Our homes are no longer just where we eat and sleep, but they are also our offices, classrooms, gyms and short-order diners. Our living spaces are struggling to contain us including the lack of control we feel about the pandemic and social unrest. However, adopting some simple sustainability practices around the house can make our collective quarantine boxes feel more livable and eco-conscious, while also helping us regain some personal agency.
Creating and maintaining a sustainable home and lifestyle shouldn’t be daunting. Several small actions taken together can create enhanced comfort, and also save you money while helping the environment. Especially in these trying times, Americans are concerned with taxes and finances in general, so here are some savvy actions that can save on monthly costs.
Buy from local companies
COVID-19 has driven a spike in online shopping, but we need to break our Amazon addiction. Jeff Bezos and his shareholders have seen increased revenue and climbing stock prices (billionaires have added more than $600 billion to their wealth during coronavirus.) We should direct our purchasing power to neighborhood businesses and locally-produced products and services. Small businesses continue to struggle even with government assistance programs in place. Additionally, the 15 largest transport ships produce as much pollution as every car on the planet combined, providing yet another reason to be a locavore and a more thoughtful consumer of the small businesses that provide about half of the U.S. economic activity.
You can order from local companies then use their curbside pickup services to reduce the product and environmental costs of overseas shipping. Buy in bulk (but don’t hoard), patronize struggling local shops and restaurants when you can, and buy beer from regional microbreweries. Use these unusual circumstances to redefine your purchasing priorities and practices.
Be smart with your online purchases
If you do order online, then try new services that aim to reduce, recycle and reuse. Websites such as PoshMark, ThredUP and The RealReal offer like-new luxury and designer apparel for substantial discounts while keeping those clothes and accessories out of the waste stream. Since yard sales and flea markets are now limited due to social-distancing concerns, clean out your closets and garages and then use mostly-free apps like LetGo and Mercari — or post your items on community bulletin boards like NextDoor — to find appreciative homes for your excess goods, plus you’ll earn some spending money. Commit to supporting artists and craftspeople by buying from Etsy.com, while also championing upcycle goods, rather than buying items produced by sweatshop labor, which are then sold in wasteful big box stores.
Recycle, but don’t ‘wish cycle’
Recycle, but don’t “wish-cycle,” or toss questionable pieces in with approved items. Most communities now offer sorting bins. If you don’t already have a household plan, figure out how to get your paper, plastic and metal to the correct containers both inside and outside (bonus: there’s your kids’ science lesson for the day). Understand your trash service’s recycling rules and don’t contaminate good recyclables, since wish-cycling can cause an entire recycling load to be rejected and redirected to a landfill.
Look into energy alternatives
Many municipalities and utility companies now offer rebates for purchasing Energy Star-rated appliances, water heaters, electronics like televisions, lighting and ceiling fans. Homeowners can also check into more efficient insulation and windows for possible rebates and definite long-term lower energy costs. Once you get those energy-efficient air conditioners and furnaces installed, keep your AC around 72 degrees in the summer, and around 62 in the winter (wear your new-to-you PoshMark sweater if you’re chilly). Look at your home as an investment, it is common that overall life-cycle costs are much cheaper on more expensive items. Factor in life-cycle costs for enhanced savings over time.
Consider solar energy and hybrid cars
For those able to invest in more substantial energy upgrades, look into solar energy and batteries. Companies like SunRun, SunPower and Sungevity offer free assessments and quotes for clean and renewable household energy. Having your own power source on the roof can mitigate frequent brown-outs or power outages from climate change-caused weather events. Solar panels also offer tax breaks, and are low maintenance once installed. Solar capture material costs have fallen, and panels work even in colder, cloudier environments (although a 30-45 degree pitched roof best captures photons).
For residents living in Los Angeles, it’s easier than ever before to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs.) Companies like EcoSmart Builders allow homeowners to reinvest in their primary home which generates immediate cash flow but also provides low-cost, solar power, making home improvements more energy efficient.
You may also consider a geothermal system, which harnesses consistent earth temperatures by using a heat pump and underground pipes to carry heat into your home during winter, and move home heat back into the ground during summer while harnessing cooler temperatures underground. Groups like Dandelion Energy can also provide free estimates for system conversion.
And of course, think about an electric or hybrid car next time you need new wheels. Focus on life-cycle costs, not just the initial purchase price, and insist on a floor of 35 MPG performance. If you’re able, you should try to bike or walk when you can, a great option for when picking up your curbside order from a local business. Many health insurance plans offer cost reductions for tracking physical activity with a wearable tracking device, like a FitBit or AppleWatch and hitting certain targets. Just make sure to be careful and continue to practice safe social distancing.
The Voting Booth
Every vote counts. Politicians very often lead innovation with the choices they make in office. We need to see more policies that enhance the green energy landscape. Subsidies that support fossil fuels suffocate innovation and enable outdated and heavily polluting industries to thrive when they should be phased out through natural capitalistic cycles. We shouldn’t be keeping these industries afloat as renewable energy generation costs drop to become more competitive. Only our collective voices will be able to urge our politicians to implement a more productive and beneficial use of the subsidies our governments are willing to offer with our hard-earned tax dollars. These subsidies are what enable us to continue to improve our homes through these home energy rebate programs. We need to fight to keep them active. At the end of the day, our personal actions and micro-environments impact the outside world. We can make conscious choices to improve our individual circumstances, which in turn will help the community-at-large too. Climate change is real, it’s here, and it’s driving innovation, so take advantage of the newer, cleaner, more efficient products, which offer accompanying rebates and lower lifetime costs. Remember, vote for legislators who support these job-creating innovations, and who are guided by peer-reviewed, science-based technologies and decisions. In the quest for lower carbon footprints and cleaner energy, remember that we already have the power to make helpful and thrifty choices.