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REAL ESTATE

The Lazy Homeowner's Guide to Greening Your House

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Kermit the Frog was wrong: It is easy bein' green -- at least when it comes to your home. Sure, maximizing energy efficiency or eradicating pollutants may sound like complicated time-sucks, but fear not.

This installment of our Lazy Homeowner's Guide offers a slew of simple strategies to rid your pad of toxins and stop wasting energy, water, money, and other precious resources.

Consider it a Rainbow Connection of environment-friendly tips and tricks so easy, there's no excuse to not hop to it!

Let laundry pile up

It turns out that leaving last week's bedsheets and yesterday's gym clothes in an ever-growing heap for days makes good green sense. That's because cleaning a small load of dirty duds in the washing machine is a huge waste of water. Each cycle uses more than 25 gallons, whether or not it's full, explains Alex Wilson, author of "Your Green Home" and co-author of the "Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings."

"By operating the unit less frequently, there will be considerable water savings," he says, "and by saving water, you also save energy."

Quit raking

Decomposing grass cuttings are a natural fertilizer, giving lazy lawn owners all the justification they need to let chopped grass lie, instead of killing their backs raking up the grass and applying a chemical treatment.

"It's a good way to replenish the fertility of the soil that the growing grass extracts," Wilson says. "From an environmental standpoint, this is far better than adding synthetic fertilizers, which can run off the ground and pollute nearby creeks and other waterways."

Put plants around the house

"NASA has researched the benefits of plants on air quality for about 20 years and found that common houseplants are natural air purifiers," says Beth Greer, author of " Super Natural Home."

So in this case, going green is a simple matter of adding live plants in rooms to absorb pollutants emitted into the air. Try a spider plant (for carbon monoxide), ficus (formaldehyde), peace lily (acetone, trichloroethylene, benzene, and formaldehyde), or a Gerbera daisy, red emerald philodendron, or parlor palm (all indoor air toxins).

Don't bother closing the blinds in winter

During colder weather, keeping window blinds (and shutters and curtains) open during daylight hours can save an estimated 10% of your home's energy. This type of passive solar heating allows the home's heating system to run less frequently, Greer says, and can result in huge savings. In summer, on the other hand, you'll want to keep them closed when you go out for the day to avoid the dreaded greenhouse effect.

Rely on your microwave

Zapping a frozen meal for dinner instead of cooking from scratch? You get a green star! Microwaves use 50% less energy than a conventional oven.

"These ovens are significantly more energy-efficient than standard gas or electric ovens," explains Wilson. "Surprisingly, with most gas ovens, whenever that oven is operating and burning gas, it's also using a lot of electricity."

Buy unscented soap

A little shopping list tweak: Swapping unscented soap, cosmetics, and cleaning products instead of their typical fragrant versions may have a huge impact at home. Artificially scented air fresheners, for example, are made with synthetic fragrances that contain phthalates, says Greer.

"These are chemicals that can cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects, and reproductive problems," Greer says, adding that there are potentially hundreds of chemicals in a single product's fragrance mixture and that "fragrances are among the top five allergens in the world."

Look instead for products with scents that are naturally derived, plant-based, or labeled as using essential oils, she advises. "Switching to a nontoxic deodorant or unscented shampoo might make a big difference in your health."

Switch out shower heads

The average family of four can use 400 gallons of water every day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And with showering accounting for nearly 17% of indoor water use in homes, it's just using your head to switch to a low-flow shower head.

Older, inefficient versions "may be using 3 to 5 gallons of hot water per minute," says Wilson. "Replacing that with a modern, low-flow shower head using no more than 2.8 gallons per minute is one of the easiest things you can do in your home to save energy, water, and money."

Get an energy audit

An energy audit can help green your home, too -- and you just have to pick up the phone to schedule one.

"A thorough energy audit will identify air leakage and other problems that are not only wasting energy and money, but also reducing your comfort," says Wilson, who adds that a bonus benefit could include free or discounted weatherization services. Frequently free LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs are offered as well -- which makes the move a truly bright idea!

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