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5 surprising (yet easy) ways to make your home more sustainable

Spoiler: Ditch your old toilets

Person painting vintage chair with yellow paint on a patio surrounded with plants Credit: Getty Images / blackCAT

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It’s normal to feel like “going green” in the home is a complicated feat. Beyond the eco-friendly products that are easy to implement, updates surrounding energy efficiency, water waste reduction, solar use, and more may feel like large and expensive changes.

While you’re correct in that some energy-efficient updates, like solar panels, can be a huge investment, there are smaller steps you can still take to reduce your carbon footprint at home. And while not mutually exclusive, most of the time the most sustainable home options are the most cost-effective over time, too.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to create a more sustainable living space, here are five ideas you may have not thought of.

Buy furniture that’s made using reclaimed or recycled materials

Reclaimed wooden TV console with black hardware on a wood floor next to a rug and chair
Credit: Room & Board

Room & Board's Urban Wood Project reclaims wood from other cities like Detroit, Minneapolis, and Sacramento.

When you think of waste, you likely consider single-use plastics or food waste. But did you know that furniture, purchases that typically remain in the home for years, ultimately end up in landfills—upwards of 80% according to the EPA.

With the EPA’s 2018 stats in mind, you should feel good about opting for furniture made from recycled or reclaimed materials to curb your own overall furniture waste. And there’s no need to worry: Finding reclaimed furniture is much easier than you may think.

Wayfair sells plenty of reclaimed wood items that have been repurposed from something like the siding of a barn. This solid wood and birch storage bench and this wall mounted coat hook both use unique reclaimed wood pieces to create a gorgeous new look.

There are also plenty of Certified B-Corporations—meaning they meet the highest standard of social and environmental performance—that you can shop from that recycle materials to make gorgeous furniture. Avocado, the mattress brand, sells a handcrafted, reclaimed mid-century modern bed frame using wood sourced locally in California. Etsy, another B-Corp, also has plenty of reclaimed furniture options from small businesses and sellers.

Upmarket U.S.-based home furnishings brand Room & Board also has an incredible initiative called the Urban Wood Project, where the brand has teamed up with the USDA Forest Service and Humanim to harvest wood from aging homes in Baltimore, Maryland and other cities. This old and worn wood is used to build new wood furnishings like this reclaimed wood media console and these carefully salvaged wood stools.

Fix any small household leaks

Person working to fix leaking sink in home in bathroom
Credit: Getty Images / monkeybusinessimages

When checking around your home for leaks, you should also check outside the home, including in-ground irrigation systems to make sure they weren't damaged by freezing temperatures or other factors.

Even the smallest leaks in the home can result in a staggering amount of water waste. In fact, the average household’s leaks can account for nearly 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year, according to the EPA. Even worse, 10% of homes will end up having leaks that account for 90 gallons of water waste or more per day. Fixing leaks in your home is as beneficial to your wallet as it is to the environment.

To start, check the main sources of leaking water waste like toilet flappers, dripping faucets, and leaking valves around the home. The EPA has a helpful checklist of key places to check for leaks, including your kitchen appliances, showerheads, washing machine, and more.

One smart method the EPA recommends testing is to check your water meter before and after a two-hour period of time without using any water—if there is any change, you most likely have a leak on your hands.

Once the leak has been identified, you’ll want to fix it ASAP or call in a plumber to get the leaks under control.

Install a dual flush toilet

Person pressing silver button on the top of dual flush toilet
Credit: Getty Images / esp_imaging

Dual flush toilets can also reduce clogs, as many are designed to use gravity to flush away waste.

Do you know that toilets make up nearly 30% of an average home’s indoor water consumption?

One way to curb it is by investing in a dual flush toilet. These types of toilets use dual (two) flush buttons—one for liquids and another for solids—based on the amount of water needed to properly flush the waste. Not only is the reduced water use better for the environment, but it helps bring down your monthly water bill.

You’ll find plenty of dual flush toilet options at your favorite home improvement stores. The Home Depot has several top-rated choices like this Glacier Bay dual flush toilet that uses a 1.1 or 1.6 gallons per flush flow rate, in comparison to older toilets that can use as much as 6 gallons per flush.

You’ll even be able to find some great dual flush toilet options at Amazon—this dual flush toilet is loved by reviewers for its sleek and easy-to-clean design.

If you’re not too keen on dual flush toilets, or just want more options, you can also shop for toilets that have the EPA’s WaterSense label, which indicates a toilet that is high-performance, water-efficient, and available in a range of price points and styles.

Use low-VOC paint for your renovations

Family of three painting walls with interior paint next to a wooden ladder
Credit: Getty Images / Maria Korneeva

It's important to understand that no-VOC paint doesn't mean a completely VOC-free paint mixture—it may mean the level of VOCs comes in below a particular regulated amount regulated by the government.

VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are a variety of different chemicals that can negatively affect air quality and your health—and they may already be in your home. Household sources of VOCs include paints, paint strippers, aerosol sprays, hobby supplies, and much more.

VOCs alone can cause symptoms like allergic reactions, headaches, and memory impairment, but when combined with oxides of nitrogen, ground-level ozone is created. Ozone is detrimental to health and can cause coughing, chest pain, and airway inflammation, and can worse bronchitis and asthma symptoms.

And while there are air purifiers known to break down VOCs, along with other pollutants, it’s best to reduce the use of VOCs from the get-go.

Since concentrations of VOCs can be up to 10ten times higher indoors than outdoors, opting for a low-VOC or no-VOC paint can be a healthier choice for your home and the environment.

Don’t worry—you can still shop from top name-brands like Behr for low-VOC primers and sealers and Benjamin Moore for VOC-free base paints. You can also expand your search to eco-conscious paint brands like Clare, which commits to providing a wide variety of premium zero-VOC interior paints.

Add window treatments for extra insulation

Tan window roller on a wooden window pane
Credit: Getty Images / Tunatura

Roller shades are a great option for easy "on-and-off" access to full sunlight or a shaded experience.

Here’s another not-so-obvious sustainable solution that’ll save you money, too. Window treatments are an easy way to preserve heat or cool air in the home. You can choose from a variety of product types, like cellular shades (also known as honeycomb shades), blackout curtains, wood blinds, window films, roller shades, outdoor awnings, and more.

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends the use of such treatments, citing that about 30% of a home’s heating energy is lost through windows—likewise, 76% of sunlight that hits a standard double-pane window becomes heat upon entry. For this reason, window treatments are a no-brainer for creating a more energy-efficient home.

Cellular shades can reduce heat loss through windows by 40% or more—you can get your hands on a top-rated light filtering cellular shade that blocks the sun’s heat while still allowing light to come through.

If you’re more interested in something that blocks out more light, try adding blackout curtains. These darkening velvet curtains with an average Amazon 4.8-star rating are loved for their luxurious feel and dimming effect.

For an exterior option, you can have a window awning installed onto your patio or porch to further reduce heat gain during warmer months. This awning canopy is a great choice for not only reducing heat in the home, but in protecting your patio floor and furniture from sun exposure and damage.

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