5 Tips to Go Green at Home—and Make Some Green, Too

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Green is keen when it comes to homes these days—and no, we don’t mean the kind you can get from a can of paint. We’re talking about homes that are environmentally friendly, efficient, and sustainable, and that can save you money in the long run.

But as Kermit the Frog purportedly said, “It’s not easy being green.” With so many options and opinions out there, it can be overwhelming to figure out just where to start—and how to keep it up. So we asked several green home specialists what they wish all homeowners knew. Here’s what they shared.

1. Small changes can make a big impact

You don't have to scrub everything with vinegar and bleach to reduce pollution in your home. In fact, going green can be as simple as kicking off your shoes.

That's because 30% to 40% of indoor contaminants are brought in from outside, according to a study by the University of Georgia. If you invest in a fun doormat and remove your shoes as soon as you walk in the door, you can cut down on all that gross stuff by nearly 85%. Talk about a quick fix!

 Plus, if you step up your cleaning game with green products, it all adds up to a healthier home.

Next, make small changes to your daily routine. Set the temperature on your water heater at a maximum of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn off the lights when you leave a room. And use a programmable thermostat so you're not heating or cooling your home when you're not there. Just make sure to stick to it, or you won't see much impact.

“If homeowners are wasteful to begin with, their new, green home won't perform up to the standards they expect,” says Jeff Wilson, HGTV host and author of "The Greened House Effect."

2. Don’t get 'greenwashed'

Not all products are as green as they might seem, says Kelly Bonanno, a wellness and eco-friendly living coach. “'Greenwashing' is when companies display insincere concern for our health and the environment, claiming their products are clean when they actually are not,” Bonanno says. “When you read the label you see that, while there are safe ingredients, the formulation may also contain harmful substances such as carcinogens, allergens, endocrine disruptors, and/or neurotoxins."

Know your ingredients: The Environmental Working Group provides a list of questionable ingredients that may be present in many cleaning products.

3. Landscaping matters

Too often people forget their outdoor spaces when it comes to establishing or maintaining a green home, says Cassy Aoyagi, co-founder and president of FormLA Landscaping and board member of the Los Angeles chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

Yep, even your landscaping can be sustainable and cost-efficient.

"The most eco-friendly backyard features plant and grass species that are native to the area where you live," Aoyagi says. “They thrive without chemical pesticides and fertilizers and need little water.”

Replacing a traditional lawn with native grasses will require 50% to 70% less water, according to Aoyagi. That will save you approximately 60 hours a year in maintenance—for a savings of up to $3,500. Sweet!

4. Green upgrades will pay you back

Investing in eco-improvements can save homeowners money—and you might even be able to get some of that cash back, thanks to the range of tax exemptions, rebates, and discounts available for many green investments.

The best place to start is your local utility company, but don’t forget federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy, which provides a tool to search for green tax credits, rebates, and savings by state.

The everyday energy savings can be significant as well. For example, by strategically planting trees around your home, air-conditioning costs can be reduced 15% to 50%. And just changing one lightbulb to an Energy Star bulb can save you between $30 to $80 over the lifetime of the bulb.

Eager to get started already? Experts recommend beginning with a home energy audit. Professionals can advise you on how much impact things like adding insulation, solar panels, or energy-efficient windows will have on your home, based on location, and how much money you may be able to save over time.

5. Look for LEED-certified homes

If the work of upgrading your home seems daunting, you can buy a home that's already green, but you'll need to have an idea of just how green you want to go.

Sure, plenty of homes for sale boast eco-friendly and energy-saving features. But if you're a buyer in search of the ultimate green abode, make sure to look for a LEED-certified home. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is used as the benchmark in green building by the U.S. Green Building Council.

They might cost a little more, but if you're in the place long enough, you'll get that money back. And then some.

"Green and energy-efficient homes may cost a premium up-front, but the energy saving costs will pay the homeowner back through the course of homeownership," says Julia Robertson, a broker at Living Room Realty in Portland, OR. "Many LEED-certified homes can reduce energy costs to net zero, while storing energy, and in some cases power companies will actually pay you back."

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