October 2014

Tips for Making Your Home More Eco-Friendly

Author: Courtney Hillis

As a society, we are becoming more environmentally conscious. Most of us want to do what is best for our planet, but many people do not know where to begin. It is simple: start small. From rainwater collection and composting to growing food and raising livestock, there are countless ways to make your home more sustainable and environmentally friendly. In fact, many of these are also money-saving techniques, not to mention fun! Try beginning with rainwater collection; move onto planting herbs, then start a container garden, and grow from there.

Rainwater collection
Harvesting rainwater is the act of collecting rainwater from the roof of a building. The water flows down the gutter into a watertight container (rain barrel), located at the bottom of the gutter system. A screen on the top of the rain barrel prevents mosquito reproduction and unwanted debris from entering the container. Spout and hose attachments at the bottom of the barrel make water retrieval easy. Barrels also come equipped with an overflow system that directs runoff away from the home’s foundation.

Rain barrels can be made at home or purchased at the local home improvement store. The average 50-55-gallon barrel costs around $100. This small investment saves money (and water) over time. Even a small amount of rain can fill up a standard rain barrel rapidly. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that when all of the water from the rain barrel is used each week, the consumer has the ability to save about 1,300 gallons of water during the hot summer months. The EPA further states that during the summer, lawn and gardening accounts for an estimated 40 percent of total household water use.

Rainwater is mainly collected for exterior, non-potable uses such as gardening, washing cars, washing windows, etc. Rainwater is ideal for these purposes because it lacks the chemicals (chlorine, calcium, lime, etc.) that city water contains. Also the pH balance of rainwater makes it better for plants and vegetables. Collecting rainwater is probably the easiest way to save money, save water and help the environment.

Composting is the collection of organic matter in a way that allows the matter to decay into rich soil. The process of composting is helpful in reducing waste and improving soil, gardens and flowerbeds. According to the Environmental Working Group, food scraps are the largest contributor to our landfills today, and most of that trash is completely useable in compost.

Furthermore, in our semi-tropical climate, compost helps sandy soil stay moist and full of nutrients. It is best to mix the compost in with the soil rather than use it as a fertilizer.

Almost all plant material, e.g. fallen leaves and grass trimmings, can be composted. (It is not recommended to use plant matter treated with pesticides and herbicides for composting). In addition, kitchen scraps such as eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags, and fruit and vegetable waste are all compostable. (Meats, bones, dairy products, etc. should not be composted).

The trick to composting is keeping the carbon to nitrogen ratio in balance. Think of the compost as greens (nitrogen) and browns (carbon). Greens are grass clippings, kitchen vegetables, etc., and browns are leaves and sawdust. The compost ratio should be 30:1, meaning 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. When the ratio gets off balance, the compost will breakdown more slowly. However, it is easy to experiment, adjust and find the right combination of organic matter for your compost. Do-it-yourself compost bins are available online or at the local home improvement store.

Gardening and raising livestock as food sources
With the idea of “seed to table” and “farm to table” becoming increasingly ideal, more people are beginning to grow and raise their own food. Whether it is a simple herb garden, a large vegetable garden or chickens kept in the backyard, the trend of providing one’s own food and knowing the food source is becoming more and more prevalent.

In our coastal region, we are blessed with a climate that allows for the growth of countless crops, from pomegranate and citrus trees to corn and tomatoes. It helps to start small; for example, begin with an herb garden, then add some tomato plants and/or a container garden. If all continues to go well and you are still enjoying the process, move onto a larger vegetable garden.

When planning a large vegetable garden, a carefully considered design can go a long way. Lisa Kohlhepp, who designs gardens and teaches the gardening program at May River Montessori, suggests planting beans with corn because the beans provide nitrogen in the soil for the corn. Another tidbit: squash is natural mulch that helps corn and beans. Kohlhepp also recommends planting daffodils to help pollenate the nearby vegetables.

The Clemson Extension website, clemson.edu/extension, is another great resource, complete with a planting chart for the different South Carolina regions. Remember to use your compost and rainwater in your garden when available.

Raising livestock, such as chickens, is also becoming more popular. With the rising cost of eggs and increasing information about the mistreatment of animals on factory farms, many households are opting to raise chickens in their backyards. These animals not only produce eggs; they also eat bugs and are excellent for fertilizing lawns. Two to four hens can produce enough eggs for a small family without being overwhelming in terms of care. The main predator in the Bluffton/Hilton Head area is the hawk. With this in mind, a simple inexpensive chicken coop can be made with supplies from the local home improvement store. (Be sure to inquire about local ordinances and property regulations in your area before you begin.)

The best thing to remember when trying to make your home more environmentally conscious is to take one step at a time. Go a step further than recycling. Perhaps start with an herb garden and/or rainwater collection. Then add a vegetable garden and/or a compost bin. Start small, learn as you go and, most important, have fun!

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