Looking for little ways to make a big difference in your energy bills and environmental impact? Jane Hardy and her husband spent $200 per square foot to meticulously rebuild the historic guesthouse in their backyard. They earned prestigious LEED certification for the cottage that now rents by the week to Nashville visitors. Hardy felt it was worth the up-front expense of systems like geothermal heating and cooling that will pay for itself with energy savings in the long run. The house is designed to use a third less energy than the average home its size. She also contracted lots of custom woodworking to reuse salvaged solid wood for Little House Nashville. On our recent visit, we asked Hardy which tips the rest of us could reuse in our homes, even without their construction budget:
Seal Out Drafts
Whether you use the soy-based foam insulation that’s between all of the studs at Little House Nashville, or just add foam insulation to your draftiest areas, it can make a difference. You can also caulk around windows and doors. Hardy says most of us unknowingly have so many drafts in our houses that it’s the equivalent of having a large window constantly open, so we’re heating and cooling more air than we need to.
Conserve Water and Energy
Adding rain barrels to collect water from your roof means gallons of free water for gardens and lawns. Use drought tolerant plants to green your space with less watering. When you need to replace your water heater, consider a tankless one that requires less energy.
Consider replacing one lightbulb at a time with an LED bulb that can save energy and last 20 years. Install programmable thermostats, light dimmers and motion detectors so air conditioning and lighting run only when needed.
Wooden pallets create an inexpensive compost bin that turns your vegetable peelings, tea bags and dryer lint into black gold for the garden. Layer dry leaves and a little soil from time to time to speed the decomposition process. Although you can turn a compost pile, Hardy says her no-turn method of layering works just fine. Compost is the perfect on-site resource for organic gardeners. Even if you don’t care about gardening, your efforts will keep hundreds of gallons of food waste out of the landfill each year, which saves money.
Before you go buy the newest cabinetry, shelves or countertops made thousands of miles away, consider salvaged materials that you can reuse creatively. If you have a knack for woodworking or have basic construction skills, you can save a significant amount on your project. And nearly everyone can do their own painting, with the premium of zero- or low-VOC paint worth the peace of mind.