When we look at ways to lead healthier, more eco-friendly, and sustainable lives for both ourselves and our pets, we often default to exercise and nutrition. What often gets overlooked are the spaces in which we live and the various elements we’re exposed to. So to help inspire a healthier home environment, here are various ways in which we can purify our living spaces, conserve energy, and embrace more sustainable lifestyles.
Start Composting Your Food Scraps
Even the most conscious of consumers will end up with food scraps that get thrown away at the end of a meal. But instead of disposing of food scraps into the wastebasket, a more eco-friendly alternative is to start composting.
According to a study from the University of Washington, food waste in landfills is one of the leading causes of methane. Conversely, the practice of food composting prevents the decomposition and subsequent release of greenhouse gases.
In a press release about the study, lead researcher Sally Brown wrote that "putting your food waste in the compost bin can really help reduce methane emissions from landfills, so it’s an easy thing to do that can have a big impact."
Lay a Healthy Foundation with Hardwood Flooring
Wood is naturally an energy efficient material, as heat (one of the home's most precious types of energy) has a hard time penetrating most woods. In turn, hardwood flooring is a great choice for energy efficient flooring, as it helps keep heat inside during the colder months while also helping prevent outside summer heat from entering the home when the seasons change.
The energy efficiency of wood floors depends on several factors: the type of wood, the thickness of wood, the installation quality, and the quality of the sub-floor. But beyond energy efficiency, many homeowners are looking to level-up their home's health with flooring that has little to no volatile organic compounds, or "VOCs". Unlike popular types of synthetic carpet and pressed wood floors that contain chemicals and dangerous concentrations of formaldehyde, low-VOC hardwood flooring is a healthier and more eco-friendly option - not only for you, but also for pets.
Eliminate Buying Water and Beverages in Plastic Bottles
It's no longer a matter of question - plastics have become a major problem in the global environment. And unfortunately, tossing your plastic water bottles in the recycling bin doesn’t make up for the environmental impact.
The fact of the matter is, an estimated 80% of all plastic water bottles in the U.S. end up in the trash, and only 20% of plastic bottles that do get recycled can actually be used for recycling, according to data by The Water Project. For the bottles that do get thrown away only to end up in landfills, it will take over 1,000 years before they begin to biodegrade.
The solution is simple: avoid buying water and beverages in plastic containers. Be prepared when you step out of the home by having a reusable bottle. When in the home, invest in a good filtration system so you can enjoy bottle-free water from your tap.
Consider Keeping Your Cats Inside
While we all don't own cats, an interesting study published in Nature Communications offers compelling insight into America’s second-favorite household pet. According to the study's findings, cats that are allowed outdoors (strays included) are responsible for the deaths of as many as 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals in the United States per year. The result: a gradual yet dramatic shift in the ecosystem.
"Our findings suggest that free-ranging cats cause substantially greater wildlife mortality than previously thought and are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for U.S. birds and mammals," said ornithologist Peter Marra in regards to the study's findings.
So if you do happen to own a cat (or plan to in the future), consider keeping your feline friends inside, or perhaps limit outdoor time in a confined backyard space.
Upgrade Your Home's HVAC System
An HVAC system is comprised of the equipment that controls a home's heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating alone is responsible for about 40% of a home's energy use. This number can be even higher for homes located in northern regions exposed to longer cold seasons.
Air conditioning, by comparison, isn't nearly as significant a contributor to energy bills. On average, AC units only make up about 6% of the total energy use in a standard home. Fortunately, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems have been developed to help minimize the cost associated with these utility expenses. One popular brand in the U.S. ENERGY STAR has been shown to be 16% more energy efficient than baseline furnace models, and 8% more efficient than conventional AC appliances. Over time, this seemingly small amount of energy efficiency can really add up on a home's utility bill.
Upgrades to the third component of an HVAC system – ventilation – can further improve a home's energy efficiency. Ventilation systems are composed of a network of ducts, which distributes hot and cold air throughout your home. If these ducts are poorly sealed or insulated, the resulting energy waste can add hundreds of dollars to your annual heating and cooling expenses. Proper insulation and maintenance on a home's ventilation system has been shown to reduce your heating and cooling expenses by up to 20%.
Save Energy and Control Indoor Temperature with Window Film
Another form of home improvement that can help you save energy and maintain consistent indoor temperatures is window film. We’ve all experienced the dramatic heat gain that results when summer sun blasts through glass windows and doors. This can cause AC units to work overtime to maintain desired temperature settings.
Conversely, heat loss through windows is another common energy drain that can wreak havoc on your utility bill costs. Fortunately, the right type of window film can help mitigate these problems. Depending on where your home is located and how much sun exposure it receives, certain types of energy saving window film may be more appropriate than others.
For instance, a "Low E" or insulating film can function as both a window insulation film and a heat blocking film, helping to retain cool air during the summer and heat during the winter. This option might be better than a window film exclusively designed for heat blocking and UV protection.
Start Using Natural Cleaning Products
If you're not already using cleaning products with natural, chemical-free ingredients, start now for your health, as well as the health of your family, friends, and pets. It's no secret by now that using using harmful chemicals to clean is bad for the environment as well as your health. When you wash these conventional cleaners away, you're simply putting them into the water supply. Essentially this means that water will require more purification before it is safe to use again.
The good news is that in the majority of cases, chemical-based cleaners are rarely ever needed. For most day-to-day cleaning tasks, natural cleaning products like citric acid (from citrus fruits), vinegar, and the bicarbonate of soda can be used as an eco-friendly alternative.