass, which requires less water and is more disease-resistant than non-natives like, say, Kentucky bluegrass (it hails from Europe). Our best-known native turf is buffalo grass, which is naturally resistant to drought, disease, and pests. It likes plenty of sun, though, so if conditions aren't conducive to growing it, consider at least reducing the size of your lawn. Replace some areas with native groundcover (where it's shady) or native ornamental grasses (where it's sunny). Then cure your lawn's addiction to pesticides and other chemicals by going organic.
Reality: While most incandescent bulbs currently on the market won't meet strict energy-conservation regulations set to take effect in 2012, all the major lighting manufacturers are working overtime to come up with more energy-efficient versions of the Thomas Edison original. Phillips has already introduced a halogen incandescent that uses 30 percent less juice than its older bulbs. So if you're not a fan of CFLs, know that there's still a light at the end of the tunnel.
Reality: Not if you're making it right. The secret to keeping the stink out is creating a perfect balancing act between your "browns" (carbon-based plant material) and your "greens" (nitrogen-based plant material). The former can include leaves, twigs, and wood chips, shredded newsprint, and cardboard; the latter may contain fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and coffee grounds. Layer them in equal amounts in your pile, then aerate it once a week by turning it with a pitchfork. Never, ever add dairy products, greasy foods, or meat, which attract vermin as they rot. When properly maintained, a compost pile should have no smell at all.
Reality: Traditional fireplaces add ambience, but they also suck most of your heated air right up the chimney. You can fix that. Fireplace inserts decrease the amount of heated air lost by up to 60 percent and are available for both wood- and gas-burning fireplaces. The inserts include insulated doors and a vented surround that lets you control air input and heat output. Even better are super-high-efficiency wood- or pellet-burning stoves, some of which are sold as inserts that can be installed in your existing firebox.
Reality: Yes, this versatile grass grows lightning fast, making it extremely replenishable and a great alternative to hacking down old-growth forests.
Engineered right, it's as solid as oak, too. Here's the thing: It takes a lot of fuel to get bamboo, mostly grown in China, to your doorstep; some bamboo products contain toxic finishes and adhesives; and a lot of it is grown with zero regulation over its harvesting practices and work conditions. Some bamboo is also harvested before it fully matures, rendering the products made from it a lot less durable. To make sure your bamboo is as green as can be, ask how it's harvested and manufactured. You can also look for third-party certifications from Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), which tests its indoor air emissions, or the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which certifies bamboo products and looks at everything from harvesting to conservation practices.
Reality: Before 1994, most toilets used a whopping 3.5 gallons of water to flush. That's about 20 gallons per person each day. But if your toilet was made after '94, the year the federal government required that toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush, you already have what's known as a low-flow toilet. You can save even more water by installing inexpensive toilet dams, which can easily be inserted in the back of your tank, and hold back about 1.3 gallons of water per flush. Of course, the most efficient toilets these days are dual-flush models, which offer a 1.6 gallons per flush mode and one that uses as little as .09. Recently, the Brondell company started offering an easy-to-install retrofit device (about $100) that turns existing toilets into dual-flush models.
Reality: A lot of people seem to think that once a programmable thermostat turns off your heat or AC at a preset temperature, the cost of reheating or cooling their home back to a comfortable temperature outweighs the savings. But the fact remains: The longer your heating or cooling system is turned off, the greater the savings. In the winter, lowering your thermostat 10 to 15 degrees for 8 hours a day can save you up to 10 percent on your heating bills. Just set it to turn up the heat by the time you get home.