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How do we make better (and greener) homes and gardens?

Last updated: 05-30-2020

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How do we make better (and greener) homes and gardens?

This lesson is part of our Climate 101 educational series for parents and K-12 educators.

Homes are ideal places to start when it comes to greening up everyday life. That’s because they take up a lot of power, water, and heat. Think about it: We use water to quench our thirst, wash our bodies and clothes, water our plants, and flush our toilets. We use electricity to keep on the lights, power our appliances, and keep our houses cool in the summer. Depending on the home, some of us even use natural gas to cook or to stay warm in the winter!

So how do you go about designing a better home and garden — for the planet? We combed Grist’s archives and found a few videos (and activities!) to get you started.

Designing a greener home might sound intimidating, but the good news is there are a lot of ways to make your house more environmentally friendly. And having a climate-friendly dwelling doesn’t mean you have to default to yurt life. Some updates — like heated floors! — might even make your house more comfortable or save your family money on its utility bill.

VIDEO: How do I make my home more sustainable?

ACTIVITY: Go through each room of your house and write down one environmentally friendly fix you could make in each one. Even if you don’t have the time or budget to take them on now, it’ll make you view your surroundings in a whole new way.

If you look around your neighborhood, chances are you’ll see a lawn in front of someone’s house. Home lawns are so common that turfgrass is the largest irrigated crop in the country. If you added up all the turfgrass in America, you’d get a lawn around the size of Georgia.

Now, grass isn’t objectively bad! But the idealized lawn takes a lot of water, pollution-producing fertilizer, and gas-powered equipment to maintain. There are plenty of options for a front yard that isn’t a generic carpet of green: You can grow food, build a rain garden, or grow native plants that don’t require all that pesky maintenance.

VIDEO: How turfgrass lawns became the largest irrigated crop in the U.S.

ACTIVITY: Take some advice from landscape designer and Grist 50 Fixer Lily Kwong and start a Freedom Garden with just some food scraps and water. Kwong herself is new to growing food, but says you don’t need a lot of fancy tools or space to get started. “I have lettuce and leeks regenerating in my dining room right now, and it feels like a small miracle,” she says. For more ideas, follow her initiative on Instagram.

It’s not just power and heat that make up a building’s carbon footprint. Steel and concrete — the materials used to build most apartments and high rises — take a lot of energy and carbon to produce.

But there’s another material that allows people to build big new buildings without the big carbon footprints: wood! More specifically, a material called cross-laminated timber. It’s made from little boards of wood, stacked and glued in layers like Jenga blocks. It creates these big sheets of wood that are strong enough to even use in skyscrapers.

Cross-laminated timber could make buildings more climate-friendly — but only if it’s done right.

ACTIVITY: Make your own cross-laminated timber using materials at home — popsicle sticks make great mini-project materials. Have fun building!


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