8 cheap ways to green your house right now

Times are tough, and conventional wisdom says now isn't the time to think about spending money to go green. But the CW is wrong.

If you look at it practically, you'll find that doing the environment a favor can save you money, too. Spending a little money on your home right now could mean big savings in the long term. Think about all the money you spend paying for heat and electricity — shave a few bucks off that and you'll have enough money to, say, gas up your SUV (unless you've gotten greener on your commute, too).

After the jump we'll show you eight ways to save green and live green.

envirosink.jpg1. Envirosink

COST $50

WHAT IT IS Let's be honest — this looks like a funnel where your sink's water sprayer used to be. But
is really a "secondary sink" that collects "light grey" waste water — the type generated while running your hot water or rinsing vegetables, not soapy dishwater — into a rain barrel outside or a bucket underneath. You can use that wastewater for the garden, to wash the car and so on. Since a family of three wastes an average of 18 gallons of clean water per day just running hot water, it adds up quickly. The Envirosink installs quickly and is made of ABS plastic that can clean up in a snap.

PAYBACK Depends on your water bill, but if you live in a place with water rationing, gadgets like Envirosink might even become law.

greenwswitch.jpg2. Greenswitch

COST Around $1,100 for the basic installation kit

WHAT IT IS Greenswitch is a wireless home-energy controller that's installed at the outlet and top-control (like a thermostat) levels. Plug in your lights, electronics, computers and appliances into a Greenswitch plug, flip the Greenswitch control and everything goes into economy mode. Gone is the drain of unused electricity ("phantom power") and forgotten lights. And it's easy to install, since all Greenswitch components can be retrofitted into your home's existing electrical system. It's even more effective at the office, if your boss is looking for ways to tighten the belt.

PAYBACK Depends on how many things you plug into it and how much you electricity costs, but it could pay for itself in as little as two years.

ecobee.jpg3. EcoBee

COST $385

calls itself a smart thermostat: a wireless solution that will let you adjust your home's temperature, either directly from the wall control or via a customized Web portal. You can tweak its current settings or run a preset program if you'll be away for a while. EcoBee uses Wi-Fi, but it also includes optional ZigBee expansion slots if you decide to integrate it into bigger home automation renovation. It's not do-it-yourself job — get a professional to help you.

PAYBACK Within 18 months, energy savings should pay for it.

zetafireplace.jpg4. Zeta EcoSmart

COST $9,500

WHAT IT IS The hottest fireplace you've ever seen. The Zeta EcoSmart burns denatured alcohol, an easily available renewable fuel. That means the only wood you'll see near this Jetsons-like firepit is in its construction, a "clever fusion of timber, leather and stainless steel" on a swivel base. It also comes in four colors, of course, and because it burns cleanly, no flue is needed.

PAYBACK It could save high heating bills, but it's not likely this will be your key energy source, unless you own a still. But you can take advantage of tax credits under the recent stimulus bill, and get up to 30% of your cost, or $1,500, back from the tax man.

Joule.jpg5. Home Joule

COST It depends on your local utility

Home Joule
is an energy monitor that lets you in on the dirty secret of home electricity costs: that they can vary massively during the day. Using wireless technology, it provides real-time data on weather and outside temperature, as well as your current energy usage. And if your utility is a Home Joule partner, your monitor will also glow green, yellow or red depending on the local power grid's peak demand, with red being the heaviest usage and, therefore, the most expensive. It's great at creating awareness, but you still need to take action yourself to cut down on your usage at peak times.

PAYBACK Could save you hundreds of dollars a year, depending on your consumption habits.

chuck.jpg6. Chuck

COST $12

WHAT IT IS Chuck is the world's first modern wastepaper basket constructed of 100% recycled cardboard and printed with water-based inks. Perfect for any room or for temporary use, they had an easy fold-and-tuck assembly, a convenient finger hole for "easy lifting," and it can handle a three-gallon BioBag compostable trash bag if your trash is of the drippy variety. Two designs are available and another four are in concept stage, but you can do your own design for a big enough order.

PAYBACK Price is similar or cheaper than cooler-looking plastic trash cans, but with a lighter footprint on the planet.

chlorofill.jpg7. Chlorofill

COST "Competitive" to traditional board

WHAT IT IS Bamboo flooring was soooo 2006. Now, everyone wants to find a newer, greener replacement for the sawdust-and-chemicals composition of cheap particleboard and oriented-strand board. Chlorofill uses sorghum stalks and a formaldehyde-free binder, and since sorghum typically gets used for animal feed, we're growing it and tossing the stalks anyway. Sorghum's 48% cellulose content also makes it pliable, compared to wood at 50%. That makes each Chlorofill panel stronger, more durable, and better insulating.

PAYBACK Immediately, if you're sensitive to chemicals. But since they plan to price it similar to cheap plywood substitutes like particleboard and last longer, it should also save money over several years.

IkeaLights.jpg8. Ikea SOLIG

COST $20 for a string of five lights

WHAT IT IS These solar-powered glowstick lanterns are perfect for barbecues or really eco-friendly raves. No wiring is needed, since each lantern has its own small solar panel.
has an on/off switch, or you can let it ride in auto mode, meaning the light goes on at dusk and off at dawn automatically. Its LED bulbs consume 70% less energy, with four times the lifespan of typical incandescent decorative lighting.

PAYBACK About a year, in energy and burned-out bulb savings.