Living Well: 10 Easy Secrets to Greening Your House

February 20, 2013

This post is sponsored by Green Works®. You don’t have to compromise to be clean when you use hard working, plant-based cleaners powered by The Clorox Company.

Images and text by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom.

Spring is just around the corner. I can feel it! This time of year always gets me thinking about ways I can be more green. We all know it’s important to reduce, reuse and recycle. We know saving energy is a very good thing. But sometimes it can seem daunting or overwhelming and you might wonder where to start.

And sometimes, it feels like no matter what efforts we make we’re somehow doing it wrong or not doing enough. (Remember the fascinating comments and discussion on this post?) But I’m here to reassure you. I’m not perfectly green by any definition, but I do know there are simple things we can do, habits that we can form, that have a positive impact. Nothing extreme. Nothing that will stress us out or have us feeling guilty. I’ve got 10 simple things everyone can do, no matter where they live, to make their home greener. 

(By the way, if you’re ever felt like attempting to be green has turned into a competitive sport, you might get a kick out this video.)

I live in a desert climate, so saving water is always on my mind. There are so many simple things to do to help conserve water on a daily basis. Here’s one of the easiest — and it doesn’t cost any money at all. Secret #1: Place some small pebbles In the bottom of a plastic bottle (like a used water or soda bottle), fill it with water and place it in the tank of your toilet. Most toilets use 3-7 gallons of water with each flush. That’s a lot! The plastic bottle will displace some of the water in the tank and save you gallons of water a day.

Saving energy also means saving money on gas and electricity bills. (Yay for saving money!) Secret #2: The first place to look is at the settings on your thermostat. It’s typical for Americans to keep their thermostats at 70 degrees. With that in mind, when it’s cold outside, set your thermostat a few degrees lower than 70 and throw on an extra sweater. When it’s hot, think about raising the temperature 2-3 degrees to save money on air conditioning. A programmable thermostat is a great way to lower or raise the temperature according to your schedule — i.e. when you’ll be home or sleeping — without having to think about it every day. But if you don’t have one, manually lower or raise the temperature when you leave your house.

While we are talking about temperature, let’s talk about hot and cold water. Secret #3: Simply setting your water heater to a max temperature of 120 degrees F, means you’ll be saving money and energy as the water heats up. This is also a much safer temperature to prevent scalding when you have small children in the house! Bonus tip: wrap your water heater with an insulation blanket, secured with a bungee cord or oversize safety pins, to prevent extra heat from escaping.

Doing laundry takes a lot of energy (and time!). Most of the energy for a washer comes from heating the water. Secret #4: Wash clothes in cold water and line dry your laundry whenever possible. Unless you’re washing some seriously stained clothes, almost all clothes can be washed in cold water (check the labels to make sure they aren’t dry clean only!) Conventional thinking says that warm hot or water will help remove stains from laundry, but with store shelves stocked with cold water detergents specially formulated to remove stains, you won’t have to compromise when using cold water for your laundry needs.

If you have a dishwasher, use it. It might surprise you, but hand washing dishes often uses more water than the machine! If you don’t have a dishwasher, fill up a big bowl or the sink with hot, soapy water for washing and another with clean water for rinsing. Secret #5: Skip the heated drying cycle on your dishwasher and prop the door open to let the dishes air dry. 

Secret #6: Go paperless! Are you still writing checks to pay your bills? Be green and sign up for online bill pay. Ask to be removed from catalog lists using a removal service and peruse online for new Spring dresses and shoes instead.

If you keep your phone charger, toaster and other small appliances plugged in even when they aren’t in use, you are draining electricity — and your wallet. Secret #7: Unplug. Better yet, use a power surge strip and flip the switch when the items plugged in are not in use. The biggest power drains are your computer and television. Put your computer into sleep mode if you don’t want to turn it off completely. If you leave for an extended period of time, like for a vacation, unplug everything except for major appliances.

Secret #8: Swap out those toxic cleaners for safer ones. Greenworks (the sponsor of this post) has an all-purpose cleaner that’s 97% naturally derived! Besides environmental benefits, non-toxic cleaners are much safer to use around children and pets, and are easier on your respiratory system and your skin. Bonus: No more worrying about the kids helping you clean when you’re armed with non-toxic cleaners. 

Secret #9: Buy vintage. Search out clothing, furniture and other household items from consignment stores, thrift shops and yard sales. Or have a swap with friends for baby clothes and gear, dishes, appliances, etc. Would you rather stay home and thrift shop? Try Closet Dash for you and ThredUp for the kids.

Secret #10: Put a houseplant in every room. Besides actually adding some green to the house, keeping plants indoors helps provide a healthier environment for you, your family, and your pets. Which reminds me: Be sure to choose plants that are kid and pet-friendly. Some of the benefits of having houseplants around include purifying the air by helping remove harmful chemicals, humidifying the air which can help with respiratory or allergy problems, brightening up the room for an instant mood lift, and more. Not bad.

All of these things might not seem big enough to save the environment in one go, but lots of people making small changes leads to a big impact. And beyond that, making even small efforts like these puts our heads in a conservation mindset. A good place to be!

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rebecca Alexis February 20, 2013 at 10:30 am

Everyday we try to do something that makes us a little greener, a little closer to taking care of this Earth. I adore all these tips and tricks. One thing we have tried doing lately is cut down on our food waste. I had been feeling good about all the composting we do, but we still throw a lot of food away -even if it is into the compost bin, it is still wasted water, sun, and wasted calories that are being tossed in there. I don’t force my kids to eat when they are not hungry I am just trying to be smarter about what I make and when I make it -and trying to use leftovers a bit better as well. xo

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2 Design Mom February 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Food waste breaks my heart! And I love those nights when I somehow get the portions just right and we eat up every last bit.

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3 robin @ our semi organic life February 20, 2013 at 12:24 pm

People really keep their thermostats at 70?! Wow. In the winter now we keep ours at 66-68 when we’re at home and 58 at night or when we’re out of the house.

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4 Design Mom February 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm

This old farmhouse we’re renting runs cold. I don’t have a thermometer around so I’m not sure exactly how cold it is, but I know I wear several layers around the house every day.

I sure hope that habit will stay with me when I move back to the U.S.!

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5 Lindsey February 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Thank you for this reminder. Just the other day our toilet was running and when I lifted the top off to fix it, I was thinking I should displace some of the water. My mom used to use a brick, but I have no idea where to get a brick. Most toilets in Europe (we live in Switzerland) are low-flow and don’t even have a tank you can access, but ours is from the 80s and I can tell it uses TONS of water!! I’m going to do the water bottle trick tomorrow. :) YAY! What a good solution – and it tells you how much water your saving per flush. So rad. Thanks again. xoxo :)

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6 Design Mom March 6, 2013 at 7:25 am

Yay! Yay! So glad to hear this post helped you, Lindsey.

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7 Juliann Munson February 20, 2013 at 11:05 pm

I have never thought about how much water a toilet uses. I will definitely be doing this this week. Some great ideas. Thanks.

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8 Design Mom March 6, 2013 at 7:26 am

Shocking right? And when I remember that there are places in real need of water, it just about breaks my heart.

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9 Marissa February 21, 2013 at 6:39 am

We recently bought a too-large home and put an apartment in the basement. We upgraded to a tankless water heater. The amount of electricity we save, even providing heat and water for 2 families is shocking. We’re 99% positive the savings is in the water heater…and it’s way greener!!!

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10 Design Mom March 6, 2013 at 7:27 am

I’m so glad you mentioned this, Marissa. I’ve never actually heard of a tankless water heater, but I’ve made a note about it. If we really get to restore a cottage here in France, I’d like to make it as green as possible.

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11 Liz February 25, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I’m not a green freak by any means, but I do have a baby and want to make sure my cleaners are non-toxic to his tiny lungs, so I’ve been using this cleaner ever since I got pregnant. I love it! I’ve gone through a few bottles already and it’s such a great all-purpose cleaner.

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12 Design Mom March 6, 2013 at 7:28 am

I agree. It’s a real get-it-done cleaner for all sorts of jobs.

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13 G March 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm

I just use vinegar, soda and lemon to clean my home. It works for almost everything. And is natural.

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14 Augustina May 23, 2013 at 1:47 am

Hi there! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site?

I’m getting fed up of WordPress because I’ve had problems with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform. I would be fantastic if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

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15 Angele December 1, 2013 at 3:19 am

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