5 Eco-Friendly Home Improvements That Improve Health and Lower Bills

Homeownership By Noah - April 20, 2021

The benefits of some home improvements can go farther than aesthetics. Eco-friendly home improvement projects can have positive impacts on your wallet, your family’s health, the environment, and even your home’s value. From roof to floors, these environmental home renovations can bring a breath of fresh air to your home.

Conduct an Energy Audit

The biggest environmental impact your house probably has on the environment is the energy it takes to keep a home humming. Some systems and appliances, like your water heater and refrigerator, may run 24/7 or close to it to ensure you’ve always got frozen ice cream and hot showers. Lights, HVAC, and other appliances also take an energy toll. Generating electricity for homes across the country relies heavily on fossil fuels and releases greenhouse gas, so using energy efficiently makes a difference.

The best eco-friendly home improvements combine environmental impact with convenience and energy cost savings for homeowners. Energy-efficient appliances, especially for major appliances that run often, make a dent in your bills and carbon footprint. Energy-saving lighting is another easy, environmental home improvement, especially if your family spends a lot of time at home and needs to light multiple rooms for most of the day.

Waste Less Water

Using water affects the environment in multiple ways. For one, each American uses about 80-100 gallons of water per day, mostly flushing it down the toilet! Leaks and water misuse can lead to a single household wasting 10,000 gallons of water per year. Another downside is, again, energy use from maintaining a hot water supply even when no one is using water.

A tankless water heater system can heat water in seconds without using energy constantly to heat a 50-gallon supply. Some experts say tankless systems can be a way to protect your home against earthquakes as well, since a dislodged water tank can cause serious home damage.

Checking your water bill for suspiciously high amounts that suggest a leak can save water and money. Swapping older toilets for water-conserving models is another easy way to save gallons each day. Some families who want to take water conservation a step further can also look into using “grey water,” or reusable water from your sinks, tub, or even washing machine, to irrigate outdoor areas. Grey water regulations vary from state to state, so learn what permits and systems you’ll need before you start reusing your household water.

Get a Greener Roof

Want to lower your carbon footprint and increase your home value? Try switching to solar. Solar panels can significantly reduce or even eliminate your energy bills, depending on your energy use, the size of your roof, and the amount of sunlight your home receives. A solar power system may count as a home upgrade, and some studies indicate you can expect to see an average $15,000 increase on your home value.

As of now, 2021 is the last year you can claim a tax credit for installing a solar energy system, so if you’re interested, now is a great time to take on this environmental home improvement.

While you’re on the roof, you might also want to consider the eco-friendly impact of a cool roof. “Cool roof” doesn’t refer to your roof’s popular appeal, but to temperature. Many homeowners prefer a dark-toned roof for aesthetics, but some roofing materials trap heat and make the home’s cooling system work harder. A cool roof uses materials that reflect away heat, while mimicking traditional roof materials.

This not only lowers energy bills, but helps fight the “heat island effect,” where urban buildings absorb heat and raise temperatures in their surrounding area. Translation: This could be your contribution to a less sweltering summer for you and the rest of your neighborhood.

Choose Eco-Friendly Floors

On the opposite end of your home, upgrading your flooring is a great opportunity to go green. Home improvements are often about improving the style, health impact, and daily convenience of our homes. Whether that means choosing an elegant hardwood or insulating carpet, the materials you use can impact your family’s health and the Earth’s.

Green hardwood flooring

Hardwood floors have the benefit of not trapping dust or allergens as easily as carpet, which can help affect air quality in your home. The problem is that wooden floors require cutting down trees, and the exotic wood market can threaten environments like rainforests.

When shopping for hardwood flooring, look for labels indicating that the wood you’re considering is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC is generally considered to be the gold standard in determining whether companies are sourcing wood in a sustainable way. Opting for reclaimed (i.e., recycled) wood is another option that offers the charm of antique wood and the satisfaction of not cutting down additional trees.

Climate-friendly carpet

Carpet is comparatively inexpensive when compared to many hardwood and tile flooring options. It’s comfortable and offers a layer of insulation that can keep a room feeling warm and reduce the ambient noise of foot traffic and echoes. A major downside is that many carpets are made or treated with synthetic materials and compounds that can off-gas into your home environment, negatively affecting air quality.

For the most sustainable carpet, look for non-toxic carpets made with natural fibers. The backing or padding should also be made with natural materials, and preferably either sewn on or glued with natural adhesives that won’t release volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Look for green carpet certifications that take into account the materials a carpet contains, manufacturing emissions, water use, and other environmental criteria.

Improve Air Quality

Climate change effects manifest in various ways, from unseasonable temperatures to floods and fires. Finding new ways to stay healthy and comfortable at home can be a challenge. Some homeowners, especially in areas like California that have been impacted by wildfires, are more concerned than ever with air quality.

A well functioning HVAC system can make all the difference. Even if your summer temperatures are typically mild enough not to need much (or any) air conditioning, installing or maintaining an HVAC system can help remove particulate matter and pollutants to improve your air. Pay extra attention to sealing ducts properly and making sure you know how often air filters need to be changed.

There’s conflicting information about the safety and efficacy of indoor air purification systems. These are usually room-specific solutions that work in addition to your HVAC system. HEPA filters are best at removing particulate matter, whereas activated carbon may help reduce some chemicals and odors. Air purifiers that release ozone can trigger asthma reactions, harm indoor plants, and even add indoor pollution rather than removing pollutants, so avoid this type of system.

Green home improvements are an investment at the outset, but the results may soon show in lower utility bills, more efficient systems, and the satisfaction of doing your part for sustainability.