Eco Friendly Construction Methods and Materials
There is an urgent need to address the great challenges of our times: climate change, resource depletion, pollution, and peak oil. These issues are all accelerating rapidly, and all have strong links with the building industry.
There is a growing consensus from scientists and the oil industry that we are going to reach peak oil in the next twenty years, and that we might have reached this point already. Global demand is soaring, whilst global production is declining, and oil is set to become increasingly expensive and scarce. The building industry is hugely dependent on cheap oil, from the manufacture and transportation of its materials, to the machinery and tools used in demolition and construction. In the UK, it uses vast quantities of fossil fuels, accounting for over half of total carbon emissions that lead to climate change. The built environment is also responsible for significant amounts of air, soil and water pollution, and millions of tonnes of landfill waste. This is a situation that clearly needs to change.
Reducing Energy ConsumptionWith the inevitability of declining fossil fuels, and the threat of global climate change, reducing our energy consumption is an essential survival strategy. Choosing to build green saves energy. The low embodied energy of green products ensures that very little energy went into their manufacture and production, with a direct reduction in carbon emissions. Eco friendly design methodology can further reduce energy consumption by minimising energy inputs for heating, cooling and light, and incorporating energy efficient appliances. Saving energy for the occupant also saves money - an issue that will become increasingly important as the cost of fossil fuels inevitably rises in the near future.
Building Healthier HomesEco-friendly construction can not only help to create a better outdoor environment, it can also help to build a healthier indoor environment. Conventional building materials and methods have been linked to a wide range of health problems. Chemical pollutants from paints, solvents, plastics and composite timbers, along with biological pollutants such as dust mites and moulds are known to cause symptoms such as asthma, headaches, depression, eczema, palpitations and chronic fatigue syndrome. Green buildings eliminate these problems through good ventilation design, breathable walls, and the use of natural, non-toxic products and materials.
There are many good reasons why we should use eco-friendly construction methods and materials. It can improve the health of our planet, and the health of our own lives. It also supports local business and helps strengthen the local economy, which in turn helps to build our communities into vibrant, prosperous and desirable places to live.
A Necessary ChoiceGreen building is not only a wise choice for our future; it is also a necessary choice. The construction industry must adopt eco-friendly practices and materials that reduce its impacts, before we reach a point of irreversible damage to our life supporting systems. The UK Government is beginning to recognise this urgency, and is committed to integrating green specifications into building regulations and codes, but the process of developing policy is slow. The industry needs to take its own initiative and find alternative ways to build, using green, renewable energy resources, and adopt non-polluting practises and materials that reduce, recycle and reuse, before it is too late.
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Green Eco Tips for Sustainable Living
The critical first step of waste prevention has been overshadowed by a focus on recycling. Please help to promote a greater awareness of the importance of the "Reduce" part of the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle mantra. For a great overview of how raw materials and products move around the world, see the video The Story of Stuff.
- Go Zero Waste: The ultimate goal - learn how at Zero Waste Home.
- Simplify: Simplify your life as much as possible. Only keep belongings that you use/enjoy on a regular basis. By making the effort to reduce what you own, you will naturally purchase less/create less waste in the future
- Determine Your Impact: The Eco Footprint, Greendex and Water Footprint calculators give you a great way to determine how you are impacting the environment.
- Reduce Purchases: In general, think before you buy any product - do you really need it? How did the production of this product impact the environment and what further impacts will there be with the disposal of the product (and associated packaging materials)? When you are thinking about buying something, try the 30-Day Rule -- wait 30 days after the first time you decide you want a product to really make your decision. This will eliminate impulse buying. The free, downloadable Wallet Buddy from The Center for a New American Dream is a great constant reminder to make sustainable purchases (including avoiding unessentials).
- Observe an Eco-Sabbath: For one day, afternoon or hour a week, don't buy anything, don't use machines, don't switch on anything electric, don't cook, don't answer your phone and, in general, don't use any resources. (source)
- Replace Disposables: Wherever possible, replace disposable products with reusable ones (i.e., razor, food storage, batteries, ink cartridges (buy refill ink), coffee filters, furnace or air conditioner filters, etc.).
- Buy Used: Buy used products whenever possible. Some sources:
- local thrift stores
- Amazon (search on refurbished then click on links in left sidebar or search for specific refurbished product)
- Freecycle (free!)
- local newspaper listings
- local material exchange sites (search in your area)
- garage sales (search in your area in the 'for sale' > 'garage sales' section
- used refurbished computers (check your computer manufacturer's website or Amazon.
- local used furniture stores (search in your area)
- local consignment shops (search in your area)
- Make Your Own: Whenever possible, make your own products to cut down on waste and control the materials used. Here are some great inspirations: pinterest diy projects and apartmenttherapy household cleaning recipes.
- Borrow From Friends: If you only need something temporarily, ask if a friend or neighbor would loan it to you.
- Share With Friends: Share things like books, magazines, movies, games, and newspapers between friends and neighbors.
- Tree-Free Home: As much as possible, create a tree-free home:
- replace paper napkins with cloth napkins
- replace paper towels with a special set of cloth towels/napkins (or cut up old t-shirts for great towels) - store the used ones in a small container in your kitchen and just wash and reuse
- purchase bleach-free, toilet paper that is made from the highest post-consumer waste content you can find (80% minimum)
- if you print documents, print on once-used paper and/or bleach-free, recycled paper with the highest post-consumer waste content available (or hemp/alternative-source paper, if you can afford it)
- switch to a digital organizer for tracking your to do's and grocery lists. A few free suggestions: Wunderlist, Remember the Milk, GroceryIQ
- reuse envelopes, wrapping paper, the front of gift cards (as postcards) and other paper materials you receive wherever possible
- read books, magazines, and newspapers from your local library or online (many have email newsletters)
- create and use note pads from once-used paper
- leave messages for family members/roommates on a reusable message board
- make your own cards/letters from once-used products or handmade paper or buy at thrift stores
- if you will be doing construction on your house, search out alternatives to using newly cut wood (no endorsement of any company intended):
- Bulk Purchases: Avoid products that are packaged for single use (i.e., drinks, school lunches, candy, cat and dog food, salad mixings, etc.). Instead, buy in bulk and transfer the products to your own reusable containers. Many health food stores have bulk bins where they sell everything from grains to cereal to cleaning products. For additional ideas, read the Precycling information page.
- Buy Only What You Need: Buy only as much as you know you'll use for items such as food, cleaning supplies, and paint.
- Avoid Creating Trash: Avoid creating trash wherever possible: when ordering food, avoid receiving any unnecessary plastic utensils, straws, etc. (ask in advance), buy ice cream in a cone instead of a cup, don't accept "free" promotional products, buy products with the least amount of packaging, etc. Every little bit of trash avoided does make a difference!
- Shopping Bags: While shopping, if you only buy a few products skip the shopping bag. For larger purchases, bring your own. Learn about pollution caused by plastics.
- Junk Mail: For ideas on how to stop junk mail at work and home, check out:
- Waste-Free Lunches: Pack a Waste-Free Lunch whenever possible.
- Mug-to-Go: Carry a mug with you wherever you go for take out beverages.
- Address Early Consumption Habits: New American Dream offers tips for protecting your children from intrusive and harmful advertising that promotes mindless consumption.
- Encourage Hotels to Reduce Waste: When staying at a hotel, motel, or bed and breakfast let the management know that you like to support businesses that adopt environmentally responsible practices (including reducing waste). Give hotels a link to Environmental Solutions for Green Hotels. To locate environmentally friendly hotels, go to TripAdvisor (when searching, select 'Green' from the 'Style' menu option) and/or the Green Hotels Association.
The media has done a wonderful job of selling us on the attractiveness and benefits of buying "new", "improved", "special", etc. products. However, we already collectively own so much that we could all survive for quite a while on the existing products - if we just reused them a few times!
- Garage Sales: Shop at and hold garage sales - this is a great way to reuse products.
- Reusables: Switch from disposable to reusable products: food and beverage containers, cups, plates, writing pens, razors, diapers, towels, shopping bags, etc.
- Donations: Donate (and buy used):
- household items - clothes, furniture, dishes, books, sports equipment, magazines, appliances, electronics, business attire, wedding attire, etc. (to charity)
- women's business attire (to Dress for Success)
- computer equipment
- cell phones, cameras, iPod/MP3 Players, laptops, PDAs (to Recycling for Charities)
- cell phones and ink cartridges (to Cure Recycling - profits from reuse of items support the CURE Childhood Cancer organization. Free postage. Another place to donate cell phones is Collective Good).
- building material (to companies who specialize in selling used material). One organization: Habitat for Humanity
- eyeglasses (to Lions Club, For-Eyes, Pearle, or Lenscrafters)
- extra hangers (to your local dry cleaners)
- art materials (to a school or cultural organization)
- unwanted boxed/bagged/canned food (to homeless shelters, food banks, or soup kitchens)
- Buy/Sell Used Items: Buy and sell your items on sites such as:
- Freecycle: The Freecycle Network provides an online community tool for giving and receiving free stuff.
- Collaborative Communities: learn about the collaborative movement in communities around the world.
- Share:thingloop facilitates sharing our belongings with each other.
- Throwplace:Throwplace.com lets you list items online that you would like to give to nonprofit organizations, businesses, or individuals.
- Community Swap: Organize a community swap program (i.e., designate a place where people can leave unwanted items for others to use).
- Fixers Collective: Create or join a fixers collective in your community to get together once a month or so to help each other repair broken appliances and other household items.
- Packing Peanuts: Drop off at a local packing, shipping or moving store.
- Wash and Reuse Plastic Bags: With either a wooden bag dryer or in the washing machine. Better yet, replace them with reusable glass, ceramic or metal storage containers.
- Buy Durables: Buy products that will last and take care of them.
- Teach Thrift: Teach your children the value of being thrifty (the wise economy in the management of money and other resources; frugality).
- Frugal Printing: Use both sides of each piece of paper -- for note taking or printing documents from your computer (at home or work). Create note pads by stapling together once-used paper.
- Kitchen Reusables: Instead of buying these items new, save and reuse all: paper bags, rubber bands, twisties, boxes, and packaging material. Switch from plastic bags to reusable ceramic, glass or metal containers.
- Library or Used Book Store: Pick up books from your local library or used book store (online, cheap used books are listed at comparison shopping sites ADDAll and BookFinder.com and through Ebay). The library is also many times a great place for finding magazines, CDs, books-on-tape, and videos. Look for little free libraries in your neighborhood - or be the first to add one!
- Share with Neighbors: Join in with neighbors to purchase infrequently used products such as lawn mowers, ladders, etc.
- Refurbished Computers: Buy refurbished computers for less
- Rechargeable Batteries: Purchase rechargeable batteries and a battery recharger (some battery rechargers will also recharge regular alkaline batteries). Solar powered battery rechargers are available online.
- College Reuse: Dump and Run is a nonprofit organization that organizes the collection of college students' castoff items in the spring, so they can be sold to incoming students in the fall. The proceeds are then donated to nonprofits.
- Recycle your Plastic Bottle Tops: Plastic bottle recycling can now handle recycling plastic bottle tops - keep the lids on. Better yet, switch to reusable glass or metal drinking bottles and skip the plastic bottles all together.
- Recycle Bins: Create designated holding "bins" for each type of recycled product and place in convenient locations in your home/garage
- Recycling Fact Sheet: If one isn't available on your local recycling center's website, create a local recycling sheet which includes hard to recycle items. Post it on your frig and share it with your neighbors (including online if possible). Use a separate container to store hard to recycle items. The local Yellow Pages, your local recycling center, Internet Consumer Recycling Guide and Recycling Resources are great resources. Here is a great example for a city. Find out where you can recycle the following locally:
- paper products
- plastic grocery bags (better yet - use cloth bags)
- plastic - including 1 - 7 identification codes
- tin cans
- scrap metal
- motor oil (one quart of oil can kill fish in thousands of gallons of water)
- ink cartridges
- household appliances such as refrigerators
- computer equipment and other electronic devices
- aseptic packaging (square boxes used for liquids)
- athletic shoes (contact a local sporting goods or athletic shoe store - some donate used shoes, others recycle them)
- Recycle Produce Labels: Fruit and vegetable labels can be recycled by sticking them on a recycleable plastic container.
- Help Launch Sustainable Packaging!: As a customer, you have enormous power to help launch the sustainable packaging movement. Many companies are now exploring ways to maximize nontoxic recyclable and compostable packaging content. Please email the companies you purchase products from and ask them to consider switching to 100% sustainable packaging - the Sustainable Packaging Coalition is a great resource to suggest as a starting point. Most companies really listen to their customers - you'll be surprised how many respond (and you may receive some great coupons for your trouble!)
- Recycling Rechargeable Batteries and Cell Phones: It's easy to recycle rechargeable batteries and cell phones in the US and Canada- just go to call2recyle and find a nearby free drop off center.
- Recycling CDs and DVDs: Several CD, DVD (and Hard Drive) recycling centers are now available.
- Recycled Content: Ask your local retailers to stock more products made from recycled materials and buy products made from the highest recycled content whenever possible.
- Green Paper: In general, try to buy products/containers made from recycled material as often as possible to support the recycled product market. When purchasing paper products (toilet paper, etc,), look for paper that has been recycled using a minimum of 50% post-consumer waste. Also, purchase from companies that do not use chlorine to bleach their paper products (which creates dioxin waste).
- Grasscycling: Leave grass clippings on the lawn as fertilizer and to reduce the amount of yard trimmings disposed in landfills.
- Composting: Start a compost pile with yard trimmings and food scraps. Learn more at HowToCompost.org.
- Pack-it-Out: If you are traveling and no recycle bins are available, pack your recyclables home with you whenever possible.
- Compostable Produce Labels: Encourage your local health food store to switch to laser tattoos, dissovable labels or compostable labels.
- Eco-Friendly Burials (aka Naural or Green Burials): For the ultimate in recycling, check out the growing movement in eco-friendly burials and conservation burial. Also, green coffins (including eco-friendly recycled paper coffins) are available. Learn more through the Green Burial Council.
- Eco-Jewelry: If you are shopping for wedding rings or other jewelry consider buying Recycled/Eco-Friendly/Ethical gold jewelry and synthetic diamonds and gemstones.
- Hazardous Waste: The other key aspect of dealing with waste effectively is to dispose of toxic products at a hazardous waste facility. Products requiring special handling include:
- Building Materials - paint , varnish, paint thinner, solvents, rust remover, wood preservatives and driveway sealer
- Automotive products - gasoline, transmission oil, brake fluid, kerosene, charcoal lighter fluid, power steering fluid, used motor oil,used oil filters, used antifreeze
- Household cleaners - spot removers, rug cleaners, metal cleaners, bathroom cleaners, oven cleaner, drain cleaner
- Pesticides - insect killers, weed killers, flea products, moth crystals, fertilizers with weed killer
- Miscellaneous - photographic chemicals, acids and corrosive chemicals, pool chemicals, compact fluorescent light bulbs (mercury), Ni-Cd batteries
- Refuse Products that Create Waste: If available, instead of buying processed food, bring your own bags and containers and buy from the bulk and produce sections of the grocery store. Minimize or eliminate other types of purchases that generate waste. The Johnson's are a zero-waste family who offer tips and inspiration for creating a zero-waste household while creating a far more satisfying and affordable lifestyle.
- Avoid Single Use Products: Instead, choose (or bring) reusable products or consider doing without. Avoiding plastic single use items is especially important because of their toxic load and, if landfilled, exceptionally long life. These can include food and beverage containers, cups, plates, straws, writing pens, razors, diapers, towels, shopping bags, etc.
- Refuse Give Aways: When a business or individual offers you a free give away that you don't need, politely refuse. This can be anything from a straw in a restaurant to promotional gifts to paper handouts. This not only saves the company or individual money, but it keeps resources from being consumed unnecessarily (even if it is recyclable).
- Worm Composting: Learn about worm composting (vermiculture) at Earthworm FAQ.
- Composting: Start a compost pile with yard trimmings and food scraps. Learn more at Wikipedia's Compost page.
- Grasscycling: Leave grass clippings on the lawn as fertilizer and to reduce the amount of yard trimmings disposed in landfills.
- Mulching: Mulching mowers are available which will convert cut grass into a natural fertilizer.
Switching to a animal-free, vegan diet is a powerful way to help protect our environment, help ensure everyone has enough to eat and improve your health. The United Nations report Livestock's Long Shadow–Environmental Issues and Options, which concludes that the livestock sector (primarily cows, chickens, and pigs) emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to our most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. It is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases - responsible for 18% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalents. By comparison, all transportation emits 13.5% of the CO2. It produces 65% of human-related nitrous oxide (which has 296 times the climate change potential of CO2) and 37% of all human-induced methane (which is 23 times as warming as CO2). It also generates 64% of the ammonia, which contributes to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems. In addition, the enormous amounts of grain required to feed livestock reduces the amount of food available for the world's hungry. Buying organic, locally grown food also reduces climate change emissions and helps protect the environment.
"The world is producing the wrong kind of food, by a process that leaves millions of people landless, homeless, cashless, and unable to feed themselves." Anita Roddick
- Organic: The What is Organic? page explains what organic produce is and how it is certified.
- Local: Buy food (and drink - ideally tap - water) from local companies whenever possible. Each pound of local food you purchase prevents a quarter pound of climate change (C02) emissions. Support your area's Farmer's Market. If possible, grow your own fruits and vegetables using organic gardening practices. In the U.S.:
- Veganic Growing: Support and use veganic growing practices which are not only organic, but also uses alternatives to animal byproducts (such as bonemeal, bloodmeal, manure) to fertilize the soil.
- Vegan Diet: Informational sites:
- Animal-Free Diet Resources: Support for switching to a meat-free diet:
- Vegan Restaurants: Restaurant locators:
- Reducing Food Waste: If food waste was a country, it would be the world’s 3rd largest emitter of CO2- roughly 1/3 of food produced every year gets lost or wasted. Here are great ideas for reducing it.
- Responsible Food Shopping: Whenever possible, shop at farmers markets, food co-ops, local health food stores, and socially and environmentally responsible chain stores (research tools: Food Scores and Better World Shopper).
- Healthy School Lunches: Support efforts to increase healthy food choices in school lunches (US)
- Green Calculator: Learn about the effect your diet is having on the environment with the Eating Green Calculator. Also see how your food choices impact climate change.
- Non-GMO: There are many organizations that are working to protect our food supply from genetically engineered produce. Please get involved in any way you can. Whenever possible, buy products containing non-GMO soy, cotton, and corn. Ask your local supermarket to carry non-GMO products and ask your friends to also make this request - have faith that your requests will get back to the growers and store headquarters. This trend will only turn around when customer demand non-GMO products. Your pocketbook is your most effective voice.
- Unprocessed Food: Eat unprocessed/unpackaged food whenever possible.
- Shade-Grown Coffee: Buy shade-grown coffee to protect desperately needed migratory bird habitats. Many "fair trade certified" coffees are shade-grown. Here's a list of bird-friendly coffee companies.
Please do not wait to start conserving as much energy as you can to reduce your climate change emissions! And please ask your elected representatives to push for strong legislation to move toward overall reduced energy usage and increased alternative energy production.
- Set Goals: To reduce your energy consumption:
- Set specific energy reduction goals (for electricity, gas, and gallons of fuel consumed in your car(s)) -- for example, commit to using 20% less per month
- Determine a baseline to start reducing from. Print the energy and water consumption chart and post in a visible spot in your home. Updates:
- for your car(s): chart the number of miles you drive each month
- for your home/office: chart the gas "therms" and/or electric kilowatts per hour (kWh) used in the last 12 months (for comparison to each month this year)
- Make specific changes in products used and family member habits:
- buy energy saving products where needed
- read Alternative Transportation and Fuel Efficiency Tips
- get your family involved by asking for specific changes in everyone's habits (e.g., tape signs to light switches reminding family members to turn out lights when they leave a room, tape a sign to your car dashboard reminding the driver to check tire pressure during the first week of each month, assign someone to turn out all lights and cut power to unused appliances (to reduce standby power usage) each night)
- look for additional ideas below
- Once a month, add the new usage information to the charts and make adjustments as needed to reach your goals
- Use the money saved to do something fun with your family (if you have children, increase their allowances by the amount saved to encourage them to get involved in finding new ways to conserve)
- Buy Green Energy: If possible, choose a utility company focused on renewable energy. If you live in a deregulated state in the U.S. and Canada, Green-e provides information about certified "clean electricity" providers for your state - or choose a nationwide renewable energy provider like Arcadia Power (100% Wind Power). In the U.K., visit Green Helpline.
- Resources: The following pages provide tips on how to save energy:
- Know Your Appliances: Great list of typical energy use per appliance to help prioritize your approach to saving energy. When/if replacing appliances look for energy saving (i.e., Energy Star) or, better yet, hand-powered models (consider used older models which have proven longevity).
- Bring back the clothesline!: Using a clothesline to dry your clothes whenever possible is a great way to reduce carbon emissions. In the U.S., you can sign the right2dry.org petition to support legislation to void clotheseline bans by homeowner's associations.
- Carbon Footprint: The Carbon Footprint Calculator helps you to determine your carbon dioxide emissions from major sources: home energy consumption and transportation by car and plane. This information can be tracked over time, allowing you to gauge the impact of actions you take to reduce your carbon footprint.
- Draught-Excluder for Chimneys: Even with a damp, a lot of heat flows up chimneys in the winter. Check out the Chimney Sheep to save on heating and reduce uncomfortable drafts.
- Self-Learning Thermostat: Check out The Nest for potentially large savings in heating and cooling.
- Carbon Offsets: If you are taking a trip, consider buying carbon emission offsets. One well-respected Green-e certified company is TerraPass.
- Home Shade: In hot areas, if you have west-facing windows use window treatments such as blinds, tints, deciduous trees or trellises to help keep out heat from the summer sun. In general, you will lower your summer air-conditioning bill by planting trees and bushes along the west side of your home.
- Paint Colors: Paint your home a light color if you live in a warm climate and a dark color if you live in a cold climate.
- Insulation: Insulate your hot water heater (a tank that is warm to the touch needs added insulation), as well as hot water pipes and ducts located in unheated areas.
- Standby Power: Reduce "standby power" (the energy used while an appliance is switched off or not performing) at home and at work. The easiest way is to unplug appliances that are not being used. You can also plug your appliances into bye bye standby or smart meters so that they are powered down completely when turned off.
- Lights Off: Whenever possible, keep lights off during the day. Consider installing a well insulated skylight if more light is needed. Encourage family members to get in the habit of turning off lights when they leave a room (taping small reminder notes to light switches can help).
- Power-Saving Features: Learn about easy ways to reduce energy use by your computer with the Power Management for Computers guide
- Location of Home: Choose a place to live that reduces the need to drive (easy access to public transit, easy biking routes, close to work and stores, walk able community, etc.).
- Solar Cooker: Consider using a solar cooker to cook some of your meals.
- Cold Water: When turning on a water faucet, unless you need warm water choose the coolest water setting.
- Energy Efficient Mortgages (U.S.):EEM's let you borrow extra money to pay for energy efficient upgrades to your current home or a new or old home that you plan to buy.
- Renewable Energy Certificates (REC): If you don't have the ability to switch to renewable energy, consider buying an REC which let's you essentially purchase renewable energy without switching electricity suppliers.
- Invest in Energy: Investing in renewable energy production is the same as investing in a home or office building. Buying energy from a utility, on the other hand, is like renting - at the end of fifteen years you don't have anything to show for it - and you are left vulnerable to the fluctuating costs of energy. One investment option is solar panels which can produce energy for 40 years or more - far longer than it takes to pay off the installation costs (currently around 15 years for homeowners and only 7 years for businesses). Wind power, where available, has a far quicker payback period. For more information on renewable energy, check out:
- Dark-Sky: Change outside light fixtures so that light does not shine up into the sky. The International Dark-Sky Association works to educate individuals and communities about the use of energy-efficient, properly designed lighting that allows for good night sky viewing. The Fatal Light Awareness Program educates individuals about how urban lights harm migratory birds.
Freshwater degradation is a looming crisis that we must face head on with strong and effective actions. Please do your part to protect this precious resource and call upon your elected representatives to take action today to protect not just future generations but our own future by adopting sustainable water practices. Only 3% of the earth's water is freshwater - we must protect this critical resource. In addition, water-related energy consumes a large amount of energy. In California, for example, water use consumes 19% of the state's electricity, 30% of it's natural gas, and 88 billion gallons of diesel fuel annually.
- Set Goals: To reduce your water consumption:
- Set specific water reduction goals -- for example, commit to using 20% less per month. To determine your overall water footprint, use the Water Footprint Calculator.
- Determine a baseline to start reducing from. Print the energy and water consumption chart and post in a visible spot in your home.
- Chart the number of gallons of water used in the last 12 months (for comparison to each month this year) (if water consumption is listed by CCF (hundred cubic feet), one CCF equals 748 gallons.
- Make specific changes in products used and family member habits:
- buy water saving products where needed
- get your family involved by asking for specific changes in everyone's habits (e.g., place signs near water outlets reminding family members to reduce consumption (e.g., shorter showers, turning the faucet off when not needed, only watering outdoor plants in the morning or evening))
- look for additional ideas below
- Once a month, add the new usage information to the charts and make adjustments as needed to reach your goals
- If you have children, increase their allowances by the amount saved to encourage them to get involved in finding new ways to conserve
- Resources: Here are top 5 and top 10 water conservation tips plus useful water waste facts at National Geographic.
- Water-Conserving Products: Find products that save water and protect the environment at WaterSense (U.S.) and the EPA's Conversing Water (U.S.) page.
- Water Consumption: Each time you turn on a water faucet use the lowest pressure necessary. Keep the water turned on only while it is needed. For drinking water, keep a pitcher in your refrigerator so you don't have to let water run to cool.
- Fix Leaks Promptly!: It is estimated that 13.7% of household water is wasted by leaks. Check your water meter when no one is using water in the house. If it's moving there's a leak. A running toilet can waste 2 gallons a minute. Check by adding food coloring to the tank without flushing. After 10 minutes, look for leaks indicated by color in the bowl. This is most likely a worn flapper valve that can easily be replaced.
- Low Flow Toilets: One of the best ways to avoid wasting water is to switch to low flow or dual flush toilets. Visit Terry Love's consumer toilets report for a great review on available low flow toilets. Flush your toilet only every other time or when it has solid waste. LeakAlerter notifies you if your toilet is leaking.
- Showers: Replace existing shower heads with the lowest flow product you can find. Shower heads with a mist setting let you reduce water flow even further. Shower instead of taking a bath. Time your showers - try to keep them to 5 minutes. If taking a bath, limit how high you fill the tub.
- Aerators: Install flow restrictor aerators inside all faucets for a savings of 3 to 4 gallons per minute.
- Full Loads: Always run full loads of laundry and dishes. Choose the short cycle at low water levels whenever possible. Set the clothing washer at the lowest possible temperature needed and for single rinse only.
- Dish Washing: Use your dishwasher and don't rinse dishes beforehand (for an average 20 gallon savings). If you buy a new washing machine, choose a "high efficiency" model.
- Native Plants: Fill your yard with native plants. This will cut down significantly on watering requirements and, in the process, provide much needed food and shelter to local wildlife.
- Mulching: Mulch your gardens to reduce water evaporation around your plants (this also reduces weeds and builds healthy soil).
- Drip Irrigation: Install a drip irrigation system to water your plants more effectively
- For Your Hoses: Buy a squeeze nozzle for all of your hoses. However, if you're watering plants, use a watering can to reduce water waste.
- Best Time to Water: Water at night to minimize evaporation.
- Leftover Water: If you have house plants, whenever possible water them with leftover or unused water from drinking, cooking, and showering. Keep of water pitcher near your sink or bathtub and collect unused water running from the tap (waiting for cooler or warmer water).
- Car Wash: Take your car to a car wash that recycles water. If you wash it yourself, use a bucket and sponge and rinse sparingly.
- Greywater System: Find out if creating a greywater/waste water system would work for you.
- Water Pollution: Protect our water supply by following the steps outlined in How to Clean Up Our Water: 12 simple actions to help stem the tide of polluted runoff.
- Tap Water: Make the switch back to environmentally-friendly tap water instead of bottled water.
- Cooking Vegetables: Steam rather than boil your veggies to save a quart or more of water. Better yet, try giving vegetables a quick rinse, placing them in a covered bowl, and microwaving them for a minute or two.
- Drinking Water: In the U.S., learn more about your drinking water at EPA's Ground Water and Drinking Water site.
Out in Nature
- Citizen Science Projects: IThere are lots of great ways to get involved in projects to help monitor animal species for scientists and conservationists:
- Trash: When you are out hiking, pick up trash along the way.
- Hiking Tips: Leave No Trace, Outdoor Ethics - provides tips for campers, climbers, and hikers.
- Restoration: Organize a community group to clean up a local stream, highway, park, or beach. For opportunities to do restoration work for a local organization, check out VolunteerMatch. The American Hiking Society coordinates week long volunteer vacations to help restore trails.
- Tree-Planting: Form a tree-planting group with family and/or friends: commit to planting and maintaining an agreed-upon number of trees over your life times. Plan regular gatherings for tree-planting and watering. Log your commitments in the United Nations Billion Tree Campaign.
- Parks: Visit and help support local parks. In the U.S., reserve a campsite at a National Park through the U.S. Recreation.gov or Reserve America (includes some state parks).
- Balloons: Never release balloons outdoors. They frequently find their way to open water (even from 100's of miles away) and can harm or kill turtles, whales, and other marine mammals.
- Stargazing: Stargazing schedule - provides current information about stargazing events.
- Educational Sites: