House assessments for the sake of reducing electric use and carbon emissions are abundant. Some state governments sponsor programs through their regulatory agencies, and non-profit organizations consider transforming neighborhoods into carbon-neutral bastions their primary mission. Thank God.
In the Jewish world, a Jewish home is not just a retreat from the hectic outside world. A home is a place of hospitality, of raising a family, of study and of oneg (joy). A home is meant to be a place where a Jew can live the mitzvot and appreciate the fruits of God’s creation. As Kohelet’s states in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “For the only good a person (adam) can have under the sun is to eat and drink and enjoy.”
What follows is a brief assessment.
Roof and Attic
If your mechanicals are in the attic, see the Basement entry below.
Insulated roofs are the hands-down best way to keep cool inside in the summer and heat contained in the winter.
Energy star appliances are a must.
Dishwashers are more efficient and use less water than washing by hand.
Natural cleaners are best for the waste treatment plants: white vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and baking soda have been used to clean kitchens for centuries. Vinegar kills bacteria, including e. coli.
Clean the back of your refrigerator once a year to maintain peak efficiency.
Think twice about renovating a kitchen in a climate changing world. The best choices for using resources and staying carbon neutral are to reuse and repurpose.
Single-use plastic is a mainstay in modern kitchens. Keep and reuse hard plastic containers to store food. Wrap sandwiches and vegetables in wax paper instead of plastic baggies. Learning how to step away from single-use plastic is hard because it is cheap and convenient; however, this plastic is also a world-wide scourge of pollution and carbon emissions.
Heating and cooling zones save electricity by only heating/cooling those rooms that are occupied.
Fans add efficiency to heating and cooling systems, sometimes eliminating the need to turn on the furnace. Fans should rotate counterclockwise in the summer and clockwise in the winter.
Hand-me-downs are not about being poor; they are about reusing and repurposing instead of sending clothes, toys, books, and other items to the landfill.
Livingroom and Family room
Laptops burn less watts than desktop computers.
Plants provide air filtration in place of commercial products.
Fireplaces are a luxury. They are not efficient efficient, and they can be disruptive if the thermostat is in same room. Overall, firewood emits large quantities of carbon.
In the water shortage in Cape Town, South Africa, the inhabitants found their greatest water savings in the bathroom. While California during one notorious drought drove home the message of “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down,” Cape Town found a better solution. They put plastic basins in their showers and captured their shower and bath water. This “gray water” was used for flushing toilets and watering plants. They also limited their showers to two minutes.
The second target point of the bathroom is cleaners. Keeping a bathroom clean of bacteria is a constant process of cleaning. However, commercial cleaners are not necessary. Combinations of white vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda suspended in water work safely and thoroughly with a bit of elbow grease.
If one does not have a basement, then all of the mechanicals are housed either in the attic or a side purpose-built room. Heat pumps are the most efficient upgrades to heating and cooling units. Oil, propane, and natural gas units will need to be replaced as we move into a carbon-neutral world.
Washers and dryers are a huge drag on resources. Washers can use up to thirty gallons of water per wash as opposed to handwashing. However, being practical about washing clothes is understanding that time and human stamina are also precious qualities. In three out of four seasons, clothes can dry on a clothes line outside at zero carbon cost.
Lawns are the largest irrigated crop in the United States, and they need to uprooted. They are large carbon producing non-food crops that devastate local ecologies. The use of fertilizers has been directly linked to algae blooms in local waters. Pesticides are indiscriminate, killing off pests and beneficial insects. They also poison local mammals and rodents. Ornamental lawns also use inordinate amounts of water, especially in the height of summer when local grasses are turning brown as nature intended. Homeowners believe that raking and removing leaves is best for their lawns. Removing leaves robs their soil of replenishing nutrients over the winter. Leaves should be mulched and left in place.
Mono-culture lawns are the most destructive. Lawn service and weedkiller industries call the native grasses in your lawn “weeds.” Indeed, a desire for a green lawn in the late summer is easily satisfied by letting the native grasses remain because they have evolved to flourish. A lawn of native species is healthier for the immediate environment, requires much less water, requires less maintenance, costs less, and has a tiny carbon footprint compared to the fashionable ornamental lawns.
Trees and bushes
Local nurseries are happy to sell any plant that someone is willing buy. However, the local ecology is suited for specific native plants. The wildlife in the area is also dependent on these native plants for food and for shelter. Non-native species destroy the local ecology at a high carbon price of maintaining non-native plants.
Residential lawn equipment is constructed of the most polluting small engine machines in the country. Both two-cycle and four-cycle engines burn dirty. As is typical for American households, the equipment is not well-maintained and burns even less efficiently over the years.
Leaf blowers destroy insect populations. In the fall when beetles, moths and butterflies are laying eggs at the base of grass stalks, leaf blowers rip the eggs off of grass, blasting the eggs into oblivion.
Insect populations are plummeting around the world. The Black Forest in Germany has lost three-fourths of its insect population. There has not been a major count of insects in North America, but we do know that birds, many of whom rely on insects, are down by three billion from thirty years ago. Our lawns are killing our local ecologies while at the same time spewing tons of carbon into the atmosphere.
Fertilizer has a role to play in American lawns. However, commercial products are unnecessary for the typical suburban lawn. A year-round compost heap or barrel in the corner of the yard can feed a yard in the early spring. Rain barrels capturing the runoff from gutters also works well.