Eco-Renovation

Double up on windows

Lots of windows let in natural light, but if they're single-pane windows, they're letting out a lot of the air you're paying to heat and cool. The good news: You can have a bright house and lower energy bills if you get durable double-pane windows. They'll reduce heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer. Plus, they'll also help reduce noise pollution, so your loud neighbors won't bother you -- at least, not as much.

Choose plywood with soy-based adhesive

Hardwood plywood is a common building material and a major source of formaldehyde exposure in homes and buildings.

Conventional plywood contains urea-formaldehyde, which releases toxins into the air, but the eco-friendly, soy-based adhesive eliminates these toxic gases. The area then becomes cleaner, and risk of airborne illness is greatly reduced, making it particularly beneficial for homes with children.

Use high-efficiency outdoor lighting

A typical 100-watt floodlight, if used for six hours per day, can consume up to of electricity over the course of a year and produce a whopping 400 pounds of CO2 depending on where you live.

For starters, replace those floodlights with compact-fluorescent versions; they're just as bright and use a quarter of the energy. Next, replace low-wattage halogen landscape bulbs with LED versions. Though they're a little pricey upfront, they cut energy use by more than 80 percent and can last for 10 years or more. Finally, install motion sensors on any nonessential lights.

Bring back the old-fashioned window cornices

You probably keep your windows covered with drapes on cold nights, both for energy savings and good-old modesty. But you still might be losing heat if your window treatments are installed incorrectly. Drapes with narrow air gaps between rod and window create a chimneylike effect, drawing warm air from the bottom, cooling it against the window and blowing it toward to the ceiling.

To combat this, make a wooden cornice, which is a rectangular wooden box that fits over the curtain rod. For the ultimate green renovation, build a cornice from spare finish wood or wood furring from a salvage yard, making sure to design it to fit snugly against the tops of drapes. At the bottom, window treatments should be hemmed to brush against the sill or floor to further discourage air circulation. According to the U.S. Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy office, such measures can reduce a drape's heat loss from the normal 10 percent to an extraordinary 25 percent.

Get soy foam insulation

Spraying insulation can be toxic work; the traditional variety is full of formaldehyde. Luckily, soy foam insulation works just as well without all those chemicals. Like similar products, soy foam insulation is sprayed on and expands on the wall. According to the United Soybean Board, the soy stuff provides as good or better insulation in 4-inch walls as traditional batting insulation.

Soy foam might even lower your building costs by decreasing the amount of lumber you need. So why not give it a try?

Try durable metal roofing

In additional to lighter colored roofing material, another good housetop idea is metal roofing. The material is durable enough to resist fire, hail and hurricane force winds, and is reflective enough to help conserve cooling energy inside the home.

The lightweight material can create the look of heavier materials, like clay and tile, without creating the need for additional support. They can also mimic the look of cedar shakes without creating a hazard in fire-prone areas. Metal roofing can be pricier than asphalt shingles upfront, but it's built to last at least 50 years.

Put down the latex paint

Repainting the exterior of your with latex home will increase its curb appeal, but it'll also release toxins into the air.

"What people don't realize, when they buy a bucket of traditional paint, is that they are buying a bucket of petrochemicals," says Greg Snowden, owner of Green Fusion Design Center, a showroom and website that offers the best in eco-friendly home goods, materials and design.

Fortunately there are ways to make improvements on your indoor air quality: purchase eco-safe paint. Choose a product low in volatile organic compounds or VOCs instead. New designer colors and improved quality make these safer paints equivalent to standard ones.

If you don't mind a paint fume buzz, try recycled paints. Filtered, reprocessed latex keeps harmful chemicals out of the landfill and at to .50 a gallon, they're a bargain. Colors and finishes are sometimes limited.

Save with a solar water heater

The installed price is anywhere between ,000 to ,000, but these systems can slash hot water bills by as much as 80 percent. You'll also attract energy-conscious home buyers should you decide to sell. Install a solar water heater where there's unobstructed southern exposure and you'll have savings made in the shade.