Sustainable Living & Design

What is Sustainable Living?

Sustainable living is behaving in ways, day to day, that support and maintain the environment. You practice sustainable living by thinking not only about your immediate home, but about the environment of your neighborhood, city, state, country and world. Sustainable living seeks to find healthful, helpful methods of living well without doing harm. 

Little Ways, Big Results

Without even realizing you have, you may have brought sustainable living into your own home. When you replaced an old toilet, for example, chances are your new toilet is a low-flow model, consuming roughly one-third the fresh water the old one did with each flush. If you recycle plastics, metals and glass, you are practicing one aspect of sustainable living. 

Reusing building materials, shopping for energy-efficient appliances, buying products packaged to avoid waste -- all of these everyday activities improve your "sustainable living quotient."

Energy Consumption

An important component of sustainable living is recognizing the vast energy resources our nation consumes as compared to other countries, and then taking a personal role in reducing energy needs. All of these energy-conscious actions can increase your sustainability:  

Shop for appliances, building materials and furnishings that meet federal Energy Star specifications

Replace incandescent bulbs with LEDs

Supplement grid-based power with on-site wind, solar, hydroelectric or geothermal energy

When remodeling, deconstruct rather than demolish, then recycle the building materials

Choose a renewable energy provider

Turn down your water heater to 120°F

Install low-flow shower heads, faucets, and toilets

Personal Consumption

Sustainable living includes the entire food purchasing chain, from farmers using fewer insecticides to shoppers buying local produce that traveled short distances (saving fuel). Sustainable food consumption means:

  * Composting kitchen scraps

  * Purchase minimally packaged foods

  * Buying in bulk where feasible

  * Saving and using leftovers

  * Cooking more at home instead of eating out often

  * Avoiding plastic containers or bags that cannot recycle

Pros of Sustainable Living

Many advocates of sustainable living cast the choice as a selfless gesture toward future generations. On a practical level, however, most people find the cumulative effort of many small, everyday changes have a great impact on:

  * Their sense of well-being

  * Their finances -- sustainable living saves money

  * Their health -- sustainable living means using more natural foods, opening windows instead of turning on the air conditioning, and replacing potentially toxic chemicals with natural natural household cleaners

Cons of Sustainable Living

Practicing 24/7 sustainable living requires a mental rigor that some people find difficult. Every label, purchase and decision can be viewed as improving or hurting sustainable living. 

Some homeowners may find line-drying clothes too physically difficult, for example, or pre-screening grocery items for sustainability too time-consuming. 

One common strategy for success is to start small, with one area of your life you think could benefit from sustainable living practices. Once that aspect of your life -- cutting shower time in half, printing on both sides of paper, using natural toothpaste, lowering the winter thermostat by 2 degrees -- becomes a habit, move to other, more ambitious goals:

Replacing a gasoline-powered automobile with a hybrid or electric car

Installing solar panels

Recycling 80 percent or more of your household waste

Hiring For Sustainability

Many contractors advertise their environmentally friendly credentials. Angie's List experts caution homeowners to approach claims skeptically:

  * Do your homework before hiring a "green" contractor

  * Be alert to "greenwashing," or false claims of sustainability and earth-friendly behaviors

  * Use common sense -- not every industry can be equally environmentally friendly, with some trades (plumbing, cleaning products, lumber and carpentry) more likely to offer sustainable alternatives than, say, trucking or heavy industry

Hire a contractor because of their skills; sustainability is generally a worthwhile, secondary consideration. 

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