12 Ways To Create a More Sustainable Home

Updated: Mar. 10, 2024

A sustainable home doesn't have to cost a fortune. Here are doable, affordable options for reducing your carbon footprint.

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Get a Home Energy Audit

This should be your first step in understanding where your energy costs and emissions come from. Greg Fasullo, CEO of Elevation, a residential clean technology company, says home energy audits can cost as little as $100 while revealing areas where you’re wasting the most energy and money.

Home energy auditors check for air leakage, determine your insulation levels and inspect your fireplaces, lights and smoke detectors. They’ll even analyze your electrical bills. Best of all, Fasullo says the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) covers 30% of the cost of the audit (up to $150), making this step a no-brainer.

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Man is Adjusting a temperature using a tablet with smart home app in modern living room
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Install a Smart Thermostat

Heating and cooling our homes accounts for more than half of our total energy usage, so it’s a logical place to target for reductions. Step 1 should be installing a smart thermostat.

“Maintaining a more consistent home temperature, particularly during summer months, can drastically reduce your utility costs and keep your AC running at its best,” Fasullo says.

Automating your heating and cooling system makes your life easier, too; no more remembering to turn the thermostat down when you leave the house or go to bed.

“Smart thermostats can be programmed with eco-friendly settings that keep a home’s heating and cooling set point at a comfortable and efficient temp, and adjust for daytime or nighttime hours automatically,” Fasullo says.

But don’t stop at thermostats. “Adopting smarter, automated appliances across the board can help reduce inefficiencies and take the guesswork out of optimizing energy use,” Fasullo says.

P.S. While we’re on the subject, take a look inside Family Handyman’s Sustainable Studio.

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Change to LED Lightbulbs

If you’re still buying incandescent light bulbs, it’s time to switch to light-emitting diodes (LEDs). After a brief delay by the previous administration, the Department of Energy moved forward with a long-proposed rule that phases out inefficient lighting. Changing your home’s lightbulbs and fixtures to LED saves money and reduces your carbon footprint.

“LED lights use up to 90% less energy than incandescent, and 80% less energy than halogen bulbs,” says Michael Meiser, a lighting expert at Lumilum. They also last longer — a lot longer. LEDs have a typical lifespan of 25,000 hours, compared to 1,200 hours for incandescent and 2,000 for halogen.

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House water filtration system. Osmosis deionization system. Installation of water purification filters under kitchen sink in cupboard
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Install a Water Filter

When you want a drink of water, do you reach for a disposable plastic bottle? Thirsty Americans toss out two and a half-million plastic bottles every hour, and only about one quarter are recycled. That means millions of tons of plastic waste end up in landfills and the oceans every year.

Drinking tap water significantly reduces our plastic trash burden, but many people simply think bottled is better. If that describes you, try a water filtering system.

Water filtration significantly reduces your household trash footprint, saves money and gives you clean, fresh-tasting water. Lots of bottled water is simply municipal tap water anyway, so why not cut out the intermediary?

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Dryer exhaust fan on side of house with plastic white trim with silicone
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Air Seal Your Home

When you put your hand to the windows in your home, do you feel a breeze? Drafty windows can account for 25% to 30% of heating and cooling costs. But doors, electrical outlets, attic hatches and ductwork are prime culprits for air leakage, too.

Caulking and weatherstripping are easy DIY fixes that can pay dividends in reducing your energy usage and costs.

Walk around your house. Look for cracks in the facade and gaps around windows and exterior penetrations (like pipes). Inside your home, use rubber gaskets behind switch plates and outlet covers. Make sure your windows and doors have adequate weatherstripping. The IRA provides help for homeowners upgrading to energy-efficient windows and doors.

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Install a Bidet

People around the world use a staggering 42 million tons of toilet paper every year, according to Spencer Weidner, digital marketing director at Bio Bidet by Bemis. And though toilet paper goes right down the drain, most of it is made from trees chopped down for just that purpose. One way you can reduce this heavy environmental toll is to install a bidet.

You’re not just saving the trees, either. Weidner says the water it take to use a bidet pales in comparison to the amount in toilet paper manufacturing, so you’re reducing your home’s environmental impact on two fronts. Plus, bidets clean better! Here’s how you can contribute to environmental sustainability.

Bidets are easy to install, too. “Bidet toilet seats and bidet attachments are actually designed for an easy at-home installation,” Weidner says. “They connect to your existing plumbing using the provided adapter and hose in a matter of minutes.” Electric models require a nearby outlet.

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System for collecting rainwater from two barrels with overflow
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Harvest Rainwater

Outdoor irrigation takes massive amounts of water — about eight billion gallons a day. Most households use more water outside than for showering and doing the laundry combined!

Joe Raboine, vice president of design at Belgard, says rainwater harvesting reduces metered water use. It can be accomplished in a couple of ways. “At a simple level, you can do this with rain barrels,” Raboine says. These capture water from your downspouts and store it for later use. Barrels can be purchased or DIY-ed.

As a larger investment, permeable pavers with an underground capture system can be incorporated into your patio and outdoor landscaping for a more streamlined aesthetic.

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Is telecommuting costing you more?
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Look for Rebates

Upgrading old appliances, replacing windows and doors and sealing ductwork can drastically reduce your energy consumption and save money in the long run. You can get help on the initial cost, too.

“Looking at rebates available for home efficiency and improvement projects,” Fasullo says, “the IRA offers up to $840 back on efficient appliances, $600 on new windows, $500 on new doors and $1,600 for insulation and air duct sealing.”

Look for Energy Star ratings when purchasing any major appliance, and check utility company and manufacturer websites for additional promotions. The Energy Star website can also hook you up with qualified contractors. “Electrical or wiring work to install upgraded appliances, solar or home energy storage also qualifies for rebates,” Fasullo says.

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Artistic Residential Landscaping With Curb Appeal
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Rethink Your Landscaping

Traditional turfgrass lawns need lots of water, but xeriscapes can be a great sustainable alternative. “Xeriscaping is increasing in popularity and involves using native plants, turf, gravel or other materials to reduce or eliminate the usage of grass,” Raboine says.

Consider planting edible landscapes like blueberry bushes, pollinator gardens, rainwater gardens and native prairie plants and wildflowers.

If you’re not interested in gardening or maintaining plantings, try decorative gravel or artificial turf. If you opt for a straight hardscape like concrete, Raboine says to consider permeable pavers. “These pavers allow for rainwater to permeate the surface and return to the ground, replenishing natural aquifers,” he says. This also reduces the burden on stormwater drains. Discover innovative self-sustaining home ideas.

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wall of pink insulation
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Upgrade Your Insulation

Is your home drafty? Do you set your thermostat to 75 degrees but still routinely wear sweaters? “Poor insulation can account for 35% to 40% of a home’s heat loss,” Fasullo says.

Warm air ends up flowing into your attic, garage and basement instead of staying put in the living areas. But that’s not the only problem.

“Homes that lack adequate insulation don’t just waste energy through lost hot and cold air,” Fasullo says. “Those inefficiencies can lead to expensive damage to other parts of your home.” Your HVAC system in particular won’t last as long if it’s trying to make up for drafts and leaks.

Luckily, 30% of the cost of new insulation can be claimed as a home energy efficiency tax credit.

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Build a Clothesline

People have been drying their clothes outside for centuries. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, after all.

Tumble drying your clothes, especially on high heat, is rough on fabrics. It also takes energy. Why not reduce your footprint by setting up a clothesline?

Jhánneu Roberts, a sustainability expert for Opendoor’s 2023 Eco-Forward Cities, says clotheslines save energy and make your clothes last longer. “It’s also a great way to enjoy some fresh air while doing your laundry,” she says. If space is limited, we’ve got plenty of space-saving options.

While you’re in laundry mode, think about switching to cold water. “Washing clothes in cold water uses less energy than hot water,” Roberts says. “Many detergents today are formulated to work just as effectively in cold water.” Decorate your house with sustainable fabrics made from recycled Indian saris.

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Power Bar
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Reduce Vampire Loads

Many of today’s appliances and electronics aren’t really off when we turn them off. Smart TVs, coffeemakers, toaster ovens and other household appliances draw small amounts of energy just waiting for the signal to come alive when we need them. These “vampire loads” account for 5% to 10% of your home’s energy use, costing you about $100 a year.

Fasullo says vampire loads add up, but there’s a sure way to reduce their impact: Just unplug the appliance when not in use. To make it easier, plug your electronics and computers into power strips so you can cut all that electricity with one switch. Energy Star appliances use less vampire power, so always look for that blue sticker when shopping.