My Sustainable Home: Turn off the Lights.... Turn on Your (significant other)!

Is my home an oasis of sustainable love?

We live in a nice, mid-rise apartment. I already have points going for me here because multi-family housing is more sustainable than large, single-family homes. This is simply because less-energy, space, and water is being used per person. (Some of you may be thinking- well that is nice for you, but we have kids, so we could never live in an apartment, but it's OK... we have kids too!) Read why single-family homes are obsolete here.

The other great thing about apartments is: no lawn care! No mowing= more free time. If I feel like I need a yard I can go to a park or forest or hike up a nearby mountain.

My apartment is located in walking/biking distance to the grocery store, post office, library, hair salon, schools, work, movie theater, thrift store, subway station, bus stops and restaurants. We don't even need to own a car. We chose our location well.

Inside my home; however, I could do better. All of our furniture was new when we bought it. Sustainability didn't cross our minds during our furniture buying frenzy. It would have been better to buy used furniture. However, my husband would sooner set himself on fire than sleep on a used mattress, or own a used couch. So, what to do? We could shop from a store that uses wood from sustainable sources and other recycled materials such as Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams or the Inhabitat Shop or 2modern. We could also look into refurbishing old furniture.

Next, lets move into my kitchen and bathrooms. A great resource for greening your kitchen is here. So... are we equipped with all energy and water saving appliances?... NO....why not? Because we don't own our apartment or our major appliances- so our hands are tied in many respects. As far as our small appliances (mixer, blender, toaster)... I try to keep them unplugged and to limit their use. We would love a more energy-efficient refrigerator and dishwasher, but we have to endure the status quo. We even have a funky water faucet that doesn't fit any water-saving faucet aerators. Nor can we switch out our current top loading washing machine for an energy-efficient front-loading one. Nor can we install an awesome new eco-friendly toilet...

BUT we can try this and I will have to look more into this.

Also, I need to replace our bathroom shower heads with these. (Hmmm...Christmas wish list?). A great website of information to really green your bathroom is here.

Another thing for my wish list is a dryer rack for our balcony- this would cut down our use of the dryer, which is a huge energy-suck!

Since we don't own our apartment, we also can't install a programmable thermostat for our home. However, we can dress appropriately for the weather and manually keep the heating and cooling down a bit. Another thing that helps us is closing the blinds when it is really hot or cold.

Other items on my wish list are some power-saver strips (such as these). These devices are great because they connect to computers and TVs getting rid of phantom power that is totally useless anyway!

Moving on through my home, we do have sustainable lighting throughout. It was very easy to replace all of our burned out light bulbs with new energy-efficient CFL lights. We also try to keep the lights off when not in use. It's more fun in the dark anyway!

Other factors that affect sustainability is water pollution. How do I pollute water? By using chlorine bleach and toxic cleaners in my home. There are so many eco-friendly cleaners out there that it really isn't a problem, except when you have a house cleaner who insists on toxic crap and when you give her eco-stuff she complains and complains. So, then perhaps you put your foot down, but your husband rebels and secretly goes out and gets her what she wants. So that's my house, but when I clean- it's vinegar and lemon juice or just plain water.

The other thing I plan on doing to be more sustainable is start a small organic fruit and vegetable garden out on my deck. This will be completely experimental- and I plan on watering with left over bath or shower water. In the future I'd like to hook up a drip water system using gray water. One step at a time I suppose.

Even if I can't do everything I would like to do now, there are some things that I can do and at least I know what to do when we own our future home. See below for my check list....

Buy Now

  • more dishrags, so I don’t need paper towels
  • more cloth napkins, so I don’t need paper napkins
  • reusable plastic covers (they resemble shower caps), so I don’t need plastic wrap
  • reusable lunch sacks and containers, so I don’t need disposable items
  • four large trash cans to separate my glass, aluminum, paper, plastic
  • small glass containers and cups, so I don’t need plastic ones that don’t recycle easily
  • extra thrift store dishes and silverware, so I don’t ever need disposable stuff
  • SIGG water containers for adults and kids
  • “green” cleaning products for general cleaning, dishwasher and washing machine
  • more compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), replace all old kind
  • low-flow showerhead
  • tank bags for toilets
  • organic shampoos, conditioners, soaps, deodorants and lotions (no petroleum)
  • reusable toothbrushes and razors (only replace the head)
  • organic cotton towels, curtains and clothes
  • recycled toilet paper
  • organic, local food
  • in-shower timer to keep showers short
  • dryer racks, so I can use the dryer less often
  • organic seeds and fertilizer
  • cloth grocery bags
  • smart strips (power-saving strips)
  • recycled paper

To Do List

  • repair leaks
  • stuff cracks for better insulation
  • recycle everything that I can
  • close blinds in winter and summer
  • unplug small appliances
  • use tap water (filtered if needed), instead of bottled
  • reuse towels a few times before washing
  • lower the temperature of hot water heater
  • use natural light whenever possible
  • buy in bulk and items with low-packaging
  • compost and garden
  • use microwave over using an oven
  • don’t wash dishes by hand, use a sponge before filling dishwasher instead of rinsing
  • reuse paper and don’t print unless you have to
  • don’t buy it
  • get energy from a renewable source

Buy Later (when we own our home)

  • energy and water efficient (Energy Star) large appliances, including convection oven, dishwasher, refrigerator, front-loading washing machine
  • faucet aerators
  • eco-toilets or adjustable flappers/dual-flush
  • tankless hot-water heater
  • bamboo, cork or sustainable wood flooring
  • VOC-free paints, stains, caulks, grouts
  • formaldehyde-free cabinets
  • secondhand fixtures and accessories
  • window caulk, door snakes, heat-trapping blinds or curtains
  • used, refurbished or sustainable furniture
  • programmable thermostat
  • trees for around our home for cooling shade

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