When it comes to going green, energy efficiency is the buzzword du jour. And energy efficiency is important! It saves you money, it lowers your carbon footprint, and it’s the right thing to do for the health of the environment.

But when you’re taking care of routine household chores and maintenance tasks, how often do you think about preventing pollution? The reality is that we have limited resources on this planet. It’s not a fun thought, but it is the truth. And because of our current reality, we have to be conscious of how we’re polluting our environment—and how we can stop.

Yes, you should absolutely install that programmable thermostat and beef up the lackluster insulation in your attic. But you should also be very careful about the chemicals you apply to your lawn, how you handle that painting project you have planned for next weekend, and what sort of refrigerant your HVAC technician uses when she comes to get your A/C up and running.

Routine home maintenance can involve a lot of hazardous materials that quickly turn into environmental pollutants if they’re not handled correctly. Keep reading to learn about ways to prevent pollution as you make your way down your honey-do list.

Reducing Pollution During a Routine HVAC Service

HVAC technician repairing air conditioner condenser

Your HVAC system keeps your home comfortable all year, and doing so is a lot of work. Plan on biannual service appointments to keep everything running smoothly and to identify possible issues before they become catastrophic.

The HVAC technician will look over your system, check for loose or corroded connections, clean the components, and check the A/C refrigerant level. If the technician finds that the refrigerant level is low, it will need to be refilled. Since refrigerants are pollutants, proper handling of them is vital to ensuring the safety of everyone involved—as well as the environment.

Here are the precautions your HVAC technician should take:

  • S/he should use the necessary tools and components to prevent refrigerant from leaking from the A/C unit at any point during the repair.
  • S/he must properly contain any refrigerant removed from the system and either recycle it or safely dispose of it.

If your refrigerant is low and your system was manufactured before 2010, you may have a few decisions to make.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Refrigerants fall into three categories: Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
  • CFCs were phased out in 1996, and HCFCs will be phased out by 2030.

If your system is older, it may use R22 (an HCFC more commonly known as Freon) as a refrigerant. To find out, ask your HVAC technician or take a look at the compressor on the outside of your house. The label on the side will list the refrigerant the system uses.

The problem with R22 is that it’s a significant environmental pollutant. All manufacturing of HCFCs will end in 2020, so if your air conditioner springs a refrigerant leak in the near future, you will pay a hefty premium for R22, if your technician is able to obtain any at all.

Newer air conditioning systems use R410A as a refrigerant. R410A is a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC), which is a safer, less environmentally harmful refrigerant. Unfortunately, there is no compatibility or retrofit option between A/C systems that run on R22 and those that use R410A, so once your old air conditioner gives up, repair will likely not be an option.

If your HVAC system uses Freon and needs major repair, the financially smart and environmentally friendly choice will be a new system.

Reducing Pollution While Painting

painter painting home interior

Paint technology has advanced significantly, which means that regardless of your project, there are more environmentally friendly options on the market than ever before. But choosing eco-friendly paint products doesn’t mean you’re completely off the hook when it comes to the environment.

When you paint, there are two ways in which you’ll need to approach pollution reduction: First, by preserving your home’s indoor air quality; and second, by reducing the environmental impact of any paint you dispose of.

So how do you do that? I have a few easy tips for you—keep reading!

Reduce pollution inside your home

  1. Choose low- or zero-VOC paints. If you typically avoid painting because of the smell, you’ll like working with low- and zero-VOC paint. These products contain very low (or even nonexistent, depending on the brand and type of paint) levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, making them almost odor-free.
  2. Open a window or ventilate the area with fans. Even with low- and zero-VOC products, you should still open a window or set up a fan in the doorway of the room you’re painting for extra airflow.
  3. Prep the walls safely. Proper wall preparation is essential to a paint job that looks good and lasts for many years. In most cases, prepping the walls involves sanding, which can kick up a lot of dust. Be sure to wear eye protection and a breathing mask.
  4. Contain the mess. Painting a room typically doesn’t wreak havoc on the rest of your house, but the dust and mess from prepping the walls certainly can. Tape or hang plastic sheeting in the doorway of the room you’re painting to help keep dust dispersion to a minimum.
  5. Know the age of any existing paint. Does the most recent coat of paint in your house predate 1978? If so, it probably contains lead. Do not sand, scrape, or otherwise disturb it. Call an EPA Lead-Safe Certified professional painting contractor for help.
  6. Don’t disturb asbestos. Asbestos can be hard to spot, and it is not something you want to mess with. Don’t hesitate to call an expert even if you’re not completely sure you’ve identified it correctly.

Reduce pollution as you dispose of leftover paint

  1. Know whether the paint is oil- or water-based. This distinction determines what you need to do to properly dispose of it.
  2. Do not throw away or rinse oil-based paint down the drain. Oil-based paints contain flammable, toxic ingredients—not something you want in the water supply or in a landfill. Check with your city or county government to find out the date of the next hazardous household waste disposal day. In most areas, these disposal events are free of charge.
  3. Recycle latex (water-based) paint when possible. If you purchased too much paint for your project, consider donating your leftovers to a nonprofit organization, afterschool childcare center, or a local school’s art department.
  4. Solidify latex (water-based) paint before disposal. Latex paint is not classified as hazardous waste, but the chemicals and other components in the paint solution should not be rinsed down any drain. If you end up with a small amount of paint that’s not worth saving or donating, here’s how to get rid of it:
  • Remove the lid and let the paint air dry completely in a spot away from children and animals.
  • Mix the leftover paint with cat litter or paint hardener (found in the paint department of your local home improvement store).

Regardless of the hardening method you choose, make sure the paint is completely dry before you throw it away.

Reducing Pollution While Maintaining Your Yard

lawn maintenance technician spraying yard

Whether you dread yardwork or enjoy it, part of owning a home with a yard is maintaining your outdoor space. Some yards involve a lot more maintenance than others—this typically depends on size, but the types of plants growing and your personal style preferences also have an impact.

The wide variety of grasses, shrubs, trees, and other plants available in nurseries and garden centers means that there are countless issues you might encounter. And unfortunately, the traditional way to treat many lawn maintenance problems is to apply a pesticide, herbicide, or other chemical.

Most pests, weeds, diseases, and other nuisances are the result of an unhealthy lawn. Healthy grass can fend off disease and pest infestations, which means that pesticides and other harsh treatments won’t be necessary to begin with.

So, what’s the problem with conventional pesticides and herbicides?

Overuse of chemical treatments pollutes the soil and the groundwater supply. When heavy rains (or even normal yard watering) wash away lawn treatment chemicals, the polluted water sinks into the groundwater table and filters to nearby storm sewers.

Polluted water in sewers eventually ends up in the area’s lakes, rivers, and streams, causing widespread nutrient imbalances and wildlife and plant death.

How do you get a beautiful lawn without harming the environment? Follow these two rules: One, keep your lawn healthy. And two, if you must use chemical treatments, do so responsibly and at the lowest effective dose.

If that sounds like it might be easier said (or typed) than done, don’t worry! I’ve simplified the process for you.

Maintaining a healthy lawn

  1. Don’t mow your grass too short. Grass that is cut too short is less likely to have a healthy, strong root system, making it more susceptible to diseases and pests.
  2. Water the lawn deeply. A few minutes with a rotating sprinkler isn’t going to cut it (and you’ll waste a lot of water). Use soaker hoses to give your grass an inch of water when the lawn feels dry—the frequency of watering will depend on your climate.
  3. Test your soil. High-quality soil is essential to a healthy lawn. If you’re mowing and watering the grass correctly and the grass still isn’t thriving, contact your local county agricultural extension for help conducting a soil test. The results will let you know if (and how) you need to fertilize the lawn.

Using lawn treatments responsibly

  1. Identify the problem first. It’s tempting to apply a broad-spectrum pesticide when you see evidence of a pest infestation, but you may do more harm than good. Identify the pest you’re dealing with, and treat only for that critter.
  2. Avoid treating the entire yard. Similar to controlling pests, treating too broadly for any problem, weeds included, may kill off beneficial bugs and organisms.
  3. Read labels. Thoroughly read the label of any chemical treatment you decide to use. The directions will tell you exactly how much to apply and how often, which will help you avoid overuse (and incorrect use).

Ultimately, the key to a healthy, beautiful lawn that doesn’t also contribute to the pollution of the environment is consistent maintenance. Healthy grass and plants form their own defense systems against pests and diseases, which makes your job much easier.

If you’re trying to revive an unhealthy yard and chemical treatments simply cannot be avoided, proceed with caution. Follow package directions (including those for proper storage), and treat only what needs to be treated.

Reducing Pollution When Hazardous Materials Are Unavoidable

stacks of old paint cans

It’s always best to try eco-friendly products and methods first, but sometimes, the use of hazardous materials can’t be helped. If that happens to you, here are some guidelines to keep you, your family members, and the environment as safe as possible.

  1. Always store chemicals in their original packaging or containers, and do not remove identifying labels.
  2. Adhere to the product’s directions for storage.
  3. Never combine hazardous substances—even if the products are the same.
  4. When it’s time to dispose of hazardous household waste, do not pour it out in the yard or down any inside drain, outdoor street drain, or storm sewer. Hazardous waste (even empty containers) cannot go in the trash or recycling, either.
  5. Contact your local government or municipal waste department for information on hazardous household waste disposal centers or collection days.

Home Maintenance Tasks to Reduce Pollution

brick fireplace on white wall

We’ve outlined ways to reduce or prevent environmental pollution during a few common home maintenance tasks, but there are plenty of things you can do to reduce pollution inside your home, too.

You probably already use eco-friendly cleaning solutions when you do housework, but are you vigilant about changing the air filters in your HVAC system? Do you turn on exhaust fans every time you cook or take a shower? When was the last time you vacuumed? (No judgement—just something to think about!)

It’s easy to let these routine tasks fall by the wayside, but believe it or not, the air inside your home is likely far more polluted than the air you breathe outside. In fact, the EPA reports that pollution levels, on average, are five times higher indoors than outdoors.

Wondering what you can do to help?

Here’s a list of home maintenance tasks that will help keep the air inside your home healthy and fresh.

  1. Change your furnace filters regularly. Most sources recommend anywhere from twice per year to once every quarter, depending on how many people and pets your household includes.
  2. Have your chimney and fireplace inspected annually. They’re pretty to look at, but regardless of fuel type, fireplaces emit some nasty chemicals. A professional fireplace and chimney inspector will ensure that any fires you light in the fireplace will vent correctly, minimizing harmful emissions inside.
  3. Vacuum regularly. Dust is an unavoidable part of life, but it is considered an air pollutant. Maintain a regular vacuuming schedule—twice a week, at minimum; aim for every other day if you have pets or allergies.
  4. Use dehumidifiers to keep moisture under control. Damp environments are prone to mold growth, and mold spores of any type are not something you should inhale.
  5. Test your home for radon. Radon is a naturally occurring gas, but it is a known carcinogen. If the test detects high levels of radon, you’ll need to have a radon mitigation system installed.

The Bottom Line

Humans have had (and continue to have) an undeniable impact on the environment. We’ve done a lot of harm, but we’ve also done a lot of good. And we need to continue doing good things as we maintain our homes.

  • Be aware of the hazardous household waste in your home, and dispose of it safely.
  • Use and store paints, lawn treatments, and other potentially harmful substances according to package directions.
  • Do not pour or rinse oil-based paints, pesticides, herbicides, and other hazardous chemicals down any drain—inside or outside.
  • Stay on top of tasks that improve the quality of the air inside your home.

Adhering to proper use and disposal methods for hazardous materials protects you and your family as well as our planet. Do your part so we can all breathe easy—both literally and figuratively!