If, like most people, you're not in a position to build a high-efficiency, environmentally-friendly home of your own, you can still improve the green stats of your existing dwelling. It's a good thing, too: residential energy use puts a surprisingly large amount of overall greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. According to the US Department of Energy, non-vehicle residential energy use in the US is responsible for about two-thirds as much greenhouse gas output as transportation (residential energy use produced 1,215 million metric tons of CO2 in 2003, compared to 1,875 million metric tons of CO2 from transportation, according to the US Department of Energy). More importantly, residential CO2 emissions are growing faster than those from vehicles (up about 30% from 1990-2003, compared to about 20% over the same time period for transportation).
Green Home Guide is a useful resource for figuring out what you can do to make one's home a more sustainable place. The site is just finishing up a month about kitchens, a particularly useful topic given that, for most people in the West, the kitchen is the most energy-intensive room in the house. The articles about building a new green dwelling on the cheap and doing a green kitchen remodel are interesting, but probably of more value to most are two articles on making one's existing kitchen greener: 10 Ways to Make Your Kitchen More Resource Efficient and Creating a Healthy, Environmentally Sound Kitchen.
Both 10 Ways and Creating list the appliances and accessories that make a real difference when changed out. While big-ticket items like refrigerators and dishwashers are unsurprisingly on the list, so are less-costly suggestions like using compact fluorescent bulbs and replacing the exhaust fan above the stove. Creating also goes into ways to maintain and use appliances in order to reduce energy consumption, and links to the Rocky Mountain Institute's Home Energy Brief on kitchens (PDF) among other good resources. Most of the suggestions on these lists will be familiar, but it's useful to have them all in one place.
(Sadly, few of the suggestions will be of value for renters, who generally don't own their homes' appliances, and whose landlords may not be willing to buy new equipment in order to reduce renter power bills. As more high-efficiency buildings come on the market, however, renters will have a greater choice as to where they can live. In short, the best option for a renter stuck in a Not At All Green building is probably to move.)
There will probably be readers who insist that more efficient refrigerators and exhaust fans are little more than window-dressing, considering the scale of the greenhouse emissions problem. The tension between evolution and revolution is a recurring issue here. Deep, transformative changes in behavior, context and technology are very likely necessary to get us to the Bright Green world; such changes are usually difficult and often expensive, however, and all-too-likely to trigger a "perfect is the enemy of the good" reaction, where not even evolutionary change is accomplished. Conversely, gradual, ongoing changes in how we live can have far more substantive results than we might expect; but such changes can lead to a "hey, I'm sustainable, I recycle" reaction, where minor changes are seen as sufficient.
In truth, these are not mutually-exclusive approaches. I mentioned "punctuated equilibrium" (a term from evolutionary biology) yesterday as a balance between gradual and radical change; as used here, it means a combination of ongoing small changes and big changes when opportunities present themselves. Making gradual improvements with a larger goal in mind will shape choices. The important aspect is to keep moving, continuing to make improvements; minor changes can lay the groundwork for a far greater transformation than one might ever have thought possible.
When we got our refridge way back when we got the house we spent a ton 1600 on a big very very energy eff model. However most people cant afford the best eff models as they also are spendy. Our refridge was spendy not just because its the top of the line BUT because the thick insulation makes the thing a behemoth wich made transporting it a bleep.
True that the top of the line is expensive, but as with cars, the thinking usually goes: "Get the best from the class that you can afford and that fills your needs."
This is probably a good time to remember that efficiency is now highly fashionable in Japan. People are proud of their 160-kWh-per-year refrigerators. (You could power one of those with a single 150-watt solar panel in many places.)
We can green the house, the car, everything.
Ya but like many here we have both a refridge and a seprate freezer to store even more food. It makes going to the store only every other week much easier. Some of our freiends have 2 freezers and a fridge and go every month. BULK saves ya alot.
I got a Danish Vestfrost about a decade ago. It's 12 cubic feet with the refrigerator on top and the freezer on the bottom. Serves me well as an individual and probably could do the same for a couple.
Another way to go could be passive air and water coolers, an insulated box with ventilation controls on the Northernmost wall. Ideally, I'd like to see a refrigeration system that is affordable and usable not only in my house but also in a refugee camp.
Unthink the things.
You can make big savings by using a pressure cooker. It cooks vegetables quicker than boiling them and they taste great too. We inherited an old one that we used for years until we lost the weight then bought a new one.
Advice about skylights and such is all very nice for those who are lucky enough to be homeowners, but doesn't really do much for the (many) apartment dwelllers...