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SALT LAKE CITY — When climate change and broad environmental conservation make headline news, it can feel daunting to try to make a difference.
It’s easy to assume green living requires vast changes in lifestyle, but small steps can have a significant impact. Here are three ways that technology, from simple and inexpensive gadgets to big home upgrades, can help us go green.
Automate your home
Smart home tech has the “cool” factor, sure, but it also has important implications for energy efficiency and cost savings. Home owners looking to automate can start small with smart LED lightbulbs, which consume less energy, give off less heat and can be controlled and scheduled via a smartphone app to adapt to living habits.
A simple way to lower the energy bill even further is to upgrade to a smart thermostat, which can monitor temperature and humidity changes in your home, learn your daily patterns and develop an efficient heating and cooling schedule to match.
Those looking to go green can also take home tech to the next level with a high-IQ bathroom. Low-flow showers and toilets have long been the go-to water saver strategy, but a new wave of smart devices is taking water conservation a step further. Some smart showers use sensors to adjust water pressure as you move toward or away from the showerhead, while others flash LED lights to alert you when you've reached a preset level of water usage.
Pricey smart toilets have a lot of bells and whistles, but they monitor and adjust water flow depending on your, ahem, "output" and may consume up to 20 percent less water than a standard model. While this upgrade may be beyond the average home improvement budget, it holds promise for the future of water-saving initiatives.
It is certainly possible to trick out your home with every energy-efficient gadget under the sun. However, when it comes to smart home tech, you don’t have to automate everything to reduce waste and make an impact.
One low-tech way to "green" your garden is to have very little green at all. Xeriscaped designs use plants and grasses that thrive in the natural environment and require less supplemental irrigation. If you do have a lawn to care for, consider installing an efficient, Wi-Fi-enabled smart sprinkler system.
Smart sprinklers sense moisture levels in the soil and shut off once the right amount of water is distributed, which cuts down on overwatering your grass and overpaying on your utility bill. These systems connect to your smartphone and allow you to customize your watering schedules in different zones based on weather, vegetation and other factors.
Also note that a healthy lawn is about more than just aesthetics — natural, well-maintained grass can help clean up the air, reduce dust pollution and keep the ground temperature in check, even on the hottest summer days.
Invest in Solar
Solar power is an oft-discussed go-green upgrade that is rife with misconceptions about costs and benefits. Despite the confusion, solar is on the rise: estimates put the number of solar installations at 1.3 million across the United States, which in turn has the capacity to power more than 6.5 million homes. In 2016, Utah was second in the nation for solar capacity installed and sixth overall.
From a green living perspective, solar is one of the cleanest, most sustainable and renewable energy resources, and it reduces toxic emissions and pollution over the course of a solar array’s lifetime. It does take time to recoup the cost of switching to solar — though, in 2017, residents of some cities saw positive returns in as few as six years, depending on their solar company and subsidies.
If you’re planning to stay put for a while, this may be a worthwhile investment, especially as it increases the value of your home. This initial investment may even have a trickle-down benefit: industry experts suggest switching to solar may encourage users to adopt greener habits in other areas of their lives as well.
If buying a full array for your home is currently out of your budget, dip one toe in with a solar charger. Consider how many times you plug in your devices each day, then take advantage of free renewable energy to juice up your phone, tablet and other small electronics. You can even recharge on a long outdoor adventure as long as the sun is shining.
Combine simple low-tech habits, like buying in bulk and taking shorter showers, with technology upgrades big and small to live a greener, more sustainable life.
Emily Long is a freelance writer with a passion for proper grammar, logograms, and the Oxford comma. She's worked in both the travel and wellness industries and has contributed to a variety of publications ranging from policy news sites to lifestyle blogs.