According to David Johnston in his book “Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time,” buildings are responsible for 40% of worldwide energy flow and material use. So how can conscientious consumers help reduce their impact on the environment? When updating, remodeling, and building their homes, they can choose to “go green.”

Deciding on environmentally friendly home improvement options provides both ecological and economic benefits. “Since some of the [green] products are made with recycled components, they tend to cost less to produce,” explained Larry Morin of Lewiston’s Decorators Network, which offers “green” window treatments such as wood blinds. Denis Lebel of Sherm Arnold’s in Lewiston, which offers flooring and countertops, believes green products are important for a simple reason: “They recycle material from the environment which means less waste in the landfills.”

Additionally, working toward more efficient energy use can make a significant difference in resource consumption. “Replacing an old toilet is probably the most significant single improvement a homeowner can make,” advised Debby Dickinson of Frank Webb’s Bath Center in Lewiston, which offers kitchen and bath fixtures. As toilets are the main source of water use in any home, replacing an old toilet with a new, high-efficiency model can save a homeowner $90 annually and $2,000 over the life of the toilet, Dickinson explained.

Even if a homeowner isn’t ready to remodel, there are simple changes that can be made to create a big impact. “I am a firm believer in recycling as many products as possible,” said Morin. “Everyone ought to be encouraged to implement recycling into their daily habits. It’s very smart and responsible.”

Mona Rand of Custom Window Decorators conveys how thoughtful changes can be achieved by choosing to purchase quality products. “Look for longevity,” she advised. “Heirloom-type furniture will be more at the onset, but the returns are so much greater, and you can always reupholster if you want to change the look.”

Dickinson supports this same concept of higher initial output yielding longer-term economic benefits, and devotes time to helping her customers assess their savings when considering new products. “Right now, financial incentives speak the loudest and if homeowners understand the cost benefit over the life of their fixtures, the choice is clear. While some products cost more up front, they are a great return on investment when you look at the whole picture.”

For homeowners looking for additional evidence of how much energy their homes use, Efficiency Maine has implemented several programs to help. The “Kill A Watt” promotion offers electricity usage monitors and educational tool kits free for checkout at libraries across the state. The monitors allow homeowners to determine which appliances are consuming how much energy and to calculate how much of their energy bills are going toward these fixtures. Additionally, the Maine Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Program connects homeowners with building contractors who utilize a “whole-house approach” for energy efficiency.

While environmentally friendly products may not be mainstream quite yet, Morin believes this will change. “As we continue to develop green products and increase customer awareness of benefits, the demand increases. With manufacturers’ incentives, such as cash rebates or credits for the return of recyclable products, we may start seeing more of this.”

Ultimately, believes Rand, being green is not just about installing the latest products, it’s about the whole concept. “We live in a throwaway culture. But if it isn’t broken, don’t get rid of it. Don’t destroy a whole house just to say ‘I’m going to put in green products.'”

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