Topics:Green Living Solar Financing Solar Savings Solar Equipment Energy Efficiency Solar Incentives Solar Companies Solar FAQs solar power solar panels green living solar news
Guest Post by Scott Turner You may have heard of LEED certification mentioned with regards to office buildings, commercial real estate projects, or new construction. However, more and more individual homes and renovated properties are working towards LEED certification (and for good reason — the benefits are numerous). In fact, certifications have gone up nearly 20 percent in just the past year — more than 1.1 million homes in the United States are now LEED-certified. The most obvious reason to consider a LEED certification for your home is a commitment to helping the environment. We have only one planet, after all. However, there are a number of other compelling reasons that make a LEED certification an excellent idea for your home. Here’s what you need to know: What is LEED? The US Green Building Council (USGBC) began the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification in the year 2000 as a program designed to encourage environmentally friendly construction and design. Through LEED, the USGBC has created a measurable standard by which green architecture can be held to demonstrate a level of efficiency and sustainability. And not just nationally, but globally. Starting with just 60 projects a month in 2000, it grew dramatically in the next decade, representing around 500 monthly projects by 2009. During this time, it became the rating system which today is internationally recognized as the standard for green buildings. According to the USGBC, over 2.2 million square feet of building projects are now LEED-certified every single day. And with a total of 90,000 projects currently using LEED in over 150 countries and territories, it’s a dramatic rise in popularity and one that continues to grow. Why LEED certifications are appealing to homeowners There are a number of benefits beyond the knowledge that you are helping the environment that make LEED appealing to homeowners: Savings on utility costs — Although LEED certification costs can be between $2,500–$4,000, this cost is paid back quickly. LEED homes save up to 60% on all utilities using fuel-efficient furnaces and air conditioning units and efficient water/electricity strategies. Tax breaks — LEED certifications also come with potential tax benefits. Energy.gov states that if you are able to demonstrate a utility savings of 50%, your LEED home can see a tax benefit of up to $1.80 per square foot. That can add up pretty fast! Better health — LEED-certified homes are constructed with materials that are environmentally friendly and have proper ventilation. This means that those who live in a LEED home face fewer respiratory health problems as well as less illness in general. Also, including a dehumidification system is part of LEED certification, something that cuts down on airborne irritants and allergens. Better Resale Value – According to a study by The University of Texas at Austin, LEED-certified homes are worth an average of $25,000 more than those that have not been certified. Even if your certification costs $4,000, that’s an immediate upgrade of 600% in value. What makes a home LEED-certified? To be LEED-certified, a home needs to meet a certain efficiency standard as laid out by the USGBC. There are five different rating systems that are connected to certain building types. But there are four certification levels that apply to individual homes: Certification happens when your house earns a certain number of LEED points. Here’s how those are assessed. How to earn LEED points There are six main categories for structures and ways to accrue LEED points: Sustainable sites — Points are given for proximity to public transportation, protection of natural habitat, and a chosen site that will not have a significant detrimental environmental impact. Water efficiency — Low flow toilets, reuse of greywater, and the thought put into water use with landscaping all earn LEED points. Energy and atmosphere — With the largest available point totals, the focus of gaining points in this category is on energy efficiency and using sustainable energy sources where possible. Materials and resources — Using non-toxic, recycled, and renewable materials in construction are ways to gain more points. Also, LEED assesses how you cut down on waste in construction. Indoor environmental quality — Points are awarded for thought being put into a design that incorporates sunlight efficiently. Other points are given for the way a structure considers how best to keep temperatures regulated and thinks about air quality and ventilation. Design innovation — There are further possible points for innovations that do not fall under the five previous headings but innovate toward environmentally friendly design. Want to know how many points your house would earn right now? This LEED scorecard can give you an idea. Additional LEED certification criteria A LEED home must also meet a certain number of other criteria to be certified as such. Referring to the USGBC will help you understand the full range of these, but important examples for homeowners include the following: A permanent location on existing land — The home must not be designed to be transported to any other location at any time in its existence. LEED certification must apply to the entire structure — The LEED boundary includes a structure as well as any environmental impact, including landscaping or outdoor pavement. How to get your home LEED certified The LEED certification process is rigorous but worth the work to help the environment and reap the benefits. The step-by-step guide to LEED certification below walks you through the process: Scott Turner is passionate about writing content that solves real problems and makes the world a better place for everyone. When he's not laboring over the perfect headline, you'll usually find him surfing, scuba diving, or hunting down the best tacos in San Diego.
Summer is here, which means it's time for vacations, backyard BBQs, baseball games, and hangouts at the pool. However, these warmer months also provide a great opportunity to make efforts to reduce your environmental impact. Here are 16 expert-recommended ways to live a little greener during the summertime: 1. Buy local food “Make the most of farmers' markets during the summer months and buy locally. The further that food has to travel to reach you, the bigger the carbon footprint is left behind. Buying fresh, locally-sourced produce is an easy way to go green during the summer months. "Additionally, there’s reason to believe that eating seasonally is actually better for your overall health. Seasonal food has been picked when it’s ripe and fully developed, which means that it’s the prime time to get the most nutrients out of it,” advises Nate Masterson, Certified Health Expert and Sustainability Consultant at Maple Holistics. 2. Grow your own vegetables “Growing your own vegetables is a great way to live green this summer. It's great for the environment and should save you money as well! There's still plenty of time to sow some seeds before summer's in full swing, and this is a great time to plant runner beans, chilies, peppers, spinach, kale, melons and so much more,” says Tiernach McDermott, Horticultural Expert at Candide. “Easiest of all is growing microgreens. They're rich in flavor, you don't need any special equipment, you'll get your first harvest in a few weeks, and you can do all the growing on your windowsill. It doesn't matter if you've got a garden or not, everyone can grow microgreens!” 3. Introduce beneficial plants into your garden “Native plant species aren’t just for flower gardens, they serve an important role within the ecosystem by preventing erosion, filtering stormwater runoff, supporting beneficial insects and wildlife, and deterring the success of invasive plant species. "Plant beneficial species like cardinal flower, blueflag iris, and native sedges and rushes near eroded areas, drainage ditches, and around lakes and ponds to form a natural protective buffer. Maintenance is easy–allow these flowering species to grow about 18 inches tall and trim once a year,” recommends Paul Conti, Environmental Scientist at SOLitude Lake Management. 4. Start a compost pile “Composting your scraps serves multiple purposes. For starters, you aren’t sending as much waste to the landfill, which helps keep city dumps cleaner and reduces the carbon footprint that trash trucks leave. In addition, though, you also get fertile organic soil that is nutrient rich. You can use this compost soil on your lawn or to grow vegetables and herbs,” says Allen Michael, Editor at SawsHub.com. 5. Install smart sprinklers According to Josh McCormick, VP of Operations at Mr. Electric, a Neighborly Company, “a smart sprinkler controller can cut your outdoor water expenses by 50 percent! These devices use a combination of weather data and programmed information to determine your yard’s watering needs to make sure no water goes to waste.” 6. Insulate electrical outlets “Put your hand over an electrical outlet on an outside wall on a hot day and you’ll feel the rush of heated air! [To prevent this], insulate your electrical outlets, switches, and phone jacks on outside walls. Most hardware stores sell inexpensive foam outlet and phone jack insulation pads; just unscrew the face plate, slip the foam pad on, and put the face plate back. "Additionally, if you’re not currently using exterior-wall outlets, slip in outlet protectors. You’ll find these in the child safety section of your hardware store, and they block a lot of heat infiltration,” says Shel Horowitz, Green Consultant and Author at Going Beyond Sustainability. 7. Check your ductwork According to Glenn Wiseman, Sales Manager at Top Hat Home Comfort, “a simple change to your home that can help you be more eco-friendly while also saving on energy bills is to update your ductwork. Any leaks in the ductwork can contribute to high energy consumption and also a hefty bill. "Have an HVAC technician make sure that your ducts are tightly intact and are working correctly, as this will keep hot air out, keep cool air in, and ensure proper ventilation and air quality within your home." 8. Invest in an energy-efficient air conditioner “Using an energy-efficient air conditioner during the summer months isn’t just financially rewarding, but it can also help you reduce your carbon footprint and outmatch the cooling performance of less efficient models. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates that trading older units in for high-efficiency models can save as much as 50 percent on energy costs,” says Dave Miller, HVAC Technician and Green Energy Consultant at Heattalk.com. “Energy Star certification is what consumers should look out for; this is a program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy, which hold appliances to higher standards for energy use and efficiency. Not only can these certified units potentially save as much energy as 9 percent annually, but if every household in the US opted for an Energy Star certified AC, it could prevent more than 6 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions annually.” 9. Repel heat with energy-efficient, thermal blinds “When you are looking to maximise your home’s energy efficiency without harming the environment, energy-efficient shades are what you might be interested in, especially when your windows are facing south,” suggests Stephany Smith, Handyman Crew Member at Fantastic Services. “The less heat your home is exposed to, the less your cooling system has to work. Moreover, they keep your home insulated all-year round and bring real savings when your energy bill arrives. Besides, the benefits of deflecting the sun’s heat during the summer include not only lower energy bills, but also increased privacy, less furniture fading, and a more consistent inside temperature, all this while creating a more pleasant and aesthetic environment.” 10. Utilize LED lighting “To make your home or office more eco-friendly, switch to LED lights in areas where indoor light is necessary,” recommends Josie Abate, Interior Designer at Ambience Express. 11. Follow an eco-friendly laundry routine “When doing laundry during the summer months, use that summer sun to dry clothes [rather than an electric dryer. Not only will this cut down on energy use], but the sun an amazing stain remover that can get out the toughest of stains,” says April Duffy, Owner at Cloth Diapers for Beginners. 12. Green your commute "Warm weather has already arrived in some areas and is quickly approaching in others. Therefore, it's time to start thinking about ideas that you can incorporate that aren't so easy to do during the winter months. "For example, consider using public transportation to and from the office, or if you live close to work, cycling instead of driving. Both of these options can cut down on energy use and vehicle emissions, and cycling can even help get you in summer shape,” advises Andrea Loubier, CEO and Co-Founder of Mailbird. 13. Carry reusable dishes and utensils Laura Durenberger, Blogger at The Mindful Mom Blographer, says, “summer is perfect for festivals, fairs, BBQs, picnics, and other outdoor activities. The downside to these activities is that they often produce a lot of waste. Be prepared by bringing your own reusable dishes and utensils with you [to avoid having to use disposable items].” 14. Keep a reusable water bottle with you “Always remember your reusable water bottle. Not only will it save you money and help reduce your waste, but it’s also good for your health. It’s easy to become dehydrated during the summer months, but when you have your bottle on you, you’ll always have access to water. Many shops and cafes will even refill your water bottle for free if you ask them nicely,” says Georgina Cara, Sustainability Blogger and Content Creator at Gypsy Soul. 15. Go on a green vacation “One of the most fun ways to have a green summer is by going on a green vacation. Summer is for taking advantage of the sunshine and great outdoors, and there is no better way to do both than by embarking on a green getaway, such as visiting an eco-friendly glamping site,” suggests Jessica Armstrong, PR Manager at Glamping Hub. 16. Opt for ocean-friendly sunscreen Many sunscreens have chemical ingredients in them such as oxybenzone and octinoxate that are harmful to sea life, so “I recommend investing in coral reef-safe sunscreen,” says Leah Wise, Ethical and Sustainable Blogger at StyleWise.
From grocery shopping to food preparation and cleaning to decor, you can go green in the kitchen in a variety of painless, inexpensive ways and make the heart of your home more sustainable. Not only will implementing these minor adjustments have a positive impact on the planet, many of them will bring about financial and health benefits for you and your family. 1. Bring your own reusable bags grocery shopping Because the cost of recycling plastic bags is relatively high and many recyclers won’t accept them, they typically end up in landfills, where they can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, or in oceans, where animals such as sea turtles confuse them with food, eat them, and die. To combat this problem, invest in a few tote bags that you love and commit to using them. After you’ve unloaded the groceries in your kitchen, stow your totes in your car, purse, or another place you won’t forget them next time you need to make a trip to the store. In addition to the environmental benefits, utilizing reusable shopping bags has financial benefits as well; many grocery stores offer discounts or reward points to customers who bring their own reusable bags to the store. 2. Purchase in bulk Buying in bulk is good for the environment because it reduces the amount of packaging needed to contain the products, which means less waste output that has to be disposed of. It also cuts down on the levels of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere when the manufacturer is transporting the food to the store and reduces the number of trips you have to take to get groceries. 3. Buy local food Locally grown food refers to food grown within a geographical region that could be considered local to your particular area, whether its within your county, city, neighborhood, or own backyard. Locally grown food can include fruits, vegetables, dairy products, eggs, and even locally raised meats. Purchasing locally grown food helps the environment because it preserves small farm land, reduces carbon emissions by cutting down the distance that the food needs to be transported, and encourages genetic diversity. Sustainability researcher Lauren Larry, who also owns Lauren Larry Yoga, recommends visiting nearby farmers’ markets to pick up delicious locally grown food. 4. Grow your own herbs Growing your own herbs at home is a fun, eco-friendly way to make your kitchen greener, as well as do your part to take pressure off of the overworked global food system; it’s estimated that the planet will need to produce 70 percent more food by 2050 to sustain the projected population growth over that time. Herbs make great additions to meals and drinks, are easy to grow, and take up minimal space. Of course, you can plant them outside if you have adequate space, but if not, you can grow them right on your kitchen counter using a product like Urban Leaf. 5. Cook smart A significant amount of energy is used while cooking. To ensure that you don’t waste energy while you cook, use a microwave instead of an oven when possible and put lids on pots and pans to heat food more quickly. Green designer Pablo Solomon also suggests using hand-powered gadgets such as coffee grinders, vegetable choppers, and nut choppers when possible to save electricity. 6. Reduce waste The kitchen typically generates the most waste out of all the rooms in the house. If you are regularly tossing out food, it’s a good indicator that you’re buying and cooking too much. Instead, try to plan, purchase, and prepare your food so that it’s sufficient for your needs without having anything leftover that needs to be thrown out. To ensure you’re actually using the food you buy and making it last as long as possible, Catherine Agopcan, sustainability advocate and founder of The Do Something Project, which is a blog dedicated to minimalism and eco-friendly living, has some helpful advice: Keep foods with natural preservatives in the door shelves, as this is the warmest place because the door gets opened more Place foods that don’t require cooking in the upper shelves, as they tend to be warmer because heat travels up, even in the fridge Store dairy items in the lower and middle shelves, because these are the coldest areas of the fridge and will keep the food better for longer If you do have leftovers after you cook, store them in a reusable dish and eat them! Growth expert Stacy Caprio suggests purchasing beeswax-based coverings that act like plastic wrap to cover and store your food. These coverings are great for the environment because they can be washed and reused repeatedly, which helps reduce plastic wrap waste. 7. Start a compost pile Composting is beneficial to the environment because it helps keep organic matter out of landfills, which reduces pollution. When layers of trash at the landfill bury plant matter, it creates an airless environment that causes the plant matter to produce methane gas, which is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide, as it decays. Composting food waste also helps to feed and improve soil. While meats, dairy products, and grease do not necessarily compost well due to smells, insects, and animals, uncooked organic waste such as vegetable and fruit peelings, coffee grinds, cardboard, and paper all make great additions to a compost pile. If you don’t have adequate outdoor space in which to start a compost pile, many local farmers’ markets and other environmental organizations will gladly accept your compost. Or, as green designer Pablo Solomon proposes, you might even look into an under-the-sink composter that uses earthworms to create great potting soil. 8. Recycle Similar to composting, recycling helps the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from landfills and incinerators. It also decreases the need to extract new resources from the earth and replace logging, drilling, and mining of virgin materials with recycled materials that we no longer want, which reduces the energy needed to process and manufacture new goods. One of the simplest ways to start recycling is to set up a recycling center in your kitchen, which could be as simple as labeling and placing plastic bins underneath your sink or in a spare cabinet. If you have accessible recycling bins, it’s quick and easy to toss recyclables in the correct bin rather than in the trash can. 9. Ditch disposable dishes and utensils Another way to reduce waste in the kitchen is to stop using disposable cups, plates, bowls, and utensils that are thrown out after just one use. Instead, invest in real dishes and cutlery that can be reused for years and years to come. 10. Only run dishwasher when full Dishwashers have come a long way over the last decade in terms of efficiency, and studies have shown that these days, dishwashers are typically more energy and water efficient than washing dishes by hand. However, no matter how efficient your dishwasher is, running it at half full wastes twice the water and twice the energy, and that’s not good for the planet or your utility bill. To combat this, make sure your dishwasher is loaded to capacity before running a cycle. 11. Unplug appliances when not in use The average American has about 40 household appliances that they routinely leave plugged in. Even when turned off, many of these appliances continue to draw power if they are plugged in. In fact, according to the Department of Energy, anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of your household electricity use can be credited to devices that are plugged in 24 hours a day. To save energy (and money!), unplug your coffee maker, toaster, and other small kitchen appliances when you aren’t using them. 12. Eliminate paper towels While paper towels are convenient, they aren’t the best for the environment; disposable paper products reportedly account for more than 25 percent of landfill waste. Rather than having paper towels available in your kitchen, keep a stash of reusable dishcloths or tea towels on hand in an easily accessible place for drying hands and cleaning up messes. Sustainability advocate Catherine Agopcan also suggests replacing one-time-use paper napkins in your kitchen with cloth napkins that can be used over and over again. 13. Switch out sponges Not only do sponges quickly fill with germs, which can put your family at risk, they are also harmful to the planet and can take more than 50,000 years to break down at a landfill. Marianna Sachse, founder of sustainable children’s wear line Jackalo, advises swapping out kitchen sponges with wooden scrub brushes, as they work well, are durable, can be easily cleaned in the dishwasher when needed, and can be composted when worn out. 14. Purchase or make natural cleaning products Many conventional cleaning products contain ingredients that are toxic, hazardous, non-biodegradable, and from non-renewable resources such as petroleum, so they negatively affect the earth’s ecosystems. Additionally, when you release these products into the air in your home, they can contribute to air pollution, linger long after use, and result in a number of health problems for your family. For the sake of your family’s health and the wellbeing of the environment, thoughtfully select and purchase green cleaning products that contain non-toxic, eco-friendly ingredients and are produced by sustainable manufacturers, or consider creating your own natural products. Thousands of simple homemade cleaning product recipes can be found online. For example, according to Iris and Zach, co-directors of Gingerhill Farm Retreat, a farm community dedicated to exploring sustainability, self-sufficiency, and stewardship of the land, white or apple cider vinegars are both excellent alternatives to conventional cleaning solutions, tea tree oil diluted in water effectively disinfects counter services, and lemon juice is excellent for removing grease and stains. Health and wellness coach Stephanie Wiscott recommends integrating essential oils, which are naturally antimicrobial and antibacterial, into your homemade products to beef up their cleansing properties and give them a delicious aroma. 15. Get a water purifier Cutting back on bottled water in your home reduces plastic waste, but many people still choose to purchase and drink it because they live in areas where the tap water doesn’t taste good or isn’t safe to drink. In fact, as many as 63 million Americans may be consuming harmful H2O. To get safe, tasty water and help the environment by cutting down on your household’s single-use plastic bottle waste, invest in a water purifier. Water purifiers like those available from Bluewater remove toxic contaminants such as lead, chemicals, pharmaceutical residues, and microorganisms from the water via reverse osmosis, as well as drastically cut down on the water wastage common to traditional filtering technology. On a similar note, if your family enjoys drinking soda, look into getting a water carbonator such as those offered by SodaStream rather than frequently purchasing canned or bottled soda. With every one of its carbonating bottles, SodaStream prevents 3,700 single-use plastic bottles and cans from being used and discarded. 16. Replace plastic containers with glass According to Jordana Viuker Brennan, Founder and Senior Consultant at Confident Buildings, a company that helps people improve their home’s efficiency and environmental quality, plastics such as storage containers, plastic wrap, baggies, and water bottles should not be in contact with food or liquids for extended periods of time because harmful chemicals in the plastic can be released into the contents stored in them. Instead, invest in glass jars, as they are safer to store food, tend to last longer, and allow you to see how much of an item you have left so you don’t unnecessarily waste food. 17. Do away with Teflon cookware Non-stick and PTFE pots and pans contain Teflon, which can release toxic fumes that harm air quality and human health when under high temperature conditions. Rather than purchasing non-stick cookware, select cast iron or stainless steel alternatives. 18. Upgrade to Energy Star appliances If you’re remodeling or replacing the appliances in your kitchen soon, choose Energy Star certified products. To earn the Energy Star label, products must meet strict energy efficiency criteria set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Because Energy Star appliances use less energy, they contribute to fewer harmful greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and save you money on your electricity bill. Additionally, do not purchase larger appliances than you need. Miguel Suro, founder of personal finance and lifestyle blog The Rich Miser, recently downgraded a tall, industrial quality refrigerator that came with his home to a smaller, french door fridge and found that the new fridge is more eco-friendly and uses much less electricity. He also noted that the smaller capacity of the new fridge removed the temptation to buy too much food that his larger fridge presented, which often resulted in unnecessary waste. 19. Install a low-flow aerator on your faucet About 10 to 15 percent of a typical home’s water usage can be credited to faucets. To conserve water (and save money on your water bill!), consider replacing the aerator on your kitchen faucet with a low-flow alternative. Low-flow aerators are different from traditional aerators because they mix the water coming out of the faucet with air, which results in less water used per minute. Additionally, low-flow aerators use a high pressure technique so that you don’t have to compromise water pressure levels in order to reduce usage. 20. Switch to LED bulbs If you haven’t already, replace the incandescent light bulbs in your kitchen with LED bulbs to save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and lower your electricity bill. LEDs use only about 20 percent of the energy of standard incandescent bulbs to provide the same level of light, as well as last approximately 25 percent longer. 21. Utilize sustainable furniture and building materials If you’re in the market for kitchen furniture, consider choosing something made out of reclaimed wood, which is environmentally friendly because it salvages materials that would otherwise go to waste, requires fewer resources to manufacture, and preserves ecosystems by reducing the need to cut down living trees. Reclaimed wood can also be used for other purposes in the kitchen, including flooring and cabinets. However, wood is not the only thing that can be reclaimed. If you’re remodeling or looking to update other parts of your kitchen, you can help the environment by incorporating a variety of salvaged materials. Architectural salvage companies such as The Old House Parts Company offer many options for sustainable building materials, including reclaimed hardware for cabinet pulls, hinges, and door knobs, as well as salvaged countertops, flooring, lighting, sinks, and fixtures. As far as countertops go, “it’s important to consider embodied energy, which is the sum of all energy required to produce countertop materials. Typically, lower embodied energy is a good indication of greater sustainability,” says Matt Daigle, CEO of Rise, a leading online authority for sustainable home improvement. “Granite countertops while durable, have a relatively high embodied energy when transported from afar, but if you’re able to source stone from a local quarry, it’s a great sustainable option that can also be returned to the earth when it’s no longer used for a countertop. “Concrete and wood have the least embodied energy of the countertop materials. Wood has significant sustainability advantages, as it’s a renewable material that takes little energy to produce and process. When sustainably harvested, it stores carbon dioxide in the wood itself for the life of the countertop, decreasing the impact on the climate. When a wood countertop is taken out of service, it can be refinished and reused for other projects. You may also want to consider an up-and-coming countertop trend: paper composite countertops, which are made from recycled and/or sustainably grown paper and paper-making byproducts and a formaldehyde-free resin." 22. Choose eco-friendly fibers Natural fibers such as cotton, wool, silk, and other plant and animal materials are good for the planet because they are renewable, biodegradable, and carbon neutral, so they can be sourced and used without depleting or damaging the environment. If you’re in need of new fabric items for your kitchen such as chairs, tablecloths, placemats, curtains, or rugs, try to select those made of natural, eco-friendly fibers. 23. Add greenery According to Nicola Croughan, an interior designer at Blinds Direct, one of the easiest ways to make your kitchen more eco-friendly is to use plants and fresh greenery as decoration. If you’re short on counter space, hanging plants are a great option. Plants will purify and filter toxins from the air, vastly improving the quality and providing plenty of health benefits. Greenery will also make your space feel lighter, brighter, and more welcoming. Interested in making your home even more eco-friendly and increasing your electricity bill savings? Click here to learn more about residential solar power!