Sustainability Starts at Home
Guest Post By Michael Tobias
Sustainability is described as the ability for things to be maintained at a particular level for as long as required. More specifically, it was defined by the United Nations’ Brundtland Commission in 1983 as, “Meeting our present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Precise advantages of sustainability depend on whether it is related to social responsibility, environmental conservation, or economic development relating, more simply, to people, the planet, profits, and most importantly to the good health of global communities.
Every single day we make numerous choices that affect our environment and the health of those around us. For a growing number of people, sanity in our crazy lives starts with sustainable living and making conscious choices that minimize climate change and maximize environmental quality.
It may seem to be a daunting task to change your lifestyle in an attempt to reduce your environmental footprint, but if you take it one step at a time it really isn’t difficult. While it certainly takes more time, effort, and money to change elements of your home or even parts of the structure and the way it works, even just investing in appliances that save money or water make an enormous difference. Switching to renewable energy by installing photovoltaic solar panels or accessing wind power will make an even greater impact.
So, to implement sustainability you need to decide just what you can do in terms of practicality and budget:
- Make significant structural changes to your home to accommodate improved heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC), plumbing, and electrics. Switching to solar energy is a top trend. This is clearly the most costly option and it will also involve input from professionals, a company offering mechanical engineering services for instance. Another excellent approach is to replace old-fashioned HVAC systems with heat pumps that last longer and save as much as 50% on cooling costs.
- Undertake home improvements that will help to save energy and water. These might include fixing leaking pipes, weather-stripping doors and windows, or changing standard showerheads to high-efficiency, low-flow types and installing a solar water heater. Upgrade insulation and consider getting an energy audit done to assess more accurately what improvements will help make you home more energy efficient. Some of these projects can be tackled by a competent do-it-yourselfer while others will need the help of professionals or at very least a skilled tradesman.
- Harvest rainwater from the roof by channeling it into barrels, or have a blue roof system installed. The latter is more complicated, but designs are 100% sustainable. The rainwater is detained on the roof, in tanks and then either released back into the environment in a controlled manner, or used for irrigation, toilet flushing, or other non-potable functions. Blue roof design is more viable in large commercial buildings, but a greywater system that recycles water from washing machines, dishwashers, baths, basins, sinks, and showers fulfills a similar function. All these systems should be designed by a plumbing engineer and installed by professionals.
- Upgrade the way things work in your home. For instance, swap-out old energy- and water-hungry appliances for new water- and energy-efficient models that have good efficiency ratings. Replace old incandescent bulbs with light-emitting diodes (LED) or compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, and use rechargeable batteries to help limit waste.
In addition to all these possible steps, you can also focus on making your lifestyle sustainable.
- Let the sunshine in whenever possible. It’ll save you on artificial lighting and heating costs. Even more simplistically, put on a pullover or jacket and maybe a pair of socks rather than switching on a heater.
- When you use electric lights, turn them off when you leave the room.
- Use a washing line or drying rack to dry clothes instead of an energy-hungry dryer.
- Use non-toxic cleaners in your home. There are lots of natural products our there!
- Reduce waste in every way possible, not only by using rechargeable batteries, but by reducing, reusing, and recycling everything possible. Minimizing what ends up in landfills is a particularly good way to reduce your environmental footprint.
- Start growing your own veggies. Even if your backyard is tiny and you can’t find a suitable spot anywhere, many herbs and vegetables grow well in pots. You can also use a lot of kitchen waste and yard trimmings to make you own compost.
- Avoid plastic bags and plastic packaging. Too much ends up in the sea! Take your reusable bags when you go shopping. Paper is recyclable, but don’t print stuff unless you have to. We live in a digital world and can save documents in the cloud, on our computers, laptops, and even our phones.
Start at home and share the message that sustainability is key to our future. It’s far from crazy!
Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of Nearby Engineers and New York Engineers, which is an Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Company in America. He leads a team of more than 30 mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineers from the company headquarters in New York City, and has led numerous projects in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and California, as well as Singapore and Malaysia. He specializes in sustainable building technology and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council.