Home improvement

Pub date February 24, 2009
WriterLaura Peach
SectionGreen CitySectionNews & Opinion

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GREEN CITY If you’re thinking of greening your home, you might imagine that your that only option is to install expensive energy-efficient appliances — which many renters can’t do and many homeowners can’t afford. But don’t despair. There are ways to reduce your carbon footprint without significantly reducing your bank account, with or without a landlord’s help. Below are several tips from San Francisco’s premier green architect and eco-remodel guru Eric Corey Freed, principal at organicArchitect. His advice should make your home better for the environment and your utility bills.

Fridge Fundamentals The refrigerator is the single largest user of electricity in a household. Why make it work harder, pushing up your energy costs, by keeping it next to the oven? "Having a fridge and oven side by side is the stupidest thing I can think of that people do in kitchens," Freed laments. "An oven makes things hot, and a refrigerator is supposed to keep things cold — the two don’t belong together." Using the same rationale, it’s also a good idea to keep your fridge out of direct sunlight.

Also, if your fridge is more than a decade old, get over your attachment to the dated design and trade it in for a newer, energy efficient model. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. offers free pickups and a $35 rebate.

Think Thermal Heating your home is another major energy sucker. With more winter cold snaps on the way, investing one afternoon and less than $100 to heat smart will produce almost immediate results in lowering heating costs. The first place to look is your windows. While we love the light windows give, they are weak spots for heating. Freed suggests picking up a package of disposable window coverings ($20 for six windows). You may also be able to caulk around windows and vents to keep heat from escaping. Tubes cost less than $5 a pop.

Once you have your windows all snugged up, turn on the heat only when you need it. Freed recommends a programmable thermostat, which costs about $40. Once installed, you can set the heating to go down when you go to bed at night, kick on just before you get up in the morning, and shut off again when you leave for work. "It’s great, you just set it and forget it," Freed says. No more thumping your forehead at lunchtime realizing you left the heater cranking at home, using precious resources to warm empty rooms.

Shower Saver Most showers pour out 2.5 gallons of water per minute, but for $40 you can pick up an easy to install, water-conserving, lowflow showerhead that still gets you squeaky clean. Since many San Francisco buildings are old and hot water is slow to arrive, consider a model with a pause cord or stop switch. This holds the water in the pipes until it is warm and saves gallons of perfectly good water from being dumped down the drain while the heater warms up. Plus, renters can take the showerheads with them when they move to different digs.

Friendly Flushing Another way to conserve water — one that’s free and easy — is to add a full, two-liter water bottle to the toilet tank. This only takes a minute and eliminates a significant amount of water from being wasted every time you flush. Bottles are better than bricks, which also displace water but can damage your tank. If you’re feeling a little handier, grab a screwdriver and lower the float an inch or so. And if you’re feeling innovative, consider installing a toilet-top sink, which gives waste water a chance to be used more efficiently. This graywater system collects the tap water you use to wash your hands, then uses it to flush the toilet rather than sending it straight down the drain. (You’re washing with tap water, not toilet water, so there’s nothing dirty about it.) Sinkpositive.com sells toilet-top sinks for about $100. It’s also an appliance you can take from home to home.