A Healthy-Earth Home

By Susan Smigielski Acker | August 20th, 2019

Global solutions can begin under your own roof


Renewable Green Energy Solar Panels on House Roof Image

According to a recent United Nations report, human actions are hurting the Earth’s natural landscape so rapidly that an estimated one million plants and animals face extinction within a few decades. The damage poses a risk not just to natural ecosystems but to people, who depend on them as the foundation of life.

You may have asked yourself, what can I do? The answer can begin in your own home.

Have a home energy audit. Richmond Region Energy Alliance, a nonprofit organization, offers home energy assessments to determine how a home can use less energy, says Rob Andrejewski, University of Richmond director of sustainability. A certified building analyst examines your home and your energy bills. There are two levels offered. The first is a one-hour visual inspection that looks at the attic, the living space and the basement or crawlspace. Insulation levels and ductwork are checked for leakage. Recommendations are offered on lower-use energy lighting, electronics and appliances. This assessment costs a suggested donation of $50.

The second level is more intense. Along with the normal energy assessment, a blower door test is performed. The test is the industry standard to measure a home’s air leakage, which is a major factor in energy efficiency. The two-hour assessment costs $200. RREA-Va.org

Go solar. Solar power reduces your home’s greenhouse gases from electricity – and saves you money in the long run.

Solar United Neighbors of Virginia is a free co-op program that helps people save money on solar panels. Solar panels are bought in bulk with other people who want solar power. The organization offers advice on whether solar power will work in your home along with the cost and financing options, says Andrejewski. SolarUnitedNeighbors.org/virginia

Buy green power from Dominion Energy. In this program, the energy company buys Green-e Energy certified renewable energy certificates (RECs) from renewable energy facilities on your behalf. This provides renewable power to the power pool and signals support of renewable energy to the market. DominionEnergy.com

Use LED lightbulbs. More energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, LED bulbs were expensive when first introduced, but prices have dropped. In addition, they last longer than incandescent bulbs.

Maintain a green yard. No, not a golf-course-green lawn that requires chemicals and frequent watering to maintain, but a diverse yard that considers the world outside of its borders. Lawns can be maintained using natural and organic methods and products. Learn to love little “imperfections” – like clover, which adds nitrogen to the soil and feeds pollinators. Landscape with native plants, which require less water, and use mulch to conserve moisture.

Assess your water usage. Make sure your faucets and toilet do not leak. Low-flow devices for toilets are also helpful. Install water-saving showerheads and faucet aerators. Keep shower time to a minimum.

If your yard really needs watering, do so every other day in the early morning hours. If the weather report predicts rain, then skip watering. A shut-off nozzle at the end of the hose keeps water from flowing unnecessarily.

Apply green thinking to your appliances. When it’s time to purchase new, look for the Energy Star symbol, which certifies the appliance is energy efficient. This may mean the appliance will cost more upfront, but it’s likely to save you money in the long run. When purchasing washing machines and dishwashers, buy water-saving models on which the washer’s water level can be adjusted.

If you’re not ready to buy new, you can still be smart. Run dishwashers and washing machines only with a full load. When possible, hang clothes on a clothesline or drying rack (better for your clothes, too). Turn off the dishwater after the final rinse cycle, hand-dry any pools of water and open the door slightly to let dishes air dry.

LIFESTYLE CHANGES

Other personal earth-loving modifications include:

  • Buy local food to minimize packaging and carbon emissions from long-distance transport, including farmers market and Community Share Agriculture (CSA) farm share programs.
  • Keep food waste to a minimum.
  • Plant a garden (at home or a nearby neighborhood garden).
  • Practice the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle.

Both Andrejewski and Erin Stanforth, director of sustainability at Virginia Commonwealth University, emphasized the power of voting: research political candidates to see where they stand on the issues.

Not many years ago, we considered that being environmentally savvy was a gift to our grandkids, years down the road. Now we see that living green is more imperative, even in our own lifetime.


Old Dominion University graduate Susan Smigielski Acker is a 14-year freelance journalist. She enjoys biking, Bruce Springsteen’s music, Polish-American culture and reducing her family’s carbon footprint. Acker lives in Newport News with her husband, Scott, and their teenage daughters, Charlotte and Julia.

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