ou recycle, you carpool to work and you own a bike to use for weekend errands. You care about the environment. But did you know that according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the air inside your own house or apartment can be two to five times more polluted than the outside air? Neither did we, until we met Simran Sethi.

Enter environmental journalist Simran Sethi, a great resource for building an eco-friendly residence. She oversees video and audio for TreeHugger.com, the largest pure environmental site on the Internet. Sethi is the editorial director of all TreeHuggerTV productions, anchors bi-monthly TreeHugger News segments, and is the host/writer of TreeHugger’s radio segments on Air America’s Eco Talk. Sethi offered readers several simple tips for making your house or apartment green friendly. Help yourself, help the environment—not a bad deal at all.

Natural cleaners

The simple act of rinsing a sponge after wiping down a kitchen counter with a kitchen cleaner has a harmful effect on our water supply and (eventually) on the animals, plants and insects that use that water.

In a 2002 U.S. Geological Survey study of contaminants in our stream water, 69 percent of streams sampled contained persistent detergent metabolites, and 66 percent contained disinfectants. (In plain English: Our water isn’t as pure as we’d hope.) Natural cleaners are easy to make with household ingredients like soap, water, baking soda, borax and lemon juice. But even if you aren’t the do-it-yourself type, there are great companies like 7th Generation that sell natural cleaners.

Light bulbs

Did you know that nearly 15 percent of our household electricity consumption is due to lighting? Incandescent bulbs are inefficient light sources; while 90 percent of the bulb creates heat, only 10 percent is visible. But you don’t have to install solar panels to be eco-friendly at home. Simply go to your local home store and buy compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) as an alternative to incandescent light bulbs. CFLs produce the same amount of light, use one-third of the electricity and last up to ten times as long. So you save on your electricity bill and help prevent 1,300 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, 20 pounds of sulfur dioxide, and other greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming from ending up in our atmosphere.


At some point in your life, you will attempt to paint an accent a wall. Instead of buying paints with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are harmful chemicals and include many known carcinogens, buy paints that are low-VOC or zero VOC.

Low-VOC paint is comparable, pricewise and colorwise, to traditional paint, and today, most major suppliers manufacture these eco-friendly paints. Interested in learning more about the eco-friendly paints? Sethi points to a great Web site and store: ecohomeimprovement.com.

Power strips

Look around your home right now. Do you see a cell phone charger, toaster or computer plugged in but not in use? The Alliance to Save Energy estimates that standby power accounts for about 5 percent of our energy use and costs consumers over $8 billion annually. Here is a simple tip: Unplug appliances that are not being used. Using a power strip is an easy way to turn several appliances off when leaving the house, especially if you are going on a vacation.


In the United States, each person uses at least 80–100 gallons of water per day just from flushing the toilet. Check for leaks in your toilet through a simple test. Add a few drops of food coloring to your toilet tank. If your tank is leaking, the color will appear in your toilet bowl within 30 minutes. Fixing the leaky toilet will save water and money and it can be done quite easily. (If you rent, tell your landlord to fix the leaky toilet.)

Plastic bags

Although grocery bags don’t directly have to do with home design, they are an important factor in saving our environment. Plastic bags are a great alternative to paper bags in terms of the energy used in creating the product, yet the EPA estimates that over 380 billion plastic bags are discarded in the United States alone. “Reuse your plastic bags for produce and other shopping,” Sethi says.

“Try to be more conscious and intentional,” Sethi says, “For example, when seeking out new furniture, ask the manufacturer where the materials are from.” IKEA and other major retailers do sell furniture and products that are not from the rainforest, an important fact because 70–90 percent of the world species are from that geographical region.

While shopping, cleaning, or redecorating your home, being more green is something that is becoming easier and more affordable. And Sethi’s final advice to becoming a more eco-friendly consumer is that “we vote everyday with our wallets” so vote for saving the environment.n

Chai Shenoy, a California native, is a New York City transplant who is excited to implement these tips in her small studio apartment.
Published on January 28, 2007.
Photography: Courtesy of Simran Sethi.
Comments are closed.
  1. February 21, 2007, 6:34 pm Nadia

    Great tips! I’m going to buy new light bulbs!!