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Greening your home to improve health and save money

Posted Mar 04 2010 2:20am
You can just smell it. You install new carpeting in your home, and the air in your living room takes on a brash, chemical scent. That can't be good.

The health and safety of the family is a top priority for all, yet it's surprising how common it is to neglect easy ways to protect them. If you are planning to remodel, redecorate or even build a new home, what should you consider?

"Homeowners are realizing how much their homes - and carpets, paints, wood finishes, cleaning supplies, heating and air conditioning systems and fireplaces - can affect their health," says Don Soss, vice president of Fireman's Fund Personal Insurance.

Breathing easy

There's growing evidence that indoor air can be more seriously polluted than outdoor air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov/iaq). And with 90 percent of your time spent indoors, health risks from airborne pollutants inside the home may be much higher than you think.

When you are remodeling, consider installing hard-surface flooring rather than carpeting to protect indoor air for the long term. If you decide to go with carpeting, you can now find products that meet the Carpet and Rug Institute (www.carpet-rug.org) air quality standards for low emissions through its Green Label program. Ask for carpet manufacturers with recycling programs; many will accept used carpets for recycling or remanufacture. An estimated 5 billion pounds of carpet goes to landfills annually because its synthetic components prevent easy recycling.

Repainting as well? Request paints that do not use volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs, which are used in paints, lacquers and cleaning supplies. VOCs emit gases with significant health effects. Low- or no-VOC paints (and cleaning products) are now widely available.

Other common sources of indoor air pollution include cabinetry and insulation (formaldehyde), improperly vented fireplaces and poorly installed or maintained heating and cooling systems or home appliances, such as gas ranges, stove hoods or water heaters.

There is a lot of information available about the health benefits of a green home environment. In addition to educating customers, Fireman's Fund has introduced green homeowners insurance for homeowners who own green homes or want to upgrade their residences with green features after a loss. If a home is completely destroyed, it can be rebuilt to green standards, certified as having Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) status.

But healthy benefits aren't the only good feature of switching to a green home environment. Saving energy saves you money

The average household can cut its electricity bill by 50 percent through energy efficiency.

Here are some free or low-cost tips for saving energy
  • Replace standard incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and save 75 percent off lighting costs.

  • Unplug electronics, battery chargers and other equipment when not in use. These items draw power when plugged in, even if they're not turned on. Measured together, these small items can use as much power as your refrigerator.

  • Installing faucet aerators and low-flow shower heads should cut water heating costs by 50 percent and save up to $300 per year. They will also cut water use by up to 50 percent.

  • Setting your air conditioner five degrees higher will save up to 20 percent on cooling costs.

  • Always buy ENERGY STAR-qualified appliances and equipment - they're up to 40 percent more efficient than non-qualified models.

  • Turn your water heater down to 120 F or the "Normal" setting when home, and to the lowest setting when away. Water heating accounts for about 13 percent of home energy costs.

  • Reduce air conditioning costs by using fans, keeping windows and doors shut and closing shades during the day. Most ceiling fans use less energy than a light bulb.

  • Enable "power management" on all computers and make sure to turn them off at night.

  • When possible, wash clothes in cold water. About 90 percent of the energy used in a clothes washer goes to water heating.

  • Run your dishwasher and clothes washer only when fully loaded. Fewer loads reduce energy and water use.

  • Make sure your dryer's outside vent is clear and clean the lint filter after every load. When shopping for a new dryer, look for one with a moisture sensor that automatically shuts off when clothes are dry.

  • Sealing cracks, gaps, leaks and adding insulation can save up to 20 percent on home heating and cooling costs.

  • Test for air leaks by holding a lit incense stick next to locations where there is a possible air path to the outside. If the smoke stream travels horizontally, you have located an air leak that may need caulking, sealing or weather stripping.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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