8 Eco-Friendly Home Improvements to Make This Fall

Written by Wendy Chou · October 25, 2023
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With fall just around the corner, it’s the season to get things done. Whether you’re planning a remodel to make your family more comfortable, achieve the newest Pinterest-inspired aesthetic, or increase your home’s resale value, now’s the perfect time to break ground and get started.

But before you do so, consider factoring eco-friendly and sustainable improvements into your home renovation. Not only has going green become increasingly popular among homebuyers, but choosing sustainable upgrades will also save you money over time, reduce your carbon footprint, and give your home a unique point of differentiation on the market. So, which green home improvements should you prioritize to get the most bang for your buck? And how might you finance them? Check out these eco-friendly home improvement ideas to help make your space more sustainable, shield your wallet, and even entice potential buyers.

  1. Evaluate Current Energy Usage 

To make the largest impact with your eco-friendly home improvement efforts, it’s important to evaluate your home’s current energy usage first. While this might not feel like it belongs at the top of your priority list, you’d be surprised to know that most energy inefficiencies are caused by seemingly insignificant issues like a drafty window, a drippy faucet, or even poor insulation. Taking the time to properly identify areas of energy loss in your home is the best way to strategize and prioritize your renovation.

If you have the time and patience, it’s easy to conduct an energy assessment yourself. Look for air leaks around baseboards, electrical outlets, windows, and foundation seals. (Tip: Check out our video on conducting a DIY energy audit. Check the wattage of your lightbulbs, inspect your HVAC system, and replace filters as needed. Do you notice any dust or dirt buildup in your vents? This could indicate an air leak. For a more thorough assessment, including large appliance inspection, insulation evaluation, and outdoor HVAC system cleaning, you might consider hiring a professional to perform a complete energy efficiency audit.

 

2. Install Energy-Efficient Lighting

Among the most common energy inefficiencies is your home’s lighting. In fact, nearly 15% of your monthly electric bill can be traced back to it. Luckily, switching out lightbulbs is one of the easiest eco-friendly home improvements to make, and the cost savings will add up over time. Sometimes subtle changes make the biggest difference.

Consider swapping any traditional lightbulbs in your home to LEDs. Not only is this a more energy-efficient option, but LEDs are known to last longer and produce a brighter light, saving you money in the long run. A few other easy ways to save energy and money include shutting off unused lights, choosing bright paint colors for your walls, and taking advantage of natural light throughout the day.

3. Switch to Solar

Renewable energy sources have become a popular solution for offsetting energy consumption, particularly in residential neighborhoods. For many homeowners, switching to solar is a great way to take advantage of state tax incentives—especially since the Inflation Reduction Act has been passed—and reap the long-term benefits of saving significantly on energy bills. The initial cost of solar panels may seem pricey, and we won’t lie, it’s an investment. But with both financial and altruistic benefits, this practical renewable energy source is well worth it. 

Use solar energy to power your home’s electricity, heat your water, house, and pool if you have one, ventilate your attic space, charge batteries, and even illuminate your front walkway or backyard with some outdoor lighting. When installing solar panels, be sure to keep in mind your home’s sun exposure. More sun equals more savings, so take the time to evaluate your home’s orientation toward the sun and identify the shaded parts of your roof. You may need to place solar panels on top of a garage for maximum sun exposure instead. (If you’re curious, Google even has a solar rooftop calculator you can try out online.) For additional info about costs, benefits, and discounts, be sure to watch Acterra’s past Green@Home workshop on solar rooftops

4. Invest in Energy-Efficient Appliances

Did you know that your most common household appliances are often the primary culprits for driving up your energy bill? Your home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems make up a hefty percentage of your monthly energy consumption. That’s not even including your refrigerator, washer and dryer, dishwasher, television, and even countertop oven. 

To cut costs and shrink your carbon footprint, consider investing in new ENERGY-STAR certified appliances or installing a programmable thermostat to help increase energy efficiency and lower utility bills. Much like solar panels, the upfront cost to replace appliances can be expensive, but the investment will eventually pay for itself. 

Don’t forget that it’s okay to prioritize. If you’re planning a kitchen remodel, you might choose to update the fridge and dishwasher now, and leave the washer and dryer later. Even better, new, energy-efficient appliances are huge selling points for potential buyers. So, should you ever choose to list your home on the market, it will have an enticing resume. 

5. Upgrade Windows and Doors

Sometimes the best home improvements are the ones that show how much you care about your space. Take a look at your windows and even your doors. How old are they? Is the paint chipping? Do they lock and seal? Can you hear outdoor noises like you’re sitting on the front porch? The older these features are, the less they insulate your home. They also have a direct correlation to your home’s curb appeal, which will be important if you are ever looking to sell. 

Consider replacing both your windows and doors with more energy-efficient options. A small draft may seem insignificant now, but over time will reflect expensively on your utility bills. It’s best to take care of it upfront and quickly so your other eco-friendly improvements can have a true impact. Plus, since the front door is often the focal point of your home, this could be a great time to change up your style, repaint for a pop of color, or even increase your home’s security.

Save some extra green: See if your home weatherization improvements for windows, doors, or skylights could earn an Energy Star tax credit.

6. Add Insulation 

If your home’s energy evaluation showed it suffers from thin insulation, you should consider prioritizing this improvement first. A lack of insulation will result in increased energy consumption to heat and cool your space. So even though you might’ve just upgraded your old hot water heater to an energy-efficient alternative, if your home can’t hold heat, you won’t see its benefits. And with cooler weather on the way, you won’t want to put this off.

Since your home loses the majority of heat through the roof, take the time to check out your attic. Laying sheets of insulation on the floor and within the walls is the easiest way to trap heat before it escapes. You might also add insulation into your lower-floor walls (if you’re really looking to demo) and basement as well. Consider finding eco-friendly insulation made from sheep’s wool or castor oil to help get the job done. 

7. Shop & Decorate Sustainably

Once you’ve renovated your home to your liking, you can focus on the best part of improving your space—decorating! Keep in mind that furnishings contribute to your home’s overall greenness, so decorate for sustainability and longevity. Look for furniture made from reclaimed materials like bamboo, recycled metal, cork, or bio-glass. You might also find pre-owned pieces to upcycle, invest in eco-friendly, non-toxic paint and flooring, use eco-friendly wallpapers, or decorate with live plants. Places like the East Bay’s Urban Ore and other stores are great resources to reuse rather than buy new. Find a reuse store location near you with this handy guide.

Watch out for any fast-fading design trends! Though Pinterest certainly has some pull on how we decorate our spaces (hello, neutrals 2022) these trends usually don’t stand the test of time. You don’t want to splurge now only to find your “must-haves” are a “must-go” in a year. Focusing on timeless designs and quality craftsmanship is the best way to avoid contributing to landfill waste. 

8. Plant a Garden

The exterior of your home is just as important as the interior, particularly when you’re thinking about curb appeal. It’s even possible to carry your green lifestyle outdoors by using green materials for remodeling and choosing eco-friendly outdoor furniture. But one of the best ways to improve your outdoor space and the environment alike is to plant a garden. 

Live plants are great air purifiers and will improve soil health while simultaneously adding value to your home. Growing your own fresh produce can also save money on your next grocery bill, and fewer trips to the store will reduce your carbon footprint. Planting trees is a fantastic way to sequester carbon, and native plantings will benefit local wildlife, including insects and birds. Our “Green Tips” webpage has even more inspiration on home gardening.

Want to take it one step further? Consider composting at home. Beyond reducing the amount of food your household wastes, composting also minimizes the greenhouse gas emissions often associated with decomposing trash in landfills. Even better, compost strengthens the soil, recycling the good stuff (vitamins, minerals, and organic matter) back into it. It might not be the most glamorous, but it’s definitely one of the greenest things you can do!

Your home is a special place, so as you plan and prepare your home improvement projects this fall, remember the goal is always to add value. Whether you’re looking for a refresh of your space or just want to make a positive lifestyle change, incorporating the environment into your improvement projects can add up to considerable savings over time. It’s a win-win situation for both you and our planet. 


Wendy Chou
Wendy Chou
Coalition and Project Senior Manager

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