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Easy eco-friendly upgrades for your home

Do your best to go green

As energy prices rise and environmental consciousness increases, many homeowners are choosing more energy-efficient upgrades as they consider home improvement.

Ecologically responsible home upgrades can save you money while enhancing your comfort, reducing pollution and saving our natural resources. It's not necessary to radically change your lifestyle: a few simple changes will have a cumulative effect. A project as simple as replacing standard light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (which use 2/3 less electricity) is a good start!

Get in some hot water Many homeowners are discovering that tankless water heaters can meet their needs for an endless hot water supply. Compact and efficient, tankless water heaters do not store hot water, as traditional heaters do, but heat the water upon demand. This can result in a large energy savings, since up to 80 percent of the energy used by a traditional heater is used to reheat the stored water.

Tankless heaters also may conserve space in the home, since larger-capacity units may be mounted outside or in the garage in warmer climates. These are a good choice for whole-house heaters, and homes with large families who never seem to have enough hot water for all the showers!

Smaller, usually electric, units may be placed under the sink or in closets. These more compact units are ideal for point-of-use locations, such as remote bathrooms, pools or hot tubs. The initial expense of tankless heaters is approximately twice that of traditional heaters, and installation can cost three times as much, however, natural gas and propane units will be much less expensive to operate.

Tankless heaters will last 20 years or more, compared to 10-15 years for a traditional heater. The parts are also easy to access and replace, possibly extending the life of the tankless heater well beyond 20 years. This is not a do-it-yourself project for most homeowners, since existing supply lines and venting systems must be upgraded. Installation of tankless heaters in new construction is less expensive than replacing an existing traditional heater.

Reprogram yourself Programmable thermostats are also gaining in popularity. If you are home most of the day and don't alter the temperature much, you can probably stick with your mechanical model. But if you are away from home for hours during the day, a digital or electronic programmable thermostat can quickly pay off in lower heating costs, with savings of up to 35 percent.

Traditional mechanical thermostats are set to a desired temperature, which then must be monitored by the homeowner. A programmable thermostat will constantly adjust the temperature of the home from a comfortable setting while you are awake and moving about the house, to a lower or higher temperature while you are away at work, or sleeping.

Programmable thermostats generally have four time periods that can be preset by the homeowner to ensure the heating or cooling system adjusts the temperature at the desired time. Basic programmable thermostats have a digital display, fan-operation controls, and a reminder to change furnace filters.

More advanced models may feature touch-screens, voice activation, intuitive menus, and remote access which lets the homeowner control the thermostat by telephone or internet. DIY installation will take about an hour, but the more advanced models may require professional installation. Don't let your savings go down the drain The toilet is accountable for the major amount of water used in a household, between 30-50% of the daily water consumption. All toilets manufactured and sold in the US are now required to use 1.6 gallons of water or less per flush, compared to 3-5 gallons -- or more -- needed for older models.

The first 1.6 gpf (gallon per flush) models were not redesigned by maufacturers to operate with less water, which led to consumer dissatisfaction, and often needed a "double-flush" to get the job done -- which clearly did not result in much water savings!

The newer models have been redesigned, however, with larger traps and more effecient bowl shapes to flush more effectively. Some models have power-assisted flushing mechanisms that use air pressure to increase flushing power. Low-consumption toilets can save thousands of gallons of water every year per family.

Installing a toilet is a fairly simple project that most DIYers would be able to handle. When replacing old porcelain fixtures, don't just send them to the landfill. Many municipalities will crush old porcelain to use in new roadway construction. Check with your local recycling center.

Let the sun shine in... a little A home with older windows may lose up to 65 percent of its heating and cooling energy through the windows. Technologies in window manufacturing in the last two decades have resulted in energy-efficient high performance windows that can greatly reduce your heating and cooling bills.

Low-E glass coatings are formulated to select specific wavelengths of energy and reflect long-wave radiant heat from the sun, while allowing visible light to pass through. Realize that energy-efficient windows have a higher initial cost than standard windows, with a payback time of two to 10 years.

Replacing all the windows in your home is a major expense, so you may want to consider replacing windows room by room. Depending on how handy you are, installing the new windows yourself could save a substantial amount of money over hiring a contractor.

Look at some film An inexpensive alternative to replacing windows is to apply a solar-control window film over existing the existing glass. Window film is an easy and effective choice to reduce summer energy consumption. The average savings is approximately $100 a year or more, depending on your climate.

Not only do window films provide relief from heat, they also block harmful rays which can fade furnishings, floorings, and window treatments. Transparent films will not obscure the homeowner's view -- think of them like sunglasses for your house -- and there are also decorative films available which will give your windows an etched glass appearance at a fraction of the cost and provide privacy. This is an easy DIY project; the average window can be done in 30 minutes or less. The film is also removable, although this can be tricky and usually best left to professionals.

Only the beginning These are just a few of the many home upgrades that can enhance your lifestyle while protecting our environment. Before implementing any of these suggestions, do your homework -- check out other websites (and more articles here on SheKnows), speak to contractors and visit your local home improvement stores -- and research all the options available with each upgrade. Consider your family's needs, finances and future savings and make informed decisions. Helping to preserve our environment may also bring out the altruistic person in you!

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