Hannah Wilber

For me and my fellow USGBC employees this is a no brainer: everyone deserves a healthy, sustainable home. But for those of us not currently in the market for a new residence or in the process of renovating our current one, that point can sometimes feel a little moot. After all, what could we do on our own to make our space greener when all the design and construction is already said and done?

Well, a lot, actually. But you might be surprised to learn that the biggest difference you can make in greening your space has to do with the ways you choose to act inside it. It's easy to underestimate how big of an impact our behavioral patterns have on our homes' environmental footprint, but fortunately for us this is also one of the easiest things to correct—you just have to commit and follow through.

Want help getting started? Here's a list of five habits to get into that will help transform your home into a greener place to live.

1. Turn out those lights

How many of us grew up with our parents constantly nagging us to turn off the lights when leaving a room? My dad was relentless. But I'll be the first to admit it: those pesky parents have a point. Not only can this conserve energy and reduce carbon emissions, it can also cut costs too.

On average, 5% of a household's budget goes exclusively towards lighting. Swap out inefficient incandescent bulbs with CFLs or LEDs for significant energy savings—replacing 15 bulbs can save you around $50 per year!

Want to save even more? Take advantage of natural light as much as possible. Using lightly colored or loosely knit fabrics for your curtains will help let daylight into your space while enabling you to retain your privacy, while decorating with light colors allows light to bounce deeper into rooms for a more illuminating effect.

2. Unplug, unplug, unplug

Turning off electric devices when they're not in use is essential to reducing your carbon footprint, but did you know that even when powered down, appliances that remain plugged in still consume energy? This "phantom energy" can actually cost you an extra $100 per year!

Finished using your blender, printer or hair dryer for the time being? Unplug them! Think having to unplug your TV, Xbox and surround sound after each use is going to be a hassle? Connect them all to a power strip and unplugging becomes as simple as one-and-done, no monkeying with that tangle of cords behind your entertainment system required.

3. Minimize your red meat intake

The production of red meat requires 28 times more land, and results in five times more greenhouse gas emissions, when compared to poultry. That's huge.

Swapping beef with chicken can reduce your carbon emissions by .75 tons per year. Think that's not good enough? Go entirely vegetarian and save 1.5 tons annually. Craving seafood? No worries; fish consumption still produces fewer emissions than beef (though the amount is significantly higher than poultry). 

Oh, and if you're in the market for an added bonus, don't forget that red meat tends to be more expensive than poultry. What's good for the planet is good for your wallet, too.

4. Reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose

Most of the garbage we generate is actually organic material—think cardboard and paper, food waste, or those autumn leaves you'll soon be raking from your lawn. These materials release methane as they break down in landfills, which is 25% more potent than CO2 as a heat trapping pollutant. Yikes. 

Reduce your waste by opting for reusable items (hello cloth napkins and canvas shopping bags) instead of disposable ones (goodbye plastic utensils and paper plates). Whenever possible, try to repurpose more durable items after they've done their primary job; did you know pasta sauce and salsa jars double as great drinking glasses? Or, for those of you feeling crafty, hit up Google or Pinterest for some great upcycling ideas.

Obviously there are some things we just have to dispose of correctly. When that's the case, be sure to do it properly. Make recycling receptacles more easily available throughout your house than trash cans, so sending something to the landfill requires a conscious decision. Want to take it to the next level? Create your own compost bin following these easy steps.

5. Watch your water use

The average household consumes 260 gallons of water per day. That's some serious demand on one of our most precious resources.

But it doesn't stop there—water use also affects energy use. Eight percent of U.S. energy demand goes to treating, heating and pumping water. That's enough energy to power 5 million homes for one year. On a more personal level, 19% of a single home's energy consumption is used for water heating.

What changes can you make? For starters, don't let the faucet run unnecessarily—leaving the water running during your morning shave or while you brush your teeth can waste up to eight gallons per day! Need a cold glass of water to quench your thirst? Rather than leaving the tap on till cold water comes out, keep a pitcher ready to go in your fridge, it will cut down on your time to blissful rehydration too.

On a bigger scale, stick to short showers (which usually consume 10-15 gallons of water) and cut back on long baths (those tend to use a whopping 70 gallons). Have a dishwasher or washing machine in your home? Make sure you only run them when their full.

Stay tuned

So there you have it, five simple ways you can start greening your home just by changing your behavior. Doesn't sound so overwhelming, right? I'm sure you'll be able to master them in no time. 

If you're looking for other do it yourself ways to boost the sustainability of your home stay tuned, this article is just part one of an ongoing series of DIY tips, tricks and best practices. Till next time!