Every fall, we button up the house by cleaning and checking, fixing and sealing. Turns out that getting the house ready for winter isn't just a cold-winter thing - it's an eco-friendly thing, too.
A tight house uses - and loses - less energy, requires fewer natural resources and produces less pollution. With just a bit of effort, you can make your fall house chores even greener. Here's how:
Seal: Gaps and spaces around windows and doors and in the attic can suck up to 30 percent of your home's energy efficiency, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Fill them with caulk and you're being green.
Use the right caulk, and you can be even greener. Low- or no-VOC caulks have fewer noxious chemicals, but they may not be the best choice. Look for a product with a long life expectancy, said Phil Smith with Minnesota's Office of Energy Security. Using a caulk that has a 25-year life expectancy, such as siliconized acrylic, means you'll use less material and discard fewer empty caulk containers over the years.
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Cover: Even after window frames have been sealed, windows can be a source of heat loss and drafts. The standard fix - a window insulation kit - may not seem very eco-friendly. What's green about stretching plastic over the windows and sealing it with a hair dryer? Quite a bit, actually. Insulated windows reduce heat loss. And you can make the insulation kits greener by re-using them. At the end of the season, remove the plastic carefully, roll it up and store it for next year. However, to be able to re-use the plastic, make sure you leave an inch or two of overlap when you install the plastic the first time.
Filter: Before the furnace starts working hard again, treat it to a new filter. Not all filters are created equal, though. The standard filter (think fiberglass mat in a metal holder) collects larger particles in household air that could interfere with furnace operation. But it's designed to be replaced - and tossed in the garbage - every month. A high-performance furnace filter (one with large paper pleats) does a better job of keeping indoor air clean and needs to be changed only once or twice a year. Plus, the paper part of many high-performance filters is recyclable.
Insulate: Adding insulation keeps warm air in and cold air out, which saves money on heating bills and saves the planet's resources. If you need to add insulation, one environmental choice is cellulose, which is made from recycled materials. "It's taking yesterday's newspaper and extending its life for a hundred years," said Smith.
Prevent: Before the autumn rains and winter snows come, make sure your gutters and downspouts are in good condition and free-flowing. A dry house needs fewer repairs and dry walks and driveways need less deicer. If you do need new gutters, consider aluminum and steel. Because they're recyclable, they're a better choice for the planet than vinyl.