Greening Up your Home

Some tips and products to make your household a little more eco-friendly

Using what you have

1. Your own power
Choose a broom or carpet sweeper over a vacuum, a whisk over an electric mixer, a manual can opener, even a reel lawn mower. This sort of thinking easily extends beyond the home, by walking, biking, or bussing instead of taking the car. In some cases, you’ll save energy and get a workout. You can also use your own power to vote for politicians who support the environment. The Vineyard Conservation Society offers a weekly e-mail with links to events, articles, and more about the environment to keep you up to date (subscribe at

2. Treasure your trash
Before throwing something away, think about whether it can be fixed or valued for some other use. Sew the sock with a hole or use it as a rag before sending it to the trashcan. When you finish the last slice of bread and countless other foods that come in plastic bags, can you reuse the bags? Instead of buying baggies, consider these for bringing sandwiches to work.

3. The new new
Think used. Instead of buying new items, check out the thrift stores or yard sales first. It’s amazing how often you can find what you need, and often you can save money to boot. When you don’t need something anymore, give it or sell it to someone on-Island who does.

4. Make do with what’s on-Island
It would be a simpler life if we didn’t shop off-Island or online. It would also reduce carbon emissions from reduced transportation. In some cases it may cost more, but deciding to buy something that’s made, grown, or sold on the Island supports the economy and helps the environment. Although even when it’s sold here, consider how the product travels: It can be more environmentally kind to buy French wine that arrives on the East Coast by ship than California wine that’s trucked cross-country.

Working outdoors

1. Go native with perennials

First, you’ll have plants that grow well in this climate. They’ll need less water and less work on your part. Second, with plants that grow for more than a year, your yard will be sustainable.

2. Grow some shade
Plant deciduous trees along the sunny sides of your house. The leaves will give you shade when the sun is strong from the south and west, and winter’s bare branches will let the sun pour in to heat your home.

3. Fertilize naturally
Chemical fertilizers pollute Vineyard waters. Instead, compost your food waste (all can be composted, though meat, dairy products, and high-fat foods can smell and draw pests) to produce a nutrient-rich, natural fuel for your plants – and reduce your total trash. The Island Blue Pages ( has more tips with regard to protecting Vineyard waters.

4. Rain, rain, fall today
Use a barrel to collect rainwater from your downspouts to use for watering outdoor plants. So it doesn’t become a haven for mosquitoes, make sure it’s covered or use Mosquito Dunks floating tablets, which can also be used in ponds and outside water for animals.

Reducing toxins

1. Relegate toxins
Wipe your feet at the door – or better yet, take your shoes off. The Washington Toxics Coalition reports that entryway mats “could reduce the level of pesticide residue on carpets by 25 percent and total carpet dust residues by 33 percent.” Turn your house into a shoe-free zone, and studies say you’ll have ten times less dust. People often relegate toxins to the garage too. But if yours is attached to the house, make sure fumes from stored chemicals and exhaust can’t easily enter your home by maintaining a tight seal on doors and filling any openings between the garage and living space.

2. A greener shade of paint
Paint is another toxic source because of the volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, they release, but nowadays most major paint manufacturers make low-VOC paints. Up-Island Paint and Tool at 505 State Road in West Tisbury recently opened and sells Mythic Paint, a nontoxic, ultra-low-odor alternative, with a price tag that’s comparable to other paints.

3. Combat mold
Basements are prone to moisture, so don’t use carpets or rugs since mold will grow more easily. In the bathroom, to keep your tub or shower mold-free, wipe it down with a dry rag after each use, instead of spraying tile cleaner. Also, bathroom and kitchen ventilation fans should be vented outside to be most effective.

4. Squeaky clean
Household cleaners are supposed to kill germs, but they can also be toxic to people and pets. Eco MV, a new store at 135 Beach Road in Vineyard Haven, offers eco-friendly alternatives. Cronig’s Market, in Vineyard Haven and West Tisbury, also encourages people to buy these kinds of products. You can make some of your own cleaners too. For example, mix equal amounts of vinegar and water to make an all-purpose spray cleaner. A paste of baking soda and water is a good scrub to remove stains from bathtubs.

Saving energy

1. A free audit
Cape Light Compact (www.capelight offers free home energy audits to make recommendations on how homeowners can save energy and money. Some of the simple – yet often overlooked – energy-saving tips include making sure doors and windows close properly, opening window shades when it’s sunny and closing them at night (except in summer, when you should do the opposite), and turning lights and appliances off when not needed.

2. Keeping water hot
If your hot-water tank isn’t well insulated (an R-value of at least R-24), you should insulate it, as well as exposed hot-water pipes, to help your heater work less (and keep the heat in your house down in the summer). If you don’t know the R-value, feel if the hot-water tank is warm; if so, it needs additional insulation, which, according to the Department of Energy, “can reduce standby heat losses by 25 to 45 percent. This will save you around 4 to 9 percent in water heating costs.” You should also turn off your hot-water tank when you go away on vacation, since there’s no need to keep the water in your tank heated. If it’s time for a new model, consider a tankless system that heats water on demand.

3. Reconsider your fridge
Keeping food cold takes a lot of energy. If you’re buying a new refrigerator, consider an Energy Star model. Getting rid of your old or second refrigerator can also save a lot. If you need a second refrigerator for summer crowds at your home, consider unplugging it the rest of the year. Also, keep your fridge’s coils clean (if it’s a model that has them exposed); otherwise it might be working harder than it needs to in order to run efficiently.

4. In the laundry room
Consider washing clothes in cold water to save heating costs, and conserve water by running only full loads (this goes for the dishwasher too). Dryers are not given Energy Star ratings, because the amount of energy they use doesn’t vary enough – it’s simply a lot. Line or rack dry your clothes to save energy as well as money. When using the dryer, clean the lint trap before each load to improve air circulation and reduce drying time.

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