11 Fun Ways to Spruce Up Your Home This Summer: EASY, EARTH-FRIENDLY, AND DIY


NOW THAT SUMMER’S ALMOST HERE, I’M READY TO ROLL UP MY SLEEVES, GET OUTSIDE, AND FIND WAYS TO SPRUCE UP MY HOME. BUT THERE WILL BE DAYS WHEN TEMPERATURES SOAR PAST 90, SO I’VE INCLUDED INSIDE PROJECTS TOO. ALL PROJECTS ARE ALSO GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT.

Eco-friendly projects aren’t just good for the  planet. They’re also good for your wallet. Materials are getting cheaper. You can save on electricity, water, and/or heat. And if you’re repurposing old items, you’re  saving them from the landfill and saving money by not buying new.

MY REQUIREMENTS:

MY FAMILY DOES IT OURSELVES.
WE DON’T NEED SPECIAL SKILLS.
(Believe me—we don’t have them.)
DOESN’T BREAK THE BANK.
ECO-FRIENDLY.

Eco-friendly projects aren’t just good for the planet. They’re also good for your wallet. Materials are getting cheaper. You can save on electricity, water, and/or heat. And if you’re repurposing old items, you’re saving them from the landfill and saving money by not buying new.

CREATE A RAIN GARDEN
Fantasizing about a new garden? Plant it in a shallow depression in your yard, so plants soak up rain water, naturally. As your plants flourish, you prevent erosion and flooding. Use your beautiful garden to keep river and lake water pure: when rain water travels, it picks up pollutants and carries them to natural bodies of water. Want to be extra eco-friendly? Plant native plants, which are better for our local wildlife, beautiful, and often cheaper.

MAKE YOUR OWN RAIN BARREL
Collect rain water from your roof and divert it into your DIY rain barrel. Use this water your garden, lawn, inside plants, even to wash your car, and save on your water bill. It’s easy to transform a plastic barrel or trash can into a rain barrel. For a prettier option, find a wooden barrel: you may be able to buy one from a local vineyard. Fairfax County even offers rain barrel making workshops.

PLANTING TREES
Choose the location wisely, by planting deciduous trees on the west side of your house, which will allow them to provide you with the most natural shade. This cools your house in summer and saves energy.

FOOD SCRAP GARDEN & COMPOST BIN
Even if you don’t have a green thumb, you can have a great summer garden by using scraps of food you would otherwise throw out or compost. What can you grow? Cabbage, greens, garlic, herbs, onions, mushrooms, potatoes, even avocados and pineapples. You can also save food waste from the landfill, and create great fertilizer, by composting. Make your own with a trash can and lid, a drill, and bungee cords. Or make a smaller one with a plastic storage bin, as long as it has a tight-fitting lid. Don’t want to compost, or can’t because you live in an apartment or townhouse? Bring food scraps to some local farmer’s markets and compost facilities. The City of Falls Church has a curb-side pick-up program.

INSTALL CEILING FANS
Ceiling fans are the perfect cooling system when it’s not hot enough for air conditioning and you’ve got the windows open. But they’re also great to use year-round, reducing heating and cooling costs by circulating air. Make sure to find an Energy-Star rated fan.

GIVE NEW LIFE TO AN OLD PIECE … DECOUPAGE
Have an old piece of furniture that needs a face-lift? Try decoupage. Keep old paper from ending up in the landfill: use it to decorate table tops, drawer fronts, frames, whole pieces of furniture, and lampshades. Put the kids to work, finding postcards, illustrations from children’s books, sheet music, art prints, magazine pages, family photos, and of course your kids’ artwork. For a sturdier top coat, use spray acrylic, epoxy resin, or polyurethane. Use a paintbrush for a textured look, or spray for a smoother or antiqued look.

REPURPOSE OLD LINENS: CREATE SHOWER CURTAINS AND WINDOW TREATMENTS
Don’t buy a new shower curtain, window shade or window treatment, when you can easily repurpose an old sheet. You don’t sew? Me neither! Using sharp scissors and anti-fraying fabric spray, you can make this a new-sew project. Want to insulate your windows, conserving heat and air conditioning? Cut an old blanket to the same dimensions as your new window treatments and hang it for insulation.

MAKE YOUR UGLY COUNTERTOPS LOOK LIKE GRANITE-WITH PAINT
Hate your countertops but don’t have the budget to replace them? Or maybe, because they’re structurally sound, you hate the idea of throwing them in a landfill? Painting counters is cheap, it’s ecofriendly, and you can do it yourself. Rustoleum has a special line of products to make your “new” counters look like granite or other stone. These paints stand up well, but do use a cutting board and all recommended cleaning products.

BRING HARMONY TO MISMATCHED APPLIANCES
We all want our homes to look beautiful, and when appliances don’t match, we might think about replacing them. Even if they work fine. But you can make those old appliances match by painting them, applying wallpaper, or using decoupage. It’s so great to keep these massive things out of landfills, and why spend money if you don’t have to?

INSTALL A LOW-FLOW TOILET
Need a new toilet? Conserve water by installing a low-flow toilet. It might seem daunting, but unless you live in an older house, have a really old toilet, or have plumbing problems, you can replace your own toilet. Do have a partner helping you. When you remove the toilet and see messy, gross stuff: don’t panic! It’s wax. Of course, if you have any doubts, call a plumber!

REPLACE YOUR LIGHTBULBS WITH ENERGY-EFFICENT LIGHTS
This last item is the easiest and most straightforward. Replace your lightbulbs with LED or compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. This is one of the best ways to save energy.

No matter the project, choose your materials wisely. Choose zero or low-VOC paint. Use salvaged wood, discarded metal, or recycled materials. Make sure new wood was harvested responsibly and sustainably, by choosing FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified products. Installing new flooring? Choose bamboo over hardwood.

You’re saving forests, because it grows faster. Buy energy-efficient appliances. Check out antique shops, consignment shops, and salvage yards for items like doorknobs, light fixtures, mantels, etc. And don’t throw out your old stuff! Donate, recycle, and/or give items to a friend or community member who repurposes such items. Habitat for Humanity may also take household items like cabinets, appliances, etc.

RESOURCES:
Fairfax County’s rain barrel workshops
fairfaxcounty.gov/soil-water-conservation/rain-barrel

Virginia Cooperative Extension, gardening and composting resources
ext.vt.edu/index.html

Composting facility in Loudoun County
loudouncomposting.com

Falls Church City, curb-side compost pick-up
fallschurchva.gov/1652/Composting-Program

Consumer Reports, energy-efficient lighting
consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2013/10/bestenergy-saving-lightbulbs