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Eco-Home Improvements for the New Year

Sure, everyone knows about turning off the faucet in-between scrubbing the dishes or flipping that light switch when you leave the room, but what about more tips to lower your family’s impact? Below are some solutions to reduce waste, reap some benefits, and give back to Mother Nature.

Bring the outside in– Plants inside the home have a variety of health and home living advantages. Aside from lowering background noise and reducing stress, plants can also lower levels of pollutants and airborne dust, stabilize humidity, and regulate home temperature.

  • Reduce levels of air pollutants- Ever heard of a phenomenon known as, “Sick Building Syndrome”? It’s where the occupants of a building feel unwell for no apparent reason, sighting symptoms like headaches, eye and nose/throat irritation, fatigue and more. Most attribute this to heightened levels of carbon dioxide and other air pollutants. Many household appliances and other coal burning items release emissions. Plants intake carbon dioxide and release oxygen during photosynthesis. Humans take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide during respiration, thus creating a symbiotic relationship. NASA recommends having one plant for every 100 square feet of your indoor space due to the benefits of lower carbon monoxide and formaldehyde.
  • Stabilize humidity- Plants can also stabilize your home humidity levels through a process known as transpiration. Transpiration is a process in which moisture is carried through plants from the roots to small pores on the leaves. Moisture can then be evaporated into the air evening out humidity levels.
  • Reduce airborne dust levels- For reasons that are still quite unknown to scientists, plants can reduce the levels of airborne dust within your home. A NASA study proves that household plants can reduce dust levels by 20%.
  • Regulate temperatures- According to a study done by the University of Vermont Extension, when plants release moisture into the air, they can reduce the room’s temperature, sometimes by 10 degrees.

Take up composting– Composting is a natural process of recycling organic matter, such as leaves and food scraps, into rich soil that can be used in gardens as fertilizer. Compost energizes soil and creates a rewarding partnership between bacteria and plant roots, acting as plant food. Compost can also enhance a plant’s ability to stand up against certain diseases. All you need is to pick out your size of container, add your table and kitchen scrapes, add mow clippings or leaves, and let nature handle the rest. Worried about your compost bins stinking up the neighborhood? Simply add coffee grounds and citrus fruits to cover the odor.

 

Recycle as much as you can- This one may seem easy enough, but there is a whole other level to reducing, reusing, and recycling. Certain numbers of plastic, paper, glass bottles and similar items will be picked up by your local trash and recycling expert, but what about electronics, plastic shopping bags, batteries, medications, and more? These items may require a little more effort, but trust us, there’s someone out there to take your junk. Some Madison County community resources include CJD-E Cycling in Edwardsville, Batteries Plus in Glen Carbon, and more. Be sure to save your plastic shopping bags and bring them with you on your next trip. Most larger grocers and department store chains have a recycling receptacle near the entrance. Remember not to discard your old or unwanted medications in your waste can or dispose of them in the sewer. Those medicines still contain chemicals that can be harmful to our eco-system. Before pitching them, call your local police department for available drop-off bins. For a complete list of recycling options visit the Madison County Recycling and Resource list at: www.co.madison.il.us.

Plan, shop local and seasonal for your meals– According to the EPA, the United States threw away 38 million tons of food waste in 2014. Aside from saving your family some money, meal planning with local foods can reduce methane emissions in the landfill, lower your carbon footprint, and support community business. Keep a list of what you need and when you need it. When shopping, keep in mind how many times you’ll be eating out that week. The more you eat out, the less you buy at the grocery to avoid wasted food. By jumping on the meal planning bandwagon, you’ll only get foods that you know you will prepare for your family. Be sure to store foods properly and in reusable tubs. Stick extra meals in the freezer when you know they won’t be eaten in time. If you still bought too much, place your food scrapes in your new compost bin or donate safe, untouched foods to your local pantry.

Plant a pollinator garden– The U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimated that 20 million acres of national landscape is maintained as mowed grass. We do love our yards; however, those single-note yards tend to offer nothing or little value for pollinators and other wildlife. Native plants have economic value by saving you time and money, but they also cut emissions from fuel down due to a reduction of mowing. They also tend to need less pesticide and fertilizers, which can contaminate our water supply. Butterfly milkweed, golden rod, and grey-headed cone flowers are just a few perfect examples of what to plant in your pollinator garden. As butterflies, bees, flies, beetles, hummingbirds and more visit these native plants, you are providing a much-needed food source for them as they assist in growing the yield of your backyard vegetable garden or our local farmer’s produce.

Find an alternative energy source that works for your home– Changing your home’s energy source can be a little scary, and sometimes costly. Whatever your means, there are a few different options and even some local initiatives to help you get to where you want to be. Switching out CFLs with LED bulbs is a quick and simple way to save you energy costs and cut down emissions. Roughly one LED bulb will minimize your gas emissions by roughly half a ton as they do not contain hazardous mercury like CFLs. LEDs are nearly 85% more efficient and as simple as heading to your local home improvement store for conversion items. All bulbs cause damage in landfills, so be sure to dispose your bulbs correctly. Solar panels are becoming more affordable and accessible to local residents and businesses thanks to initiatives like Solarize Madison County/Glen Carbon. Solarize Madison County/Glen Carbon is a local group purchasing plan in conjunction with StraightUp Solar and is designed to keep cost down near wholesale levels. According to StraightUp Solar, utility rates have gone up 40% in the past 5 years, while solar costs have dropped 50% during that same time. Solarize Madison County/Glen Carbon recently installed solar panels on 22 homes and have surpassed their second benchmark goal allowing their participants to receive a larger rebate. If you are interested in learning more, visit SolarizeMCGC.com for more information.

Geothermal energy heating and cooling systems are another alternative energy source for your home. The system absorbs heat from your home, transfers it to an underground unit, and then is cooled and pumped back inside. The EPA shows homeowners save 30-70% on cooling costs over conventional systems. One downside to geothermal systems is that they are an expensive upfront cost and are costly to repair if they go out.

Collect rain water– Although rain water isn’t as clean as it may seem, it is clean enough to assist you in watering  your garden or lawn or washing your car. Using a rain barrel to collect water can save on water bills and cut back on yard flooding and erosion. Be sure to do your research before you collect. Although we are able to collect in Illinois, it is illegal in some states like Oregon and Utah.

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