Aching to go green but don't know where to start? Making your home more power-efficient and Earth-friendly has moved beyond obvious upgrades like swapping out incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescents or installing a couple of solar panels. A lot of environmentally friendly home renovations have emerged in the last couple of years, and they're easier to implement than ever before. Even better, lots of them look sexier, too. Follow the Continue jump below to read about the 10 newest green renovations you could be seeing in your home or your neighbor's soon, and be sure to check out what other sites in the NBC Universal family are doing for Green Week.
1. The EcoDrain
WHERE YOU'LL FIND IT In the shower
WHAT IT DOES Typical showers use lots of heat, but when that hot water hits the drain, it's still pretty warm. EcoDrain works as a small heat pump, using the leftover heat from "used" water to help warm the incoming stuff. Don't worry: clean and dirty don't ever mix, and it squeezes out the extra heat that would otherwise help warm your city sewer system.
HOW IT'S GREEN Heating hot water is one of the biggest single energy costs in a typical house, and therefore possibly one of the biggest sources of your home's carbon emissions. EcoDrain cuts energy use for a normal shower by almost 50%. The downside: It's an extensive installation, since it's hidden in the floor under your shower.
2. Bluenergy Solarwind turbine
WHERE YOU'LL FIND IT On the roof
WHAT IT DOES Combining solar and wind power generation, the turbine's wind vanes are covered with solar cells that are themselves coated with a patented Teflon-like fluoropolymer. That means they can capture sunlight from any angle. Unlike the typical propeller windmill design, the Solarwind is virtually silent and poses no threat to birds or drunk partiers.
HOW IT'S GREEN The efficiency of the design means the Solarwind generates electricity in breezes as low as 4 mph.
3. Reclamator water recycler
WHERE YOU'LL FIND IT Outside, buried under the lawn
WHAT IT DOES The Reclamator is a self-contained water-treatment system that lets you reuse the same water over and over again. Unlike a septic tank or a municipal system where waste water just goes "away," the Reclamator uses applies a proprietary process to settle out solid waste and draw off clean treated water that passes municipal standards for drinkability. It's not cheap — each system runs around $25,000, there's a monthly charge for maintenance, and if the kids dump motor oil down the toilet, you'll need people to come fix it — but it does allow for self-contained living and depending on your water bill, it could pay for itself over time.
HOW IT'S GREEN Besides cutting down your water waste, the Reclamator can be made from recycled or repurposed materials. But the biggest savings are in energy and infrastructure costs, which are really the biggest part of your monthly water bill.
4. Swash toilet seat
WHERE YOU'LL FIND IT The bathroom
WHAT IT DOES Bringing together the function of a bidet with the sleek styling and luxury of a European sedan, your Swash experience starts with a heated seat and ends with "a warm water wash with temperature, pressure, and pulsation adjustability" that you can tweak from a convenient touchpad within reach.
HOW IT'S GREEN The U.S. uses 3.2 million tons of toilet paper annually — about 54 million trees' worth. The process of making that paper is bad enough, and then there are all the problems of treating that flushed solid waste. The Swash allows you to eliminate 90% of that paper.
5. Redwood Renewable Smart CoolRoof
WHERE YOU'LL FIND IT On the roof
WHAT IT DOES Redwood Renewable's Smart CoolRoof takes rubber from old car tires to create new rubber material, and then embeds solar cells in it. Together, this gives you recycled roofing material with excellent insulation that generates power for your home. Plus it actually looks like a typical roof versus looking like a roof with big, ugly solar panels on it .Best of all, it costs about half of what a typical solar-panel installation would cost.
HOW IT'S GREEN Waste tires are a huge environmental headache. Redwood Renewables uses an ultrasonic, chemical-free process to actually devulcanizes the rubber. (To visualize devulcanization, think about how you'd "unfry" a fried egg.) The renewable energy generated is icing on the cake.
6. GraniteCrete surface
WHERE YOU'LL FIND IT Near your patio or in your driveway
WHAT IT DOES GraniteCrete is a new surfacing material that looks like a "crushed organic surface" on the outside (i.e. small gravel) but has nearly the strength and erosion resistance of concrete. It's also porous, meaning water runs through, not off, a GraniteCrete walkway or driveway, so there are no water-runoff problems or slipping while running to the car in the morning.
HOW IT'S GREEN Storm water runoff is one of the toughest ecological problems we face. This water, carrying oils, trash and other pollutants, gums up sewage-treatment plants or goes straight in oceans or rivers. A porous surface like GrainteCrete allows excess water to run through surfaces, not off of them, and so it sinks into the soil beneath where natural filtration can help clean it.
7. Bonded Logic Ultratouch insulation
WHERE YOU'LL FIND IT In your walls
WHAT IT DOES Bonded Logic has found a way to turn your old jeans into insulation. UltraTouch has better sound-absorption qualities than fiberglass insulation with an equivalent thermal rating. Rather than use the usual chemicals, Bonded Logic uses borate to ensure fire and fungi resistance, so its less toxic than table salt. That also means you don't need to suit up like you're going into a biohazard hot zone to install it.
HOW IT'S GREEN UltraTouch takes material otherwise bound for a landfill and finds another use for it. And it's designed to replace fiberglass insulation, which is an environmental problem to make, shape, store and install.
8. Elevated Landscape Technologies Green Walls
WHERE YOU'LL FIND IT Exterior walls, bathrooms, kitchens, or anywhere damp or smelly
WHAT IT DOES A new twist on the houseplant: Using recyclable plastic or wood as a base, a wall of plants helps filter out smells and particles from the air, absorbs airborne water vapor, and does the usual plant duty of converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. You can plant your own wall, or if you're black-thumbed they're also available preplanted.
HOW IT'S GREEN You don't have to waste power on ventilation since living walls can handle water vapor from steamy showers and cooking, as well as smells, dust and stale air. And using them on exterior walls will add insulation properties, too.
9. Rhino-Shield ceramic paint
WHERE YOU'LL FIND IT Your exterior walls
WHAT IT DOES Rhino-Shield makes a ceramic-based paint that lasts a lot longer than its non-ceramic counterparts. The paint contains tiny ceramic spheres as pigment "extenders." Ceramic paints look as good as new well after most other paints have faded — Rhino-Shield offers a 25-year guarantee — and those spheres give them better insulation, too.
HOW IT'S GREEN The 25-year lifespan of this product means it's cleaner than applying other paints every five years.
WHERE YOU'LL FIND IT You may be living in one.
WHAT IT DOES We used to call it prefab housing. Or a cottage. Or a shed, even. But California's Resource Conservation Group has found a novel way to reuse old Douglas Fir lumber, common in house construction in the early 20th century, into Portable Living and Office Green Structures — Plogs. Each one is custom-built, going as large as 16 x 16 feet. You also have your choice of skylights and windows as well as plumbing and electrical options. The designs start at a little under $10,000 and can be made into whatever hideaway your green heart desires.
HOW IT'S GREEN Construction and demolition waste makes up a huge portion of waste in landfills. And we've long since cut down the older forests that provided the lumber in the first place. Plogs take a discarded resource and makes it useful again.