Cooling your home in the summer can use a lot of energy. According to a recent article in The Washington Post, air conditioning use in places such as China and India is booming, while in the United States, the habit of cranking up the AC continues unabated. But in a hot summer, cooling indoor spaces can seem indispensable to occupant health and comfort. How do you ensure that you are using your home's unit in a responsible manner? 

First steps

  1. Have an energy auditor test your home's envelope.
  2. Insulate and seal as well as you can. You may also want to check your air ducts for leakage and seal the ducts. Ask an installer to calculate your cooling load after the insulation. 
  3. Once you have a good sense of the BTUs you will need, then you can shop for a new AC system, if necessary. The air conditioner's SEER rating is key: the higher, the better—16 SEER is good, 18 SEER is great and 21 SEER is the best you can get.

Other tips for cooling efficiently

  • Get the right size. If you are buying a new system, make sure to get the size that's right for your needs. An oversized system will short-cycle without removing the humidity and will result in poor performance, clammy air and a high cost in energy and equipment.
  • Clean the air filter. Efficiency in an existing unit is greatly enhanced by keeping up with your maintenance.
  • Get a greener system. Since 2010, HVAC manufacturers have not been allowed to make systems using ozone-damaging hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)Although there are a few of the HCFC-22 (also known as R-22) air conditioning units left in circulation, they are increasingly rare. If you're thinking of upgrading, you can benefit from the advent of the environmentally friendly refrigerant R-410A, the new version of Freon that does not contribute to ozone depletion. The 410A products come with several different brand names, such as Puron. 
  • Turn it up at night or when you're not home. When you're sleeping, you probably don't need the AC as high. Turn the thermostat up a few degrees, the same way you'd turn your heat down in the winter. Similarly, when you're absent, there's no need to keep the temperature below what's comfortable for your pets or optimal for keeping mildew at bay.
  • Close basement vents. Keeping the lower level of your home cool is usually easy without even using AC. Close off the vents during the hot season.
  • Do chores in the evening. Use heat-generating appliances such as dishwashers and laundry machines during the cooler hours of the day, after sunset.
  • Block the sun from windows. Things like shades, awnings and bamboo screens can all keep the sun out during the hot months—and therefore keep your AC from working so hard.
  • Incorporate fans. Using fans strategically can reduce your need for blasting the AC at all. 

Looking for an expert? Check out GreenHomeGuide's nationwide directory of green HVAC contractors.

A home is more than just shelter: it’s the most important building in our lives. So wouldn’t you want a home designed and built with better health and durability in mind?

Meet LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. A LEED home is a green home, and is built to be healthy, providing clean indoor air and incorporating safe building materials to ensure comfort. LEED homes use less energy and water, meaning lower utility bills each month. Some of the most important buildings in the world use LEED. Shouldn’t the most important building in your world—your home—use LEED, too? 

Do mosquitos have you buggin' out this summer? Never fear, your favorite D.I.Y. bug repellent is here! This homemade insect repellent is great for mosquitos, flies and other annoying summer bugs...not to mention, it smells like a sunny day in the garden. Great for most skin types, this formula uses soothing witch hazel and cold-pressed essential oils to get the job done. 

What you need

  • 4-oz. dark spray bottle
  • 3 oz. witch hazel 
  • 5 drops citronella oil
  • 10 drops lemon oil
  • 10 drops grapefruit oil
  • 10 drops lavender oil (lavandula angustifolia)
  • 1/2 tsp. grapeseed oil

Directions

Add witch hazel to small spray bottle. Add oils. Shake well before each use. Apply the bug repellent every few hours for maximum effectiveness.  

There are a lot of bug-repelling oil options out there. Interested in some alternatives to the ones listed above? Check out the following options: 

  • Eucalyptus
  • Tea tree
  • Peppermint
  • Cypress
  • Rose
  • Geranium
  • Bergamot
  • Lemon eucalyptus (recommended by the CDC as an alternative to DEET. Should not be used for children under three years of age, though!)

Use it safely

  • As always with essential oils, women who are pregnant or nursing should consult a health practitioner before using.
  • Use caution when using essential oils on young children.
  • Do a patch test to check for an allergic reaction before using an essential oil for the first time.
  • Make sure to label homemade products well.
  • Dark-colored bottles work best for products containing essential oils. Store in a cool, dark place when not using.  

Check out our how to video and let us know if you try out the recipe for yourself!

Hitting the great #outdoors this weekend? Before you go... You may want to pack one of these! #Homemade #Bug #Repellent (for a 4 oz spray bottle) 3.5 oz Witch hazel 5 drops Citronella oil 10 drops Lemon oil 10 drops Grapefruit oil 10 drops Lavender oil 1/2 tsp Grapeseed oil Shake well before each use. You're welcome! #naturalremedies

A video posted by USGBC (@usgbc) on Jul 10, 2015 at 12:41pm PDT

The deadline to enter the 2015 LEED Homes Awards is fast approaching. Don’t miss an opportunity to showcase your achievements in residential green building by submitting your nomination by this Friday, May 27, 2016. 

The annual LEED Homes Awards recognize developers, homebuilders and projects that have demonstrated outstanding leadership in the residential green building marketplace. Awards are given to best-in-class multi- and single-family residential and affordable housing projects, as well as innovative builders and developers. Eligible projects for this year’s awards must have been certified LEED for Homes between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2015. 

In addition, this year’s finalists and recipients will be featured on improvement and interior design site Houzz, which was recently named the overall best Android app of the year in the inaugural Google Play Awards. For each LEED Homes Awards category, the Houzz community, more than 40 million members worldwide, will select a Community Favorite for the top five finalists in each category. 

Award categories

  • Outstanding Commitment to LEED
  • Outstanding Affordable Project
  • Outstanding Affordable Developer
  • Project of the Year/Outstanding Innovative Project
  • Outstanding Multi-Family Project
  • Outstanding Multi-Family Developer
  • Outstanding Single-Family Project

Submit your nomination now

As you know, the Green Home Guide is your go-to resource for greening your home.

On greenhomeguide.com, you can browse articles and professional advice to learn more about green home tips and improvements. You can also view and search our directory of green building professionals to access a pro to help green your home.

If you haven't already, we invite you to explore our new layout and content, and be sure to subscribe to receive email updates about the latest in residential green building.

Subscribe to receive email updates

On Fridays, USGBC shares green home-related content curated from around the web. If you see a great article on aspects of environmentally friendly home living such as green building, renovation, energy use or cleaning, please send it our way.

  • What is "permaculture"? According to the Black Permaculture Network, it's "a design method for creating regenerative human settlement systems based in natural patterns and processes," including zero waste and renewable energy. Read this "Member Spotlight" on Anandi Premlall to learn how one woman implements its principles in Queens, N.Y.
  • You might be a renter rather than a homeowner, but there are still lots of things you can do to be green. Read Treehugger's "How to Go Green: Renters" list of tips and scroll down further for a multitude of useful links on everything from green dorm living to ways to grow your own food.
  • Aerosol sprays: we know they're not good for the environment. But why? Read "What You Need to Know About Aerosol Sprays" from the Mother Nature Network to learn why their ingredients are harmful, how they affect the air and how to reduce or eliminate your use of these products.

 

Check out more simple tips for living green 

 

Almost every time the subject of home composting comes up in conversation, non-composters' reactions are the same: “I would, but I can’t deal with the smell it leaves in the apartment.” Or, “I want to...but it sounds awfully messy, and I don’t have the time to maintain it all.”

These are totally reasonable worries! However, I am here to assure you that with proper techniques and a few minor adjustments to your current setup, composting without a stinky mess is possible and easier than you think.

 Prep

  1. Buy a container: ceramic, plastic or metal are all viable options. A 10–20 gallon container should do the trick; just make sure it has a lid. It’s not a bad idea to purchase a few of these, so that you can keep them rotating—while one round is “cooking,” you can continue to compost the next batch.
  2. Air is fundamental to great compost, so you want to poke 10–15 holes in the lid and base of your bin to allow that material to breathe. You will also want a tray for beneath your bin, as these holes will later allow water and dirt to move through it, as well.
  3. If you have an outside balcony or patio, you can keep your bin outside; if not, a cool spot inside is just fine. Just be sure to keep it out of direct sunlight.
  4. Shred bits of scrap paper or newspaper into 1-inch strips. Soak the paper in water and then line them in the bottom of your bin.
  5. Add a bit of soil (1/2-inch deep) and then add your worms. Keep in mind, your bin should be one square foot for every pound of worms. Place your bin in the sunlight and let the worms burrow into the paper.

Pile

  1. You’re ready to begin adding kitchen scraps to your compost creation. Keep a list handy of what you should and should not include in your bin.
  2. Each time you make a fairly large scrap deposit, you want to add a thin layer of moistened paper strips. Note to break your food scraps down and deposit them finely.
  3. If you’re noticing an odor, you can spread a thin layer of soil on top. Avoid dairy and meat scraps at all costs—these don’t break down well in small compost piles and will certainly stink up the place, as well as attract vermin.
  4. Let the mixture sit, or “cook,” until your scraps have decomposed.

 Plant

  1. Scoop out your soil (not your worms!) and get planting. If you’re not big on gardening, there should be places in your region that accept donations—perhaps a community farm or school garden.
  2. Take pride in your work! EcoWatch reminds us: Food scraps and yard waste make up 20–30 percent of what we throw away and are the largest category of municipal solid waste going into landfills and incinerators, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In landfills, these scraps take up space and release potent greenhouse gases. A little repurposing goes a long way! Thanks for doing your part.

Keep this handy infographic from Sustainable America on the fridge for quick reference, and check out our Instagram video. Good luck!

On Fridays, USGBC shares green home-related content curated from around the web. If you see a great article on aspects of environmentally friendly home living such as green building, renovation, energy use or cleaning, please send it our way.

Learn more about reusing and upcycling

Once you decide that you want to install solar power at your home—and there are many compelling reasons to do so—you then need to take certain steps, including doing a feasibility assessment and making decisions about the size and type of system you need, as well as who will handle the installation for you. 

Is solar right for you?

Is solar energy feasible for you? First, you need to look at your property and ensure that you receive enough sun. In other words, if you live in a place where there is very little sun or your home is heavily shaded, you are unlikely to harvest enough solar energy to meet your needs.

Also, be sure to check with your local zoning board or council, because in some areas, solar panels are either not permitted or require special permits. The last thing you need is to install a system only to be instructed to remove it.

First steps 

Before you buy the components or a kit, or engage a contractor, there are a few things you need to do:

  • Perform an energy audit: how much energy you need dictates the size of the system you have to install. There are websites that help with this important task.
  • Determine where you can locate the panels. Can you install them on the roof of your home, or would you need a stand-alone bank of panels? The condition of some roofs means that they are not strong enough to take the weight of panels.
  • Do you want a system that is connected to the grid or an off-grid system?
  • Are you capable of installing the system yourself and calling in an electrician at the end, or do you need to use a solar energy installer or contractor?
  • A number of websites state that doing the installation yourself is always an option; however, it is complicated, and many people prefer to use the services of a professional.

Using a contractor

The website of the U.S. Department of Energy offers consumers useful tips about selecting a contractor:  

  • Is the installer licensed and/or certified? (You can check with the local controlling body.) If the installer is not, your installation may not comply with code or requirements.
  • How long has the company been installing solar energy systems?
  • Does the installer have experience installing the type of system you want (off-grid or grid-tied)? Off-grid systems are far more complex.
  • Check their reputation and whether or not they are in good standing.
  • Do they offer a warranty? This often affects the awarding of a rebate. 

The installation process

So, your property has passed the basic checks and you have appointed an installer. Together, you looked at your energy requirements and decided where the panels would be mounted. Based on this, the installer he has given you a quote that should include hardware, installation, connections, making sure your system is working as it should, sales tax and the necessary permit. 

As Solar Nation states, the installation of the solar panels themselves is not complex: frames are fixed to the roof, or a free-standing frame is built, and then the panels are attached to the frame. A roof installation takes a little longer on a flat roof, because the panels must be angled so as to optimally catch the sunlight; this angle is known as the “tilt.” 

The more complex—and the critical—aspect is the electrical work and wiring. For example, installing the inverter that collects the direct current (DC) electricity generated by the panels and converts it to alternating current (AC) for use in your home or the grid is no easy matter. Solar Panel Info recommends the use of a true sine wave inverter if you are incorporating a motor and, say, a water pump.

Finally, make sure you are given a full demonstration on how your system works and what maintenance activities you will need to carry out. 

There is a lot of information out there to guide you, including from groups such as Solar Action Alliance. Advocacy and governmental bodies will help you make good, informed decisions.

We all agree that the greenest piece of furniture is one that already exists. But before you refurbish your mother’s favorite heirloom, or scour garage sales for the diamond in the rough, be sure to take some precautions, especially if you’re looking to furnish a baby’s nursery.

The first step is to check for lead. If the item was built and painted before 1978, it may contain the toxic substance, which is a major health hazard, especially for children. Learn how to check for lead on the EPA’s website.

If you’re free and clear, you’re ready to get started. We’ve discussed the dangers of many popular home improvement materials, and wood sealants are no different. Many wood sealants contain harmful chemicals, so before you purchase one, take a close look at its ingredients, and only select low-emitting products.

Follow the low-emitting materials credit in LEED, which caps VOC content at 275 g/l for clear wood finishes such as varnishes, sanding sealers and lacquer. Or choose products that comply with the California Department of Public Health Standard Method V1.1–2010, CA Section 01350 (considered the most advanced testing procedure used in the marketplace). Thanks to programs such as LEED, there are a variety of options on the market for these types of materials.

Need a shortcut? Look for low-emitting products that have been third-party certified and labeled by organizations such as GREENGUARD and GreenSeal.

When you find your finish, try to keep your painting, staining and finishing work outside. VOCs and hazardous airborne pollutants are much more of a health concern when the product is still wet. Be sure to wait to bring it inside until it’s good and dry.

Learn more about creating a healthy room for your child