The anatomy of a green home

woman watering plants

Whether you're building, remodeling, or simply sprucing up your home, we'll show you how to make eco-friendly changes that are simple and affordable.

Go green, save green

We believe that what's good for the planet should also be good for your budget. That's why we're here to help you make eco-friendly choices that are easy to do and don't break the bank. From LED lights to low-VOC paints, there are simple opportunities to improve your home — and the environment — in every room.

The average household spends $7,068 on utilities and household operation costs each year. But make some sustainable changes and you could save over $1,000 on energy bills annually. You could even save on homeowners insurance too. Keep reading to find out how.

Construction and remodeling

Whether you're building from the ground up or renovating, it pays to put some thought into how you build your home, from the building materials to your contractor. You'll save money in the long run and feel good about your reduced carbon footprint. Here are some tips to get started:

  1. Insulate with the environment in mind. Insulation is meant to save on energy costs, so the concept is already green. But traditional fiberglass insulation requires 10 times more energy to produce than greener options. Plus it's linked to skin and respiratory irritation. So while most people leave this detail up to their contractor, it's worth looking into other options like cellulose insulation. The price is on par with fiberglass insulation — because you shouldn't have to pay more to go green.

  2. Choose bamboo flooring over timber for your hardwood floors. It's widely available. It's beautiful. It's durable. It regrows quickly, making it a top choice for sustainable customers (you). And best of all, it's more affordable than hardwood, so you'll save money on installation.

  3. Apply a fresh coat of eco-friendly paint. Let's talk about volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are found in paints and stains that evaporate for weeks on end and are linked to a variety of health issues. They also pollute the air. Look for paints labeled "low-VOC." This means they've met the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) standards for safe levels of VOCs.

  4. Save money with energy-efficient windows. It can be costly to replace existing windows with their green equivalent, so it's best to do this in the construction phase. Look for ENERGY STAR windows and skylights. ENERGY STAR products have met strict energy efficiency criteria set by the EPA or the U.S. Department of Energy. Plus, they can save you major money every month on your utility bills. (Find the complete list of ENERGY STAR certified products here). Like insulation, these windows ensure your house stays warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. So even if you have to pay more, you'll make up the costs over time — anywhere from $126-$465 annually. Plus, you'll likely up your home's resale value. You may even qualify for an ENERGY STAR mortgage, which includes discounts on loan origination fees. Contact hotline@energystar.gov for more information.

  5. Build with reclaimed wood or brick from tear-down sites. They're not only cheaper and greener, they can also add rustic charm. Browse sites like PlanetReuse, ReuseWood, and Freecycle for reclaimed materials. You can also call local contractors to see if they'll set aside materials for you to pick up.

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Kitchen

The kitchen hogs A LOT of your home's energy. Your sink and dishwasher are likely using up lots of water. Add in a gas or electric stove, and don't forget your largest appliance: the fridge. And then think about all the miscellaneous appliances you use every day — we're talking coffee maker, toaster, blender … the list goes on. The kitchen is a prime place to reduce your energy usage. Here's how:

  1. Reduce water with a faucet aerator. These are special low-flow attachments for your kitchen faucet or bathroom shower head. They save the average household 3,500 gallons of water and 410 kilowatt-hours of electricity every year. Specifically, you should look for aerators with the WaterSense label. WaterSense products are similar to ENERGY STAR products in that they meet EPA standards for efficiency.

  2. Compost food scraps instead of trashing them. This is especially easy if you live in a city that offers curbside compost collection along with trash and recycling (you'll have a third bin at your house). Don't sweat it if you don't — there are tons of companies that offer curbside compost pickup. Find one by entering your ZIP code here. Composting reduces methane emissions from landfills — and given the fact that 72 billion pounds of food end up in landfills or incinerators every year, we think the effort's worth it.

  3. Shop for ENERGY STAR appliances. By switching to an ENERGY STAR fridge, you could save $300 over the next 5 years. Check out their fridge calculator to find out exactly how much you could save. A standard ENERGY STAR dishwasher only costs $35 per year to run and could save 3,870 gallons of water over its lifetime.

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Bathroom

  1. Try a tankless water heater — they last longer than conventional ones. They're more eco-friendly because they only heat water as needed, saving the energy it takes to constantly keep a tank full of hot water. They also save water because the heating is instant — eliminating the need to let the water run until it gets hot.

  2. Attach low-flow shower heads to help you save on your water bill. These eco-friendly attachments only cost $10 or $20 and use 25-60% less water than conventional shower heads. Like low-flow toilets, it's best to find one with a WaterSense label.

  3. Upgrade to low-flow toilets to reduce water usage and save money. If you have an older toilet, you're probably using up to 6 gallons of water for every single flush. How wasteful is that? Install a toilet with a WaterSense label and cut that down to only 1.28 gallons per flush.

  4. Fix leaks as soon as you spot them. Leaks waste 1 trillion gallons of water every year in the US. An easy way to spot hidden leaks is to look at your water bill. In colder months, a family of 4 shouldn't use more than 12,000 gallons. If your usage is significantly higher, you likely have some serious leaks. Thankfully, they're usually easy to fix and any hardware needed pays for itself in saved water costs.

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Bedroom

If you're like most people, your bedroom probably isn't full of appliances and faucets. So you may be wondering what green fixes you can make here. When it comes to making your bedroom greener, consider things like airflow and window insulation. Try these tips:

  1. Purify the air with bedroom plants. Bedroom plants aren't just a nice way to add some zen to where you catch your zzz's , they have major health and environmental benefits too! A famous NASA experiment from 1989 found that certain indoor plants can filter out cancer-causing compounds like formaldehyde and benzene. According to the study, you should keep at least two big, leafy plants — like a Boston fern or golden pothos — per 100 square feet. Additionally, the USDA estimates that with proper use, houseplants can lower the temperature of a room by as much as ten degrees. So skip constantly running the air conditioning and get planting.

  2. Add extra insulation with blackout curtains. Sure they'll help you sleep better, but more importantly, they help maintain the temperature of your bedroom — saving you money on heating and air conditioning bills. During the winter, keep them open to allow the sun's heat into your space and shut them at night to trap it in. During the summer, keep them closed to block out those rays.

  3. Switch to energy-efficient ceiling fans when the summer heats up. They use far less energy than an AC unit, and even less if you go with an ENERGY STAR pick. Make sure to run the fan counterclockwise to suck up cooler air instead of pushing down hot air.

  4. Replace air filters quarterly. Don't forget to clean out your air duct too. Dirt and dust can build up and reduce the efficiency of your AC, causing you to have to run it longer and more often. Plus, if you're prone to allergies, you'll sleep better with cleaner air.

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Living room

Making your living room greener is a process that may not be super obvious. After all, you probably don't use much water, gas, or electricity here. But electronic devices like a TV, Blu-ray player, video game systems, and even lamps can really rack up your electricity bill. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Use LED lights — especially those that are ENERGY STAR rated. They use 75% less energy than incandescent lighting and last 25 times longer. You can find and compare ENERGY STAR-rated LED bulbs here.

  2. Repurpose old furniture instead of sending it to a landfill. Turn to Pinterest for ideas on how to repurpose old or outdated pieces. You'll use far fewer harmful chemicals than mass manufacturers. Not a DIYer? Get your furniture at thrift stores — the pieces are usually cheaper and full of character.

  3. Install a smart thermostat. Yeah, they class up your entryway. But more importantly, they help you reduce energy usage and save money. Independent studies have shown that Nest Thermostats have saved people 10-12% on their heating bill and 15% on their cooling bill. Plus, some cities offer rebates if you agree not to heat or cool your home during peak energy hours — typically when people get home from work.

  4. Unplug unused electronics. Most of your electronics still use a small amount of power even when they're not being used. TVs, chargers, cable boxes, and anything with a continuous display like computer screen savers all suck energy. They can account for up to 10% of your electricity bill, even unused. Unplug. Save. Simple.

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Outside

Now that your interior is eco-friendly, step outside to see where you can improve. Everyone's home is different, but there are opportunities to go green in every type of space and with any budget. Here are some ideas:

  1. Install solar panels for a renewable energy source. Let's talk about how affordable these are. First, you'll get 30% of the material and installation costs back as a tax credit. So if solar panels cost you $25,000, you'll get $7,500 back. If you pair this with Solar Energy Renewable Certificates — which allow you to sell certificates for energy to your utility company — you can cut your total cost in half. Fact: the government wants you to go green.

  2. Collect rainwater with a water barrel, which is a simple container that collects rain runoff from your gutters. You can then use it to water your plants and landscape to keep water costs down. Rainwater harvesting is legal in most states, but it's a good idea to check your state just in case. If you live in Delaware, Florida, Maryland, or Rhode Island, your state might even offer incentives for collecting your own rainwater.

  3. Don't forget weather stripping and window caulking to seal off the nooks and crannies. You'll save on AC and heating costs. As an added bonus, it's harder for allergens and pollutants to enter your home, keeping things greener and cleaner.

  4. Grow native landscaping. Native plants are already adapted to their environment, so they require less water and upkeep to survive. They also help wildlife thrive since pollinators like bees, bats, and butterflies rely on their nectar. Plug your zip code into Audobon's native plant database to see which plants are best for your area. As an added bonus, planting trees to shade your house will help you save on your AC bill.

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Insure your eco-friendly home

You've put in time and effort to construct or remodel your green home. Make sure you protect it with reliable and affordable homeowners insurance. As part of our commitment to making insurance surprisingly painless, here are some tips for insuring your eco-friendly home:

  • Get a discount for using ENERGY STAR appliances. We've stressed the importance of ENERGY STAR appliances for saving money on your bills. But did you know they can also get you a discount on your homeowners insurance? That's because we think saving the planet and saving money should go hand-in-hand.

  • Choose eco upgrade coverage. If you add eco upgrade coverage to your Esurance homeowners insurance policy, we'll replace your energy-inefficient appliances after a covered loss with state-of-the-art ENERGY STAR products.

  • If you're planning a remodel, make sure you update your insurance. Whether you're making minor kitchen renovations, putting in a swimming pool, or building a front porch, contact your homeowners insurance company before you renovate to stay ahead of the game and plan accordingly.

    It's also a good idea to take "before" and "after" photos. If you need to put furniture and other items in storage, make sure those items are still covered by your policy if stored outside your home.

    You should also check with your insurance company about your liability coverage. You may need to raise your coverage during the renovation project in the event that someone, even your best friend, gets injured. If you hire a contractor, make sure they carry their own insurance by asking to see their certificate.

    Learn more about how remodels affect your insurance here.

So whether you're insuring your new home or updating your insurance due to a remodel, get a quote for simple, transparent, and affordable homeowners insurance.

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View the full infographic here.

Sources:

Department of Energy | U.S. Green Building Council | Environmental Protection Agency | ENERGY STAR | care2 | Green America | Audubon | Bureau of Labor Statistics



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or call 1-800-378-7262

Or call 1-800-378-7262.