If your home goal for 2017 is to go green(er), here are 10 remarkably easy changes that require the most minimal amount of effort. Switches as simple as changing a lightbulb (seriously) or buying a dish towel don't call for much work on your part, but together they'll add up to a total eco-friendly home makeover.
Rethink wood furniture.
When buying new wood furniture, look for certified sustainably harvested options. Buying local is also a smart choice, both because it means a smaller footprint and it supports local artisans. Good news for fans of the warm industrial look: Reclaimed wood is an earth-friendly option, because it directly reuses wood from previous construction. For the same reason, buying vintage pieces is preferable to purchasing new (especially if the piece is in good condition and won't need to be doused with spray paint). Most importantly, pick furniture that's well-made and durable. If you suspect that your inexpensive side table will wind up broken and abandoned on the sidewalk in less than a year, you may want to leave it at the store.
Check the tags.
While it's easy to assume that natural fibers are more eco-friendly than synthetic, it's not always the case, especially after considering the amount of pesticides used in cotton production. Look for organic cotton for your fabrics, which is grown without chemicals and colored using natural dyes. Wool from humanely-treated animals, linen and hemp are also considered some of the most eco-friendly natural fibers. For synthetics, check tags for recycled polyester, which some companies, including Patagonia, are making out of clear recycled water bottles to produce fleece.
Replace your paper towels.
I'll admit, I'm guilty of using way too many paper towels. To cut back on my tree-killing habit, I'm stocking my kitchen with more cloth dish towels and rags for wiping up spills. Check out Maxwell's top-rated dish towels and don't give up the search for towels that are actually absorbent.
Be a light saver.
You probably already know that LEDs are better for the environment than incandescent bulbs, but how about that they can lower your electricity bill and last for more than 10 years? The only downside (particularly for us visually-driven folks) is that many LEDs give off a cool, blue-based light, rather than the warm lighting incandescents are famous for. To get the cozy glow, look for LED bulbs that emit a yellow-based light and offer several settings, such as Philips SceneSwitch ($9), which lets you choose between daylight, soft white and warm white.
If you craft, make cards or scrapbook, start a scrap supplies bin where you can toss leftover odds and ends from projects. Rummaging through the bin before you head to the craft store could help save you money on duplicate materials. If you end up with lots of leftover, usable materials, consider donating them to a local school's art department, or if you live in the NYC area, drop them off at Material for the Arts in Long Island City, a reuse center that provides free supplies to schools and non-profits with arts programs.
Do a green clean.
Open up your cleaning supplies cabinet and you'll likely find an impressive collection of chemicals. If you're ready to break up with bleach, consider stocking up instead on a nice-smelling, natural alternative. Here are some favorites:
- Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner, $4 for 16 fl oz. (favorite scent = lavender, which smells like the fields of Provence in July)
- Common Good All Purpose Cleaner, $7 for 16 fl oz. (pretty design + powerful cleaning)
- Seventh Generation All Purpose Cleaner, $5 for 32 fl oz. (find it at Target or your local grocery store)
- The all-natural superstar: 13 ways to clean with apple cider vinegar
Clear the air.
While investing in an air purifier is a sure-fire way to improve air quality in your home, the right houseplants can have a similar effect. Check out our list of 13 purifying plants (hint: the spider plant is one of the easiest to keep alive), then turn your home into a jungle.
Clean up your recycling habit.
Even if you diligently throw paper and plastic into a separate bin, when's the last time you checked what numbers of plastic your municipality accepts? Do you have to separate out cardboard? And do you need clear garbage bags? Recycling isn't as easy as it seems, and if you don't follow your town's rules, your recycling may end up getting tossed in with the rest of the garbage. Look up the regulations in your area, and then stock up on a sleek trash cans to contain it all.
Pick a better paint.
Most wall paints contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds), a type of solvent that helps paint spread evenly. As the paint dries, VOCs combine with other molecules in the air to create compounds, including the ones responsible for those splitting headaches you get if you fail to open a window while painting. Scarier still: Even once dry, paint will continue to "off gas" for a few years. To prevent all of this, shop for "Zero VOC" paints (the Home Depot carries lots of options, and this article from Real Simple lists out a few brands to remember), which are becoming increasingly more common.
Warm the room.
The more you can cozy up your home, the less tempted you'll be to turn up the thermostat (which zaps energy resources...and your checking account). Follow these five draft-stopping solutions and browse our top tips for making your home warm and toasty.