Washington, D.C. has taken a few steps over the past year to catch up with the composting craze. The District now offers places to drop off your at-home compost, and also has some services to make it even easier.
"In total, the District generates somewhere between 166,000 and 238,000 tons of organic waste annually."
My husband and I produce a lot of waste. We use way too many paper towels, we've always got veggie scraps and I'm always throwing out tea bags. I thought, "There's got to be a way that we can produce less waste and benefit our local community."
We live in a pretty small, 700-square-foot condo, and the thought of trying to compost and recycle only screams "more space" to me. I decided to sign up for Compost Cab, a weekly service that provides you with the bin and removes your compostables on an assigned day each week. It couldn't be easier to compost at home.
Compost Cab takes away your compostables and gives them to local urban farms, gardens, nonprofits and government agencies to build healthier, more sustainable food systems, starting with the soil. Not only are my husband and I reducing our household waste, but we're also helping produce soil for our local community.
You can also receive some of this soil and use it in a home garden or yard, if you have one. Another small perk of the Compost Cab bin is that it is rodent-proof (hello, D.C. rat population)—a bonus for anyone worried about leaving food scraps on their porch for a period of time.
What if you're not really into paying someone to come pick up your compostables? That's also OK! The District has introduced a Food Waste Drop-Off Program. All you have to do is compost at home, and then take your scraps to a designated drop-off point each weekend. Compost Cab says that for every four families that compost with Compost Cab, we keep a ton of organics (approx. 2,000 pounds of what most people still consider trash) out of landfills each year.
If you want to take it one step further, D.C. also offers a Community Compost Coop Network. Each cooperative can handle around 100 active composters, or about 1 ton of material a month. You'll learn a little more about community composting, as well as meet a network of other composters. Your responsibilities can include training others and actually processing the compostables.
The big question: what can you compost in D.C.'s programs? If it grows, it goes. That means fruits, vegetables, peels, seeds, coffee grounds, tea leaves, nuts, etc. No meat or dairy are accepted in the current program. Calling all environmental champions—do you want to be a part of D.C.'s composting efforts?
When it comes to houses, first impressions matter, as people quickly form opinions about a house based on a quick glance. Curb appeal is discussed among homeowners who are looking to sell their homes, but anyone who owns a house can benefit from making an effort to create a pleasant home exterior.
You can make improvements that will add curb appeal to your home while staying eco-conscious. To help you get pointed in the right direction, here are a few ideas:
1. Showcase trees.
It’s estimated that trees can increase a home’s value by more than 15 percent. Towering, beautiful trees instantly add charm to any house, so if your yard is looking sparse, consider planting some trees. Keep in mind it can take five to seven years for such plants to mature.
Trees not only add value to your home for aesthetic reasons, but they are incredibly beneficial to the environment. They absorb carbon monoxide, and in turn release healthy oxygen back into the air. They also provide homes for many of nature’s creatures.
In addition, trees can also help you save on your energy bills. When planted in a manner that covers your home with shade, trees help lower the home's internal temperature. Likewise, if trees provide shade for your AC unit, it can help your air conditioner run more efficiently.
Landscaping in general is important when trying to add curb appeal, so take some time to manicure your lawn to appear lush and green.
2. Add window awnings.
Awnings add style to the outside of your home, as well as a practical, earth-friendly function. They keep sunlight out of your home and lower the indoor temperature, which allows you to use your AC less often and at warmer settings. You can install automated home window awnings that are powered by the sun, thereby expanding your green efforts.
3. Install solar-powered lights.
Patio and landscape lights are a great way to add some decor to your home’s exterior, plus outdoor lighting allows for outside get-togethers, increases safety when being outdoors after dusk and contributes to an overall feeling of elegance.
Many variations of solar-powered outdoor lighting are available, so as long as you live in an area that gets regular sunshine, you’ll be able to adorn your landscape with easily managed, eco-conscious illumination.
4. Polish up with paint.
If your home’s paint is chipping away, it can make your home look a bit neglected. Naturally, polishing up any areas that need it will help enhance the appearance of your home, but in order to stay with your green approach, remember that not all paints are created equal. Look for products that are low- or zero-VOC when repainting.
5. Keep your roof in good condition.
One of the most important things home buyers and appraisers look for when assessing value is the condition of the roof, and shingles that are unkempt, missing or tearing off will hinder your curb appeal efforts. Whether you’re simply patching up a few areas or restoring your whole roof, there are plenty of green options you can consider. Here are a few of them:
- Some shingles are made out of recycled material, such as plastic or rubber.
- Metal rooftops reflect heat and are often made out of recycled material, and even if they are not, they can be recycled after their use is complete.
- Cool roofs are made out of material that is designed to reflect sunlight, thereby lowering the internal heat of your home.
- Clay tiles are recyclable and provide insulation, helping to keep your home cool in warm months and warm in cooler months.
As you can see, there are many ways to enhance your home’s appearance, make a positive impression on prospective buyers and passersby and stick to your green values.
Do you want to protect your home from pest infestations, but are not sure how to go about it in a way that's nontoxic for your home and family? Proactive pest control is the key to staying healthy and keeping your home safe from unwanted creepy-crawlies. Fortunately, home pest control can be made both harmless and hassle-free with these seven safe, natural and effective remedies:
1. Citrus scent
Citrus peels have a light, revitalizing scent that makes them a great option to keep pests like ants, mosquitoes and spiders away. All you need to do is to rub the citrus peels on all the problem areas like doors, windows and shelves. Also, these citrus peels make a brilliant polish for wooden furniture.
2. White vinegar solution
White vinegar is an excellent solution to get rid of ants that keep coming back even with regular cleaning. Ants leave a trail of pheromones that work to alert other ants, so using white vinegar will destroy the chemical trails and eliminate the source. Once the scent is eliminated, it will keep other ants from following the chemical source, and your home will remain ant-free.
Ants have a strong aversion to cucumber, so if you place a slice of cucumber near all the entryways, it will keep ants away. Cucumber is also very effective in keeping silverfish, wasps, mites and moths at bay. However, remember to replace cucumber peels and slices frequently, as rotting food can also be a source of attraction for other pests.
Cinnamon powder can be sprinkled outside the house to keep bugs and pests from entering your home. You can also use cinnamon powder on kitchen countertops and other surfaces to eliminate the scent trails left behind by certain pests.
5. Peppermint oil
Spiders cannot stand the minty scent of peppermint oil, so creating a solution using peppermint oil and water that you can spray around the areas frequented by spiders will help you get rid of them. This method is completely safe, even if you have small children at home.
6. Eucalyptus oil
Eucalyptus oil is a perfect solution for homes that are plagued by flies. Simply apply some oil to a cloth and leave it in the affected area, and soon all the flies will vanish.
Herbs like lemongrass, citronella and mint are easy to grow and can be planted in the backyard. These herbs have a strong scent that works as an effective repellent for pests, so if you have garden boxes or spare containers, put them to good use.
Commit to seasonal checks and periodic cleaning to prevent pests.The best way to keep your home pest-free is to prevent an invasion before it starts, so seasonal checks are very important to identify susceptible areas and seal them:
- All the openings, cracks and crevices in doors and windows should be caulked and sealed to prevent the entry of unwanted pests.
- Trash containers should always be tightly secured and far from the home.
- The kitchen floor, countertops and cabinets require diligent cleaning.
- The foundation of the house is a breeding ground for pests, so make sure that mulch piles, firewood stacks and grass clippings are stacked away from the house.
In addition, it can be helpful to have a professional pest control service provider inspect your home as a preventive measure, and treat it if necessary.
Green roofs add so much more than just an aesthetic effect to homes. Living roofs are eco-friendly in many ways, such as by managing storm water runoff, providing insulation and reducing the heat-island effect. Even better, small-scale green roofs are not very complicated to make and can easily be turned into a DIY project.
Which green roof to choose
Small-scale green roofs are perfect for placing under the main roof—think of the porch roof or garage roof, or the top of a shed. First, you need to choose whether your green roof will be extensive or intensive. An extensive green roof needs less maintenance, while an intensive roof with more layers requires more maintenance. The area where you want to install the green roof will help you decide, due to whether frequent maintenance would be possible or convenient.
It is best to get advice from a specialist if you have a roof that slopes over 10 degrees or under 2 degrees, as there might be further design strategies to take into account. Also, only roofs that are in good condition, without damage or leaks, should be considered for installing a green roof. The weight of a small green roof can be between 13 and 30 pounds per square foot before saturation, and whether the roof can hold the extra weight should be calculated as well.
Vegetated roofs consist of a few different layers. Whether the green roof is on a small home or a skyscraper, these layers are more or less the same:
All green roofs need an additional layer of waterproof material that is root-resistant. A single sheet, such as heavy-duty pond liner from a local store, is perfect for this layer. When applying, mark the outlets so that the area can be cut open in a later step.
Drainage is essential for excess water to escape from the roof. Make sure the outlets are cut into the containment frame, which will allow water to flow into the gutter of the roof. It is crucial that the outlets stay clear at all times. By using pebbles around the outlet point, you can avoid vegetation establishing itself in the drainage system or around the edge of the roof.
You can also lay out moisture blanket or geotextile membranes (which are fungi- and bacteria-resistant) to help the plants keep water. Alternatively, a gravel or limestone chip layer can be spread on top of the waterproof layer to ensure drainage.
The soil needed for a green roof should have a ratio of 70 percent inorganic material and 30 percent organic material. Low nutrients and lightweight substrates are perfect for a green roof.
The last layer is the vegetation itself. The types of plants that you will have will depend on the type of green roof you are installing (extensive or intensive). Seed mixtures can be bought specifically for green roofs. Green roof blankets can be rolled out, or plants can be directly planted into the soil. Whichever method you choose, keep in mind that you can tailor the planting to attract certain species of plants and wildlife.
Last, check the condition of your green roof at least a couple of times a year, and keep it chemical-free. Your home will soon be looking more attractive, even as you contribute to a healthier environment.
In 2012, the Department of Energy and its national laboratories created a resource for homeowners, buyers and renters to see a home's energy use in a simple way. Since then, over 68,000 homes in the U.S. have taken advantage of the Home Energy Score tool, which includes
- A numeric score based on the home's envelope (foundation, roof, walls, insulation and windows) and heating, cooling and hot-water systems.
- A total energy use estimate, as well as estimates by fuel type, assuming standard operating conditions and occupant behavior.
- Recommendations for cost-effective improvements and associated annual cost savings estimates.
- A "Score with Improvements" reflecting the home's expected score if cost-effective improvements are implemented.
The score is developed a one-to-10 scale, where a 10 represents the most efficient homes. It also comes with a detailed fact sheet of how the score was compiled and recommendations for how to make your home more efficient.
Beyond giving homeowners the information they need to make their home more energy-efficient and to save money, the Home Energy Score can also showcase the energy investments you've made in your home to make it more attractive to potential buyers in the future.
Assessments can be completed in less than an hour in most homes, and you can find local assessors on DOE's website.
Watch a video to learn more about the tool:
If you’re thinking about making your home more energy-efficient, there are many good reasons to do it. In addition to reducing your carbon footprint and lowering your utility bills, completing eco-friendly renovations can even raise your home’s value. Here are four green renovation ideas that could increase the value of your home.
1. Let the sunlight in.
The sun is a natural source of light, heat and energy. Take advantage of this resource by adding skylights, windows or solar panels to reduce both your carbon footprint and your utility bills. Increasing natural light can reduce your need for electricity during the day, while solar panels and even some skylights can convert energy from the sun into energy you can use to power your home.
Don’t be deterred by the expense—you may be able to recoup most, if not all, of the costs. As Consumer Affairs notes, items such as solar-powered blinds can boost your home’s energy performance by as much as 45 percent, and multiple studies have shown that potential buyers will pay more for energy-efficient homes. In addition, going solar could have tax benefits.
2. Replace old windows and doors.
New doors and windows can make your home more energy-efficient by creating a better seal to block out the outside weather, leading to lower heating and cooling costs and improved curb appeal. In addition, some purchases may be eligible for rebates and tax incentives. Replacing an old wooden front door with a new, stainless steel door can yield one of the highest rates of ROI of any home renovation project—as much as 102 percent of your investment. And Energy Star-rated windows can save you hundreds of dollars a year in heating and cooling costs.
3. Upgrade appliances.
Appliances contribute to an estimated 15 percent of your energy usage, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. You can reduce your energy consumption by upgrading to appliances that are more energy-efficient. Before upgrading, remember to look at kilowatt-hour usage: Compare your current stove, refrigerator and dishwasher to the newer options to ensure you’re getting a more efficient model. Some utility companies offer rebates and discounts when you upgrade to energy-efficient models, so be sure to find out if you’re eligible. Don’t forget to recycle your old appliances.
4. Refresh and upcycle.
Fresh, updated interiors can greatly improve the value of your home. HGTV estimates that a kitchen remodel can yield more than a 100 percent return, while a remodeled bathroom could recoup nearly double its cost at resale. Keep your remodel green and economical by sourcing used or reclaimed materials. Built-in shelving made from reclaimed barn wood, kitchen islands made from repurposed antique furniture and upcycled hardwood flooring can reduce your carbon footprint and add character to your home. Look for materials such as recycled glass and stone for beautiful countertops, and give kitchen cabinets a fresh look with low-VOC paint.
Putting a premium on indoor air quality and nontoxic materials, the homeowners of Right Sized Passive Home in Oak Park, Illinois, built their residence to high standards of health. Certified as LEED Platinum, the house was recently named Outstanding Single-Family Project in the LEED Homes Awards for 2016, a few months after making an informal rundown of 8 coolest LEED projects of 2016.
Also built to achieve Passive House certification, the home was designed by Tom Bassett-Dilley Architect, constructed by Evolutionary Home Builders and verified by Eco Achievers. It has its own energy monitoring system, so the owners and designers can track energy use compared to modeled predictions. So far, the all-electric house seems to be running at about 500 kWh per month, below the modeled prediction. The owners also plan to install a solar array within the next year.
The homeowners wanted a good design that would allow more investment in a smaller project. In under 2,000 feet, the house allows a flow of light and energy throughout its spaces, including a screened-in porch that reinvents the traditional spot to socialize and enjoy the outdoors.
In choosing materials, the team used tactics such as
- Excluding finishes and paints with VOCs.
- Using cabinets with no added formaldehyde.
- Putting in Greenguard-certified drywall.
- Incorporating salvaged wood with no previous finish.
The project team's strictness about keeping toxins out of the construction process, providing a continuous balanced ventilation system and providing third-party air quality measurement at the end of construction allowed them to create a clean, healthy indoor environment. In addition, by designing a house that is sensitive to the scale and character of the neighborhood, they feel they have supported the quality of the surrounding built community.
Smart kitchen lighting goes beyond replacing your old bulbs with more efficient models. Reducing energy consumed by lighting can be easy with a kitchen that's designed for flexibility and makes use of the most energy-efficient lighting of all: natural daylight.
Look to your light switches as an important place to save money and energy, because turning unnecessary lights off or dimming them reduces energy consumption.
- Dimmers provide flexibility and conserve energy. Dimming a light by half can cut electric use by 40 percent. Dimmers also extend the life of the bulb. Note: Dimmers don’t work with most fluorescent bulbs.
- Multiple switches provide flexibility, allowing you to turn on just the right amount of lights. At a minimum, your general overhead lighting, accent pendants and undercabinet lighting should all be switched separately. When planning your switches, also consider how you might use lighting for different times of day and various occasions.
Photo credit Chr DAUER Architects; original photo on Houzz.
This kitchen is a top-notch illustration of good lighting and clearly illustrates the three types of interior lighting:
- Ambient: In this kitchen, the recessed can lights and the barely detectable uplighting on top of the upper cabinets are the ambient (or general) light source, which provides an area with overall illumination.
- Task: Here the pendants over the table and the undercabinet lighting are the task lighting, which helps you perform specific tasks, such as preparing and cooking food.
- Accent: This kitchen's pendants also act as accent lighting, which creates visual interest.
This kitchen also keenly incorporates natural daylight with a skylight and a bank of windows at counter level.
Reduce your need for artificial light and take advantage of natural daylight as a cost-free way to illuminate your kitchen during daytime hours. Besides, who doesn't love a gorgeous light-filled space?
North- and south-facing windows are optimal for bringing in natural light. Northern light is softer and unaccompanied by glare or direct light (which brings with it heat). South-facing windows can introduce direct light, but that light is easy to control with short exterior overhangs designed to keep direct light out during hotter months. The daylight (and associated heat gain) from east- and west-facing windows is the toughest to control, but can be counteracted with exterior vegetation or window coverings.
Photo credit Smith & Vansant Architects PC; original photo on Houzz.
Natural daylight without upper cabinets. One of my favorite kitchen design moves is the elimination of upper cabinets in exchange for more windows. I avoid conventional upper cabinets because the space below them—even with undercabinet lighting—is often dark and less usable. Without upper cabinets in this kitchen, the full depth of the perimeter counters is more usable, and the work surfaces are bathed in natural light during the day, meaning light fixtures can be comfortably kept off.
Photo credit Moroso Construction; original photo on Houzz.
Natural daylight with upper cabinets. Smart designs, like this kitchen, can avoid the shortcomings of upper cabinets. This kitchen employs light-colored, reflective surfaces and an undercabinet window to keep work areas bright during the day.
Photo credit Tracery Interiors; original photo on Houzz.
Natural daylight with skylights. Introducing natural light doesn't require trading in wall space for windows. Look (up) to skylights for a great way to deliver daylight to your kitchen work surfaces. This kitchen has no lights turned on, and yet the island is beautifully awash with bright natural light.
Photo credit Feldman Architecture Inc.; original photo on Houzz.
Natural daylight from remote sources. This kitchen doesn't have access to windows or a skylight, but it's light-filled, thanks to a clever design that borrows daylight from a second story.
Surfaces, especially countertops, that are light-colored and reflective will make the most use of the light cast upon them.
Bulbs for kitchen lighting
Three types of bulbs, or lamps, as they're known in the lighting industry, are most common in current kitchen design:
- Incandescent: Thank you, Thomas Edison, for allowing us to relegate candles to birthday cakes and romantic evenings, instead of having to use them for our primary lighting. Although incandescents were the lighting standard for decades, the lighting industry is quickly moving away from inefficient incandescent bulbs—even making some bulbs illegal. And for good reason: a 100-watt bulb is 2.1 percent efficient, producing about 2 watts of light and 98 watts of heat.
- Compact fluorescent: CFLs have been everyone's go-to efficient bulb, but, much like eight-tracks or compact discs, their time with us may be short. While these bulbs use about a third or less of the energy that an incandescent uses, CFLs are difficult to dim, contain mercury (though some mercury-free options are available) and are being outperformed by LEDs.
- LED: Light-emitting diode lamps and fixtures should be your new go-to for efficient artificial light, with increased efficiency over CFLs and a life span that's six times longer. Prices have been plummeting as demand has risen.
The Federal Trade Commission is making it easier for consumers to compare lightbulbs by requiring labels on bulb packages that are similar to nutrition labeling. The straightforward label provides everything you need to know, including brightness (lumens), estimated operating costs, expected life span and light appearance (color temperature).
Photo credit EnvironmentalLights.com; original photo on Houzz.
With newer lightbulbs designed to use less energy, wattage is no longer an effective way to gauge a bulb's brightness, so the industry is shifting from watts to lumens. This chart provides an easy guide to lumens based on equivalent incandescent bulb wattage.
Color temperature is how light appears to us—warm, cool or natural. You can dramatically alter the character of a space with a lamp's color temperature. Look for color temperature, called "light appearance" on the new lighting fact labels.
From when the sun rises until it sets, homeowners struggle with keeping their space bright and airy, without paying for it with excessive energy bills.
Although it’s energizing to let in some sunlight during the daylight, it can also let in heat and make your home less energy-efficient. This can lead to your frequently opening and closing the blinds, without really knowing the effect it has on your home’s temperature.
Technology companies are taking note of this issue, and several smart home products for window treatments have popped into the market. These provide a good alternative to remote-controlled blinds. Smart window treatments may help you automate your blinds at a low price.
When looking into automating blinds, you might consider these options:
Blinds that shut when it’s hot
The biggest annoyance of traditional blinds is that it’s easy to leave them open, even after the temperature heats up. Smart blinds can solve this issue. For example, My SmartBlinds has a unique energy savings mode that can automatically close the blinds when the window heats up.
Shades that are voice-controlled
Another smart shade solution is the Lutron Serena. While these are more expensive, they offer Apple HomeKit compatibility, so you can say “Siri, close the shades” and watch your futuristic home follow your commands. For now, these are some of the only voice-controlled blinds, but new products will likely come along to work with Alexa, Google and others.
Shades that work with your Nest thermostat
If you’re familiar with window treatments, you’ve probably heard of HunterDouglas. The manufacturer is now venturing into the smart shades market, with motorization that can specifically work with Nest thermostats. The blinds automatically adjust themselves when your Nest senses that you’re away from home. It can also insulate your home during “rush hour” events, when the power grid is at maximum load and you may be billed more for using energy.
Photo courtesy of HunterDouglas.
A small device that works with most blinds
If you’re not interested in replacing all of your blinds, check out the SOMA Smart Shades by Wazombi. It’s a new device that’s still got some kinks to work out, but here’s how it works: SOMA Smart Shades installs next to your blinds with the beaded pulleys feeding through. Then, it adjusts automatically by pulling to close or open the shades, just like you would. Currently, SOMA only works with shades that have beaded pulleys.
A device with solar recharging
FlipFlic, a Kickstarter invention that’s currently in pre-orders, is another retrofit solution designed to work with your current blinds. Designed to fit on top of your shutters or blinds, the small device turns your blinds down when your room heats up during the day. FlipFlic’s battery recharges with its included solar panel. It also works with the well-known BLE and ZigBee hubs, allowing you to implement your blinds into daily smart home scenes.
Photo courtesty of FlipFlic.
Of course, these solutions get more expensive when implemented across your entire home. Since the average house might have 20 or more windows, and one of these devices can run hundreds of dollars, the total cost adds up quickly. If you have a small apartment, or just one room that gets hot during the day, then the price might not be as much of a factor.
As manufacturers continue improving the options for shades, blinds, shutters and all types of window treatments, they will become even more smart, energy-efficient and affordable.
Annual recognition highlights projects, developers and builders leading the residential market in sustainable development
Washington, D.C.—(Sept. 12, 2017)—Today, USGBC announced the recipients of its annual LEED Homes Awards, which recognizes projects, architects, developers and homebuilders who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and innovation in the residential green building marketplace.
The LEED Homes Award recipients include multi-family, single-family and affordable housing projects and companies that are trailblazers in the residential sector and have prioritized incorporating sustainability within their projects in 2016.
View our slideshare of the recipients: